Falling off the Wagon

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Sometimes I think I’m falling off the wagon…okay the belly dance wagon.  This phrase actually came from prohibition times when as a rule women would go from town to town on a wagon and preach against drinking. If they could get a drunk to ride around with them and get him sober they felt it helped their cause. Even though our wagon is different, sometimes an unexpected bump in the road causes me to fall off the wagon wondering how the heck to get back on or sometimes wondering if I even want to get back on.

As of late I have been reading different opinions on our dance and I’ve been slowly taking these varied ideals in like a sponge. As the years have gone by different attitudes seem to permeate and effect the changes in our dance field. And I don’t know if I agree with everything I read. I like to see  people’s different perspectives on things but sometimes I think that opinions have specific agendas behind them. And of course I’m the pot calling the kettle black here because I have my own views on dance that not everyone agrees with.

I have occasionally been the hypocrite because I didn’t allow my students to drink on the job. Years ago, I actually had a glass of wine in between shows and finally acquired a problem with the so called “wine bottle” syndrome. I come from an Italian family so we enjoy our drinks but there is a point where a drink here and there adds up to a problem. The one time I did have a student drink happened to be when a local group had weekly shows at a tavern an hour away east from town. She decided to start an argument with various dancers and brought up my name and studio.  This happened unbeknownst to me because the following week when I brought some of my students to perform at the same tavern for open dancing, I was confronted at the door by the angry dancers caught in the argument of the prier week. I calmed them down and told them she didn’t represent my studio or business that I did. They didn’t get her name and when I confronted my students at my studio the following week about what happened no one was willing to confess so to this day I have no idea who it was. That was the first time I was knocked off the wagon by one of my own students because after that incident we were never invited back to the tavern.

The gig question I’ve mentioned before in another post but I’m not really sure what the problem is for some dancers regarding belly dance gigs. Belly dancers have been doing gigs way before I started to belly dance which was over 20 years ago, a drop in the bucket. Belly dance gigs were apart of the way I was brought up in belly dance. Now according to some dancers, the gigs should be a thing of the past. I agree some gigs were not exactly what I thought they would be but the only reason I stopped doing them was because of my age. I’ll be honest here, what comes with age is a life time of accumulated impatience especially when it comes to people’s ignorance of our dance. But in 18 years of dance gigs, not all were degrading and my most favorite parties were for friends, some Arabs and Persians and let’s not forget the corporate gigs. Maybe my falling off the wagon was my preference to be on stage. It’s my first love. After awhile I just got tired of some people comparing me to a stripper but in saying this I realize that if I was dancing in nightclubs instead of small town restaurants I wouldn’t have had this problem. Smaller towns or cities seem to generate a laid back attitude of cultural ignorance. It’s a coin toss up in the air and how you decide to read the outcome depends on your dance experience.

The click mentality has been around since the beginning of Eve but here’s my thought on this one, there is a part of me that is so tired of seeing dance acquaintances or community politics decide our value as a dancer, teacher or person. I’ve worked with people in shows who haven’t spoken to me since these shows. We all put in our part and I must say with all our creative efforts, I wonder why some people think its okay to disown a friendship already in progress? I’m not talking about close friends here, I’m talking about those who partake in shows if invited and then you never hear from them again unless you decide to produce another show. I know in life we find out who we don’t mesh with but effort has to have some worth at least in the large scope of things. Sometimes effort is misinterpreted and exchanged for shortcomings in people’s minds. They see the cup as half empty instead of half full and rising. If we all rose together, the wagon would be full of merrymaking dancers who you aren’t telling your life story to because you are too busy living your life story with them.

Sometimes I wonder if some of my students of days past think I don’t care about them. In keeping with my philosophy on dance, I have turned students out before they felt they were ready to leave my nest. I had this happen with my very first teacher, Dina who shooed me out the door after 6 months. She felt I needed the tutelage of Sakti Rinek and you know what…Dina was right! At the year point I tend to do this to my students because once they start on their own choreographies and gain confidence to perform I feel it’s important to continue study with new and different teachers. Everybody has something to share, teach and I know with the many teachers that I have had my lightbulb moments came when one teacher explained something in a way I could understand. Verbiage is unique amongst teachers so a demonstration with the right words can change a feeling of “I didn’t get that to an elated, I got it moment”. I studied from so many teachers and I feel they are the soil that started my growth in this dance. Remembering my teachers keeps the soil rich with memories of each of them and this keeps my foundation strong. If I am ever overshadowed it is only my willingness to see my limitations through others actions and words. Each teacher I had who nurtured me through out the years has helped me grow out of my own self criticism. If I have fallen off the wagon here it has been my own insecurities listening to what I think others are saying. It doesn’t matter if the words seem real, what matters is how I react to them.

I took this year off of all engagements, workshops and shows to regroup and get my mojo back. I thought that if I didn’t dance every chance that came my way, I would be letting the belly dance experience slip through my fingers. I’m older now and I feel that if I don’t look at my path and see where I’ve come from then I won’t be able to see the meaning my path has for me. As we all continue on in our dance careers I do believe there are times when it’s important to study, learn, research and grow from the details that we have forgotten or are newly discovered. I’ve learned this year that there are so many powerful and remarkable men and women who through out their careers started out doing Oriental dance before venturing onto other dance forms. Imagine the turn of the century and the impression our dance had on the minds and imaginations of those patrons of the Chicago Worlds Fair. This year is going back in history and learning the who’s who of our dance field and my favorite study of all time, the Egyptians. For the first time I feel I am not only in the wagon, I’m leading the horses in the direction I want to go. Sometimes we have to fall off the wagon in order to get back on and find ourselves. This time it feels good knowing where I’m going but more importantly where I’ve come from.

Become a member now and watch my new video interview with master painter and philisophical dancer Barbara Sayre Harmon at Belly Dance Village


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About Leyla Najma
Lifelong professional Belly Dancer dedicated to providing "Belly Dance Instruction That Is Easy To Understand And Learn That Connects The Dots"


8 Responses to “Falling off the Wagon”
  1. Anthea says:

    That is a lot! You really have about four topics in this post! 🙂 But I relate to a lot of what you’re saying, bellydance can be very lonely sometimes even in the midst of classes, performances, etc. So much ego gets in the way. Or maybe finding time to connect (when we’re trying to make a living and run a business) gets shortchanged. Good post! Lots of food for thought –

    • Leyla Najma says:

      Thank you Anthea… this one was full of a a few things on my mind but sometimes just sharing them helps to put them into perspective. I would love to know your thoughts on students and teachers and dance studies. I think it’s important to see how everyone feels about this dance at various points in their lives.

      You’re comments brighten up my day…thank you for writing in and please know how much I appreciate you and am honored you read my blog!!

      Hugs and Blessings,


  2. Kristen says:

    Thank you for this post. It is a gentle reminder for me to pick up where I have left off. I for one am forever dropping the ball, because I let life get in the way. I have fallen off the wagon on so many issues so many times that I should have a calluos on my butt. 🙂

    I, too, have a hard time understanding the need for politics and such in things that should be enjoyed. It takes away from the whole experience and leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Whereas we aren’t going to get along all the time or even like each other, we can at least be civil and caring despite our feelings and personal opinions.

    I enjoy your posts, they are a breath of fresh air in my sometimes chaotic life.

    • Leyla Najma says:

      Thank you Kristen! I cracked up laughing thinking about the callous on the butt comment! It actually made my day and I appreciate you commenting in. I think we all feel the same way about a lot of things and it’s so nice to know there are more of us then we thought! So thanks again and have a great day!



  3. Jenny says:

    Leyla, your observations about life and the Art of Dance go way beyond just the field of dance and your life. They apply to a very transcendent thread that connects all of us to our meaning and mortality. Thank you! I just saw your email Subject line, and have been getting them for maybe two years, and even though I’m supposed to be working on an unrelated project with a 5pm deadline, I decided to click and read. God makes no mistakes.

    – Jenny

    • Jenny says:

      …and don’t ask me where that “gravatar” picture came from…I’ve never even seen it before…

      All my best, Jenny

    • Leyla Najma says:

      Hello Jenny,

      Thank you so much for your heart felt comment. I appreciate you taking the time out to share with not only me but other readers. God is the best when it comes to those moments of reprieve or just a few minute break in-between work especially when you are working on a Saturday. Good luck on your project and have a wonderful weekend!