Belly Dance with Aisha Ali

Recommended Reading


The Middle East and North Africa

Many books are available from public libraries and are listed at unless otherwise noted. Arabesque magazine is no longer in publication, but back issues are available at

Travelers In Ancient Lands – A Portrait of the Middle East, 1839-1919 – by Louis Vaczek and Gail Buckland

Midnight at the Crossroads: Has belly dance sold its Soul? by Alia Thabit .  See A. Ali’s review on Amazon.

The Arab danse du ventre” by Morroe Berger, Dances Perspectives 1961, which he reworked and expanded for Horizon Magazine, Spring 1966. An intelligent and interesting article on belly dance that provides many historical information sources that were not commonly known at the time.

PDF logo “Danse du ventre—A Fresh Appraisal” Part I and Part II by Leona Wood, published in Arabesque Vol. Nos 5 and 6 (January–February, March–1980). An article on the history of belly dance under its many names, which covers almost everything a student of Middle Eastern dance needs to know.

“From Raqs Shaabi to Raqs Sharqi: Traditional Forms and Modern Technology” by Aisha Ali, Habibi, Vol. 16, No.1, Winter, 1997.

Harem: The World Behind the Veil by Alev Lyle Croutier. Croutier describes life in the harems of the Ottoman Sultans, and includes recollections by members of her family. The book includes a fine collection of painting and photo reproductions.

“Higher Education for Dancers” by Aisha Ali, Arabesque, Vol. VIII, No. III September–October, 1982. Observations on the realities of Middle Eastern dance workshops in America.

“Looking Back: The California Middle Eastern Dance Scene:” by Aisha Ali.  Part I (Hollywood Beginnings), Arabesque, Vol. IX, No. II, July–August 1983; Part II (The West Coast), Vol. IX, No. III September–October, 1983.

Looking for Little Egypt by Donna Carlton. An engrossing book that sheds light on the legend of Little Egypt and describes the development of the 1893 World’s Colombian Exposition, while focusing on the many musicians and dancers from the Middle East and North Africa who were brought to this country for the first time to entertain on the Midway Plaisance (excerpt at International Dance Discovery).

Excerpt from Muruj al-dhahab (Golden Meadows) by Al-Mas’udi (c. 957). Description of kinds of oriental dance and the desirable qualities of the dancer. A section of this is covered in Morroe Berger’s Horizon article, but it is also available to download from International Dance Discovery.

The Orientalists: European Painters of Eastern Scenes by Philippe Julian. Originally published in 1977, this was one of the first books to make these paintings available in high quality reproductions.

“Safe Journey: Latcho Drom Revisited” by Aisha Ali, Habibi, Vol. 14, No. 2, Spring, 1995.

Serpent of the Nile by Wendy Bonaventura published by Interlink Books, 1989. A well organized book on women and dance in the Arab world with an excellent collection of painting and photo reproductions.

The Source: A Handbook for Oriental Dancers by Omar Batiste, 1983. One of the first to present an outline of the diversity of Arab dances. This paperback book includes lots of somewhat low-resolution photos and information on dancers from various regions of the Arab world, including Egyptian Ghawazee and the Ouled Naïl; it also touches on Arab dancers from the Chicago World’s Fair, etc. It is a good starting point for dancers who wish to learn about the cultures related to Oriental dance. 

The Veil and the Male Elite—A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam by Fatima Mernissi. The book actually has a broader scope than the subtitle suggests: it presents interesting sections of the written history of Islam while explaining many customs pertaining to women.

Desert Queen – “A marvelous story of Gertrude Bell, an adventurous woman who abandoned Victorian England and journeyed deep into the Middle East at a time when women did not go unchaperoned, to report on ‘every grain of sand.’ Her story is filled with intrigue, drama, and history of a part of the world still on the front page. ‘ – Bernard Kalb

Ornament of the World –Maria Rosa Menocal writes about the history of How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain.





Books are often available in public libraries, and are listed at unless otherwise noted. Arabesque magazine is no longer in publication.

“Homage to a Belly-Dancer” by Edward Said, Arabesque May/June 1994. Said’s eloquent description of an Egyptian dance performance by Tahia Carioca, witnessed by this distinguished professor of Middle Eastern history and author of “Orientalism”, when he was a young man.

Letters from Egypt by Florence Nightingale. Letters from the 29-year-old author to her family and later published by her sister. It is was interesting for me compare the Egyptian way of life in 1849 to that in 1971, when I made my first journey into the Egyptian countryside, and to discover that many customs had changed very little.

The Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians by Edward W. Lane. Written in Egypt between 1833 and 1835, it is an accurate description of Egyptian life at that time, and covers a broad range of subjects, including costume, music, dance, a description of zar rituals and a chapter on the Ghawazee.

“Meetings in the Middle East” A seven-part Arabesque series on the Ghawazee by Aisha Ali. 
Aisha AliPart I (Beirut, Damascus, Sofia Helme), Vol. V, No. V, January–February, 1979. 
   Part II (The Reda Troupe, Nezla El Adel), Vol. V, No. VI, March–April 1980. 
Aisha AliPart III (A Mulid, Urban Gypsies, Sahara City), Vol. VI, No. I, May–June, 1980. 
Aisha AliPart IV (Souhair Zeki, Wedding in Nazlett Al Samman), Vol VI No. III, September–October, 1980. 
Aisha AliPart V (Celebration in a Tent, The Zar), Vol VI, No. VI, March-April 1981. 
Aisha AliPart VI (Finding the Ghawazee, Khalil, Abu Kherage), Vol. VII, No. I, May–June, 1981. 
Aisha AliPart VII (Nawar, The Banat Mazin), Vol. VII, No. III, September–October, 1981.

The Fellahin of Upper Egypt by Winifred S. Blackman. A fascinating book written by an English lady doctor who lived in Egypt during the 1920s. The book compares the superstitions of rural Muslims, Jews and Christians, and how little they differed. Available to download from Amazon. 

A Thousand Miles Up the Nile by Amilia Ann Blanford Edwards. Written in 1877, this is another interesting report by an English woman, of her travels in Egypt, including descriptions of the dance performances she encountered.

A Trade Like Any Other: Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt by Karin Nieuwkerk. The author visited Egypt and interviewed a variety of female entertainers to learn their account of why they are often viewed as disreputable and accorded little prestige in Egypt society when they play such an essential part of most happy occasions.

Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society by Lila Abu-Lughod. An intimate and informative view of the present day lives of the women of the Awlad Ali tribe who live in the western desert of Egypt bordering Libya. The author focuses on how the women express themselves through oral lyric poetry.



Books are often available in public libraries, and are listed at unless otherwise noted.

A selection from Au Soleil or African Wanderings by Guy de Maupassant, published 1903, M. Walter Dunne at International Dance Discovery. Descriptions of the Ouled Naïl by two early 20th-century travelers.

“Dance of the Ouled Naïls” (an excerpt of Crossroads of the Mediterranean) by Hendrik de Leeuw, Hanover House, New York, 1954.

An excerpt from Desert Winds by “Hafsa,” 1927 at International Dance Discovery.

Flute of Sand: Experiences with the Mysterious Ouled Nail by Morgan, Lawrence, originally published by Odhams Press, London, 1956 (not at; facsimile edition published by Cinnabar, 2001; write P.O. Box 1071, Bristol BS99 1HE).


These books are available at some public and university libraries, and are listed at unless otherwise noted.

Frühlingsfahrt in die Sahara by Werner Wrage, Radebeul, 1959 (not on amazon).

Imazighen—The Vanishing Traditions of Berber Women by Margaret Courtney-Clarke, Clarkson Potter Publishers, New York. Examines the difficult lives and remarkable arts of Berber women in the Atlas mountains.

Marriage Ceremonies of Morocco by Edward Westermarck, London, 1914.

Ritual and Belief in Morocco by Edward Westermarck, London, 1926.

Tableau de la Musique marocaine by Alexis Chottin, Paris, 1939 (not on amazon).

Tribes of the Rif by Carlton Coon, Cambridge, MA, 1931 (not on amazon).



Books are often available in public libraries, and are listed at unless otherwise noted. Arabesque magazine is no longer in publication.

Adventures in Tunisia: A Performance at the Municipal Theater in Sfax” by Aisha Ali, Habibi, Vol. 18, No. 3, March 2001.

“A Tunisian Country Wedding” by Mardi Rollow, Arabesque Vol. V, No. I May–June 1979.

“The Dancers of Soliman, Adventures in Tunisia” by Aisha Ali, Habibi, Vol. 18, No. 2, September 2000.

“A Performance in Menzel Shaker” by Aisha Ali Arabesque Vol. V, No. I May–June 1979.

“Touring with the Ali Souissi Dancers” by Aisha Ali, Habibi, Vol. 19, No. 3, July, 2003.

PDF logo “The Tunisian Experience: Raqs Shaabi” by Mardi Rollow, Arabesque Vol. V, No. I May–June 1979.

“Dress and Adornment in Tunisia” by Mardi Rollow, Arabesque Vol. V, No. I May–June 1979.