Beg, Borrow or Steal……Moves

Beg, Borrow or Steal......Moves - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance BlogYears ago when I was in Egypt I was watching TV and was overjoyed to see belly dancing on many of the channels. As I settled down and started watching the dancing something came to my mind. The dancer who I was watching was Nagua Fuad in all her glory. She did an amazing dance but I could have sworn I had seen it somewhere or something similar. I couldn’t put my finger on it so I kept on watching her dance and than bingo; I remembered where I had seen it. The performance Nagua Fuad had performed was from around the 60’s or early 70’s and a performance that looked similar to hers was done by a dancer in the later part of the 80’s. Since I was in my infancy of learning belly dancing at that point I didn’t know if it was ok to imitate a well known dancer. The moves were different but the essence of the dance was definitely from Nagua Fuad. It made me wonder about choreography and how our dance is actually passed down from dancer to dancer. Taking it a few steps further, I wondered about themes in dance, terminology, and styles. With so many dancers in our community, how can we actually know if moves are original or taken from other dancers? Does it matter? Read more

When Do You Know it’s Time to Perform?

When is it Time to Preform? - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance BlogSometimes I have had dancers come to my studio with horror stories regarding first time performances. Even as I write this I can remember my first performance many years ago in Taos, New Mexico. I had been training for two years and my first teacher felt it was time for me to debut my first choreography. If I wouldn’t have had the two years to prepare I probably would have passed out at the very thought of performing in front of people. But I was very fortunate because good training and lady luck changed my dance world.

The familiar horror stories seemed to be based on similar facts that made it clear that just because somebody has been dancing for a while doesn’t mean they are ready to dance publicly. The first experience a dancer has with dance should be given extra care by teachers and fellow dance friends alike. We all know that the real world is full of unexpected situations that pop up out of the blue. The first time out should be a rite of passage for dancers and a preparation for being on a stage and in front of a supportive audience.  Student recitals are excellent ways for students to be in a “safe” environment. First time performances at restaurants can be just as safe if the studio or dance friends come along as a support system.

I know for some of you that this might seem like “Duh” Leyla but as Daniel was interviewing me for BDV today it occurred to me that I had students who came from other studios who were put in front of an audience without warning. A student named Maria comes to mind because she told me that without warning, her teacher had her go out and dance in front of an audience at a local restaurant in town. The studio was doing a monthly show at the restaurant and she felt that she was not ready to dance but that her teacher kept pushing her towards the stage. She was totally humiliated and ready to quit dancing. We had to start back to square one in order to get her past the experience and ready for a new future in belly dance. Our first class was dealing with the feelings of giving up before she ever got her feet on the ground. Five months later her debut was at a small coffee shop in town where she performed two choreographies that she put together herself. She was the best gift the Angels could have given me. To see her smile showing some attitude on stage reminded me that with divine timing and training the true essence of the belly dancer in everyone emerges ready to perform.

Sometimes we have students who jump at every chance to perform and with each individual student as teachers we have to decide how to prepare them on their belly dance path. Some are ready at 3 months while others don’t feel confident until 7 months to a year. We have to understand each students belly dance journey and sometimes that is easier said then done .

Another student told me that her teacher asked her take her place at a local restaurant knowing she had never danced publicly before. She didn’t tell her any details as to how to dress or what to expect. She told her to dance to her music and that she usually left her cds at the restaurant. When this student went to the restaurant in her teachers stead, the owner was not notified and upset and she found out her teacher had taken the cds with her the week before so there was no music to dance to. Unfortunately for her, she had to dance to the restaurant music which was a mishmash of Middle Eastern, Indian and Spanish music. And for a beginner dancing to music they have never heard before is like walking the plank knowing they will have to jump. At the end of the evening she said she felt deflated, unprepared, ignored by the patrons and treated rudely by the restaurant owner. She came to my studio a few weeks after her experience in tears.

There is always a flip side to every story and I have had them occur. I have had students perform and get drunk afterwards………start fights with other dancers and try to take gigs away from me. Maybe they weren’t ready to perform or maybe they just didn’t have any etiquette even with what I tried to teach them. Dance is a very personal endeavor so there is no telling what the story is of each student who walks into our studios or classes. Ultimately we have to know that with each student we did our best and that the belly dancer emerging within each of them knows when to come out and perform.

Birthday News!!

Just wanted you all to know that Daniels Birthday is April 21st which means Thursday! HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the best husband in the whole world!

Teacher’s Interview Corner (Belly Dance Village)

Look for Najla’s interview coming up the 23rd, this coming Saturday. It was a lot of fun talking with her so check out what Najla’s doing with her belly dancing in Ohio.


The Politics of Belly Dance

The Politics of Belly Dance - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance Blog

Last night my daughter, Savanah and I were going through my dance magazines for a school project and I decided just for fun to reminisce and read the variety of different issues I’ve collected. As I was looking at photos and reading different articles and checking out past workshops, I notice that my heart rate went up and I became agitated……okay I turned into a grump!

It was so weird and I had to actually stop and do something else for awhile so I could relax and get back to my normal (devil) self…..this is only according to Daniel!

Anyways it really bugged me that I reacted this way and I decided to do some recapitulating which basically meant chew on my feelings for awhile before I decided to go  back to view my magazines again. It became increasingly clear to me why I was reacting the way I was and to be honest with you all, I thought that I was tootin and groovin along on my journey just fine and dandy with the past way behind me.

Being in the belly dance business for as long as I have and especially with it now being a family business has attracted the stark day to day reality of business as usual. This means “normalcy” occasionally wreaks havoc on my mental state and belly dance politics seeps in and makes itself at home. Remember the Buhz issue……..even from my little video room, drama has found her favorite corner lingering with a watchful eye.

Actually belly dance politics has made itself at home for many years and it ultimately always upstages any legit and positive idea regarding theatrical shows, workshops or staged events. So I know many of you might be wondering what is belly dance politics. First let’s look at the many ways to view the word politics so here are a few.

#1. The interrelationships between the people, groups, or organizations in a particular area of life especially insofar as they involve power and influence or conflict.

With this example it is clear that there is always influence coming into play with any type of venue because once you get a group of performers together, you start to see artistic rivalry. Small things matter which ultimately lead to big things and the end result is usually a purple people eating machine which changes the course of any show or theatrical production it comes into contact with. As a producer and director, sometimes I agreed to things out of necessity and then wanted to bang my head against the wall for agreeing to a change that didn’t feel good in my gut. The influence of the many is not always the right answer but sometimes it’s the easier perhaps least complicated way to go. As a producer or director always stick to your guns and pull them out if necessary to make sure the integrity of “your” artistic vision stays true to your divine inspiration! Otherwise your show will resemble a two headed baby that was not of your making plus you will usually be the one  stuck taking care of it with everyone else too busy or out of sight.

#2. The use of tactics and strategy to gain power in a group or organization.

Wow, where do I start with this one?!! This example is a given especially when you have too many chiefs and not enough Indians working on a show. If you get one of the chiefs mad, the backstabbing starts and behind the scene agendas take on a whole new level of hissing and spewing out problems besides the occasional claws. Ever heard of, “problem+reaction= solution?” This particular strategy is one to watch out for because your miffed chief will create a problem, react to it and then “they” bring in the solution. The only problem here is when you have someone constantly creating problems; they tend to forget the solution part of the equation.

#3. Political persuasions or beliefs.

This last example reminds me of a dancer I used to know who had her own way of persuading people to do things the way she felt they should be done. The only problem is she would lie to venue agents or sponsors giving them a perverse way of looking at other dancers. Of course I knew what she did but for some reason I didn’t call her on it. And as you might have guessed, one day she did me the voodoo dance and I was out of a job. Add insult to injury, a few weeks later another experience occurred with this dancer that made me realize there is no safety net with her. We were both dancing at a new restaurant and they were deciding on keeping only one of us. I had other jobs so I was on the fence post about it but deep down inside I really wanted to dance there.  The night I performed the crowded restaurant was full of people who knew me from other restaurants and yelled my name clapping and dancing while I performed my show. We all had a great time dancing and interacting with each other and the owners were thrilled people knew me and they hired me that night.

A few days later I received a phone call from them saying that something came up and at the moment they didn’t need me to dance. This was odd because they really seemed to like me. No drum roll please because I know you all know what happened. So I went to the restaurant the following weekend and guess who was dancing?!! The owners were embarrassed and came over to my table to let me know that they liked me but had heard that I was a very busy dancer and that I would occasionally come in late . They said they needed a dancer who could come in on time. My ho, hum attitude did an about face and I asked them to tell me where they heard this information. Just as they were going to answer me little Lolita came strolling over to say hello. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth came to my mind and I wanted to jump over the table and American woman her butt to the ground! I didn’t because the look on my face made her do an abrupt hello and good bye.  End of a long story…………I ended up dancing there only to have them close within 9 months. And little Lolita went on to other restaurants wreaking havoc with other dancers along the way or so I was told.

So moral of this story………when I finally looked at my feelings, I realized that as I was looking through those glorious magazine pages, I remembered different occasions and experiences when my belly dance fantasy turned into real life drama. Obviously they are opposite sides of the same coin at least for some of us. Good experiences or bad experiences, the way I look at it, I lived belly dance, experienced belly dance, learned from belly dance and today as I write this I still eat, breath and sleep belly dance. Even with my occasional heart rate going up, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am who I am because I am a belly dancer!

The Photo Shoot That Wasn’t………

The Photo Shoot That Wasn't.... - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance BlogHave you ever woke up with that “impending” event feeling that you just can’t shake? Well I must admit the day of my groups photo shoot, I woke up with that feeling. But with a confident shrug I shook off the feeling and started to prepare for the days challenges. As 12:00 o’clock rolled around I new something was up because one of my students was late coming to my house. I had told the girls to be punctual but the fake eyelash emergency got us on the road late a half hour. I had that “impending” event  feeling again but as usual I rationalized to myself it was my imagination. Off we went to our photo shoot location and thank goodness there were no hick ups or flat tires to mess with our trip.

As soon as we drove into the parking lot of our photo shoot location, Project Tibet, I again had that feeling but it was such a pretty day and I must admit the girls looked so amazing so I quickly forged ahead and forgot about the feeling. As soon as we walked into the building where we were going to start off, I saw our photographer and could see something was wrong. He made it clear there was something wrong by snapping at me and acting irritated. This shocked me because we worked together for almost 4 years and most of the photo shoots had been really amazing. I had brought my video camera and was filming the girls photo shoot  but I could tell he wasn’t happy I had the video camera with me and walked in front of it asking me to turn it off,  jokingly but I could tell he wasn’t comfortable with me filming. So I told him it was for the girls and that it was more of a documentary of his amazing talent……..ahhh…humm….that didn’t work either but I still kept the camera rolling.

The first part of the group scene together had all of us posing with our arms in different ways and positions. I was suppose to pose everyone but with our photographer grumpy I let it go and the end result was unusable photos  with our arms looking stiff, discombobulated and really awful!    I suspected as much but didn’t say anything. The solo photo sessions were next and  I then turned to the photographer asking him who he wanted first, when all of a sudden  he grumbled at me to relax and kept repeating this statement. So we ended up growling at each other and with a look that said leave me alone, he stopped. I think he got the message and I ended up stressed out which is not something that happens to me alot.

We had another  group photo session outside and I knew something was wrong because that feeling crept back into my chest.  We were being placed into positions that didn’t  work but because I had already been snapped at I decided to let my opinion go. It went right out the window and we had another group of photos that didn’t work.

The solo photos came out wonderful and I must say they saved the day. But our whole purpose was to be photographed in a very unique way so that we wouldn’t have group photographs that are the norm. It didn’t happen because I didn’t stand up to the plate as the director of the group. Lesson learned; do not compromise your vision or dream for anyone and fight for what you know is right in your gut!   Funny thing is when I got home I watched  our little verbal quarrels  on video and realized that they happened in front of the girls at various times. Sadly to say it was the photo shoot that wasn’t but it should of been.