The Other Half of Me (My Belly Dance Husband)

The Other Half of Me - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance BlogFor the last 8 years there has been a huge change not just in my dance career but also in my view of the world. There is one man responsible for this and he is my husband Daniel. Now you can only imagine what it’s like to be married to a belly dancer who has occasional outbursts or  rant and raves over the littlest things.  But Daniel watches me sometimes in amusement and other times with a blank look on his face that says, “Not again!”

One thing for sure Daniel is a trouper with a seasoned belly dance husband attitude. I often wonder what our husbands really think of our dancing which includes the drama that goes into each production, performance or dance class. They sit in the audience watching us perform knowing what we have put into our dance and than the first thing out of our mouth after the show is over is, “How did I do?” Now this really is not a fair question and it is pretty much a set up. They know this if they are seasoned and if they are not, they learn very quickly what not to say.

Read more

War Bonnet

War Bonnet - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance BlogYears ago when I was nineteen I was introduced to my wedding gift, a mare called War Bonnet. Actually to tell you the truth I was told that if I married my ex-husband that War Bonnet would be mine. Looking back I can see that without the enticement of War Bonnet I probably would have declined the proposal. It’s not that I am so shallow, it was just that War Bonnet and I connected and she was a one in a million horse.
Saying that she and I were green as grass is an understatement. But on the other hand she was an appaloosa/quarter horse with the heart of an old soul.

We learned how to work cattle together. Both of us nervous as heck every morning when we would ride out but relaxing as the day ended because we held our own. What was so unusual about her was that I used a hackamore on her and not a bit. She learned to rein with my signals and grumblings and a few swear words here and there. Her ears would go back when she would get mad at me and I would crack up laughing. It was just our way of communicating with each other.

One of my fondest memories of War Bonnet was one of the first round ups either one of us had been on. We worked on a ranch that was thousands of acres with experienced cowboys that looked like they had just stepped out of a John Wayne movie.
On one particular morning we all woke up way before dawn to get a good head start on the day. I thought I was going to die because nobody in their right minds get up at 4:00 in the morning! But a good breakfast prepared us for the ride in the cold morning air. We gathered around with horses breathing hard and anticipation in the air. Breaking away from the group we than made our way to the designated locations to round up the Mexican steers scattered all about the ranch.
There’s nothing like watching the earth wake up and to see the sun cast his first rays of light on the mountains. As if on queue, the birds started to sing letting everyone know it was time to wake up. Yes, now I know why I woke up so early.
As the morning wore on we gathered up cattle everywhere we went with only a mountain in the distance as a landmark. I was enjoying myself when it finally happened……I had to work a section of the ranch by myself and any cattle I found I had to head them toward the mountain in the distance. My heart was pounding and War Bonnet started to get anxious. She knew we were on our own. Little did I know that it was decided earlier to let me go out on my own to see if I could handle myself like the guys. So off War Bonnet and I went into the unknown ready to do our part and to successfully fulfill our task. Actually we were both scared [email protected]#$#!less.
One hour passes and than two hours pass and I haven’t seen hide nor hair of any cattle. Smiling to myself I thought, “Well this was easy”. War Bonnet was pretty proud of herself too. We were just about to boast to ourselves when all of a sudden we came across a large group of cattle at a watering hole.
Ok we can handle this. Now for those of you who don’t know cowboy etiquette, there is a certain call each cowboy has when he finds cattle and gets them up and moving along. Each call or sound is unique and says a lot about the cowboy.
Hum…….what was mine? Hell if I knew but I knew I had to come up with something quick. As I was sitting there thinking, War Bonnet was telling me with her gestures that she didn’t care what I came up with just to get something out so we can get on our way!
“Ok……I think I can do this…..oh damn”!
Little did I know that I had been followed by a group of the cowboys and they were hiding on a ridge watching me figure out what I was going to say. The cattle didn’t budge and looked at me with disdain in their eyes.
Alright here I go………
To this day I don’t know why this particular word came to my mind, maybe it’s a girl thing. But I gathered all my confidence and strength and yelled out “Shoo!!!”
You would have thought that lightning struck the very ground where War Bonnet and I were standing on. The cattle took off at a thunderous roar and I was so pleased with myself. That was until I could hear laughter from the ridge behind me. The group of cowboys watching me came over to where we stood laughing hysterically with tears in their eyes saying that was the funniest thing they had ever seen.
War Bonnet’s ears went back and I think mine did too. Her tail went up in the air and if I would have had one, mine would of too. With a flick of her tail we trotted off ignoring the laughter and feeling relieved that we had at least done our part. I was left wondering why the Hell of all the words I could have used why I used that word!

A Balancing Act


Communication is a continual balancing act, juggling the conflicting needs for intimacy and independence. To survive in the world, we have to act in concert with others, but to survive as ourselves, rather than simply as cogs in a wheel, we have to act alone.
Deborah Tannen

A belly dance friend once told me that she loved traveling so much that she decided to postpone marriage until after she had done all she wanted to do with her dancing. It was an interesting perspective and one that appealed to me but at the time I had my daughter and realized that traveling like I used to wasn’t in the cards for me anymore. As much of a gypsy that I was, I realized living in my gypsy wagon was fine for my eccentric tastes but not for raising a child. My belly dance path changed directions the day my daughter, Savanah was born. My balancing act changed from a single dancer to a mother in a heart beat.

My dance friend to this day has not married and I can see in her eyes the sadness and disappointment of prospects that seemed within reach yet fell through her grasp as time went by. Becoming an entertainer down the line can accumulate an exorbitant amount that once tallied up can be costly. The cost itself can be that of an unfulfilled family life and or partnership. The stage can transfix any woman and change her view of life. There is nothing like being the focus of attention by the multitudes of cheering fans but after the applause and lights fade away, we are after all left alone in the dressing room packing for the next gig. To many, belly dance fulfills the desires and the need to dance thus sharing their creative expression continuously without fail. That in itself is the enticement of belly dance. To selflessly perform and share creative masterpieces from one stage to the next can take up a life time. But as the body’s time clock ticks away, the exhaustion of traveling from one airport to the next can overwhelm the mind. Dressing rooms can become as claustrophobic as hotel rooms and room service can’t compare to that of a home cooked meal.  Even the entertainer needs a break from entertaining and traveling

I did do light traveling to a variety of nightclubs and restaurants and Savanah was right beside me. It seemed the natural thing to do because I wanted her with me. The nightclubs and restaurants I worked at had blankets for her and I brought pillows. My fans and friends knew her well and they helped watch her while I was performing. It seemed normal to me but as I think back, it was as eccentric a thing to do just as much as living in my gypsy wagon. The few times I left her with babysitters, I had unfortunate situations occur. One babysitter put Savanah to bed with a can of sprite spilt all over her. She never cleaned her up and put her to bed in her sticky clothes. The next morning I was shocked to find Savanah’s hair stuck to the side of her face. Her bed plus the chair where she accidentally spilt her drink was never cleaned by the babysitter. I found out the babysitter was making out with her boyfriend instead of taking care of Savanah. Another babysitter took her to a college football game (without my permission) and left her by herself for almost an hour sitting on the grass. Savanah had swollen eyes when I came home from crying from the fear of being left alone. I found out that the babysitter yelled at her for crying. I was ready to jump on the babysitter and beat the crap out of her when I found out. So after those two experiences I took Savanah with me and told everybody I was a working mom and that my daughter being with me was apart of hiring me. I was lucky because most restaurants and nightclubs hired me and made accommodations for Savanah. So she became apart of a world that was full of musicians, dancers, wait staff and fans. Some might disagree with raising Savanah this way but having her there seemed to be the right thing to do. The peace of mind knowing she was with me and safe was priceless.

As Savanah got older she realized that telling her teachers and friends that I was a belly dancer occasionally backfired. The kids would tell her I was a stripper and parents especially the mom’s would give me dirty looks. I even had a mother try to knock me over in a school hallway. Little did she know as  dancers our center of balance becomes strong and steady. Fortunately all I took home from that experience was a bruise on my arm from being knocked into the wall. On another occasion a little girl threatened to cut Savanah’s hair. It was not surprising that the little girl  happened to be the daughter of the mother who tried to knock me down . So I had to tell Savanah to keep mum on what I did for a living for awhile. I prepared a lecture and demonstration for her school hoping to educate the mothers and teachers. To my chagrin nobody showed up in the gym and the principal asked me to leave since there was no interest. Savanah and I did go through some tough times together and to be honest, I never dreamed that choosing a belly dancing career would bring such strong reactions from people. But most of the people who reacted aggressively were Americans. Their ignorance was astounding and what I found even more perplexing was the fact that they wanted to stay that way.

As an American, I found that educating certain people wasn’t always easy because they seemed to be closed off to anything slightly different then what they were used to. But it’s not always the audience or classmates and their mothers that can be a problem. In the beginning of my quest to be a bellydancer, I had opposition from my ex-husband, family and friends. Everyone had a perception of what belly dance was without researching or finding out any facts. My ex-husband didn’t want to hear or learn anything about belly dancing and he did what he could to keep me from workshops, and classes. I was tenacious which eventually paid off when I  went to Egypt with Sakti Rinek. It was the beginning of my dance career and the end of my marriage. One thing I have never done is look back. Looking forward is so much more interesting. As one door closes, another opens.

My family thought it was a silly  hobby at first and I think because of the cultural differences, it was hard for them to understand. It was a in your face seduction and explicit sexuality.  They couldn’t see beyond their own attitudes and opinions that were based on false assumptions. It was a stigma of something that at first wasn’t talked about. After my family finally saw me perform at a nightclub in Dallas, it became respectable. They saw tables full of families that enjoyed my show who reacted respectful and appreciative towards me.  It was the environment and the Arabic people that taught my family belly dancing was not only acceptable but a performing art. But this was years later and I realized getting to that point was at times an uphill battle.

Sometimes learning how to get along with your fellow dancers can be as easy as a walk in the park or unintentionally falling into frozen waters. It’s not always as effortless as it seems from the audience’s perspective. We may be all smiles while performing but in the back of our minds we know we are dancing on thin ice. I was getting burned out trying to out dance, out dress or out smart other dancers and I was exhausted from competing for gigs. Fortunately I was getting work but I finally had to get a babysitter I could trust to take care of Savanah because I just couldn’t tote her around anymore. It became apparent that the feeling of sisterhood changed little by little  because I was making a living with my dancing. It’s different when you have another job to compensate your income with but when belly dance is your sole source for your livelihood it changes everything. If it’s a career choice then it automatically becomes a job, though one you love still one that pays the bills. Auditioning for the same restaurant or nightclub can put a strain on any dance relationship no matter how well you know each other. If a dancer loses a gig  to another dance friend, a wedge can start to appear. It’s a silent fracture or shattering of a creative friendship that never feels the same even if the friendship remains. I have seen good friends slowly break away from each other, their creative artistry being the cause. Creativity when compared or critiqued can create in it’s place a contention that disrupts and changes the synergy of friendships. Since our dance form is based on self expression and the creative process, we tend to take things personally especially with each other. But the reality of our business is it’s show business. We place ourselves in positions that requires us to audition and compete for the same gig with each other.

The balancing act is understanding that our dance world is effected by the individual tastes of  consumers and club owners. There has to be some form of logic to what can be looked at as an ethereal and shallow business. The ego unfortunately plays a role in taking a rational mind and pushing it to unrealistic and irrational conclusions.

Ultimately the women who have lasted in this business understood something very important. They understood they are one of a kind.  These veterans are empowered by this one thought and validation because in the large scope of things they know they are unique. The balancing act is really about coming to terms with our business and becoming comfortable with who we are as dancers and women. It’s about looking in the mirror and liking what we see.

“There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.” Martha Graham

A Belly Dance Family

The Belly Dancer, Husband and Daughter, Thank You & Say Hi

This is Dan, Leyla’s husband. We made this short video a couple of weeks ago in our video studio here in Albuquerque.  In one sense this video is our way of introducing ourselves to you and all the Belly Dancers and to let you know about some of the beliefs that underlie the way we do business.

Leyla and I are both what you might call throwbacks. I often think that I was born in the wrong century.

I was born in 1954 (do the math)  and have some history and rememberences of when business and people related to each other in a much more personal way. People looked out for each other back then. Like the time I rode my tricycle at the age of 6, off the church roof and our neighbor fireman Mike, who watched in disbelief rushed over to make sure I was ok.

In our neighborhood there was a small store around the corner and the owner knew us by name. When we walked in he greeted us by name and if there was a problem would always take core it promptly.

You knew and trusted your neighbors and there was a real sense of community amongst everyone in the neighborhood – including the owner of the corner store. Ahhh, such were the days.

Anyway, we made this video simply as a short introduction and our way to say “Pleased to meet you”, this is who we are and you are our utmost priority and if there is anything we can do, all you have to do is call on us.

If you’re so inclinded feel free to post a comment and introduce yourself. We’d love to meet you.

Leyla, Dan, Savanah, and Zipp-a-rino, the 3 legged wonder dog.

Finding A Belly Dance Connection With Todays Woman

belly dancer leyla najma in the desertThree months ago I was reading an article in a separate section of the Albuquerque Journal newspaper called Sage Magazine regarding suicide amongst women. And it wasn’t talking about young women, it was talking about Mothers, wives and daughters who were around my age group. It hit me hard because it never occurred to me that in todays day and age this would be a problem.

I put the article down and thought that it might be a good idea to write the editor to see if she would be interested in doing an article on belly dancing and connect it to reviving a love affair with women’s bodies.  Another week past and there laid the article where I put it on the table. As usual I became busy doing something else but that nagging feeling in my chest wouldn’t go away. I told myself I would call the editor in a few days but divine inspiration would have none of my procrastination and screamed at me that the time was now!

So off I went to call the editor and was prepared leave a voice mail when all of a sudden she answered the phone. I must admit that a few minutes passed where I sounded like an idiot but slowly my composure came back as I talked passionately about our wonderful dance form and how it helps women deal with today’s problems. The editor of Sage magazine is Carolyn Flynn and she was totally up for the article and was intrigued by the connection. She assigned a wonderful writer Donna Olmstead to interview me and the end result was in this past Sunday’s Sage Magazine called, In Step with Yourself, “Fall back in love with your body through belly dancing.”

Free advertizing is the best way not only to get your name out there but it’s a way to get you connected to finding solutions with issues and problems concerning your community. When divine inspiration hits you, run with it and create a different way for you to be viewed by the public. Our dance form has survived because we have integrated it into our society, culture and customs.

My solution for my community regarding depression and despair was to let women in my community know that if they felt disconnected from themselves here is a solution that is fun, great exercise and a therapy for the body, mind, soul and emotions.

So the bottom line is to see how you can make your community better by connecting the dots from problem to solution. Everybody wins and belly dancing’s image is looked upon in the community in a higher regard along with your name.

You can view the article in PDF format here.