Private Parties and Belly Dance Gigs

Leyla Najma Belly Dance Gigs and Parties

Many students have asked me to tell them stories about private parties and gigs that I have participated in through out the years. I do have stories, but I was thinking that it might be a good idea to share tips for dancers,  especially since some of the experiences I have had, were close calls. Sometimes it’s hard to know ahead of time, how something will work out. But all dancers want to get to that level of the working belly dancer. Parties and gigs are the next step to the belly dance rite of passage. Not only are private parties and gigs money makers, but they are the icing on the cake during holidays and special events that we otherwise wouldn’t be apart of. Read more

Let’s Talk Online Belly Dance Videos


My title, let’s talk online belly dance  videos, came about because I get a monthly blog that is very good and full of important info. It by chance had an article on the do’s and don’ts of creating a professional instructional video. Some of the things stated in the article I didn’t agree with so I decided to let you all know my views on what it takes to do videos and the time involved to make them consistent.

I think the first thing that came to my mind was the dress code for doing an instructional video. Look, I do many videos and I don’t think people buy them because of how I am dressed. They buy my videos because of the content. I dress in color and in black with a hip scarf, nothing fussy that can get in the way of the combinations and moves. Sometimes I’ll wear a skirt; it just depends on my mood. But the bottom line is you don’t have to go and wear fancy costumes each and every time you do a video. Your statement will be with your content, not your clothes. Dress for the occasion but not for a dance gig.

The lighting is so important. We started out with natural light coming in from the windows and the one thing everyone forgets or doesn’t know, is that a one hour video will take up to two to three hours to do. That means the light from the window will change and you have to account for that. The change is subtle but noticeable once you start to edit the video. You will see it’s not consistent with the shadows on the wall and on you and your face. The best lights to get are professional lights so that you can have even light distributed on you at all time that is strong. Another misnomer is to videotape during the day. No, you don’t have to videotape during the day and just so you all know I do some of my videos at night due to my schedule. What matters is the consistency of the light. Direct light on your face, from above and coming in from the back and front corners will make the light in the video more even. You can keep the light consistent each video if you use artificial light that professionals use. We use daylight compact fluorescent lights that are the ones that snake around like a light bulb. Believe me they are bright and once you get down how you want the light to look on camera, then you don’t have to worry about the natural light coming in from the window changing on you. You save time each and every time you create a video.

This is a preference and if you don’t agree, that’s okay but I don’t like mirrors in the background because I think they confuse students. I have had students tell me that it’s easier to follow from the back and I agree because what do we all do at workshops; ask to follow from the back. The background can be a green screen or blue screen which means what…you can’t wear green or blue. You will be a floating head if you do which might be fun for Halloween but not for an instructional video. The background should be what makes you happy. I have my tapestry from Egypt behind me and it brings in such a magical ambiance to my classes. We used the color beige on the walls of the studio which was recommended to us by friends who are independent film makers. It warms the room and it made a huge difference on my skin color. It works really well with the direct light we use. I use a rug but would love a wood floor. The rug gives me occasional rug burns especially when I do turns. If you put an oriental rug on a slippery surface just remember it will go where you go and sometimes that’s not a good thing.

Also most videos are done for students and not clients. I send off my performance videos to clients who want to see my dance ability so there is a distinct difference between these two groups. Even if I get hired for a workshop based from someone buying an  instructional video, I am being hired for my content and teaching skills by dancers who are students first. I think that a target market needs to be in place and a plan devised before you ever get in front of a camera. Videos created that state they are done for all levels miss the mark because I have testimony from women from all over the world stating these kinds of videos are confusing. Remember a beginner will read all levels and think she can do the moves. She won’t be able to follow combinations made for an intermediate dancer. Think of your student base and who you want to target; is it beginners, intermediate level or professionals?  Make videos that are easy for students to choose from that make sense. An instructional video isn’t about the flash of a costume, it’s about the content and how easily accessible it is for students to comprehend and learn from. In the end most students are working on their own dance skills so they are buying your video to get ahead. Give them what they need to move along easily and effortlessly.

Regarding music, I use my CD I had created for my students to practice to. The music doesn’t have to be live especially if you have a good strong mic on your camera. We use a shot gun mic and it works perfectly. I also have speakers that I plug into my boom box and the speakers with the top gun mic work perfect. Editing in music after you have done the video is a major pain in the butt and it’s not necessary. I edit my videos so I know there is so much that goes into them plus then Daniel has to go in and do his magic with chapters and such. Make the process as easy as possible because if you do more then one video you will find they can get very expensive and that’s money you put into them before you even sell them. Marketing them afterwards is not just another blog post but should be a power point presentation. So if you want to create an online belly dance instructional video remember who you are making it for. It’s about your future target market aka, students and making the process something they will enjoy and implement into their dance. It’s all about sharing the joy of belly dance to women all over the world.

Connecting the Dots in Belly Dance

Connecting the Dots - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance Blog This past weekend I was able to do a workshop with my students and at the same time showcase  the curriculum that I have been  working on for a better part of a year.  What is so exciting about  this new curriculum is that it is the end result of students understanding choreography in a way that makes sense to them.

What I mean by this is students are learning  to understand their own choreography. The curriculum shows them how to connect the dots.

The one thing that I have noticed especially with the emails Daniel and I have received through out this last year is that many dancers don’t understand how to interpret movement to music or they don’t even know why they move a certain way to the music, they just follow their teacher. Some dancers have said that they learn the same moves over and over again but  the reason behind the move is not talked about.

I think as teachers we have to take a good look at our own curriculum and than stand back so we can take a good look at what we are teaching. Read more

Photo Shoot Weekend Divine

     belly dance photography             

 “The Dragon Fly Twirl, Click and Pose”

Not long ago  I went on a wonderful adventure with a group of gals. Well okay, there were three 16 year olds in the back seat talking a mile a minute on a volume that was stuck on “high.” It was the photo shoot weekend of a life time because unbeknownst to me, I was in the presence of a petite photographer prodigy.

Savanah (my daughter) and her friends Christina and photographer extraordinaire, Vivien along with Vivien’s Mom Michelle crammed into our jeep two weeks ago and we all headed up to Michelle’s family ranch in Stanley (Ojo de Cebolla) north of Moriarty, NM. Carlos, Michelle’s brother was at the ranch guiding us in and lending his assistance .It was amazing  to see such family support for Vivien and everyone helped out any way they could. I also thought it was wonderful that Michelle offered her family ranch as a photo shoot location and she was a delight to visit with.

I was dressed up in my gypsy outfit which included a corset, skirt and boots. The giggles were non stop in the jeep but once we arrived at the ranch, Vivien turned into a serious photographer and started telling me where she wanted me to stand, pose or move. The two of us worked together like we had worked with each other for years. The backdrop for this amazing photo shoot was old adobe walls, and believe it or not one of the first “bordellos” in New Mexico history! It felt a little spooky but some of the pics in that particular building really were not only hauntingly beautiful but timeless. All the buildings had personalities of their own and were on the family ranch within walking distance to each other. Vivien took black and white besides color photos and she had a timing that you just have to be born with to photograph dancers. She caught my veil as I twirled along with my skirt and in the background were old windows, doorways, wood floors and an eerie feeling of the old west. Plus there were lots of noises, bangs and stinky smells that reminded us that we were in the desert not to mention ghosts making themselves known. Our ghost radar was on “high” and there were a few times I almost felt like running out of the bordello house but I kept this a secret from the girls.

Photo shoots can be a lot of work but this particular photo shoot breezed by and by the time we were finished with the first location I was astonished we had been to various buildings for almost two hours. As we stepped into a wonderful old house that belonged to Michelle’s family I could feel the history of the family all around me. It’s was a warm feeling that touches your soul and makes you feel right at home. We previewed some of the photos and that is when my jaw literally fell open and I was like a kid in a candy store going, “I want that one and oh my God look at that one and no wait I think that one!”  In the almost two hours of working with Vivien, I probably had more photos to work with then at any given time with any other photographer. She blew me away because we had just begun our day and had more locations to go to. I was thinking to myself as we drove to Santa Fe, “Not only is this the photo shoot of a lifetime but I am one lucky dancer and model”.

The way Vivien worked was like an old pro and the best part of all was how easy she was to work with. She is an instinctive photographer which is a true find almost like a lost treasure because an instinctive photographer knows by intuition how the backdrop or lighting will work with the model. Some of the black and white photos were even more powerful then the color because Vivien knew to use the lighting to her advantage. Black and white photos also give off the “atmosphere” of a building while the color photos tend to show life and movement in present day. I loved the fact that I had two different versions to choose from besides the added surprise of Vivien giving me the options automatically. We didn’t talk about it; she just knew to take both versions. I wonder if Ansel Adams is somehow guiding her?!!

Photo shoots are a risky business because the outcome can hang in the balance of either fantastic photos or photos few and far between. For instance I went out to an old west town for a photo shoot a few years ago and I think there were 3 photos that I was able to use from the entire day. We spent a lot of our time walking the terrain and eventually working along a hillside or in town finding the right building but I found that I just didn’t feel insync with the photographer and it showed in just about every photo. Photographer and model relationships that work, are like finding pure gold and believe me when I say even the best of intentions don’t always work out. If a photo shoot flops, it can take the wind out of both photographer and model. I can remember one particular photo shoot where my group of students and I took a photographer out to lunch as a thank you and he ended up being grumpy with everyone. I think he knew the outcome of our photo shoot ahead of time because there wasn’t one photo I could use after the fact.

belly dance photography

The next location was a small town up the road from the ranch called Galisteo where a Catholic church resides in which Michelle’s parents Eva and (Deacon) Carlos Pacheco were married. The church still stands today and is a testament to the faithful maintaining its walls and history. As we were standing in the parking lot, I saw a dirt road almost directly across from the church that looked interesting. We ventured down the road and saw that it came to a bridge that looked like it had been around for many years. The bridge had the distinct feeling of going on forever and the opposite end gave off a magical feeling of entering into another time and place. Vivien and I looked at each other because we had the same thought at the exact same time. So we ventured on a short walk to the bridge and with Vivien’s first click of her camera she started the black and white photo shoot that was just enchanting. An old Chevy pick up truck made its way along  the bridge and with Vivien’s keen eye she knew it would add  ambiance to the back ground and design of the photos. She just has that intuition that a photographer is born with because you just can’t teach someone to follow their instincts especially with live on-site photo shoots. I twirled until I was dizzy and Vivien clicked away until she was satisfied she had achieved her shots.

Next we went to Santa Fe and had lunch at a cool restaurant called Cowgirls and enjoyed a surprise visit from Michelle’s Dad, Carlos Sr. who is full of New Mexico culture, history and philosophy. It was a wonderful afternoon and we were able to talk about many things including the success of the day’s adventures. Later after lunch we went to Michelle’s sister’s house; Diana’s house was not only beautiful but had a panoramic view of mountains and hills that definitely let you know you were in Santa Fe. Again the hospitality was wonderful and a reminder of how true native New Mexican’s live life.

After a relaxing break, Diana suggested a wonderful location for our late afternoon photo shoot. It was a trail that went along railroad tracks that was a hop, skip and a jump away from her house. With the cars it felt just like that as Michelle, Diana the girls and I all drove a short distance to the location and started our walk along the railroad tracks and into a magical sunset. It was I must admit my favorite location of the day because it was so unexpected and such a great idea. Diana was a great help and I loved her suggestions and ideas because in the end everyone made the photo shoots enjoyable and fun. It was truly a family affair and I feel so blessed to have experienced time with such a wonderful family!

Vivien was the consummate trooper and she started looking at the background and areas that would create a unique photo. She had me on top of  railroad ties or on the railroad tracks along a bridge. I was wearing my Bolero hat and with the sun setting, the images were just magnificent. New Mexico landscapes really add ambiance to any photo and no matter where you are there is always a mystery or magical feeling that is captured besides the unexpected lighting that cascades along the hills and valleys. The railroad tracks was an unexpected delight and a wonderful way to end an amazing day. All three photo shoot locations had something different to them and the best part of all was the petite prodigy that I had the pleasure and honor to work with. To date, Vivien is my favorite photographer of all time  and the photo shoot along with an amazing family’s generosity made it truly an experience of a life time!