Reading List for Bellydance

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Below is a list of books about the history of bellydance and the culture(s) it originated from, plus a link to Amazon UK* (click on the book title) if it's available there, or to another site. Please remember to shop around through to find books at a price that suits you!

Title / Author(s) Comments / description
A Trade Like Any Other: Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt
Karin van Nieuwkerk
Fantastic anthropological investigation of the experiences of female singers & dancers in Egypt, concentrating mainly on 19th and 20th century. She also wrote a follow up article "An Hour for God and an Hour for the Heart".
Edward Said
This highly influential work examines the Western attitudes towards and relationship with 'the Orient'. Whether you agree with the conclusions reached by Said or not, this is essential reading for anyone involved in Middle Eastern dance.
Femininity and Dance in Egypt: Embodiment and Meaning in al-Raqs al-Baladi
Noha Roushdy
This is a very academic work, based on the author's MA thesis, which won the Magda al-Nowaihi Award in Gender Studies, AUC. In a nutshell - this book considers how women who dance al-Raqs al-Baladi (bellydance) in Egypt, in both casual and professional situations, have to negotiate the social status of baladi dance and social rules about how a 'respectable woman' is expected to behave in Egyptian culture.
Looking for Little Egypt
Donna Carlton
An account of the development of bellydance in the USA, following the Chicago World Fair of 1893 - the first time that many Americans were able to see some the dances of the Middle East first hand.
Bellydance: Orientalism, Transnationalism & Harem Fantasy
Anthony Shay & Barbara Sellers-Young (eds.)
Collection of articles from various writers on cultural aspects of bellydance.
Serpent of the Nile: Women and Dance in the Arab World
Wendy Buonaventura
Overview of the development of Oriental Dance and it's interplay with the Orientalist movement in art & literature.
Dancing Fear & Desire: Race, Sexuality & Politics in Middle Eastern Dance
Stavros Stavrou Karayanni
This academic work looks specifically at issues of gender, colonialism and identity through the lens of Middle Eastern dance.
Performance Mastery

Delia Lewis
Also available for Kindle
Fantastic introduction to developing your performance skills - a must for all would-be performers of bellydance. For further information, see Desna's review here
Images of Enchantment: Visual & Performing Arts of the Middle East
Sherifa Zuhur (Ed.)
A variety of articles exploring dance, music, painting & cinema in the Middle East.
Colors of Enchantment: Theater, Music & the Visual Arts of the Middle East
Sherifa Zuhur (Ed.)
This companion volume to Images of Enchantment looks more specifically at visual & performing arts in the Middle East, particularly Arab theatre.
Manners & Customs of the Modern Egyptians
Edward W. Lane

Also freely available online via
A 19th Century traveller's account of life in Egypt. For those interested in bellydance fairly detailed observations of the ghawazee, musical instruments and other information about the performing arts of the period.

* Desna ~ Bellydance Artist is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

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More resources:

Students: Students' FAQs - information about classes, what to wear, etc

Music: A list of the music Desna uses in classes / recommends for beginners

Articles: Articles that Desna has written either for students or for other publications

Links: Links to other websites that can give great in-depth information about bellydance