Back to the Future
“Dance is the old mistress of poetic realism. Without her, my life would have been an abstract smudge, devoid of any detailed brilliance.” Leyla Najma
This year, May of 2016, marks 30 years of living, breathing and dreaming belly dance. Sometimes I can’t believe belly dance has been a part of my life for more than half of my life because in some ways it flew by within a blink of an eye and in other ways, it’s been a marriage slowed down by a quirky harmonious contention.
“Belly dance is my celebrated and misunderstood oxymoron.”
Memory lane and diary moments always have a nostalgic twinge of emotion that paints the details of any particular moment in time with vivid colors. Sometimes though, I like to look at my belly dance life as a shimmering black and white silent film. Some moments in life are felt with such passion that the memory is more like an obsessive allure that carries on a life of its own. The catch is not to become a mistress to the memories living solely in them while the present fades away, and opportunities slip by.
The multitude of faces that passed me by on my journey, started to look like an ocean with an endless horizon of colored veils and sequins. I somehow became an island by necessity. Twenty years into my dance, I saw the feminine image or the ideology of my gender as a twisted tree branch that bared no fruit. I was exhausted by what I thought was a distorted reflection of what I had become. The tree became the symbol of my barren emotions that pulsed through my veins. This happened because I lived solely in my dance form, never the wiser or aware of the hidden dangers created by my own obsession. Our double edged sword as dancers is our voracious appetite for the unrequited infamy that is always out of arms reach. Its penalty’s price is evident by families left in the shadows, obscure not by choice but more so by our fanatical calling. I am speaking from a dancer’s perspective, making a living with my dance. Feast or famine … all true artists take the plunge submerged by their desired reverie.
“The artist must create a spark before he can make a fire and before art is born, the artist must be ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation.” Auguste Rodin
In the beginning of my dance journey, I never thought I would want to do anything else. It was a passion that kept me alive even when my personal relationships were falling apart around me. This is the hidden danger of an entertainer, we don’t look where we are stepping because we are always running to the next gig, workshop or show. Sometimes we trip over ourselves, impeding our pursuit of family happiness for the desired dreams that are just a stage away, seducing our senses with the dubious fickle applause.
The shadow and light display of my dance form played an important role in creating a 3 dimensional, vibrantly, illustrated history of my encumbered subsistence because without the light, the shadows would have taken the depth of my life into a dark and muted world.
I had lived a life as a cowgirl, medicine woman and, gypsy way before belly dance came along and overshadowed them all. Belly dance was the one interest that always craved the most attention from me. The vibrant colors, the intoxicating smells and the rhythmic sounds of another world enchanted me and I followed her music like the pied piper.
I believe as children, we see the future of our interests within the archaic architecture and antiquated cultures around us. Curious surroundings to ingenuous eyes are like surreal impressions on the mind. It’s as if a time machine carries us to exotic lands, whispering to us with a resolute intent. Memories of such past lives remain within us, reminding us who we were at one time. The parallel aspects of these lives that we once lived, is validated by the depth of our emotional reaction to specific cultures. My pulse started a rhythmic beat that followed the drums I heard when I was 16 at a Greek festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The dancers swirling around me merged into my memories bringing back to life, the past into the present.
Belly dance is known for her savior qualities because many women including myself feel that at the most vulnerable times of our lives, she was our saving grace. This is because Belly dance becomes the grandmother, mother, mentor and sage to dancers at various points in their lives, the dramatic archetypes delving from deep despair to ecstatic elation. Belly dance is the feminine image that never falters, the sculpture that stands the tests of time. This eternal beauty is the comforting veil that women contentedly wrap themselves in. The dilemma becomes, which type of comfort we embrace more… family or belly dance.
Egypt is the mother, the Goddess that calls to us all to come back home to her. Our dance is our unique way of answering her back. Sometimes my performances were that of an angry daughter and other times the joyous progeny but no matter what my response echoed, her reply was always an unwavering maternal call. She is our Gaia, the rooted mother reseeding and replenishing her gardens.
Looking back at my beginning years is like looking back at a time capsule. It doesn’t seem like that many years ago I put my first hip scarf on but when I look back at how many hip scarves I’ve gone through, I might as well be looking back centuries. My first hip scarf was my first and greatest joy only to be outshone by my first costume. I can remember, my emotions had a fantastical and impractical expectation to each and every piece of costume I bought. Piece by piece I was completing my dream of looking like a belly dancer. After years of buying costumes, this feeling has never gone away.
“I am the black and white adaption of my fairy-tale. Sometimes I have appeared as the villain and others, the heroine.” Leyla Najma
My favorite moments were always the solo performances because it was the only time I could get away with combining my personal philosophy on life and art. I have always felt that if a dancer doesn’t perform her view and convictions of the world, then she is performing from a disadvantage. Belly dance in the end is about being true to self. I don’t depend on outside or biased opinions for self evaluation. I prefer to cultivate my own thoughts in nurturing environments. The environment outside the stage can be a precarious place to mature as a dancer. I stopped caring about what other people thought of me and I started to dance my way with my original reply to belly dance echoing through my body. I became true to my art because there was no one else to follow. Today I am authentic in my ideals of what my dance is. There are no more excuses, I dance my way, period. This comfort level is now in my performances. I dance just … because.
“The best part about becoming a belly dancer is when the emotions and costume come together.” Leyla Najma
I didn’t make great friends belly dancing, I learned great lessons instead. My journey was more personal. But I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, make your dance what you want it to be. I have finally figured out after 30 years that my journey was about self evaluation and overcoming insecurities that plagued me throughout most of my adult life. My bud finally opened up and I blossomed into a succulent flower that has weathered harsh conditions and flourished in hospitable environments. What I came to understand is that those perfect imperfections didn’t matter, at least not in the way I thought they did. Within my flower, not every pedal matches but that’s what I like the most, they opened up instinctively and in the way they wanted.
The best secret I ever learned from belly dance is that our individual bloom never fades, as the years go by, it illuminates into an eternal flame. Great women throughout history understood that it’s not through beauty alone that makes a difference but intelligence and the audacious convictions to get ahead gracefully without losing their humanity. Femininity, the ageless and divine Goddess even in all her glory can become haggard and outmoded without her empathic virtues.
To put it simply, belly dance taught me how to be a woman. Her lessons became the ancient handbook tattered from years of use. The volumes of stories became apart of my journey and as time went on, I too added my own. Each dancer keeps the archaic book of dance alive and current by adding their tales of adventure and mystery. It’s a never ending book.
Dance just because, live dance because you can and dream the journey of dance because it’s who you are.
Good luck and blessings to all,