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The Gilded Serpent presents
"Snake Hips: Belly Dancing
and How I Found True Love"
by Anne Thomas-Soffee

book review by Lilly

It’s sometimes a little difficult for me to find a book that I can delve into and read in a couple of hours and feel like I’m having a conversation with the author. Snake Hips: Belly Dancing and How I Found True Love is just one of those books. When I first “met” Anne online, she told me she was half-Lebanese, and that she was also a belly dancer, and would I want to read her book? My goodness! There’s another Lebanese belly dancer out there, who wants to share a book about her experiences with me? I was completely taken aback, and waited with bated breath for the book to arrive.

To say I enjoyed the book would be a gross understatement.

Anne is a very articulate author who divulges all about her learning belly dancing in order for her to get in touch with her “ethnic roots” and to get over her loser boyfriend, as well as her family’s reactions to her dancing and her involvement in the chaotic world of American belly dancing, fraught with gossip, camaraderie, sisterhood, support, and backstabbing.

The book starts with Anne's recounting her meeting Chris (her recovering alcoholic boyfriend) at an AA meeting, their living together, their friends from the tattoo parlor, and his walking out on her. In an effort to cheer her up after the break-up, her friend Karen suggests they enroll in the “Belly Dancing for Beginners” class as a way to give them something to do. In the words of Karen, “Well, at least it’ll give you something to do, even if it is crazy. I guess it ain’t any crazier than datin’ a little gay lawyer, though”. And then, the adventure begins.

In chapter 3, my favorite chapter in the book, Anne learns about how her family feels about her dancing. This chapter made me homesick in a perverse way. In an exchange over dinner with her family at a holiday gathering, Anne announces proudly that she is going to take up belly dancing lessons.

Her great-aunt Frances yells out, “Belly dancing? Your daddy ought to smack your face!”

In a way this illustrates how many Lebanese and Arab families view belly dancing. Women and men are allowed to dance and use belly dancing moves on the dance floor, but somehow, if a woman dresses up in dance costumes and dances professionally (or even in a troupe), somehow that is considered reflective of loose morals. Anne notes that she sees belly dancing as an “important step toward reclaiming [her] family’s status as not just Lebanese Americans, but as prominent, visible members of the local Lebanese community”.

What kept me completely enthralled by the book is Anne’s relationships with her families, her community and her fellow Lebanese from the local Maronite Church. The more Anne got into belly dancing as a way for her to reclaim her “Lebanese roots”, the more she found herself at the edge of two cultures: one traditional, church-community involved, and the other one where anything goes, where there are no set rules of how things ought to be performed and carried out in public. This is a difficult position to be in no matter what, but Anne looks at it as a freeing experience, and resolves after all her adventures that she needed to accept that she was “a sober, nerdy, rock ‘n’ rolling, coffee-drinking, school teaching, erotica reading, Lebanese belly dancer….so far as I know, there are no other rock ‘n’ roll nerd kitsch half-Lebanese belly dancers around; at least none in the general vicinity. So I am free to do as I please without fear of reproach. I can dance at spots that would be scorned by the Ethnic Police, carouse in ways that would make the Ladies’ Auxiliary blanch, and embarrass myself so thoroughly that true hipsters will pretend they don’t know me when we pass in the aisles at Plan 9. And I will have fun”.

This is a fun, heart-warming, homesickness-inducing (for those of us who are walking on the edges of cultures), hilarious book that once you pick up, will be very difficult to put down.

And… it doesn’t hurt that there’s enough gossip in there about some of the big names (and smaller names) of belly dance to make one take many fluttering gasps!


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