Dance – A Lifelong Commitment


I was recently thinking about an experience I had in a ballet class when I was young, that had a huge impact on me. An “older woman” (or so I thought at the time, she was probably in her 30’s) was consulting with the teacher before the class began as to whether or not the class was right for her, explaining she used to be a dancer. The teacher stopped her abruptly and said, What do you mean you used to be a dancer? Once you’re a dancer, you’re always a dancer!!

Over the past 4 decades (yes, 4 decades!) I seemed to have managed the ever changing business of Bellydance pretty well, I think. I’ve even been fortunate enough to remain in great health and with no major injuries (knock on wood). I remember thinking as a young dancer, I’ll never stop dancing! I’ll dance till I fall over into my grave!  But with age, comes wisdom and many times over the years I’ve looked back and thought that that was naive and unrealistic to think I could dance forever. Then I hear the voice in my head…Once you’re a dancer, you’re always a dancer.

Of course over the years, I’ve changed the course of my career from nightclub dancer, to touring workshop instructor/performer and producer and studio owner. It’s a natural progression that comes with time and experience.

Dance, especially oriental dance, has been my life’s blood, my soul, my savior. Witty conversation, the art of writing and clever use of words has never been my strong suit. I’m basically a shy person. Well not really shy…quiet. I have a friend that calls it Zahra’s quiet gravitas. Haha! That really makes me laugh, but I guess that’s why I chose dance to express myself. I’m not one for a lot of words.

So many dancers these days are amazing at marketing and self promotion. I marvel at them all. Aside from style and specific focus, how can you come up with so many different ways to say you’re teaching a bellydance class? Apparently there are thousands! I’ve been trying to be better with words, but then I figured, why? Maybe there are still people out there that aren’t fooled by a lot of words. Maybe they love dance as much as I do.

I have to say, now that I’m in my fifties, it’s true, I’m never going to stop dancing. The passion I have for dance goes way beyond the physical beauty and agility of youth. Dance is in my heart and soul. I’ll stick with my quiet gravitas and keep dancing.

Letting The Genie Out Of The Bottle


Finding Your Creative Genius

As artists, we all suffer creative blocks and burn out from time to time, this can be very frustrating. There are times we may feel we’re on fire with inspiration and ideas, then all of a sudden…zilch, nothing. Many artists won’t admit to this, but it happens to everyone.

Through the years a lot of dancers have consulted with me on this subject and I have always given the best advice I can based on my own experiences. The truth of the matter is, being creative is hard work. Like any job, some days are really good, some days are not so good.

I find that a lot of inspiration comes from knowledge. The more you study your art form and keep growing, the more inspired you become to create new material, no matter how many years you’ve been at it. We live in an age where there is so much information at our fingertips, it’s a wonder anyone could every get bored, feel stagnant or uninspired…but it happens.

Maybe we can be over stimulated and bombarded with too many DVD’s, youtube performances of the latest competition winners or the newest Egyptian star, etc, etc. It just becomes all too confusing and overwhelming. Too many people become addicted to watching the latest “hot dancers”, trying to emulate every move, wondering, If only I could be that fabulous!

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s very important to study with as many teachers as possible and watch a lot of performances, believe me, I’ve been doing it for 40 years, but it’s more important to be inspired by other dancers and not imitate other dancer. I feel in this age of video bombardment, people are starting to look alike. Who are YOU when you dance? What makes YOU fabulous? Where is YOUR creativity? Of course, new students start out by emulating their teachers, that’s different, it’s part of the learning process, but there’s a time to move past that and a time for teachers to encourage students to move past that.

A pet peeve of mine are the dancers that study the latest Egyptian (or whoever) stars, working hard to imitate everything down to their facial expressions and gestures, thinking they’ve finally captured the true essence of Egyptian dance! Uhhh…that’s called impersonating someone. I think some people have trouble differentiating between imitating the personality quirks and postural idiosyncrasies of an Egyptian star, rather than studying the dance movements, musicality, culture and essence of that regional style of dance…AND still remain oneself when dancing!

All that being said, how do we break free from feeling we have to fit a certain mold? How do we as teachers and performers keep fresh and continue to create new material? How do we uncork the bottle and let the genie fly out in a glittery rage, raining down creative genius on us? Good question. What is a genius, anyway? In ancient Roman religion, the genius was a separate divine being of nature that was present in every individual person, place, or thing. For instance, an artist wasn’t a genius himself, but rather he/she possessed a genius that played a big role in creating their work. Even inanimate objects had this magical genii attached to them. If something went wrong or wasn’t working, that object or that person’s genii was really “out to lunch” that day. It wasn’t until the renaissance period that the ego of the artist took over and the artist began to be thought of as a genius, rather than possessing a genius.

Maybe that’s where we go wrong sometimes. We put too much pressure on ourselves to be the sole vessel of our creativity. Believing that creative inspiration comes from the inside out is really too much pressure. It would be easier to just imitate someone else’s work, or just not do it at all and let the feelings of inadequacy and burn-out overwhelm us. Maybe if we imagine nature’s creative forces assigning us our own genius that whispers inspiration to us, allowing creativity to flow through us from the outside in, rather than the inside out, it would be a lot less pressure and add a new dimension and creative flair to our usual work.

Kids are naturally creative. It isn’t unusual for a small child to have an imaginary friend that they create exciting new adventures with. It really is genius if you think about it. The freedom to be so imaginative and create any magical, beautiful thing in our mind is brilliant. Of course, as adults if we went around talking to imaginary friends, they’d send us to the looney bin. Maybe we don’t have to go that far, just letting go of the ego and looking outward in a wide eyed view of nature and the creative world around us, can open up the mind and stimulate the spirit.

I love to hike in the hills near my house, sometimes alone, mostly with my husband, Michael and my dog, Indigo (Go-Go). It’s very serene and quiet. When I’m with Michael, we almost never talk on these hikes, we both pretty much have a mutual ‘zone out” time, enjoying our funny dog and nature. It’s an important creative process for both of us. Getting out of my own head is great therapy, I can let everything go and allow my mind to open up to wonderful new ideas that are floating around out there.

There’s lots of ways to “let go”. Exercise you mind, do something new! Step out of your comfort zone from time to time. Go to an art exhibit, drag a friend with you to a dance class in a dance form you’ve never studied before, take a rock climbing class, or an art class, learn to knit, write poetry, laugh at yourself and be silly, get out of your own head and stop believing your own publicity. Be bold and let the genii out of the bottle! Your genius will start talking to you, you just have to listen.

Ghosts of Dancers Past


I had a dream recently about my first bellydance teacher, Scheherazade. It’s been 35 years since she passed away and it’s been nearly that long since I remember having any dreams about her.

As I woke, I desperately tried to remember what the dream was about, but most of the images faded faster than I could grab the pad and pencil on the night stand by the bed.

I spent the morning going through boxes of memorabilia –looking for a photo of her. Finally locating the perfect one, I felt a little ashamed the beautiful photo was buried with old flyers, pressed, crumbling roses from past shows and yellowed newspaper clippings. Finding the vintage photo of her draped in coins and pearls was like uncovering buried treasure.

I stared at the photo for along time trying to remember the dream. The contrasts, shadows and depth of the black and white image made her look so alive, maybe I thought she would speak to me.

I realized the right thing to do was to immediately scan the precious photo, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t done it till now. I even shared the gem on Facebook for all my friends to see, maybe a little bit out of guilt for burying it for so long. I was proud of my cyber accomplishment, but then the photo started haunting me again. What was she trying to say?

The last 35 years has taken me on an amazing journey. I’ve traveled, studied and worked with legendary dance artists from all over the world. I’ve worked very hard, forging ahead, nose to the grindstone, constantly striving to take my art to new heights, always learning and sharing with my students.

Scheherazade would never believe the global phenomenon oriental dance has become today, all the amazing resources at our fingertips would blow her mind. The internet didn’t even exist when she was alive, but there she is, or her image rather, floating in cyber space for the world to see.

After contemplating on the photo for quite awhile, I realized the dream of Scheherazade represents the root of my lifetime of work, coming back to the basic foundation of my art. I was in awe of my first teacher, she was a Goddess! She represents the wonder, joy and passion of a young girl entering the magical, mystical world of oriental dance, the unknown adventures ahead.

My friends who are more metaphysically inclined than myself, say the dream was a “visit”. I’d sure like to think the spirit of Scheherazade came to see me. One can only keep the heart and mind open, hoping to catch a glimpse into the divine mysteries of the universe.

Ghostly or not, the message became clear. My life’s work has come full circle, bringing me back to the pure and simple thing I’m grateful for, what I love.