Shira's Take on SourcesAs the original Bhuz thread was in 2004 (thread 5238 1/9/04) - it is long gone. Here is what Shira had to say then:
I'll preface my list with how I decide which books seem credible to me versus which don't:
- Credible research pieces identify the source. For example, in Morocco's writings about belly dance and childbirth she names the Saudi woman who told her about the oral history linking the two and she describes her firsthand experience witnessing such a ritual in Morocco. This allows you, the reader, to decide for yourself whether you agree with the her conclusions. Maybe you agree, maybe you don't, but at least the writing gives you enough information to decide for yourself.
- Credible research identifies the thought process that led the writer to their conclusions. For example, one book I read (I forget which) states that scholars noticed a circular area worn down in the rock surrounding what appeared to be fireplaces (ie, with remains of ashes in them) and drew the conclusion that these eroded areas signified that the people who lived there did a circle dance, which is what wore them down. Again, you may or may not agree with the conclusion, but you have enough information to know how it was reached and to decide whether you agree.
- In good research books, illustrations are clearly captioned to identify what they portray and how they support the claims being made by the writer. Bad books only tell you who owns the copyright.
- In good research, the writer avoids stating personal opinion unless the opinion is the conclusion s/he has drawn based on the facts. So, a "good" opinion stated by Layne Redmond in When the Drummers Were Women referred to an ancient drawing (from Sumeria, I think) in which a circular object was being held on its edge. Redmond stated that the original archeologists captioned that picture as "woman holding a cake", then went on to state the opinion, "Most people know you wouldn't hold a cake that way, so it's more reasonable to conclude that the round object is a frame drum." In contrast, a "bad" opinion that should NOT be included in a researched historical document would be the many snide remarks Wendy Buonaventura makes in Serpent of the Nile about nightclubs and how "bad" it is that Oriental dance is now a public performing art. It would be okay for her to quote someone credible (as she indeed did with Armen Ohanesian's comment) stating such an opinion, but she should have kept her own complaints to herself.
- Good research helps the reader place the importance of particular sources into perspective, exploring whether the information gained from such sources represents widespread behavior versus possibly isolated behavior. For example, "bad" research would be if I claimed that sequinned thongs with crassels worn over hot pants were an authentic Egyptian costume item which therefore everbody who aspires to Egyptian-style dancing should now wear, whereas "good" research would be to point out that these were worn only by the warm-up act at the Parisiana which had a strong flavor of French burlesque in keeping with the restaurant's name, and this club is the ONLY place I saw them.
- Looking for Little Egypt. By Donna Carlton.
- A Trade Like Any Other. By Karen van Nieuwkerk. Solid research, but dry and painful to read.
- Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance. By Iris Stewart.
- Ancient Egyptian Dances. By Irena Lexova.
- The Illusive Veil. This is a manuscript by Elizabeth "Artemis" Mourat which hasn't (yet) been published, but can be purchased from her as photocopied pages. I've heard she's planning to publish it as a "normal" book. I can't wait!
- The Belly Dance Book. Edited by Tazz Richards. The section on history contains several excellent essays.
- When the Drummers Were Women. By Layne Redmond. The reason I mistrust it is because Layne throws around lots of opinions about evil patriarchal men who usurped women's place in society. Although I agree with that opinion, she's so fierce about it that I wonder if she is able to take a balanced look at the past. Still, I like it and would recommend it.
- Serpent of the Nile. By Wendy Buonaventura. Doesn't identify her sources or thought process for many of her claims about ancient history, although she gets better when she reaches the 20th century. Doesn't caption her photos to let you know which ones she used as "fact" for purposes of drawing conclusions versus which ones are simply there as eye candy. Many snide remarks about how bad it is that the dance is now frequently seen in nightclubs. Dwells at length on Flaubert's fascination with Kutchuk Hanem without offering any analysis of whether she was "typical" (in the sense of being a prostitute) or an exception. Now, to Wendy's credit sometimes Serpent DOES live up to my credibility criteria. So I'm not saying Serpent is 100% bad, just highly suspect. On a positive note, I did find it to be VERY informative as an introduction to the Orientalist mind set of 18th & 19th century Europe.
- The "history" section of Grandmother's Secrets. By Rosina-Fawzia B. Al-Rawi. However, I highly regard the section of the book where she talks about her grandmother and her own coming-of-age dance. That's why I classify this book on my web site as an "insight into Middle Eastern culture" book rather than a "history" book.
- Earth Dancing. By Danielle Gioseffi. Sometimes feels credible, other times not, depending on the topic being discussed. Highly opinionated, sometimes the history feels more like wishful thinking than researched fact. (But still a wonderful book to have around for its many photographs showing folks like Morocco and Aisha Ali from a time when they were 20 years younger!)
So anyway, there are my thoughts. If anyone would care to disagree with the opinions I've stated by telling me why my criteria are wrong or why you think I've inappropriately attacked a book that YOU think meets my criteria, I'm happy to learn from what someone else can teach me!
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