Monday, July 9, 2012

It Ain't Much About Belly Dancing

Back in September I bought a Nook and started loading it up with all sorts of books and apps, including content of the belly dance variety.  Of the 13 books and one app currently available one is a biography called "The Life Story of Etta Jamison:  The First Instructor to Bring Belly Dancing to the Tri-Cities."
See that cover?  I think you can understand why this grabbed my attention in such a big way.

In comparison to other forms of dance there just aren't that many belly dancing books available; and a belly dancing biography?  Well, that's the rarest of the rare. 

And, it's still rare.  I was hoping this book would have some insights into the early days of the belly dance craze of the 60's and 70's, but it doesn't.  It's a short book, only 85 pages, and of those only about 4, two of which are photos, are devoted to Etta Jamison's experiences with belly dancing.

When her friend Elly asked if she knew anything about belly dancing Etta said "No," but that she was interested in learning about it.  After doing some research and hearing about a belly dancing showgirl performing in Portland, Oregon she and Elly decided to make the drive down there to see this mystery lady dance and ask if she would be interested in teaching them how to belly dance.  After some hesitation she agreed, and with a notebook and tape recorder in hand Etta and Elly began taking belly dance classes.  I could be wrong on this, but I get the idea that these lessons only lasted for a few days before Etta went back to Washington to teach classes at the Richland Community Center.

She had a few highlights to her belly dancing career;  40 students in her first class,  forming a troupe, teaching at least twice for the Professional Dance Teachers Association, and an impromptu performance in the Kasbah in Tangiers.

After reading this all too brief chapter I have so many questions:  How long did she actually study and with who before she started teaching?  Did she start teaching after only a few lessons?  There's only the briefest mention of her attending workshops in Seattle, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.  Why did she start teaching classes at a community center instead of at her own studio?  Were all her classes so large and for how long did she sustain those numbers?  How were her classes at the PDTA received and did she teach more than twice?  Where did she perform and for how long?  The way the story is written it seems like it was about 10 years.  And of course, the big question:  What were those early days of belly dance like?

To be fair, this is an entertaining and well written book about a little girl who started dancing because of weak joints and spent a life time exploring and teaching many different styles of dance that included jazz, tap, ballet, Polynesian, Irish, ballroom, and more.  Life jumped up and bit Etta on the ass more than once and each time she picked herself up and didn't let some of those horrible experiences;  an abusive, cheating husband, the estrangement of her children, or the death of a son destroy her enthusiasm for life or dancing.