Be a Better Belly Dancer!

Studio Jaki Photography

Studio Jaki Photography

Join me Thursdays at Atlanta Fusion Belly Dance Studio for two awesome classes.

Starting at 6:30pm it’s the Level One Drop-in class – Aziza Nawal will take you through Middle Eastern Dance fundamentals with gentle coaching in a fun atmosphere. This class is perfect for beginners or for those wanting to really perfect their technique.

Then at 7:40 pm –

Be a Better Belly Dancer – this class will feature advanced technique rooted in Modern Egyptian and 70’s American cabaret style that are Aziza Nawal’s specialties. Improve your technique with drills, challenging combinations plus become more familiar with the music of the Middle East. Last date to join this 6-week session is 10/1/15!

The Journey – Baby Belly Dance Years

I just celebrated my 20th anniversary of walking into my first belly dance class and subsequently I have been reminiscing about my journey in dance and how a few things have really come full circle. One of those is being given an opportunity to perform with and liaison for Doug Adamz during TribalCon next week. For you young-uns out there, Doug Adamz the guitarists/violinist and songwriter who recorded music with the group Light Rain from the mid-seventies until the mid-nineties. Not only was this music adored by belly dancers, it was also used in an original work by Gerald Arpino of the Joffrey Ballet. But I won’t completely regurgitate his website bio – do a little googling on your own for more about the man and his music.

The first time I heard Light Rain’s music was in my classes with renowned belly dancer and restaurant performer extraordinaire, Layla Katrina, in the mid-nineties. You know, back when the internet was in its infancy, when we had to buy costumes and music from an actual live person and when we used cassette tapes to create our set lists. Taking those classes opened up such a world of beautiful things in my life.

Layla taught beginner classes in her condominium to a small group of ladies during the week and on weekends, would lead a more advanced afternoon class at the restaurant where she worked. We danced on gorgeous rugs surrounded by beautiful Moroccan decor. This class was attended by more advanced students, many of whom were working in restaurants at the time. I am sure that back in those days, about 90% of the dancers employed at restaurants were current or former students of Layla’s. It was wonderful to be surrounded by such talent in class.

belt with skirt draped the 70's way

belt with skirt draped the 70’s way

Going to her week night classes was more intimate but still felt just as other worldly. Her home was well appointed with Moroccan imports, lush rugs, tapestries and other Oriental decor as well as numerous pictures of her and her troupe. She displayed her hand-beaded costumes on several book shelves and often had one under construction sitting on an antique arm chair next to small boxes of beads and trimmings. I loved to arrive just a few minutes early so I could gaze at those lovely works of art, trying to imagine what they would look like when Layla danced in them. I would also imagine what they would look like on me – I mean hey, I was just starting out and needed to move past the rayon fringe. There was one costume in particular that caught my eye – the peacock pattern bead work was exquisite and the fringe was dense – I could not stop looking at it! It was style made famous in the seventies AmCab era, beaded bedlahs made by performers themselves, often paired with full draped chiffon skirts.

Layla and I became good friends, she was the reason I started restaurant work after all. Years later she had moved to Savannah and often needed a break from her regular dance gig and I would come down to sub for her. Each time I visited – I looked for that costume in her display and admired it as well as the others she had acquired from local vendors, or those she had hand made herself. After several years in Savannah, she decided to move again – this time to Hawaii. So as a result, she needed to thin her collection a bit – so I pounced on that peacock costume!  When I bought the costume, it was disassembled as Layla was in the process of refitting it. It needed straps for the top and extenders for the belt which thankfully was in two pieces. It sat in my costume display for nearly a decade – my how time flies.

When it was announced that Doug Adamz of Light Rain was slated to perform and teach at TribalCon, I secured a position as his liaison immediately. I also applied to perform, because how could I pass up a chance to dance to music I heard in my first belly dance classes all those years ago?  I chose De Ann’s Dream, named after the dancer that inspired Doug’s interest in Middle Eastern music back in the seventies. Of course in order to fully interpret the music and style appropriate – I had to get that peacock costume ready to go! I commissioned local dancer, Karmelita, to assist with straps and belt extender. In the meantime, I made a matching circle skirt out of green chiffon and a re-purposed from a veil (more on its back story in a later post) plus a matching Turkish vest. The pieces all fell into place!

I hope to place a video on this post of my upcoming performance with Doug Adamz and the TribalCon Orchestra! The show will be this Friday night (February 27th – more info on Thanks for reading!




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

Aziza Nawal to perform and teach with Issam Houshan!

Issam Houshan and Aziza Nawal

Issam Houshan and Aziza Nawal

Aziza Nawal will be teaching and performing with the legendary drummer Issam Houshan later this month. she met Issam over 10 years ago when she was a guest performer with Bellydance Superstars. He was delighted with her performance which happened to be one of her signature drum solos. She had made such an impression on him and fortunately they met once more at a workshop sponsored by Petite Jamilla in Alabama just a few months later. Aziza Nawal had pulled out yet another drum solo for the audiences delight at the show. Issam was sure to let her know how much he enjoyed her performances and eluded to working with her in the future.

Now it is finally happening!!! Aziza Nawal will teach with Issam and perform in a special show featuring live drumming and music by Issam.

Salimpour Tribute and Issam Houshan Show

As part of the Suhaila Intensive weekend sponsored by AFBD, the show will also feature students who are testing for Suhaila certification. In the second half of the show, Aziza Nawal’s special group of students who perform as Banat Nawal plus fellow Belly Dance Evolution sisters (Fatin and Samora) will perform Aziza Nawal’s choreography to Issam’s recorded music. Two other BDE sisters Heidi and Charlie have created something special for the show as well! The show would of course not be complete without a couple of performances from Aziza Nawal and Issam Houshan, King of Drum!

Buy show tickets here

Workshops with Issam Houshan and co-instructor Aziza Nawal:

Friday Jan 16
4:30PM-6:30PM Understanding how to dance to Middle Eastern Rhythms

Saturday January 17
4:30PM-6:30PM How to dance to a live drummer!

Monday Jan 19
10:00AM-12:00PM Zill while you dance!

Register for the workshops here


Winter Classes

Aziza Nawal is happy to announce her winter class schedule at Atlanta Fusion Belly Dance near Midtown.

Atlanta Fusion Belly Dance Studio has moved to a new location!
1015-B Collier Road
Atlanta, GA 30318

Near the intersection of Collier Road and Howell Mill Road just north of our former Atlantic Station location. Convenient to I-75 in northwest Atlanta

New Sword Choreography
6 week session begins January 21 learn more

Drop-in Level 1 Belly Dance
Ongoing starting January 8, 2015 learn more

Level 2-3 class: Building your own Egyptian Megeance – Part II 

6 week session begins January 22 learn more

A megeance (pronounced MERGE-en-say) is a term used to refer to the opening routine in Egyptian style dance. This class will be a continuation of the previous session focusing on the finished product. Now that you will have an outline of movements and an understanding of the structure, you can apply that to a complete routine. Select your own music or one will be provided for you. The last class will consist of presenting your work to the class for a gentle critique from Aziza Nawal.

Bonus: Your finished choreography could be performed at an upcoming showcase!

Fall/Winter class sessions

Aziza Nawal is happy to announce her next two intermediate to advanced level classes!! These two session will be taught at BOTH locations – Muse for Life in Sandy Springs (Wednesdays) and Atlanta Fusion Belly Dance near Midtown (Thursdays). The technique classes will continue at both locations so you can get two hours with me in a row!!! See my class page for more info on pricing and location.

Building your own Egyptian Megeance – Part I

A megeance (pronounced MERGE-en-say) is a term used to refer to the opening routine in Egyptian style dance. The music is composed for the dancer to show off her best skills as it has multiple rhythm changes within the song. There are many wonderful recordings of Egyptian megeances available from classic to modern. Aziza Nawal will help you understand the rhythms and structure of a megeance and provide tools to create your own choreography.

Level 2-3

Building your own Egyptian Megeance – Part II (Starts January 21/22)

A megeance (pronounced MERGE-en-say) is a term used to refer to the opening routine in Egyptian style dance. This class will be a continuation of the previous session focusing on the finished product. Now that you will have an outline of movements and an understanding of the structure, you can apply that to a complete routine. Select your own music or one will be provided for you. The last class will consist of presenting your work to the class for a gentle critique from Aziza Nawal.

Level 2-3

  • Muse for Life classes begin January 21
  • AFBD classes begin January 22

Bonus: Your finished choreography could be performed at an upcoming showcase!

AFBD is Moving!

The studio where I teach my Thursday evening classes will be moving in January! Here’s the official announcement:

We are extremely excited to announce that AFBD is moving in January 2015!!!! Same zip code, still in Midtown but a much BIGGER dance floor, more class options and shared space with Miss Belly Dance, top seller in wholesale Belly Dance Costumes and ethnic dance jewelry!! We are so thrilled to be partnering with our new family at Miss Belly Dance!!!

As of January 2015, AFBD will occupy the space formerly known as Pera Dance studio! Over 2000 square feet of dance floor, lounge area, private AFBD office, 2 restrooms! Same class schedule but MORE class options!

New address: 1015 Collier Rd NW, Atlanta, GA 30318 near the intersection of Howell Mill and Collier Road.

What’s changing? We’re giving the studio a new look! Over the next 2 months, Faaridah, Nahari and Uncle Denny will be busy painting, designing and decorating our new space. Wait til you see what Nahari comes up with this time! Aaaannd….We plan on offering daytime classes as well as more evening and weekend class options!  Current All Access Pass members will be “grandfathered in” so make sure your pass stays current through the year!

IT’S A CELEBRATION!!! Join us for a New Year New Look Open House Sunday January 11, 2015 4pm-6pm! Class demos, performances, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres! We will also have some brand new AFBD swag available for purchase and spot prizes (workshops, show tickets, and more!) See you there!

Please note: classes will continue to meet at 500 Bishop Street NW until Sunday December 21. Studio will be closed December 22-January 4. New classes at AFBD Collier Street location starting Monday, January 5, 2015!

Interested in renting our space for an event? Contact Faaridah at

Summer Classes – updated


Wow, I can’t believe it’s already June! With the Showcase at Smith’s Olde Bar just around the corner I feel like I am in a whirlwind of chiffon, sequins and coins! But it’s time to plan my summer class schedule.

My drop-in technique classes on Wednesday at Muse for Life in Sandy Springs will continue through the end of June. After that I will take a break from teaching at that location until the fall.

On Thursdays at Atlanta Fusion Belly Dance Studio, I will continue the Level 1 drop-in classes at 6:30pm, followed by a Level 2 choreography at 7:40pm through the summer.

The next choreography session begins Thursday June 12th at Atlanta Fusion Belly Dance – register now!! This will be my last choreography session before I take a summer break. The next choreography session will be in mid-September.

This is a classical Egyptian style choreography by Aziz of Salt Lake City who was one of my early mentors. I was fortunate enough to study with him extensively and as a result he gave me and appreciation for Modern Egyptian style as well as the styles that blossomed out of Bal Anat and San Francisco during the 70’s and early 80’s. He retired several years ago and is now an accomplished painter still living in Salt Lake City – learn more about him…

A native of Utah, Aziz began dancing in the 1972. He was inspired by a dancer named Shyamara who performed at The Athenian Restaurant Salt Lake City. He then began to commute back and forth from California to take from some of bellydance’s greatest teachers. These included Jamila Salimpour, Raqia Hassan, Mona El Said and Roman (Bert) Baladine. By 1976 he was teaching on the National Circuit.

He initially studied the Traditional Old Style Bellydance but later became an expert on Modern Egyptian which he is now known for. Probably the first major contributor to bellydance in Salt Lake City, he brought in many workshops and started the first professional dance troupe there which included some members that later became Kismet. He has taught in Salt Lake and on the national circuit for many years and still continues to be in high demand nationally. I have personally taken some classes from Aziz and can attest to his versatility as a dancer and a teacher. Always very kind and knowledgeable, he takes time to break down movements and make sure everyone understands. He usually starts a new class once a year in the fall and tends not to allow latecomers to join in, so there will be no one holding back the rest of the class. I believe right now he’s looking for some really dedicated students to mentor, so he can pass on the full depth and breath of his knowledge. 

Source: Shems

Watch Aziz perform here