Interpretive Belly Dance – The Right to be”You”

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Interpretive Belly Dance – The Right to be “You”

Every year represents something that each of us holds dearly to our hearts. There are even those experiences that we let go of like dust in the wind. This year I decided to get back to my roots and talk about why I started belly dancing and what intrigued me about it in the first place. I know I stated in my bio that I saw belly dancing at age 6 and fell in love with it, that’s a given. But as I got older there was something else about it that caught my attention. I saw a chance to achieve my individual freedom to move and dance my way and be accepted for it. In my early years the women who stood out in my mind, understood their own unique style. They gave a different take on choreography and dance interpretation. These women have stayed with me all these years because they taught me it was okay to be me.

In the years that it has taken me to understand what my style is all about, I found that there was a price I paid for being “me.” As with any dance form it’s obvious there will be a multitude of opinions that are usually targeted at other people’s dance interpretation and preferences. Dancers tend to follow a doctrine that leaves little room for creative latitude especially if the style is not to their liking. In our world even though it gives the impression that creativity is welcome, there are obvious artistic guide lines everyone is expected to follow.

“As a solo performer sometimes we have to bloom and become one with our community besides being that individual flower” Leyla Najma

I’m not talking about the basic fundamentals of belly dance and good curriculum; I’m talking about a perceived ideology that women carry with them into this dance. Water seeks it’s own level so most dancer’s find their home or community that fits their lifestyle. When we mix ideologies and preferences together the guide lines become fuzzy. Everyone changes what they feel doesn’t fit their creative interpretation of what belly dance is for them. For instance, Tribal Belly Dance is beautiful but it’s not my thing. When I took Tribal in workshops I found it to be confining and confusing. I think the Tribal look with multiple layering and rich textures is eye candy for the soul but even with the vibrant colors it’s not how I choose to present my dance persona. It’s another world to me but one that is apart of belly dance. So I look at Tribal as my first cousin who displays the beauty of belly dance with refined eloquence. Tribal is the ancient sister to modern belly dance, obviously a family of unconventional traditions.

“Combining all of life experiences, lessons learned and not learned creates the most beautiful design of all; the individual dancer.” Leyla Najma

On my quest for finding the “me” in dance I realized that as I performed in shows, restaurants and nightclubs, I was molding and sculpting my dance persona as I went along. The end result was “me,” a dancer that had her own articulacy and style. This doesn’t mean that what I became was always accepted, what it does mean is that I had come full circle and brought to life my artistry in dance. When a dancer stops asking for permission to be creative then you know she has become her own masterpiece.

“Sometimes dancers are born molded and nurtured in the arts becoming the living essence of what they represent” Leyla Najma

The last couple of years have been very interesting for me because I have had problems with some dancers critiquing my on-line videos without even bothering to take a class. They have opinions based on those age old ideologies that they brought into this dance from the beginning. Empty words can echo into any community leaving impressions that aren’t based on personal experience rather personal insecurities. Allowing for creative expression seems to be a thing of the past. I think this is because there are so many dancers vying for the coveted limelight. Acknowledging another dancers success should be a right of passage especially since there are so many fantastic dancers performing now. Maybe it’s fear or self doubt that keeps dancers from giving each other a high five. What ever it is, it’s preventing success from becoming an everyday occurrence because ultimately success knocks at everybody’s door.

“If a woman asks you a question, it’s better to tell her the truth because chances are she’s asking you because she already knows the answer.” Unknown

Interpretive belly dance isn’t only about methodology and curriculums; it’s about incorporating life into your dance persona. The tricky part is making sure each movement and gesture is honestly who you really are. Dancing somebody else’s choreography is okay to learn from but eventually the movement has to make sense to your body by dancing it your way. Becoming “you” in belly dance means that music is interpreted without second guessing how you choreograph to what you hear. It’s beautiful to see dancers performing making movement second nature to the rhythm in the music.

“Walking the path as a dancer takes the same amount of steps as everyone else; it’s important not to compare your footprint with others.” Leyla Najma

Interpretive belly dance in today’s day and age is an expression of a modern day dancer who continually has questions but knows where to put the answers. Belly dance is as complicated or laid back as the individual dancer. How we stand up for our dance and self expression is as varied a statement to the dance world as the individual dancer. So this year I wish all of you a dance of great exploration and rewards. May the treasures you find lead you back to yourself, the greatest treasure of all!

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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"


4 Responses to “Interpretive Belly Dance – The Right to be”You””
  1. Amy Mariposa says:

    This article really hits home for me! I know I haven’t been dancing a long time, but the individuality that you talked about is something that is a difficult for me. I remember I was afraid to express my self and my soul on the stage, and in life, when I first started taking lessons from you. I know I looked like a robot during practice, emotionless and stiff! I was afraid to be confident, smile and enjoy myself dancing (like no one is watching). Expressing my individuality was a scary thing for me and still sometimes is. At the same time I wanted and want to be noticed as an confident individual that is seen for my unique qualities and different attributes. I have many years of developing my style and technique ahead of me, and the exploring is the best part for me.
    Re-reading what I just wrote I noticed that I forgot one other thing that is extremely nerve racking beyond belief to me, and that is the acceptance of my peers, not just dancers, but family, friends, and people I don’t know. I understand that I can’t please everyone, but it’s more of the fact that even if I get a smile out of someone that they enjoyed my presents, dance, or personality is almost enough for me to not feel like I was hung out to dry.
    So with all that said, I want to Thank you Leyla, for all you did and still do for me, I appreciate you for you and how you have helped me to grow not just as a dancer but as a woman with more confidence to present my true self and not be scared of the result!

    • Leyla Najma says:

      Little One the pleasure was all mine to teach you!

      Remember in Sedona…how you shined! That was the day I saw you own your dance and I saw the dancer in you come out. I was so proud of you, always will be. With all the students that I have had the pleasure of teaching, you are one of those dancers that took my breath away when you danced. You just had to see it. Also I remember standing by the window watching you and saying to you, “If only you could see you through my eyes!” Greatness in dance comes from the original design of who you are. If greatness was easy we would all be doing it. The best way to understand what it takes to be your masterpiece is to enjoy the journey along the way! I miss you Smalls…

      Hugs and Love,


  2. Hi,

    You do not know me but I have been following your articles for a time now. Have not seen any of your classes so cannot speak of that. I really liked what you said in this article though. You deserve a compliment for being so honest. I have been teaching this dance form since 1975 and have seen the business change quite radically. I still love it. Somethings that were being discussed in the 70s are still being discussed. New people think they have the answers to it all. Those of us who have been around and are still up to our eyeballs in this business have been there and done that. But there are new things. Even though Tribal has been around a while, I do not like it. I agree it is a second cousin. It does not belong with belly dance. It is a made up contrivance that uses some bd movements and some modern and does not even relate to Middle Eastern music. It belongs to no country. Has no background beyond hippy San Francisco. (my opinion here)

    belly Dance or Middle eastern Dance or whatever you call it is a traditional dance form from the countries we represent to throw in Tribal is a bastardization of the dance. Now I am not against fusion. But fusion has to come from education not lack of. We all are doing fusion. We do what we think the dance form should be. Definitely our own personality should shine through. We are all individuals. But on the same note technique is technique. It just looks and fells different on every one. What I do not like is people who after one or 2 classes think they will do a certain thing without a strong foundation. For example I love props too. i love cane etc But today I see people dancing with all kinds of props when they cannot dance yet. It is all about the props. Where is the dance?

    Has been a pleasure just rattling here. You do a great job. keep at it as people do need to hear what you have to say. After my last trip to Lebanon and speaking with Amani I am seeing this dance again with different eyes. Here is food for thought. it is not all about Egypt. There are roots in Lebanon too. The roots actually go back through Bagdad. Then to lebanon. Only went to Egypt recently during the war and because it was the filming industries home for that part of the world. Interesting!!!!

    Good luck and happy dancing and writing,

    • Leyla Najma says:

      Hello Morwenna,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful and insightful comments. It’s important for women who read my blog, read a variety of thoughts and opinions on this dance form. Your dance experience puts you in a respected realm that few dancers reach. I just interviewed one of my first teachers for my membership site and she’s been dancing 36 years. My mere 24 years seems like a drop in the bucket.

      I love many of the countries belly dance comes from but my first love is Egypt. But one place I have always wanted to go to is Lebanon and Amani is one of my most favorite dancers. For me she’s one of the best in the world. Who knows, if I get the chance to visit Lebanon, I just might call it my most favorite place! I am a romantic at heart so I fall deeply and madly in love with each country I visit.

      And as far as your opinion on tribal belly dance and fusion, creative expression is what makes the world go round. We all have different aspects of this dance that we love. I understand and respect your opinion and welcome anybody else’s opinion who may have a different take on tribal. It’s huge now so it is apart of our community and here to stay. And regarding props, I have always told my students that their bodies are their number one prop that they must master. They must get a relaxed and comfortable feeling first with their bodies before taking on anything else.

      So now we are introduced and I would love to talk with you more so if you ever want to chat, it would be an honor!