The American Silk Road

belly-dancer-leyla-najma-desert-queen-300Through out the year there have been many experiences and lessons that have taken me to places I never expected. There were roads less traveled that caught my attention. Walking down them made me realize that we can’t always learn our lessons from conventional methods. And I also learned that I can say no to a lesson that keeps coming back.

An African Priestess who mentored me years ago told me that we can always say no to the Universe and that our request will be honored. I know what some of you may be thinking; how can I say no especially if it is a lesson that is necessary for my growth? Sometimes in our gut we know when there is a lesson that comes around that just isn’t necessary. Realizing this can release the chains of “society expectations” that we carry around with us on our journey through life.

Our American heritage seemed to be added to the melting pot of the dance world. In many ways our lives are intermingled with each other to the benefit of us all and to our detriment.   This leads me to new insights gained from this year, insights that surprised even me. With each step I took with my yearly path of my dance education I realized that years from now maybe none of this will matter. Because I realized that in the end all that really matters is how I create my dance for myself. Does my dance end with me or will it live long past my dieing breath? Does my mark on the belly dance world even matter? Read more

In The Beginning……….

In The Beginning.......... - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance BlogMany students/ dancers who write in to me and tell me a little about themselves are doing so because there is a need and desire to connect with someone who understands. And I am here to let all of you who write me know that I do understand.

In the beginning of my belly dance travels I couldn’t find a teacher for at least two years. I traveled working cattle so that meant I lived in remote areas. So I started to buy videos and practice when I had the chance. But like many of you I longed to connect with someone who could show me how to dance and become the belly dancer of my dreams.

After searching for a long time I found a wonderful dancer who took me in and started to teach me the foundation movements. As most beginners I was hungry for every move she taught and I had such enthusiasm that at times she felt a little overwhelmed. My first teacher was not so much a teacher as she was a performer. Her heart was on the stage and after about 4 months of dance class one day she told me she was no longer teaching me. No explanation was given and as my heart dropped I knew this meant I was again in a position where I had to find another dance teacher. My next teacher was a great inspiration but she let me know that she was already an accomplished dancer and that most probably I would not become her caliber for many, many years. This didn’t deter me at all. Read more

Keeping the Heart in Belly Dance

 

Well as you can see I didn’t fall of the planet and I’m back in the saddle ready to start the New Year. It occurred to me that many of you would be off,  spending time with family so I decided to wait and write my New Years/Christmas blog, “Keeping the Heart in Belly Dance,” when you all had time to read it. So I hope your Christmas was happy, joyful and inspirational. Read more

Confessions of a Neurotic Belly Dancer

Belly Dancer Leyla Najma 

Sometimes when I’m writing I wonder if I should let you in on what I really think. Confessions of a neurotic belly dancer, is my occasionally twisted view on things, belly dance. Such as, lately I’ve had really weird dreams that seem to have no meaning at all or they are so Cirque de Sole that to decipher them would be time consuming. I wake up with fading memories of glimmering dancers floating in the air or walking into the moon. The music echoes through a sparkling hillside like a galactic concerto that only dancers hear. It’s a calling but to what is the question.

In the past ten years I have experienced so much in the belly dance world that I often wonder if I knew years ago what I know now would I still dance? Why were specific experiences displayed like a melodrama? I’ve spoken my mind on a few topics that I felt passionate about but I always try to get my point across in a way that at least can be chewed on by others. It’s a choice to either spit it out or savor my perspective. Read more

Girl Talk Called Egypt

Sakti Rinek Egypt

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a mega mover and shaker in our belly dance world, Sakti Rinek. I went to Egypt with Sakti in the early 90’s and realized that it was too important an experience to keep to myself. That’s why I’m titling this post, “Girl Talk called Egypt,” because that’s all we talked about.

Sakti invited me to go with her to Egypt and as I look back at the invitation I realize that she was a huge part in taking my dance path from small town goals to nightclub dreams. After experiencing belly dance in Egypt, my naive way of looking at belly dance changed forever. In retrospect I think we were the Indiana Jones of our generation. We went to Egypt, just the two of us with the enthusiasm of explorers ready to find the missing link. In many ways I feel I found my ancient, spiritual self. Something awoke when we traveled around Egypt that I didn’t know was asleep.

As Sakti and I talked about our trip, memories flooded in of our first apartment in Garden City and how we walked everywhere. We lost ten to fifteen pounds each within two weeks. There was so much to see and with the hustle and bustle of life outside our windows, we left in the mornings and didn’t return until late at night. I’m not saying Egypt wasn’t an emotional rollercoaster but in many ways it was liberating to our souls. There’s a freedom in exploring other cultures first hand. Everywhere we looked was a National Geographic moment, surroundings so poignant that they imprinted upon our hearts and etched in the people and their way of life.

Pyramid in EgyptOur trip to Luxor was a bus ride that lasted hours. My bladder took a beating that trip because the bathroom wasn’t even a consideration. I wanted to run to our hotel room but the managers of the hotel invited us into their office for tea. My bladder was screaming at me at that point and with the look Sakti gave me so was hers. Everyone thought we were actresses so they treated us with special care. The following day we hired a tour guide to drive us around and as we started to drive off, our car was surrounded by people taking our pictures and waving at us. Sakti and I laughed hysterically in the back seat and our guide smiled at us and said, “They think you are movie stars!”

We saw Nagua Fouad, Zoheir Zaki, and Dina while we where there together. We visited with Mahmoud Reda and enjoyed meeting Madam Boozy who was performing in his show. Sakti went to Egypt for the sole purpose to get work there and as we traveled around and people took notice of her, her dream of dancing in Egypt came true. I remember in Luxor we were at a nightclub sitting at a table full of millionaires. They were jet setters and we were small town girls. We came to watch the belly dance show so we could see the talent and find out how Sakti could get work there. The belly dancer wasn’t very memorable but the band was just amazing. Our table started to make a bet on whether Sakti could out dance the belly dancer. With word getting out to the belly dancer that there was an American belly dancer in the audience, she found out where we were sitting and motioned for Sakti to get up and dance with her. Our table applauded and bets were being made. The band seemed to know what was up because right from the first drum beat the competition was on. When Sakti danced the audience cheered for her with a thunderous applause. By the time ten minutes had passed it was obvious that Sakti won the competition. After that night it was clear that Sakti was about to make her mark in Egypt!

The following night we watched a snake charmer work his magic with three cobras. He motioned for me to go up onto the stage so he could put a cobra around my shoulders. I was glued to my chair and so was Sakti. As much as I love animals, the thought of a cobra around my shoulders scared the beejeebies out of me.

We walked around as much as possible and to our delight we discovered the market place or the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar in Cairo. We walked through walkways of shops offering glimpses of fabrics, herbs, essential oils, costumes and the list goes on. When it’s all mixed together it intoxicates the senses and a surreal light surrounds everything. The past and present merge together becoming a doorway into history and customs that never change. It’s the one time in my life where I actually saw time stand still.

marketplace in egypt

One eventful experience was when we ate at of all places Pizza Hut and I had a large bug crawling around drenched in my salad dressing. He looked like the creature from the Black Lagoon. I told the manager and he looked at me and accused me of putting it there! I laughed hysterically because it just struck me funny and needless to say he made me pay for my salad anyways.

One thing Sakti and I did which I don’t recommend is we enjoyed throwing water balloons off our balcony. I know, it was an immature thing to do but it was like we had both just turned 12 and we couldn’t help ourselves. The other tenants never tattled on us and unbeknownst to us they used to watch us throw them off our balcony. It was as if Egypt unleashed all the restraints that we both grew up with and we just went a little silly.

One experience that we had at the Museum of Antiquities was beyond expectations. We had spent most of the day at the museum when two guards called us over to look into a sarcophagus that had Ramses II in it. The museum officials had just shown his mummy to some dignitaries when we were called over. We walked up some small steps and looked down at one of the most powerful Pharaohs of all time. I couldn’t get over his hands and how well preserved he was. I was looking at someone who was apart of history, who made history. It was a life altering moment because it was as if he was just sleeping. I felt as if we stepped back in time, full of vitality and a ritualistic way of looking at life. I wonder what Ramses II would do if he saw us with our technology of today?

The memories of Egypt fill me and they live on in my heart.  I will always see Egypt as a gift from a vivacious blonde who took Egypt by storm.  Because of Sakti when I think back to Egypt, a smile crosses my face and a giggle escapes my mouth. Egypt wasn’t just about the people and landscape it was about a friendship of laughter and adventure that is as indomitable as the pyramids. Time passes but the memories never fade. Girl Talk called Egypt is the bond between us and I believe this is the way Egypt stays alive in the hearts of those she touches.

Coming up, Cleopatra’s Court chat room on www.bellydancevillage.com