The Unusual State of Affairs in the Belly Dance Business

Belly Dance Business

Just last week I was surfing the internet and found that one of my articles is posted on a “pole” dancing site. At first I was like, “It’s got to be a mistake.” And then as I saw my article in all its glory underneath a photo of a gal spreading her legs dancing on a pole, the reality sunk in. I commented on the site stating belly dancing and pole dancing are on opposite ends of the spectrum. I was not a happy camper about it but I realized that as my name and articles get out in the world there’s no telling what can happen. It occured to me that I had to keep up with my belly dance business image and content.

A couple of years ago we found one of my videos up on an adult website and thank God Daniel was able to get them to take it off  but only after writing a serious and to the point email. I had actually written to them three times asking them to take me off their site and they ignored me. Daniels message hit home and they relented. I was finally able to relax because it really bothered me that this website put me up without my permission. But as each one of you becomes more well known in your career be aware that you may find your photos or videos on websites that leave a lot to be desired.

Another aspect of our dance field and business is having your ideas, articles and shows plagiarized by other people. I had an article plagiarized by a well known dancer and I actually had people write me to tell me it looked like my article. It pretty much was except for the fact they made it look like she was being interviewed. It was a sly cover up but people aren’t stupid and after a while of writing for various magazines it became clear this was a possibility that unfortunately came true. I think it backfired because you can’t respect someone who doesn’t come up with their own ideas especially in the writing arena. Everyone has their own way of thinking and talking that eventually when put down into words sounds just like them. That’s the beautiful part about creative expression and why I like to write.

So what I want to do is to share with all of you ideas of what to do if you feel your creative expression is being plagiarized or used without your permission. Copy Right all your work which includes, videos, articles, website, blog and curriculum. If you come up with an idea and you put forth the effort to make your idea or thoughts into a reality, then protect them. Also every once in a while type in your name and see what comes up. If you see yourself up there with pole dancers, adult stars or questionable content take action and get your intellectual property, photos or videos off the site by writing them and making them aware you know you’re up there. Most sites that do this think you won’t find out at least until it’s too late.

There are belly dance sites that have my content up and I am always honored that my peers put my articles or quotes up. So I think you have to use discretion when you find your work is up on another website. I feel that as a community that if there’s anything I have to say that someone agrees with then go for and put it up. But I’m talking about my belly dance community not exotic dancing or questionable films and magazines.

And I have to include this one in because this can also happen to unsuspecting dancers. Years ago when I was in Dallas a group of dancers ganged up on another dancer that was being a snot to them and they put her up on a call girl site. I know they got a good laugh out of it but it caused problems for this particular dancer because she actually got calls. I don’t know what happened because I left while this was all taking place but I can tell you that this kind of behavior only makes the community look bad. Personally I would hope that our fellow dancers would have more integrity then this but sometimes it just isn’t the case.

So be aware of what can happen if your name gets out into the world. Understand that a photo of you can be on questionable websites or that you can be placed on a website that has nothing to do with belly dancing at all. Be vigilant and aware of your image because it is the one thing we have the right to be in control of.




An Accumulation of Reasons

An Accumulation of Reasons - Leyla Najmas Belly Dance Blog

Sometimes I will lie in bed and think about past performances and shows that I participated in and I will run through the whole event in my mind. The good, the bad, pretty much everything is thrown in and I start to think about how I could have changed things. Different outcomes would have made for better experiences but sometimes the lessons wouldn’t have been learned. I think we have to let the past be but sometimes it’s good to look at experiences every now and then to remember how much of life we have lived.

In talking with many of the dancers that I have interviewed it occurred to me we are all traveling parallel paths, they just curve, drop and rise differently because various lessons and realities are so different. But one thing is for sure everyone has an accumulation of opinions that creates their point of view and reference. Sometimes we agree and other times we differ in ideologies but disagreements don’t make anyone’s reality less real for them or wrong. What makes our world go round keeping is the endless experiences that each one of us has. It’s all thrown into the pot of self discovery and we all taste a little bit of each others thoughts and views.

The interviews are my way of understanding everyone’s feelings and experiences in our dance field. And I must I have found it very interesting that many dancers-teachers experience the same thing just in different parts of the planet. Why do women dance? It’s an age old question but the answer is never the same and changes with the times.

I had one dancer come into my class who was a ballet dancer and she would catch on to all the moves within minutes of executing them. The other girls would look at her with dismay and I would just smile. She came to class for a very unique reason which was to feel more spiritual because ballet to her was an insolated dance form that didn’t allow for her private expression. She just wanted to feel like herself without apology. Another dancer always wanted to belly dance and her ex-husband would never allow her to. The “allowing” part always got me but she had to figure out how to make up her own mind. Class for her was making decisions for herself

A very beautiful older woman walked through my studio doors looking for a way to capture her youth. She had let her younger years dictate was appropriate for her in her later years.  She felt young at heart and decided to go with the feeling she felt inside. Dancing for her was expressing her new outlook on life without apology for being her age.

I always wonder if I would have kept my studio open how many more reasons would have come through to accumulate with all the others. It seems that our dance plays a huge part for women in uncovering truths that were at one time hidden secrets. Everyone’s journey seems to lead them to a type of self discovery that touches the soul. Belly dance does just that and more because even after all these years I feel it transform my life in a way that will stay with me until my last breathe.


Belly Dance Tip of the Day:

Weight and Feet

Remember that feet are important in your dance. They help execute each move plus they help us distribute our weight in various ways that allows for us to dance. The important thing to remember is that if we are off on our weight distribution the feet can’t help us there.

One time I was performing on a very dark stage and danced right onto a warped piece of wood that bowed down 5 or 6 inches. I couldn’t keep myself from slightly falling because my weight and feet were a tangled mess. Walking off stage was a bit embarrassing and I was to go on again for the last half of the show. Interestingly enough I knew where the warped piece of wood was and I was able to adjust for it with no problem. So what I learned is that once our feet know what’s going on they can keep us from falling over and adjust for any problems.

But even to this day I am weary of the bottomless pit stages that can swallow us up whole!


When Do You Know it’s Time to Perform?

When is it Time to Preform? - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance BlogSometimes I have had dancers come to my studio with horror stories regarding first time performances. Even as I write this I can remember my first performance many years ago in Taos, New Mexico. I had been training for two years and my first teacher felt it was time for me to debut my first choreography. If I wouldn’t have had the two years to prepare I probably would have passed out at the very thought of performing in front of people. But I was very fortunate because good training and lady luck changed my dance world.

The familiar horror stories seemed to be based on similar facts that made it clear that just because somebody has been dancing for a while doesn’t mean they are ready to dance publicly. The first experience a dancer has with dance should be given extra care by teachers and fellow dance friends alike. We all know that the real world is full of unexpected situations that pop up out of the blue. The first time out should be a rite of passage for dancers and a preparation for being on a stage and in front of a supportive audience.  Student recitals are excellent ways for students to be in a “safe” environment. First time performances at restaurants can be just as safe if the studio or dance friends come along as a support system.

I know for some of you that this might seem like “Duh” Leyla but as Daniel was interviewing me for BDV today it occurred to me that I had students who came from other studios who were put in front of an audience without warning. A student named Maria comes to mind because she told me that without warning, her teacher had her go out and dance in front of an audience at a local restaurant in town. The studio was doing a monthly show at the restaurant and she felt that she was not ready to dance but that her teacher kept pushing her towards the stage. She was totally humiliated and ready to quit dancing. We had to start back to square one in order to get her past the experience and ready for a new future in belly dance. Our first class was dealing with the feelings of giving up before she ever got her feet on the ground. Five months later her debut was at a small coffee shop in town where she performed two choreographies that she put together herself. She was the best gift the Angels could have given me. To see her smile showing some attitude on stage reminded me that with divine timing and training the true essence of the belly dancer in everyone emerges ready to perform.

Sometimes we have students who jump at every chance to perform and with each individual student as teachers we have to decide how to prepare them on their belly dance path. Some are ready at 3 months while others don’t feel confident until 7 months to a year. We have to understand each students belly dance journey and sometimes that is easier said then done .

Another student told me that her teacher asked her take her place at a local restaurant knowing she had never danced publicly before. She didn’t tell her any details as to how to dress or what to expect. She told her to dance to her music and that she usually left her cds at the restaurant. When this student went to the restaurant in her teachers stead, the owner was not notified and upset and she found out her teacher had taken the cds with her the week before so there was no music to dance to. Unfortunately for her, she had to dance to the restaurant music which was a mishmash of Middle Eastern, Indian and Spanish music. And for a beginner dancing to music they have never heard before is like walking the plank knowing they will have to jump. At the end of the evening she said she felt deflated, unprepared, ignored by the patrons and treated rudely by the restaurant owner. She came to my studio a few weeks after her experience in tears.

There is always a flip side to every story and I have had them occur. I have had students perform and get drunk afterwards………start fights with other dancers and try to take gigs away from me. Maybe they weren’t ready to perform or maybe they just didn’t have any etiquette even with what I tried to teach them. Dance is a very personal endeavor so there is no telling what the story is of each student who walks into our studios or classes. Ultimately we have to know that with each student we did our best and that the belly dancer emerging within each of them knows when to come out and perform.

Birthday News!!

Just wanted you all to know that Daniels Birthday is April 21st which means Thursday! HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the best husband in the whole world!

Teacher’s Interview Corner (Belly Dance Village)

Look for Najla’s interview coming up the 23rd, this coming Saturday. It was a lot of fun talking with her so check out what Najla’s doing with her belly dancing in Ohio.


What is Layering?

About Belly Dance Layering - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance Blog

I get asked a lot of questions on belly dance but one that I have found that I don’t get asked  often is regarding “Layering” and what it really is.

Looking at our dance field today, it has changed into an accumulation of personal interests and the pursuit of  relevance for each individual dancer. So layering can be sharp to soft movements or upper body to lower body and many other interpretations in-between. Without layering our dance tends to look a little flat almost one dimensional and you can usually tell an experienced dancer from a novice by her ability to layer in movement.

Layering is also the focal point for the audience that prepares them for each chapter in a story that a dancer tells through out her dance. It’s the dramatic or subtle change in the phrasing in the music interpreted by the dancer. Read more

Business Ethics, Protocols and Procedures for the Modern Belly Dancer

Belly Dancing as a Business - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance Blog

Through out the years I have talked with women from all over the world regarding issues and problems in the dance arena. Probably the most note worthy is business strategies that are over looked by dancers because they don’t want to mix business with something they love. But major problems can occur if a professional dancer doesn’t look at her passion as a business. The surface issues are the same today as they were hundreds of years ago the only difference is that in today’s market there are more dancers then ever before.

You can’t presume that everyone has your back especially when they have their eyes on the same prize as you. So the best way to get ahead in this dance form is putting down on paper priorities and goals you want to achieve. There are more friendships lost in this business due to mood swings or misunderstandings of verbal ideas, protocols and agreements. I’m not being facetious here because women have to understand that emotional decisions will usually come back to bite them in the you know where if they aren’t thought out in a sensible way. Here are some guidelines that I want to share with you so that you can at least protect yourself from unwanted and needless lessons that can be avoided by these rules of thumb.

Contracts and Agreements

1. If you want to dance at a restaurant make sure you don’t undercut the existing house dancers and ask what the going rate is per show. Though, with most restaurants it will be more of a verbal agreement, allow yourself room for negotiating advances and raises. Example: If I was requested to dance on an off night or weekend that I wasn’t originally scheduled on then my price went up and the restaurant owners new this and let the patrons know this in advance.

2. For any concert, outdoor event, city event or corporate party etc. make sure you get half your required payment in advance and let the customer or client know that it is non-refundable. This way if they back out you are not out your time or another gig.

3. Have your own contract for sponsors, clients or event coordinators to sign stating what you require of them and your expectations. Example: I was hired for a children’s hospital fund raiser out of town and I didn’t stipulate what I required as far as transportation, food, and lodging. I was kept at an inexpensive hotel but picked up by a limousine service the night of my show only to have to scramble to find someone to take my sister and me back to the hotel. They only arranged to have the limousine pick us up so there we were on the sidewalk of a exclusive club with no ride. The cook of all people ended up taking my sister and me back to the hotel. My sister and I still laugh today because we were literally shoved out the front door so they could close the place up.

4. If you plan on doing any workshops make sure you have a contract regarding class amount, registration, performance fees and other requirements. I taught at a workshop where students came last minute and the workshop hostess forgot to include them in with my payment. I was back home when I figured out what happened. I was out the money equivalent to $100 dollars and the hostess didn’t remember the students coming in. So a head count is a good thing to include at the beginning of class. Also make sure you let the hostess know what you require for a workshop show. Make marketing and advertizing a given for promoting your workshops or the end result will be poorly attended classes and a workshop evening of dance with no one to dance for but empty seats. It’s the sponsor’s job to put forth the effort to bring you out and your job to make it worth their while. But if they don’t advertize it can be costly for both of you!

5. If you get hired for a party or event give as much credentials as possible to the people hiring you. I have a “Promo Pack” prepared that has a video, testimonials, articles and reviews of my work. This way another dancer can’t come in and speak poorly of me and get a gig out from under me. This usually works in my favor and has kept the gig thieves from stealing my thunder which is my business dealings. It’s not seal proof because there have been a few times where dancers came in and stole a show away from me. Usually they get the gigs by doing them for little or no money and unfortunately this type of undercutting affects the community as a whole!


I innocently set up a simple evening show at a small restaurant in Taos, NM many years ago and found out there is nothing simple when women are involved. I assumed that I had everything under control. I didn’t give instructions or guide lines to any of the dancers I invited because I just wanted to dance and have some fun. But as some of  you might have guessed, drama ensued thereafter and I learned the hard way what can happen when you get a bunch of women together who have ideas spread all over the map. I had a former teacher who came in and tried to take over the show besides another dancer who was deep roots tribal to the point of not shaving her armpits and wearing a long thin beard down her chin. She had a condition that made her grow facial hair and my former teacher raised hell over the “Bohemian” belly dance look. Taos is artsy and everyone is low key so I wasn’t worried about it. In the end it was like herding cats that were feral hissing at each other every ten minutes. At the end of the performance I realized that procedures have their places along with etiquette and manners. Maybe it’s just human nature to behave badly but to be truthful with you I think sometimes women forget how to play with each other and have a good time.

You have to have guidelines for your dancing if it is a business or the fun times will stop happening. Just remember there is always one spewing cat in the crowd at any given time! Protecting yourself will keep them at bay or at least on their best behavior.