About the Book
Patricia Cumbie joins the Me Too movement with her memoir that juxtaposes belly dancing and sexual assault recovery by taking the reader into the living room, bedroom, and dance class and placing each body part, each private and public story under the lens. The result is a nexus of many contemporary concerns—campus sexual assault, working class families, female identity, and artistic expression.
The Shape of a Hundred Hips offers an insider’s perspective into the world of belly dancing that is perceived as outwardly fascinating, but rarely understood. The text goes beyond the glitz factor of belly dance to challenge assumptions people may have about it as suggestive or exotic. It promotes the idea that people can gain insight and take greater control of their lives through intentional movement and artistic connection.
For Readers and Book Clubs: Reading Guide
In the Media
“In this well-written memoir . . . are many issues that women face every day, wrapped in the author’s descriptions of hip scarves, full skirts and costumes with shiny adornments–how we feel about our bodies, our relationship to body image and sex, the shame that follows rape, how little girls like the author were raised to be “nice” and do housework when they wanted freedom. Who knew belly dance could lead to such wisdom?” — Pioneer Press
“Extraordinarily well written, organized and presented, The Shape of a Hundred Hips is an inherently fascinating read that is as informative as it is thoughtful and thought provoking.” – Midwest Book Review
“Frank and fascinating: these words apply to Patricia Cumbie’s new book, a memoir. Her bravery is second to none. Raped as a teenager, living with family who settled for little, Cumbie fought for independence, and an understanding of herself consistent with her dreams and abilities. In short, she is amazing, and so is The Shape of a Hundred Hips. Descriptions and explanations of belly dancing—which she studied—are informative and enlightening, revealing how she grew into a maturity from which we can all take guidance. You will want to read this book now and quickly because it is exciting, useful, and memorable!” — Kelly Cherry, author of Girl in a Library: On Women Writers and the Writing Life (nonfiction) and Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer (poems)
“With courage, empathy and clarity, Cumbie depicts her working class family and roots, the difficulties and triumph of her marriage, and her struggles to tell the truths of her life and to confront the trauma of rape. That the art of belly dancing comes to be one of the ways in which she heals helps makes this a singular and intriguing work. The result is a fascinating narrative whose emotional weight keeps gathering power and will move readers in unexpected and subtle ways.” — David Mura, author of Turning Japanese: Memoirs of a Sansei
“The reader will shimmy with Patricia, tip and roll their shoulders, and release in time with her as she shares her love and heartbreak on the page. Her words move on the page much like a belly dancer undulating on the dance floor.” — Elizabeth DiGrazia, author of House of Fire (memoir)
MIDWINTER AFTERNOON SUNLIGHT coursed in from three sides of the dance studio onto a smooth and well-worn wooden floor. The floorboards, clean and understated, exuded a tanned and healthy glow, pampered by dancers who didn’t want them afflicted by the cold or salt or sand tracked in on most Minnesota floors in winter. I took off my boots and left them in the pile by the door. The footwear ran the gamut, from beefy Sorrels to sensible shoes and a smattering of heeled sandals. Later I learned the sandal-wearing gals were particularly noteworthy, donning floral socks and patterned pants after class. Around their necks were amulets in the shape of hands or crescent moons. This was the late 1990s, before mainstream fashion embraced tribal prints and music festival vogue.
The floor was soon packed with women in black yoga pants and tank tops angling for a place to stretch out. Some had scarves wrapped around their hips that sparkled from the beads and coins on them. Hips of all shapes and sizes. Belly dancers!
I was dressed in a baggy t-shirt and long hippie skirt, my tenuous heart shrinking by the second.
The teacher pointed to a battered box of scarves and veils and said I could borrow one. I put both hands into the fabric scrum. Different perfumes rose up to my nose, floral and musky, and a whole new world emerged through my fingertips. There were veils in a layer of pastels, some stiff and see-through, pink and lavender, a few were wrinkled castoffs, and others were smooth pools of silk-essence that even I could recognize had been held, pawed, fluttered and flung in the air, hundreds if not thousands of times. I heard the sound of metal and beads clacking together as I swished my hands through the box, drawn toward a waterfall. In a corner near the box I saw a dozen canes wrapped in silver and gold ribbon. There was also a clear plastic makeup kit that had been repurposed to hold extra finger cymbals. I aimed to pull all of these fabrics and scarves out of storage and look at each one, and to decipher what all those shiny things were for.
The instructor cued the warm-up music. I heard muted drums and something that sounded like a flute. It sounded like something out of a movie, Middle Eastern-y. The repetition was like a heartbeat. Women ceased their conversations and found their places on the dance floor. It was time.
I picked a well-worn lime green scarf with coins on it and tied it around my waist the way I saw others doing it. The knot rested on my right hip.