Belly Dance and the Feminine Bleep

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I always wondered if feminism had anything to do with belly dance. I googled the definition and it says: The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. Does any of this matter when we are sashaying through life or does it have more to do with our place in society and the dictum of feminine perception through out the years?

Most women who dance have an idea of what their social identity is before hand but the reasons for them wanting to dance can be a million miles away from the countless gender, political or sociological issues clutching at their skirts. It all depends on the environment of a woman’s childhood, the root of her beginning years and family dynamics that impact her intimate perceptions of the female dichotomy.

Pretty much, I grew up knowing the physical differences between men and women but I didn’t put too much stock into thinking this would influence my life’s options, leading me to question my position and affluence as a woman. My first marriage was the prime example of me, bleeping my way through life, ignorant of my feminine wiles. I came to realize that there were more differences then I ever imagined between men and women and I proudly stood by my own kind, especially during those front line battles. My paradigm for relationships changed like the wind and I never knew what direction my affections and rational would blow. This doesn’t mean I was a floozy, more so my patience along with my free will waltzed out without giving me any warning. Sometimes I just had to leave a relationship in order to catch up with myself.

Belly dance always seems to take the blame in these types of circumstances because it inevitably becomes the fall-guy’s girl, the unfortunate last woman standing that takes the beating and blame for circumstances that would have developed and intensified anyways. Any relationship can spiral its way downwards but for some reason belly dance tends to be blamed for that extra push. The bleeping red flags of any dysfunctional relationship can be hard to see. A woman’s assorted rose colored glasses can make day to day interactions seem inconspicuous with doldrums sentiments. Unbeknownst to the unconscious mind, the downward spiral in many instances is in motion before the reality follows suite or the realization hits home. When the bells chime in the warning signs, sometimes it’s a little too late.

Did belly dance make me smarter? Nope…yup…ah, well maybe. I can’t really say but I do know that after years full of relationships, those including students, dance acquaintances and partners, I am at least standing and ready to carry on. I don’t think the, “last one standing” is the case here; it’s more if you can dance and include the full ingredients of life, along with all the trials and tribulations then and only then do you have something to dance about.

The imperfections of life sometimes are highlighted within head spins, hip circles, sways and hip bumps. The emotional impact memories have on dance movements, can make them into a one of a kind poetic prose that affects people visually with their intimate secrets.

Belly dance can be a double edged sword though, that details and magnifies problems, yet offers a subtle diversion from the gravity of any said issues. It can in some ways become the definitive hypocrite of circumstances.

Years ago, I can remember a distinct experience that changed my perspective on relationships, especially those involved with my dance career. It all started with a dance showcase for the New Mexico Dance Coalition. I had been invited to perform in this prestigious show and practiced for months, obviously becoming consumed with my up and coming performance. It became a sore spot with my ex-husband. He interrupted practice one day to inform me that he was going to take a trip for a few days and that I could come along but my dancing wasn’t invited. He wasn’t impressed with belly dance to begin with and his ultimatum to say the least didn’t set well with me. I just smiled at him and said, “Have fun!”

Let’s see…did he take my comment well? IMG_6534

I’m sure you can all imagine our battle of wills along with savory translations and unsophisticated words spilling out like an erupting, overflowing pot bellied brew. I bleeped more then I had ever in my life that day and I must say it felt really good. It wasn’t the first or last sign of trouble but it definitely altered my fall from grace faster then I ever imagined. Within a year of that very conversation or should I say yelling match, we were separated and I was in Egypt exploring the mystical and magical roots of my dance form. Freedom can be the aphrodisiac of the soul and once we bathe, soaking in its emotional vaporous waters, there is no going back…ever.

Egypt was my soul’s desire, the answer to my questionable ways. Spiritual awakenings can change people but Egypt for me was an emotional dialogue that consumed my conscious mind more then my dance education. Her ancient narratives had subtle innuendos that explained the feminine image as the birthing, fertile poetess bursting forth in seduction and life. After receiving this gift of female wisdom, I understood that I would never need to defend that which is my birthright to do.

On the other hand…

Exploring and experiencing belly dance with dance friends can be as exhausting as climbing up Mount Everest in a bikini, holding your breath, barefoot or as rejuvenating and effortless as a walk in the park drinking a Pina Colada. Obviously, friendships can be a bleeping train wreck with roller coaster ups and downs. Women can get along one minute and then ravage each other the next. But we like to live dangerously because this tells us how alive we are. The problem arises when the experience is traded in for the unabashed blather of conversation rather then the camaraderie of sisterhood. Women tend to have memories like elephants and fickle temperaments, so exhaustive babble can keep a lifespan of a mayfly or take a squabble into infinity.

After I produced a few shows, I found that conversations can take on an ironical tone, hiding debauched meanings of mediocre to exuberant chatter. This extreme journey is one that goes down the rabbit hole, taking the above mentioned even further, concealing true feelings of coded messages and menial surface fluff. Musical verbs can be just as interesting as musical chairs because the end results can be unpredictable and a testament to a calculating mind. I guess if I wanted to be more to the point, I could just say, these circumstances are well suited for a passive-aggressive type of person and the rest of us assumed “prey” just have to ducktail it out of there scampering in the other direction.

Sisterhood is a good thing but to be honest with you, I don’t always get along with my own sisters. I think there has to be more of an understood dialogue between dancers and students while they are working together, that encompasses needed decorum and sociable guidelines. I tried to do this very thing in my own studio, years ago and I found it was hard to implement my own personal guidelines to a bunch of women who had their own ideas of what they felt appropriate was. It came down to me exclaiming in bleeping terms, that it was my way or the highway. I felt like an insane dictator at times but sometimes student’s ideals and opinions just didn’t jive well with my own. There were a few times I was called out on issues as well but the bottom line was, it was my studio and I paid the bills.

Walking a straight line as a dance instructor and performer eventually lead to blistered feet, heart palpitations and a bleeping vocabulary that at times could hold it’s own with any sailor. It’s not always about what a person says in a moment of anger but what they don’t say in order to keep the peace. Choosing our battles wisely is more easily said then done but in dance, we must anchor ourselves by our own convictions through allowing our inner core, the temple of our inspiration to transform into the female archetype of our own feminine design.

Nobody wants to become the sullied version of the very people that annoy the hell out of them. We can’t escape from ourselves so it’s best to turn into the image of decorum we strive to surround ourselves with in daily life. A few bleeps here and there don’t hurt but in the end, we have to find the calm and assured place in our temple of creativity, so we don’t burn out the flames of inspiration at both ends. IMG_6526

Perhaps we can start looking to the feminism of our own gender to lead us into the future. For me, feminism isn’t about being equal to men; it’s about being equal with women of all backgrounds, cultures and ideologies.  I didn’t think much about feminism when I was young but now that I am older, maybe wiser and steadfast in my ways, it’s apart of me.

I can’t always see which direction the wind is blowing but if I set my sails just right, I’ll eventually find my way by following the stars of my own convictions. The infinite above me and the unfathomable below me are the exemplar incentives for creating my dance time and time again but unmistakably with a few bleeps escaping here and there.  I guess this just makes me human but more importantly, it just shows that I’m a woman who dances just because she can.

                     “To create one’s own world, takes courage.” Georgia O’keeffe.

 

Check out www.bellydancevillage.com for my new e-books that are coming out:

“The Spotlight, a Way of Life,” and “The Power of Choreography…it’s Not What You Think.”

Failure is an Option

100xThe video “The Secret,” is one of my most favorite optimistic, feel good messages that paved the way for a “new” direction I was guided to go regarding my belly dance video business. Naively, I thought that once the intention was put forth, great things would come and at a ridiculous speed. It’s still my favorite feel good video but I realized that the people who were asked to be in the documentary had already found the tools themselves years before hand. It was obvious that bringing forth the, “Genie in the Bottle,” for them was a daily occurrence and one seemingly of non existence for the rest of us.     

Some of the best lessons I’ve ever learned have been with me failing or falling off a cliff of expectation. I thought a course of action would allow for success only to find out that in life, we deal with reality and that…reality comes in out of nowhere. Life as the teacher can make failure a necessary lesson so we can find the path to success. Success as I came to find out comes in many disguises, almost unrecognizable at first but if you take a good look, there are hints of the obvious awaiting to be identified. Recognition comes from the intention of the effort that has its own calling card of desire. Intention becomes the mark of this individual recognition.   

My first experience with testing the waters of intention was what I thought was a very clear intention of getting $20.00 dollars somehow, someway with no idea of how, when or where. Just like they said, I intended the simplest thing that I felt was obtainable first, and then I was going for the big desires and wants as I progressed successfully. I waited and waited, excited with anticipation and guess what…no money came my way that day and I actually got an unexpected bill in the mail. I was disappointed to say the least and felt my little sprout of inspiration sink back into the ground within a blink of an eye. Read more

The White Punching Bags of Belly Dance

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Quite the title don’t you think? Why would I put such a title? Well, it’s my response to another blog post that is creating quite a hoopla with the belly dance community. It’s titled, “Why I Can’t Stand White Belly Dancers,” by Randa Jarrar.

I mean what’s with the “white” reference and why does skin color matter in today’s day and age? Personally, I think it was for shock value, a way of addressing dancers who aren’t according to this writer’s opinion, the right ethnicity. But I think I’m getting ahead of myself here. For those of you who haven’t read this blog post, the link is here:

http://www.salon.com/2014/03/04/why_i_cant_stand_white_belly_dancers/

Interestingly enough she states that whether we like it or not we are involved in the appropriation of belly dance. With the history of belly dance and the many women who are quite the historians in belly dance, she has put herself in quite a pickle because who is anyone to say that belly dance is entirely from their culture, lock, stock and barrel?

The Chicago’s World’s Fair was the beginning, the introduction of belly dance to western society but that doesn’t take away the authenticity of the learned dance itself by the 3 dancers who were purportedly called “Little Egypt.” Fahreda Mazar Spyropoulos, Ashea Wabe and Fatima Djemille demonstrated belly dance in such a way that people weren’t concerned with if they could culturally portray belly dance. All 3 women had already convinced the masses they were legit. Skin color doesn’t make a dance legit, talent does.

Let’s face it, if any of us can learn belly dance from a well known Middle Eastern dancer, we’ll jump on it in a heart beat. I guess since we are riding the backs of Arab sisters, I can only assume that the Arab teacher’s, who have taught us, are all imbeciles who have no idea who they are teaching. I guess we must be exploiting them to such a point that they really don’t have a clue…yeah right! Bottom line is they know where the money is.

American dancers get a bum rap when it comes to doing something well. We can be intimidating and if we do it to such a degree of professionalism then we become threatening, creating a jealous mentality from those who can’t stand the fact that we can do it as well as them. It’s funny to even mention skin color when America is full of a kaleidoscope of dancers from all ethnicities. So the chip on this writers shoulder must be more deep rooted then we think. Perhaps she has the idea that segregation is better then appropriation. But I have to ask a question, she’s here in America and what does she think our Freedom and Liberties are all about? Our foundation as a society is not based on racism, segregation and appropriation. I think Randa Jarrar is placing the separation of gender she grew up with on the shoulders of belly dancers especially those who provide entertainment for both men and women in restaurants and clubs.

I’m sure her beef extends to foreign dancers who perform in Middle Eastern countries as well. Obviously the establishments in these countries who hire “white” belly dancers have no loyalty to their own people. Also, I have no clue what she means by the “brown face Oriental façade.” Is her skin color brown therefore she is insisting this is the only legitimate skin color for belly dance? Perhaps she meant something more metaphorical but never the less of what her gripe is, it’s a swipe at the most basic human right which is the freedom to express oneself. One more thing that seemed to come out of left field was her friend’s phrase, “Arab Face.” Who says that???

As far as names go, I was given my name Leyla Najma by Lebanese friends so does this make my name false and phony? Because it’s not a birth name I guess it doesn’t amount to much since the people who gave it to me obviously didn’t know what they were doing when they gave it to me. I have danced by this name for almost 30 years so that wouldn’t be legit either by her standards. My question for Randa Jarrar is how does acquiring a dance name harm a culture besides appropriation of a dance form. (Wow, she uses that word a lot!) We know who the unwitting racist is by now.

I don’t lose myself in Arab women; I don’t pour myself into their mind set or habits of living. There is no need because my cup runith over in my own multi-cultures. I am Italian, Scottish, Irish and Spanish and through talking to professors of genealogy, I found out I have Moorish blood in me too. So I represent 5 cultures at this point as many Americans do in today’s day and age. Would this make a difference to this writer…I doubt it.

Belly dance is not only Randa Jarrar’s birth right; it was not created for one specific culture to keep to itself. If that was the case she wouldn’t be whining about how the joy of belly dance has spread. If she took her blinders off, she would see women looking back at her glowing in the bliss of an ancient art form that has nothing to do with appropriation but everything to do with the right to be women in any way, shape or form.

I think Randa Jarrar needs to get off the backs of women who are keeping this dance alive!

PS: If you’re looking for online Belly Dance Classes, go to Belly Dance Village and get immediate access to all 40 Hip Phylosophy Belly Dance Instructional Videos for 10 days. Only $1.00

 

 

The Abstract in Thoughts

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As a dancer and modern woman, it has occurred to me that I have taken on many roles and to a certain extent, became my nemesis because I became opposite of who I am. This eventually led to an alter ego developing that dealt with dance communities. I hid behind a façade that in the end wasn’t able to deal with community politics any better then the real me.

Eventually my individual self who in her silent and pensive state of mind, stood before life and faced not only her mortality but the truth of her real self. I emerged from hiding behind my doppelganger and realized that the real me is the authentic blue print of a very unique design.

Hearing stories from some of my students regarding their home lives, relationships, family and friends, I realized that the all encompassing tangled web of conflict and peace rages on with a timeless effort. People are people no matter what century they are in and life changes only according to how people self medicate or deal with issues. Today, thanks to big pharma and technology at our fingertips, we have pills for just about everything.

But what if I am my symptom…what is my cure?

This dance has given me the dark and light perspective of myself. I have begrudgingly developed an unfortunate ability to keep my mouth shut when all I want to do is state my true feelings at opportune times. I learned at an early age that adult’s dysfunctional way of communicating can lead youngsters on a life path of clouded aspirations and unstable decisions. Generations don’t necessarily showcase the achievements of their times because it’s in the character of human beings to make the younger generations guinea pigs for unresolved problems. I finally had to take a second look at the dysfunctional way regarding my families thinking that children were seen and not heard. This ill-timed recollection became a dark unintentional motto that was hidden in a place that I never seemed to venture to.  The dark and isolated place within myself with time became a haunted film clip that played itself over and over again with residual punctuality. How can we heal from the past when the past plays itself over and over again taking up present day space? Sometimes it can feel like we haunt ourselves.

My voice was stunted from an early age and when I finally found it, I tripped over myself more than I was able to get out an intelligible sentence. As time passed, my voice became a steady and sometimes blaring recompense for a voice lost in past silence. Adulthood can resolve issues that many of us load up and carry around for years. Our upbringing doesn’t have to define our self image and even though our self confidence might take a beating, we can evolve victorious and heal our wounds.

What happens to the older belly dancer who has spent her whole life performing, traveling in essence enacting her craft for a living? It’s funny with age how we actually look through the same eyes of our younger selves and see the world entirely different. The hard earned experiences that I learned from, turned into a wisdom that has defined how I view myself  today. Good, bad or ugly, I am the accumulation of all that I have experienced but at the same time, I will not allow myself to be defined by any of it. I want to reinvent myself every day that I wake up. Being a new me everyday has it’s advantages because I wake up with a clean slate of possibilities. True healing takes place only when we give up our haunted past.

I’ll be honest here, I am not saying I haven’t and to this day still don’t, harbor certain experiences that impacted my life years ago. There are dark memories that I try to brighten with my present state of mind because I don’t want to wallow in stressful and uncomfortable memories without the ability to move on. Yet there are a few that linger and come out of nowhere so I’m still dealing with the occasional memory that grabs hold like an unyielding zombie.

If I look at some of my memories of meeting people in this business, it seems natural for my emotions to automatically become uncomfortable and dark. It’s as if certain words spoken from the past come shooting down like a flying star and explode in front of me with the same impact of when I heard them for the first time.  Nothing changes at that moment because I become stuck in a murky psychosis of  that particular experience. I’m sure this has happened to everyone in this business because we are positioned by human nature to either disappoint or please the people we come in contact with. I wonder about past students who at one time so identified with my philosophy of dance and then with a change of view, disappeared into the ethos of their convictions. I like mixed views on life and it is strange to me to think that some of my past students felt their ideas and mine couldn’t mesh. Philosophy is the one aspect of my life that grows, matures with a metamorphosis speed and my dance becomes the expression of my understanding of what life is about.

Dancers are different because each transformation we go through is similar to a butterfly flying away from its cocoon. It’s in our nature to take a leap of faith. We dance because we know we can, the butterfly flies because it knows it can.

Since beta waves (which come from our brains) are what we use in our waking state, I was wondering what level of frequency we use when we dance. If we hear music in a heightened state of awareness, isn’t that apart of the growth process, the human conditioning of the divine self. Maybe I’m out of the ballpark when I speak of philosophy in dance. I see the human condition more so then not…that fragile bartering of self confidence that starts the spiraling path of comparison and competition. I have 3 friends in dance who have stuck with me through it all, Barbara Sayre Harmon, Selena Kareena and Sakti Rinek. I have gone through 3 different journeys with each of them and the most amazing thing about each one of us is our ability to laugh at ourselves. The gift of humor takes the sharp edge of arrogance to a dull point but the difference here is there is no laughter at another’s expense. We get our downfalls but we don’t wallow in them.  The best part of the human condition is understanding that outside of self confidence, the comedian in us has to take over.  Humor is the grounding force that creates an equal stage or in other words a commonality that showcases our human connection to each other.

Maybe this is a blog post of a mishmash of thoughts but sometimes the most abstract way of writing gets across the intensity of each word without the filter of normal dialogue. With my wings spread and free…my view has a broader perspective that in a way gives me fresh eyes. The writer in me has changed from a hermit to the inquisitive explorer. I may have a broken arm at the moment but that hasn’t stopped my fingers from typing. I’m the one armed bandit that is starting to venture beyond my Hobbit home…a journey this way comes.

Online Classes at Belly Dance Village

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Dance, A Straight Line Curved

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Understanding the timing for anything is very important and I feel in our dance world we need to ultimately give way to passing phases and emotional outbursts. The calm before the storm can be a warning for the perfect storm and in the case of entertainers…well that can be a tsunami of gigantic proportions called the destruction of Atlantis. If any dancer understands her mortality, it’s going to hurt when the truth of the mirror comes calling and her apparent calling card is confusion, slight irritation and chocolates all at the same time. And did I say LOTS of chocolate?! Read more