Practice Tip 1. For the Serious Student

Bely Dance Practice Tip #1 -  Leyla Najma's Belly Dance BlogRecently Daniel came to me and asked me if there were any tips I could share with dancers not only for their dancing but also for their practicing and drilling. So I thought about it and decided I would give tips that will help make a difference in the training aspect of dancing. It’s really in our preparation of dance that we start to understand ourselves so we can then go out and dance for the masses with confidence.

The tip that I am going to share with you is broad but it came to me because it is a common problem that we all have when we first start out dancing.  How we focus and work within our body starts out the habitual way we train. Most of my students won’t look at the whole enchilada (body) only a specific part of the body depending on what I am showing them. After you get the move down into your body then look at your image in the mirror and see how the rest of your body looks while you are working the combination or movement. When my students can’t see the whole body they have what I call “blinder” focus. It’s almost as if they are afraid to see how it looks in the totality of the body. Read more

Body Freedom Through an Ancient Art Form

Freedom Through An Ancient Art Form - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance Blog

Leyla Najma’s Belly Dance Blog-Body Freedom Through an Ancient Art Form

The one thing I have noticed in teaching this dance form is the difference in body movement that students have when they walk through my door. How they learn to belly dance varies. Sometimes it can be difficult to explain what belly dance is in a definitive way especially when new students come in with no knowledge regarding the fact that there are vast differences in styles and cultures.

Today I was working with two of my students and realized that most women don’t think about the fact that the environment in which they live effects how they move to music and relate to their own bodies. For instance I told them that they have known freedom all their lives and that because of this they are “full bodied” when they walk or move. But for some reason I noticed that they were stiff and uncomfortable with moves and certain parts of their bodies. They could see this too and we talked about it. Both of them were retired school teachers so it occurred to one of them that maybe the puritanical influence of childhood and upbringing was the reason.

When I was in Egypt in the early 90’s I saw women perform who were not very well known but once they got on stage they were just like me and any other American dancer. The constraints of their environment seemed to melt away once they stepped onto the stage. But in the end it became clear that who they were and how they were raised was ultimately up there on stage with them, in them and danced  through them. I saw sadness and bliss along with hope in gestures and movement. The hope seemed to keep them going but it also seemed to make the end of each dancer’s performance bitter sweet. In the end they stepped off the stage and they walked back into the environment that for a short time was non existent.

How do I teach my students the diversity of cultural differences when they themselves have restraints to deal with just like the dancers I saw perform in Egypt? How free women really are has to do with how well they know their bodies, emotions mind and soul. It is interesting as a teacher to see women closed off to various parts of themselves. I have learned that just because we live with our hips, chest and pelvic area doesn’t mean we are aware of them in the sense that one has to be in order to belly dance. It became clear to me that belly dance can be as foreign to my students as their bodies.

Can it be that women from all walks of life and cultures are dealing with the same problems? Our dance form is based on real life issues which means that no matter what country we are from, we all pretty much have similar stories.

There are those few exceptions where women are dealing with an existence that doesn’t allow them to express who they really are. They have to hide behind rules and laws that in the end shut out any freedom of expression or right to exist as women. How would they move if they had freedom at least for a brief moment? How would we move and express ourselves knowing we had  no freedom to be who we are?

At the end of class today we talked about cultures and the differences of expression allowed. Obviously women everywhere deal with the same issues of self expression to varying degrees. It is with this Ancient Art Form that we find our common ground.  And it is with belly dance that we make sure our self expression is seen and heard and not forgotten.

“ My dancing is just dancing. It is not an attempt to interpret life in a literary sense. It is the affirmation of life through movement. Its only aim is to impart the sensation of living, to energize the spectator into keener awareness of the vigor, of the mystery, the humor, the variety and the wonder of life; to send the spectator away with a fuller sense of his own potentialities and the power of realizing them, whatever the medium of his activity.”
— Martha Graham