Dance and Seduction

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Belly dance and religion seem to exist in a grey area called the uneasy alliance. I can’t tell you how many times religion comes up after I talk about being a belly dancer by people who speak outside their comfort zones about something they know nothing about. Why is it that belly dance is connected to Rita Hayworth dancing as Salome or Hedy Lamarr portraying Delilah, cutting off Samson’s hair? Cleopatra, thanks to the Romans, was in some aspects of history related to that of a prostitute or of a woman with the sexual allure of Isis. Each portrayal of these powerful women became misguided to a certain extent thanks to Hollywood and the dictates (sometimes political) of the day. Read more

The Mindset of the Modern Belly Dancer

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Sometimes I get a brain freeze when it comes to writing my blog and this last week was kind of one of those weeks. It occurred to me after some thinking and pondering regarding what topic I was going to write about that the mindset of dancers could be a good start and maybe an interesting commentary. Going even further, I think the mindset is just as important as training and practicing. Can just anybody be an entertainer and performer or is this specific group part of the “chosen few”?

When I was a green bean in this dance field, I remember thinking that I had to have a specific mindset…kind of like the old Hollywood starlet’s of days gone by. Belly dancers reminded me of those untouchable stars who made silent movies becoming the embodiment and definitive details of the ethereal heroine. All I knew is that belly dancers were worlds apart from the average woman and average was never going to be apart of my life. I knew the mindset had to be the reason why. Obviously training is an intrical part of our dance but as a novice in this dance field at the time; I saw something beyond my reach that lead me like the pied piper.

Does the audience look at a dancer and just see her dancing? I’m pretty sure this isn’t the case because there is so much more to a dancer than the performance. Now I’m not saying a dancer’s performance isn’t her blue print to her style and expertise, that’s not it, what I’m saying is that there is an expected divaness that the audience and fans anticipate that completes the package or in our case the luminescence of our jeweled and jingling personas and costumes. It’s this very mindset that appeals to the audience because in many ways as I have stated before they don’t want to see an average woman up on stage performing. It’s the magic and mystical appeal of fantasy and make believe that sets us apart from the monotonous drudge of everyday life. Magic keeps us alive and just like anything that is connected to this phenomenon, it’s the appeal of the unknown that attracts audiences and keeps them wanting more.

In my book, “The Divine Unrest,” on chapter 24, I wrote about divas and the interesting fact that divas especially in our dance field don’t always understand their “on” buttons are broken because sometimes there’s no turning them off. This diva personality trait is not exactly what I am talking about when I speak about the belly dance mindset but it is in the ball park. One particular experience that I can remember that made me realize that attitude could be a pain in the butt was when I saw a well known dancer in a workshop show get mad because her music somehow got screwed up. She danced like a pro on stage but in the back dressing room, she was the antithesis of her poised self on stage. The reality check is, if you have been dancing for years, there is not one person who hasn’t had their music messed up. It comes with the territory so to speak so I always wondered why if a pro can make a mistake look good on stage why they had to blow a problem out of proportion. That particular incident helped me take the rose colored glasses off because I realized that the mindset of a dancer has to include a type of etiquette that sets her apart from the average person’s irritations. Sometimes a mindset can be replaced by an ego driven temper but in defense of performers, I have to say most women when focused on their dance can be a little self absorbed and rightly so. Entertaining audiences is no simple feat.

The mindset of a dancer comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and with the idealized feminine image, there can be an excess of uncensored emotions that seep out unexpectedly. There can be a problem with self importance especially when dance is the constant companion of a dancer and the element of attention is commonplace. I love getting attention for a dance well done but when the lights go out and the theater finally becomes deserted; it’s time to be myself without all the glitz and glam. This can be hard for some women who crave the audience’s sustenance to keep them going. I keep myself going with the inner knowing that I can get back on stage anytime I want.

Working with other dancers can expose hidden insecurities even those that are pushed so far back that there seems no way any aspect of the problem can be seen. I have wondered why dancers are willing to perform with hidden issues and problems because they eventually come through in their movements. This is another idiotic aspect of the mindset of a dancer, almost like a self prescribing psychologist who hasn’t finished school yet but role plays like the consummate professional. It’s insane to think dance alone is the cure but in many ways if a dancer is true to herself, she will be able to see the varied culprits or root instigators. As I have experienced, seeing the problem can be harder than finding a cure. Dancers can create any number of problems for themselves and those they work with. Competitive rivalries are an end product of hidden, unrealized issues. I’m being sarcastic when I say unrealized because it’s easy to file insecurities away without another thought.  Remembering a particular incident that started the mindset of low self esteem is easier forgotten because we live in a dance society that doesn’t require background checks and references from childhood. Women for some reason don’t want to see the good, the beautiful and the victorious fruits of their labor mature because they are too busy seeing what didn’t happen, what blunder they made so much so that their inner dialogue is queued in for self reprimands and dissatisfaction.

It can become a song and dance working with other performers especially when hidden issues come out to play. I’ve worked with many dancers and for the most part I had a good time but in certain circumstances no matter how much I acquiesced to their mindset, there seemed to be a slight contention regarding who was in charge. It can get a bit uncomfortable when women insist on their point of view being the focal point and if you have independent dancers working together, tension can escalate beyond belief. The mindset of entertainers doesn’t always allow for teamwork when it comes to creative inspiration and I have found that the longer a dancer creates her choreographies, the less inclined she is to blend ideas. It’s not so much a selfish streak as it is a defined-pro satisfied and accomplished in her inspiration. Many dancers work together but I must say I love to watch the dance that happens during a production or Hafla. How we dance with each other says a lot about our ability to allow individual creative expression… some dance well while others stumble and fall.

After years of living the belly dance life I have come to realize that in the end what I choreographed was really my life story. Connecting to music is the first step into understanding how your mindset will play a part in your performance. I have danced sadness and I have danced frustration, both emotions that have played a big part in my life. I could say that I danced from a happy place but that isn’t really where my inspiration came from. It was rooted in the drama of life because for some reason I felt more comfortable choreographing my life from a more honest perspective.

For me the training isn’t where I get back my investment in my dance, it’s understanding that while I am an interpreter of life up on stage, my job is to make life look magical and ethereal. Sometimes we are caught between two worlds and it’s the mindset of the belly dancer that combines the two worlds and makes them work. The mystical and  common place live in the mindset of  every belly dancer and  if we are successful, the payback is standing between two worlds, bringing them together every time we perform on stage.

“Open your eyes and see how many gifts there are to unwrap. Notice the presence of your presents. It’s not your life that is disappointing: it’s your mind.” ― Gregg Krech, Naikan: Gratitude, Grace, and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection

News:

My choreography book is up on Amazon, “Choreography for the Perplexed Belly Dancer.” and my “Divine Unrest-My Stories and Personal Views on Belly Dance,” is now available in paperback. If you are looking for a B-day present or ideas for any occasion, buy my books and share your love of belly dance. I have a new video up on www.bellydancevillage with Sakti Rinek and Barbara Sayre Harmon. Enjoy Sakti and Barbara talk about their stories and travels about Egypt and the Sinai. These are two grand ladies with a lot of wisdom and humor to share.

Remember to subscribe to www.jareeda.com and get the next issue that is coming out. The next issue will be on health and it should be a good read besides a real collector’s item!

What are You Worth Part 2

What are you worth, Leyla Najmas Belly Dance Blog

The topic, “what are you worth”, seemed to inspire many to voice their thoughts and feelings about every aspect of this dance field. But there seems to be a correlation between how women really feel about their self identity and what they present to the outside world. But as I found out, maybe belly dance brings out those hidden anxieties that whisper what we lack, what we aren’t or what we’ll never be. How can anyone come into this dance form and not eventually show her true neon colors that give away her diary of thoughts in the most intimate ways. Worth can be a double edged sword because we are the ones defending our worth and asking for proof at the same time. As I look in the mirror, I teeter totter from the obvious crux of my convictions. It’s not easy defending  oneself from well…oneself. There seems to be so much in the eye of the beholder and worth seems to be close to the top of a self created list of worth versus insignificance. Read more

What are you Worth?

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A friend of mine was initially hired for a workshop in another city and like many of us, she excitedly started to prepare her curriculum for her future  weekend excursion. As preparations were in place, the topic of her worth or in other words what she charged became an issue for the officiating hosts. They didn’t want to pay what she felt was a fair price and they countered with a much lower amount that made it impossible for her to make any money. Does this sound familiar? It does to me so I thought I would talk about the worth of our dance training, the worth of our efforts and the underlying problem of wanting something for nothing.

Dance is a way to express our inner desires and it seems to be designed to help us figure out our worth as women and dancers. As time passes eventually women have to decide if they want to make money with their dancing and if so what the worth of their dance is to them. This is where there needs to be a pay scale for our dance field and it needs to go according to experience and skill not convenience or affordability. If a dance gig costs more to dance at then a dancer is being paid, obviously there needs to be a reality check. Either a dancer doesn’t mind losing money (which is nuts) or she hasn’t figured out her worth. It’s wonderful to be invited to dance but if you don’t understand what your time is worth in this business, then you will set yourself up for being taken advantage of and you will have nobody to blame but yourself.

If dancers want to bring in a professional dancer/entertainer, there is one obvious rule to follow, if you can’t afford to bring her in, don’t hire her in the first place. In my friends case after starting to get the word out, she had to bow out which did sting a bit because the reality  hit home that her years of experience and worth basically weren’t a considering factor. This type of situation can hurt the resiliency of most hardened and seasoned of dancers. So the question needs to be asked, “What the hell were the workshop hosts thinking when they wanted to hire a professional dancer in the first place?”

Dance is an intrinsic part of the definitive feminine that constantly changes through out history and to be honest in this scenario, it has changed so much so, that it is nothing like when  I first came on to the belly dance scene. But like women, belly dance can alter her appearance and I believe this is one of the  many reasons why women resonate so much with belly dance. It’s for this very reason we enjoy the rapturous emotions of the stage,  movement and the freedom to choose our individuality in our dance field because all the above make us feel unique. But even the romantic notions of what belly dance is has to be placed in it’s appropriate compartment.

What is necessary in the marketing of any type of entertainment is a clear cut application of income versus expenditures. And yes, this takes away from the,” it’s fun time” but after it is all said and done, nobody in today’s day and age has money to throw away even if it’s considered recreation, passion or “me” time . Studios take money to run, costumes take money to buy, gigs cost money for gas and workshops cost the professional dancer for their time, expenses and expertise while the host pays for said services, space, advertizing etc. There’s no getting around the business aspect of this dance form because in the end if any dancer wants to make a living, partial living or break even, eventually reality has to make an appearance. Worth has to be figured in to any given decision and if a dancer settles for less than she is worth, it will eventually down the line affect her psyche or worse wear down her self confidence to a place of self doubt, depression along with no money or benefits to show for her efforts.

So let’s ask the question why would anyone willingly put all their time and efforts into dancing on stage and do it for “no” pay? I do it occasionally for children’s benefits and my family or family friends who ask me  but outside of that I have stopped in the last 6 years doing performances for free. I know there are many dancers out there who would ask why I would do such a thing because after all the joy of performing is the payback. That was true before I officially made dance a full time endeavor that is now paying the bills without a second job. My worth became meshed in with the family business and accepting gigs wasn’t just my decision anymore, it became a family affair.

This dance form has a few draw backs and one of them is the fantasy aspect of its weight in gold which is decided by the individual dancer and student. It can’t be a fair judgment if we are in the middle of individual allowances versus economics.  I can remember years ago when I saw a costume that was to die for…I decided in my mind how I could swing the hefty price of $900.00. In my head with the kind of math that I do, I always make sure that everything comes in the green so I justify my purchase…at least to myself. When I was dancing 4 nights a week, I could make up the difference quicker but now I work on videos, books and teaching classes so I don’t make money like I used to. If a professional can figure in weekly classes, gigs and the club and restaurant circuit, there’s a chance if she is constantly promoting herself that she can make money. Self worth has got to be factored in at this point because “free” can’t pay the bills or allow for spending the amount needed to look the part of a professional. In other words, in today’s economics what we used to get by with doesn’t cut it anymore.

Another issue that we all have to contend with is the ignorant assumptions that we can come in and teach for hourly wages. Let’s face it, if we can charge, 10-12-15 for a class per person, why would we agree to an hourly wage? If I’m paying for space and part of that money is coming out of what each individual student is paying, it makes sense to teach and market my own classes instead of allowing another entity to market my class in a general listing for an hourly wage. I exclude colleges and universities here because they give a teacher prestige that she can apply to her resume. In the end, the bio or reference factor for each teacher has a lot to do with how much she values her own worth.

It seems like I talk about self worth quite often and I’m not trying to repeat myself here, what I am trying to do is to address a problem we have in our dance field. There are so many dancers now and everyone obviously wants something from this dance. Some want to learn and the chance to enjoy themselves in an environment with women. Others are looking for recreation that’s fun besides good fitness. But more often then not there are those who are so enchanted with the dance, they want all that comes with it…fame, fortune, globe trotting and beyond. So while the latter may not happen for everyone, it’s the lottery mind set that gets the imagination rolling, engaged in all the possibilities of being the one that makes it.

Reality has to play a part in any aspect of life and while most dancers will spend a majority of their dance lives intending and manifesting the creative fruits of their labor, they also need to understand that a good business outline will help the process flourish too.

Worth is the inner dialogue that speaks to the outside world in a subtle and cryptic language. If any conversation doesn’t converge with a strait forward message that is candid, then it can get muddied down with misunderstood innuendos that will manifest themselves at inopportune times and with unnecessary problems. I know this one well with some of the shows I’ve produced because it felt like my inner dialogue speaking another language and I had no clue how to interpret what was coming out of my mouth. I learned that the more strait forward I was, the better the results were even if some fiasco or unfortunate situation happened. If my intentions were clear at least to myself then my inner dialogue made more sense to me and I then could speak a language that made sense to others. I have always felt that it’s better to get the truth out because in the end it says a lot about a person’s self worth. When everyone knows where everyone is coming from, problems can get fixed and creative ideas flourish which for most performers means the best outcome for all involved. After all is said and done, it’s the audience’s applause we yearn for saying, “well done.”

Today I know what I want for my time and I don’t bat an eyelash when I ask my price. People will either say yes or no but the bottom line is I don’t compromise on my dance anymore. There is no negotiating my worth because I learned a long time ago that once I was willing to barter with my dance, it no longer was a precious commodity that I was supporting. Unknowingly I made it a product up for the highest bidder or in many cases the lowest. Lesson learned; the measuring stick of my accomplishments has to come from me. The one thing that I would hope dancers remember is that if they don’t want to be talked down on their price then don’t do it to another dancer. It’s really not that hard to accomplish anything you want as long as you understand and know your worth along with others.

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www.jareeda.com

www.bellydancevillage.com

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How Old is Too Old?

Belly Dancer Leyla Najma, How Old is Too Old - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance Blog

Have you ever wondered how long forever is? As a belly dancer forever is over the horizon and beyond the distant star. It’s just a saying that is until the day comes and you find yourself literally over the horizon and the distant star is the neon signs of yesterday.  What is too old in this business?

The biggest question I get asked by more people than not, even those who aren’t dancers, is what is the oldest a dancer can dance. It’s a good question and one that I never really gave much thought. Why? I mean, belly dancers in their own minds are immortal beings with ageless imaginations and creativity that is endless, bottomless and omnipotent. Who thinks about the end of something when it’s just begun or it’s running its do course.

If the mind isn’t in-sync with the body, issues can crop up even if you are in your prime as a dancer. Some of the biggest drama queens I have ever seen have been belly dancers. It’s the one drawback to drinking from the well of creativity.

I saw a dancer in Egypt who was in her late forties or early fifties, out dance a bunch of dancers half her age.  I talked about her in a post a long while ago. She was dancing with a candelabra on her head and had the most exquisite hip work I have ever seen even to this day. The audience loved her and when she was done dancing, they gave her a long applause. I have watched my dear friend Barbara Sayre Harmon dance in her studio and she had the exquisite body gestures of someone half her age besides the agility of a ballet dancer performing Swan Lake. To this day, I love watching Barbara dance because she moves in a way that is timeless. Maybe that is the key; the mind thinks there-fore the body is.  Philosophy can go hand in hand with dance because in the quest for finding the perfect moves, we end up discovering treasures that take us on adventures beyond the immediate, a journey of unforeseen answers. Some answers are more confusing than the questions, leading us further into a plot of twists and turns. A dancer’s tutelage is more than drills and combinations; it’s a quest into the deepest part of herself. Sometimes the deeper a dancer goes, the more lost she becomes. This is where instinct comes to the rescue.

A while ago I was teaching a beginner student privately. She was a beautiful girl just turning 19, with a heart of a belly dancer or so I thought. After weeks of drills, I worked on a choreography with her so I could help her understand how to place in the combinations into music. She videotaped her classes and when she would go home, she would watch the two of us dance together to help her practice. After about two weeks of being filmed, she started to come to class moody and unfocused. She told me she felt that she should have been able to dance as good as me especially since in her mind, youth played a big part in who should dance better. She thought being younger and spritier than me would be her edge and I told her that I had been dancing for years and that learning belly dance takes time to learn so that it feels natural in the body. The last class she took from me, she told me that the dance was just too hard and that she should see an improvement that was comparable to my way of dancing. I just couldn’t get through to her that she had to practice the moves and make them hers. She wanted to dance like me and I was trying to help her dance like herself by feeling the movements her way. I wanted her to copy me up until a point but then as she understood the moves, I wanted her to show me them…her way. She could do this for me in class but at home, I think her family made it difficult for her by making fun of her.  It was an uphill battle that exasperated me to no end. She ended up making an excuse for not coming to class the following week and then no contact after that. She wouldn’t return my phone calls and by that point all I wanted to do was go find her and kick her in the butt.

In the end of this particular situation I found that having years over someone younger than me was to my detriment. Actually this is a first for me but it just goes to show you how irrational some people can be when it comes to age. So in the real world of age the scales can tilt either way. As humans on this planet, age has become enemy number one. The body isn’t something we embrace with an open mind. Funny that the mind though it dwells in the body opposes and criticizes the very thing that carries and protects it. Maybe we need to take the mind out of the equation and look at the body for what it is…home.

The statement, how old is too old doesn’t make any sense in many ways. When does a painter stop painting or a sculpture stop sculpting? Some of the cowboys I worked with years ago were in their 80’s, yes that’s right, I said 80’s and nothing kept them off their horses. I always had a feeling that as soon as they decided not to ride anymore, that would be the day they died. You can’t put passion and desire on a shelf and leave it to wither away. Life doesn’t work that way.

Sometimes little signs that come from the Universe will tell people when it’s time to put the horse out to pasture and hang up the spurs. Three years ago my ex-husband who was a lot older then me decided it was time for him to pass on and leave this planet. He was a medicine man and sometimes they have this uncanny way of knowing when their time is up. He dug his own grave and within a few months after digging it, he passed away, was placed in the grave with his cowboy boots on, chaps, spurs and cowboy hat. The things in life that meant so much to him represented the life he had lived and as I thought about his life, I realized that everyone wants to be remembered for how they lived, what they did, represented and who they loved.

My mortality hit me square in the eyes when he died and I wondered how long I would dance, teach or choreograph belly dance. Would I die being buried in my belly dance costume or would I die dancing in my belly dance costume? Interesting to think about but it is a bit gloomy.

How old is too old depends on the mind set of any given person and how they feel about themselves. I actually had a friend who quit belly dancing because she thought she was too old at age 30. Can you imagine what turning 40 was like for her? I’m going to be half a century old and I feel half a century young. I’m just getting the hang of this dance form and maybe just maybe, at 90 I’ll have it licked!

Photography by the amazing Vivien Skrupskis

News

My Choreography book which will be a small book full of combinations is almost finished. It will be for the professional dancer who knows belly dance verbage but wants some combo ideas for troupe or solo performing. I thought I would share my ideas so I hope you all enjoy it. I will have it finished  by the end of this week.

Remember to subscribe to Jareeda Belly Dance Magazine. This coming issue will be on health! So just click on the link to get the longest running belly dance magazine in the US! www.jareeda.com

My book, “The Divine Unrest-My Stories and Personal Views on Belly Dance” is now available in paperback for $12.99 on Amazon.  Or, you can get The Divine Unrest on Amazon as an ebook for your Kindle. You can also read a Kindle book on your computer as well as on your iPhone, or Android by downloading the the Kindle App.