Realizing a dream – hard work paid off!


Catherine, Me, Sheila and Layla Katrina in 1997. Call me 'skinny arms' Aziza Nawal.

Catherine, Me, Sheila and Layla Katrina in 1997. Call me ‘skinny arms’ Aziza Nawal.

Twenty years ago this month I walked into my very first belly dance class. It was at Georgia State University as part of their continuing education program. I lived in Lawrenceville, GA at the time so the drive was pretty far, but totally worth it. The instructor taught us core foundations of Middle Eastern Dance – looking back on her teaching style and movement vocabulary, I would say her instructors were from the 70’s and 80’s boom of belly dance in America. Great stuff. I have a special admiration for dancers performing in the U.S. during those years. I seek out their stories of performing in night clubs to live music during a time when the music and culture of Arabs, Turks, Armenians and Greeks was experiencing extreme popularity. I have heard some intriguing tales from Lee Ali and Cassandra about their days in the clubs including the transition from live music to mostly recorded music.

What has prompted this article is a realization of hard work and diligence that has really paid off! As I look around me now, I see that since I walked into that first class, a wonderful community of artists now surrounds me and enriches my life every day. Many of these wonderful souls I am honored to call mentors, students, colleagues and most of all – friends or better yet, FAMILY. Whether they are dancers, musicians, authors, seamstresses, painters, craft makers, welders or aficionados of visual and performance art – this community I live in keeps growing and growing and I gush with gratitude for being a part of it. I’ll quote my Facebook status from earlier last week so you can see my mindset:

Wow! What a night last night. I am still reliving it. I’d tried to savor every little moment so the memory would last. My troupe Banat Nawal was amazing, Samora and I “brought it” and introduced Issam Houshan in a spectacular fashion, my BDE sisters Charlie and Heidi produced a wonderful Tribal tribute to Issam. Then a dream came true to finally perform with Issam. We had worked together for a couple of days on the drum solo and classes and when show time came, I wanted to make it last. I cherished every moment – but it was over to soon. Having so many friends and my wonderful husband in the audience gave me strength. I mentally called upon my teachers – Cassandra, Zhaleh Fereshteh, Aziz, and Layla Katrina, to name a few – to guide me through. I was filled with so much love – this is why I do this thing called dance!

Yeah – I’m still high on that. Since then I have contemplated my journey as a dancer. One of my students and close friends said to me “80% of life is showing up”. Years ago when I was barely a teenager, I vowed to live my life to its fullest. I’ve been accused of being an ‘old soul’ – so that bit of wisdom “stop to smell the roses” inspired me early in life – before I might have become jaded and complacent. That said, some Oriental dancers (belly dancers) might dream of being on the national seminar circuit, touring internationally or performing in Egypt with an live orchestra. I have had these dreams too, and maybe some of those might still come true. But those things do not hold as much importance to me as building a community, making new friends and connecting with people through my artistic expression. This is what drives me – teaching, performing, rehearsing, choreographing and continuing to learn. It truly makes me happy.

Many event sponsors in Atlanta have made a concerted effort to bring quality instructors and top notch events to the area – making continuing dance education very accessible! Keep it up Amani Jabril, Faaridah and Ziah Ali! So proud to call these ladies my friends. They have also believed in me and inspired me through most of my journey but they have especially inspired me in recent years with their own accomplishments – nothing like watching those you love succeed.

Amani Jabril and Ziah – because of these ladies I am grateful to have performed with many talented drummers – Darbuka Dave, Faisal Zedan, Jonathan Gomes Derbaq and Carmine Guida. Thanks to Jan Sarhan and Danny Stern for recommending me to teach with Souhail Kaspar years ago.

Much of my gratitude goes to Faaridah who helped bring Belly Dance Evolution’s Alice in Wonderland to Atlanta last summer. Through that,  I was able to re-connect with Jillina and Sharon Kihara and especially Issam Houshan who I had first met over 10 years ago. He approached me about working together – who knew at that time the success Bellydance Superstars would have? So the years went by. Finally our time had come. Our first time working together was during the Suhaila Intensive at AFBD recently – we taught three workshops, and we performed a very special drum solo together as well. It was a pleasure to work with such a talented musician –  a real dream come true.   I am grateful for my mentors, friends and students who believed in me. I am overwhelmed with joy and amazement of the commitment my BDE sisters and students put into helping me create the show! Let’s relive some of that:

Here’s Banat Nawal featuring Dana, Diane, Malika, Kiki, Robyn Parks, Mara, Melissa, Jaki Hawthorne of Jahara Phoenix, Lara, Olivia, Hengameh, and Terri, performing to my choreography to Issam Houshan’s recording of  Negsem al Amar

Here’s Heidi and Charlie performing to their choreography to Issam’s recording of Path to Goa

Here’s me and the lovely dancer and fellow Belly Dance Evolution sister Samora performing to my choreography to Tabel ya Issam