The Belly Dance Survivalist

The Belly Dance Survivalist, Leyla Najma


After almost thirty years in the business I’ve been looking back and enjoying the view, remembering the road less traveled that became a rite of passage. In some ways surviving certain lessons became just as important as acing others. Perhaps the word survivalist seems a little harsh but in reality sometimes I have felt I was in a boot camp for hips.

As you all may have noticed, I took many months off from dance even my blog for many reasons. Healing my arm became a priority that wasn’t foreseen in any crystal ball and because I did my own physical therapy, I reminded myself how much dance really has to do with healing. Now, I knew belly dance helped the spiritual heart breaks and pains but I gained a greater insight on the fact that  fish hands, wrist twists and the lotus flower all work well with gaining strength back and building up muscle. I can now add in something new to my resume.

Another reason for the hiatus was more of a personal nature and with this particular change came a new address, a new perspective on my life and pretty much everything that goes into starting back to square one. But even before these changes started I was feeling burned out with belly dance. There were many reasons but the most obvious was that I was a bit bored. I can only imagine what your inner voices are saying at this point, maybe nothing at all but for a life long dancer to say she’s bored…that’s, well to put it mildly, weird and unthinkable to most dancers. Belly Dancer Leyla Najma and Belly Dance Students, Leyal Najma's Belly  Dance Blog

I wasn’t bored because belly dance stopped offering me interesting opportunities or because my schedule was bare. No, I was lucky, so the question remains what was I bored with…so I’ll get right to it. I saw many beautiful faces, costumes and figures but everybody’s dance including my own became a mixed blur of the same moves to the same music with the same props being added for visual effect.  Being the rebel that I am, I’m always looking for the new dancer on the block bringing in some sort of change. And I looked within myself for changes to occur as well but my reservoir was dry. Even Martha Graham understood the need for change; she had quite an assemblage of dancers who took her techniques and curriculum to new heights.

I may get into trouble here so hopefully I’ll be able to explain as I go along. A time long ago, I was apart of a local show and helped get a theater for a holiday hafla. We had a performer who was invited to dance and by all expectations we knew it was a no brainer that she would entertain the crowd. That particular night, she decided to show up late, paid no attention to the line up besides disappearing for a good 15 minutes before she was to go on. We had dancers looking for her everywhere, disgruntled and exasperated because she had mere minutes before she was to go on. Add insult to injury she performed way over the allotted time given and made the show longer which was a problem for the theater staff. By the end of the night I was ready to tell this dancer to hang up her costume and retire. Ground hog day was getting pretty old, especially the repeat offenders that just don’t get it.  The Diva attitude was predictable and predictability has a tendency to become laborious and boring. Add in other experiences like this one and you can imagine I was beyond the breaking point of disillusionment.

Ignoring the needs of others because of self importance only brings about dissidence that effects the common good of the community.

Leyla Najma    

At what point and to what age does a dancer exit performing? What is a good healthy age for a dancer to retire or start directing troupes and solo performers to dance in his or her stead? This has nothing to do with body type, weight or the sage floundering under the maiden image but perhaps more the egomaniac taking over the exalted professional.  Okay, maybe I’m being a little harsh here because egomania is not bound by age alone but that doesn’t stop the question, what do we do with dancers who are overcome by their own celebrity? I have enough friends who keep me in my place besides my sister and daughter. If I get a balloon head, they either pop it or deflate it but either way I gracefully fall down or land on my derriere.

Age’ is the acceptance of a term of years. But maturity is the glory of years”.

Martha Graham

In a way I was tired of attitudes and the small talk that happens when your back is turned. It’s a human phenomenon but one that can get old, really quickly. I was tired more then bored of dance relationships becoming high stakes because of unspoken issues. The excuses became comical as to why I wasn’t invited to this show or that hafla and quite frankly as Clark Gable so eloquently put it, “Didn’t give a damn,” anymore.

And oftentimes excusing of a fault doth make the fault the worse by the excuse.

William Shakespeare

I talked to amazing women, who inspired me like, Mezdulene, Selena Kareena, Morwenna, Sakti Rinek, but something just didn’t click anymore inside me and I decided to back away for awhile. I also think that when life’s foundation is being restructured, it’s necessary to close up shop for awhile.

The world that resides inside us needs to be addressed first before the world outside us can change with us. To put it in other words, it sure does feel good to wake up in the morning, and not think about the underbelly of dance but other things that have absolutely nothing to do with it. A new direction I’m ensuing is research on Big Foot. I met the foremost author and lecturer on Sasquatch, Kewaunee Lapseritis in Monroe, Washington last month and plan to ensue whatever adventures come my way in this exciting phenomenon. I’ve met with my mentor Ana Beluchi who is guiding me back to my Medicine Woman roots. With the Native American teachings along with researchers in the field, I hope to write another book on “Manifesting the Feminine”. RainbowSaktiSantaFe

More so then not there does come a time in ones life when even the passionate, resounding call to dance goes off key a bit and sounds like a Banshee howling. I actually heard a Banshee a few years ago while visiting my mentor Ana Beluchi in Taos. The following day a close friend of hers died and I always wondered why I was the one to hear this shrieking (which was right by a window close to where I was sleeping!!!)  I think more was being said or should I say screamed at me then the obvious warning of death but perhaps a metaphysical wake up call as to where my life was heading. But I have to say, when you hear something from the other side of this reality, it is the eeriest and creepiest sound you can ever imagine or want to imagine hearing. I hope that was my first and last visit. I’m a scarty cat at heart!

He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. Is not life a hundred times too short for us to bore ourselves?

Friedrich Nietzsche

Interestingly enough, I had accomplished so much and more then I ever dreamed of in this dance. I had danced for famous Egyptologists, Saudi Royalty, Diplomats and musicians like the Gypsy Kings. I ran my own studio which helped me establish my curriculum, Hip Physlosphy. I met my icons in belly dance and became good friends with a few. So what could I possibly be bored with…it came down to one thing. I didn’t maintain and keep up all aspects of my life so my fire trickled down to less then a flicker. There were no matches conveniently around to relight a fire that became a chore. I didn’t have the interest anymore to talk belly dance because it was too much a part of my life. My life was only belly dance and I forgot the rest of the world around me. When I re-discovered life, belly dance went on the back burner.

Today I see my dance career as a revelation that exposes the good, the bad and the ugly. Now, as I sit on my rock of contemplation I can at least appreciate how I got here, all the roads less traveled and even the ones that became traffic jams.

In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.

Robert Frost

Remember everybody,I have two books out now, “The Divine Unrest-My Stories and Personal Views on Belly Dance” and “Leyla Najma’s Belly Dance Choreography and Combos for the Perplexed Choreographer” They are available on Amazon. Here’s a hint…the choreography book works great with my instructional videos!

Also on there will be a new video coming out of Sakti Rinek’s exciting life as a professional dancer. She is in the die hard group who made their living as dancers traveling the globe!

It’s All In The Company We Keep

Fulfillling Your Belly Dance Journey - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance Blog

I wanted to write a bit about the belly dance journey and to let you all know that every once in awhile the rose colored glasses come off and reality starts to set in even for us belly dancers. Sometimes women think that self fulfillment will happen magically with this dance and to be honest with you it takes work. But it’s the kind of work that feels more like an entrepreneurial quest. We make the journey what it is, a success or a spiraling drama. At times they kind of go hand in hand but how much really depends on you. Read more

Heading Out To New York

A Belly Dancers Trip To New York - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance Blog Just wanted to let all of you know that my daughter and I are heading out to New York and we will be spending this weekend with costume designer and renowned belly dancer Noora – owner of Decotach. Noora is making my Marilyn Monroe dress for a workshop in April so I can’t wait to get fitted and see my dress.  But our main goal is to spend the weekend with dancers from the east coast and get a better idea of  their community ethics and ideals along with comments on today’s issues.

My daughter Savanah will be behind the camera while I will be conversing in the dancers round table of discussions. It will be her first time to New York and behind the camera so for a 15 year old, I am pretty proud of her for stepping up to the plate!

Daniel won’t be going with us this time, he will be taking care of the home-front plus our 3 legged dog Zipperino and Booboo our 15 year old cat. He is definitely apart of this trip though because he is not only supportive of the documentary but he believes we need more. Not only is he the best business partner in the world but I couldn’t ask for a better husband! I must have earned kudos in a past life because I wouldn’t be where I am today without him!

So next time I write I will have more to talk about so stay tuned for my return trip meanderings,  tales and tidbits!! I’m sure it will be a journey worth talking about!

New York; Vintage Charm with a Modern Twist and Classical Elegance

Leyla Najma's New York Travel Journal - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance BlogNothing prepared my daughter and me for our amazing trip to New York. Just the trip alone was exciting but once we arrived in New York I must say our journey really had just begun. Our taxi cab driver was the first of our “We’ve arrived” moments when he literally took me at my word when I said it should take no longer then 12 minutes to get to our destination. And let me tell you it was a white knuckle ride the whole way!

Our destination was the apartment of Noora, dancer extraordinaire and costume designer and owner of Decotach; Creative mix and match costumes. As we entered her apartment we were greeted by 4 of her 6 cats. Since my daughter and I are animal lovers, we definitely were in heaven! Our day ended with an evening out at a local restaurant not far from Noora’s  house. But that evening the rain started and it kept coming down the whole time we were there.

We walked the streets the next few days and I literally saw umbrellas scattered on the sidewalks in every direction. I asked Noora about this and she said, “In a few minutes you’ll understand.” Just five minutes after she said that the wind took my umbrella and swept it up and tore it to shreds. Nothing like laughing in the rain and getting wet! At one point I was wet from my tippy toes up to my waist. This was because I wore my New Mexico style clothing and it just didn’t work for the New York winds, rain and busy life style. And just so you all know, we went through 4 umbrellas in one day!

There where many high lights of the trip, one was going to Serena Wilsons’s studio and videotaping a class in session. Our main goal was to videotape  Noora and her dance friends in a group along with solo discussions on belly dance issues and we had a wonderful evening of  just straight belly dance talk. I will start to edit this week and I am looking forward to viewing what we were able to get on film.

Another highlight was watching videos of Noora performing at different venues such as a wedding and a major dance project that she collaborated with Tamalyn Dallal. I was awe struck at her dance ability and truley believe Noora is one of the best dancers we have here in the United States today. I cannot recommend her highly enough to any dance teachers who want to bring in a highly talented, educated master dance teacher and performer. Noora is the definition of everything you would expect from a dance master and I feel so honored and fortunate to have spent time with her.

Noora is also an amazing costume designer and I was able to be fitted for a new costume that she is making for me.   It is the red dress that Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell wore in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I can’t wait until it is finished and I will be wearing it at the Floralia workshop and show I will be teaching and performing at April 29th-May 2nd 2010. There is nothing like a sexy, classy red dress to lift a dancer’s spirits and this one is definitely going to help me make an entrance.

Unfortunately after we arrived back to N.M. safely I battled the flu and for a while there thought I had brought back the bubonic plague. Plus I shared it with Savanah and Daniel (which they didn’t appreciate) so we are all just now getting back to good health again. But all in all it was a great trip and I highly recommend New York to any dancer who is serious about her dancing. New York should be a rite of passage for all dancers and once you experience the dancers back there you will totally understand why.  They are of the highest caliber of integrity, talent, friendliness and some of the most educated dancers of today. New York was everything I expected and more!

A note of importance; in the costume designing world Noora is known as Angela Lambru. She is world renowned by both names!

Check out Noora’s website at or [email protected]