Monday, February 20, 2012

An Eye Opening Start to 2012

I often read about challenges within the belly dance community. As I do, I find myself sharing many of the same feelings regarding these common issues. But, I’m glad to say I’ve also had some recent experiences that have illustrated the passion, dedication, and high level of ethics many already practice in their training and teachings.

For me, 2012 started with WBDA’s hosting of the beautiful Alicia of BellyCraft. As anyone who knows her can attest, she is truly the consummate professional. It was beyond easy to work with her as she was not only responsive, but focused on making sure all workshop attendees had a wonderful experience. Alicia’s professionalism helped me plan and coordinate a weekend that exceeded my highest expectations. I knew a January workshop weekend could be a challenge because it’s right after the holidays. But, as I reviewed the calendar of belly dance events, the time and date in question seemed to present the best window of opportunity. Game on!

As usual, the workshop attendees really helped make the weekend a success. Every dancer came ready to learn and sweat. I was delighted to see dancers of different backgrounds participate with a genuine sense of community, which was further supported by the incredible show on Saturday evening. We welcomed dancers of all styles – Gothic, Tribal, Egyptian, World Fusion, Cabaret, etc. because I wanted it to be an evening in which all styles would be recognized and celebrated. Not surprisingly, the feedback from the audience was great.

Many didn’t realize there were so many styles within this genre of dance and it didn’t hurt that Alicia, our headliner, not only wowed the audience with her performances, but was incredibly encouraging to both attendees and performers. She was all about inviting students to perform in the show alongside our talented teachers and she was appreciative for the generous donation of each performer’s time. Many of these performers are working dancers and/or teachers who are not often paid to perform in these types of gala shows where the local community is welcoming an artist for the weekend. Nevertheless, they choose to participate for their own reasons, of which there are many. Some perform to help promote and market their projects; others do so because they have a genuine love of the stage and performing. Some do it as a favor, while others do it to support the community. For many, it’s a combination of these reasons plus many more. Regardless of their various, valid motivating factors, all of the performers were professional and supportive of each other. They treated this show as they would have any larger show held on a huge stage at a world-renowned venue. The same dedication and professionalism were present and the audience (and I) sensed it and very much appreciated it.

Then there’s Pera Dance. Since I’ve known them, this Atlanta studio has been beyond supportive of the Raqs community. Not only did they allow me free reign over their studio space the entire weekend, they also trusted me to layout the space as I needed for both the show and the photo shoots by resident professional photographer, Jaki Hawthorne of Jaki Hawthorne Photography.

The attendees, Pera Dance, and of course, Alicia herself – they all helped me create a beautiful weekend. But what could it have been without the support of my (our)students and my troupe members? From the beginning, I could see they genuinely wanted it to be a great weekend and they worked tirelessly for the duration to ensure everyone walked away with a great experience.

The weekend was a stark reminder to me of the dedicated professionals and students who make up our Atlanta dance community. My dear friend, Nawar, also came all the way from Miami to support and participate in the festivities. Motivated only by the kindness of her heart and her belief in what we’re trying to accomplish with World Belly Dance Alliance, she captured and compiled extensive footage, which resulted in amazing video recaps of the workshops.

Now fast forward a few weeks. I found myself in Charlotte, NC, where Naima Sultana of Raks Sultana sponsored me for a weekend of workshops and celebratory show. This was my first out-of-state full weekend intensive where I was the primary instructor and it was very interesting being on the other side of the fence. This time, I was the instructor and not the sponsor.

As many of you who have sponsored these events can attest, the cold reality is that it’s much easier to promote an established recognized name than a virtual unknown. Still, Naima could not have been more professional and supportive in her marketing efforts. I have been in the sponsor’s shoes before and I understand that for these events to be successful, timely responses and marketing by both the sponsor and hosted teacher are crucial. These events simply cannot happen if both parties do not work together. To say I was blown away by the number of registrations and how far many traveled to join us would be an understatement. My hats off to Naima who deserves so much credit for her responsiveness and scheduling prowess, both of which greatly contributed to the success of this event.

I have encountered some formidable students and I must say, the NC workshop attendees would be counted among these! They came ready to learn and I truly enjoyed working with them. These ladies made it easy to amp it up and they were able and willing victims, LOL! Naima also coordinated an amazing show at the Chop Shop in Charlotte – the perfect venue for a relaxed and intimate vibe. The owners are extremely supportive of the local arts, which is a huge plus in my book! The individual numbers were beautiful and I was not only impressed by the performances themselves, but the genuine support every artist shared with her sisters in dance. So much love - we joked - people were going to get toothaches!

It was really something special to be there to share in those moments and I felt like an honored and very-welcome member of the NC dance community. I’m so grateful to Naima for taking a chance on me and to the dancers who took the time out of their weekends to attend the workshops. I walked away with an experience I will never forget and wonderful new friendships I know will last a lifetime.

Finally, we arrive at an event I hosted with the beautiful and talented Amani Jabril. Together, we conspired to host a night of belly dance at Laura’s NYC Pizza in Roswell, GA. By no means was it the typical venue or location for a belly dance show (“OTP” – Outside the Perimeter in Atlanta – unheard of!), but we endeavored to provide a performance platform for students and teachers/professionals to share their art in a new and unique environment. Once again, support from students and fellow teachers helped make the event a success. It was so wonderful to see our students, Heleshia, Tamara, and Sheri, performing choreographed and improvised pieces.

And of course, there was Amani - a consummate professional who brings the same energy to a small, local stage as she would a large stage in Lebanon. She shined as always and it was a sight to behold. With fellow teachers and students from the community in the audience, along with a few patrons from outside the belly dance community, the evening was a special kind of magic. Based on the success and interest, we’re hosting the next show on April 28th!

As a teacher, performer, and lifelong student, I believe we owe it to the audience, students, and sponsors to always put our best on display. The moment we believe they owe us, we begin to perpetuate and promote that which may limit the spirit and passion not only within ourselves, but of the art itself. That’s not why we’re here.

Sometimes, we tend to focus on what we dislike in the community. Because I feel so strongly, I am as guilty as anyone else at times. But with this post, I wanted to highlight some of the positive things I’ve seen since the start of the year - and it’s only February! All kidding aside, I am truly fortunate to count myself among such a high caliber of women including students and teachers/professionals. There are so many dedicated teachers out there who are trying and training tirelessly to bring you the best in this art form. They join many performers who treat every show as if they are stepping on to a Broadway stage and many students who want to take their studies to the next level simply because they love the dance.

Let’s continue to work together to further belly dance throughout the universe and bring this beautiful art to the masses. It’s a phenomenon which deserves to be recognized as an unparalleled form of self expression!

These recent events and partnerships have shown me the future of belly dance. There are many dancers in the community working hard to showcase this art and the spirit of love and togetherness it represents. I thank you and am truly honored to dance among you! Shimmy on, ladies!


...I owe it all to this woman.


  1. Aww Jenny! The photo with your mom is the perfect closing.

  2. Your elegance, compassion and dedication shined in this piece. So well written, raw and genuine and you deserve all the success you achieve. You work harder than anyone else I know and I am proud to have met you and to have developed this insane love for belly dance with you. The journey has only begun and WBDA will continue to thrive. The community has a star in Jenny!!

    <3 the photo!

  3. Jen-Jen, you're a breath of fresh air. Your commitment to the community shines through in everything you do.
    Love you!