Saturday, July 12, 2008
Finding Donna Carlton
So I obviously didn’t get to Ahlan Wa Sahlan in Cairo, which some call the ultimate belly dance pilgrimage. But I did take a belly dance pilgrimage of my own last month. The purpose of the trip was to visit the site of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, which is now largely parkland nestled beside Lake Michigan and surrounded by the University of Chicago. It was an amazing and humbling feeling to stand in the place – the exact place! – where belly dance made its first big splash in America.
But the highlight of the trip was meeting one of my all-time favorite belly dance heroes: Donna Carlton, who wrote the seminal belly dance book LOOKING FOR LITTLE EGYPT. It’s a book I’ve read and reread for its detailed examination of the Little Egypt legend, as well as its treatment of the whole cast of real-life characters who came together to make this a particularly compelling period in history. Can you just imagine all those fine Victorian ladies with their kidney-crushing corsets and floor-length skirts casting their disapproving glances over the earthy Ghawazee dancers? The snickers, those upturned noses, their curiously riveted glances? Yeah, me, too. I imagined those moments for so long they ended up forming the basis for my forthcoming novel, THE BELLY DANCER.
So it was with a great deal of anticipation and no small amount of hero worship that I walked into a Starbucks in Lebanon, Indiana, where Ms. Carlton kindly agreed to meet me to be interviewed for a future article for Belly Dance Magazine. She couldn’t have been more gracious. We talked for a little more than an hour about her book, the inspiration for her research, and her continuing passion for belly dancing. By the end of it, I’d all but forgotten that we’d only just met. Perhaps because I’d spent so many hours with her words and ideas, I already felt like I knew her. Or maybe it was because she is genuinely such a friendly person that she has the gift of putting people at such ease.
If you haven’t already had an opportunity to read LOOKING FOR LITTLE EGYPT, I urge you to check it out. It’s one of the best belly dance history books out there, and it’s written by a woman who truly loves the art and history of belly dance.