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A Book Review of Dancing in Damascus

Review by: Dr. Amina HUSSIAN, 
Sarojini Naidu Centre for Women Studies,
Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi

“Dancing in Damascus” by miriam cooke is a thought-provoking and insightful book that explores the role of women in the Syrian revolution through the lens of creativity and resilience. The author presents a nuanced and complex portrayal of women’s experiences in Syria, highlighting their agency and creativity amidst the chaos and violence of the revolution. One of the most striking aspects of the book is the author’s use of storytelling to bring to life the experiences of women in Syria. Through a series of interviews and personal narratives, Cooke provides a powerful and moving account of the ways in which women have been impacted by the conflict, and the ways in which they have responded with courage and creativity.

The book also explores the broader political and social context of the Syrian revolution, highlighting the complexities and contradictions of the various actors involved, from the Assad regime to the opposition groups and foreign powers. Cooke argues that women have been largely marginalized and excluded from formal political processes, but that they have nonetheless played a crucial role in shaping the course of the revolution through their everyday acts of resistance and creativity.

One of the strengths of this book is its focus on the experiences of dancers and choreographers themselves, as Cooke draws on interviews and first-hand accounts to provide a vivid and personal perspective on the role of dance in Syrian society. She also examines the historical and cultural contexts that have shaped dance in Syria, from the Ottoman Empire to the present day, and shows how dance has been used to negotiate and contest power relations.

Cooke’s analysis is wide-ranging and interdisciplinary, drawing on insights from cultural studies, anthropology, and political science. She also provides a detailed analysis of the diverse styles of dance in Syria, from classical ballet to dabke, and demonstrates how these different forms reflect and embody social and political tensions.

In one section of the book, Cooke writes about a group of women who use dancing as a way to cope with the stress and trauma of living in a warzone. She notes that “for these women, dancing was a way of reclaiming their bodies, of asserting their own power and autonomy in a society that often sought to deny them these things”.

Cooke also discusses the ways in which the Syrian government has historically regulated and policed women’s bodies, including through laws that limit their ability to dance or perform in public. She argues that “dancing had always been a site of resistance for Syrian women, a way of asserting themselves in a society that often denied them agency and autonomy” .

Overall, “Dancing in Damascus” is an important and timely book that sheds light on the experiences of women in Syria and their role in the ongoing conflict. The author’s use of storytelling and personal narratives is particularly effective in bringing to life the human impact of the conflict, while her analysis of the broader political and social context is insightful and nuanced. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the complex realities of the Syrian revolution, and the role of women in it. Cooke’s engaging writing style and rigorous research make this an accessible and compelling read, while her critical perspective offers new insights into the complexities of Syrian society and culture. It remains a lasting contribution to the field of Middle Eastern Studies.

 

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