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!




Learning Choreography Part II

Fellow BDE sisters Charlie and Heidi who composed the 'bow' song

Fellow BDE sisters Charlie and Heidi who composed the ‘bow’ song

In my last post on this subject, I touted the importance of taking classes and workshops from great instructors. My experience provided great tools for learning choreography that comes with being part of a professional or amateur dance troupe. Choreography is also important to a soloist as well. I have been an improvised performer for most of my career but have found that this method can lead to stagnation. The ‘go to’ moves become over used, and I just end up boring myself. I have always enjoyed learning someone else’s choreography in order to expose myself to a different way of interpreting music, new combinations, all while exercising my brain and body.

But how does one effectively learn a choreography? In a workshop setting, it can be challenging – maybe there is no mirror, there are a lot of people to bang into, you can’t hear or even see the instructor. I have an advantage of height, so a lot of times I move to the edge or to the back. Of course if the teacher is one of my favs, I do take advantage of the shyness of other workshop participants and plant myself on the front row. A good workshop instructor should switch lines anyway and I am happy to move to the back.

Music is so important to my retention of a movement set. Without it, I go blank. Having that soundtrack gives me cues to what movement comes next. Maybe there is an interesting instrument to follow, a catchy melody line or a familiar drum riff. A music composition tells a story of sorts. Take the standard dramatic structure  – exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. Choreography works the same way – especially in a megeance where there are several different rhythm patterns that inform specific movement sets. Outlining that story line will help you organize your own cues.

My fellow Belly Dance Evolution sisters and I had a tough time remembering all of the choreography for the Alice in Wonderland show. Our biggest challenge was the bow choreography, which was very long, at the end of the show and while the movements weren’t difficult, they were similar to other movement sets earlier in the show. On top of that, the formations were quite intricate. So a couple of the girls came up with a remarkably catchy song to guide us through. If it weren’t for that silly string of sentences. I would have surely had to excuse myself from that bow!

Years ago I had the pleasure of studying with Morocco. When she taught choreography, she would take you through a set of steps and then repeat it three times. Such a simple concept – it worked like a charm. Good instructors will use repetition to get your muscle memory activated.

Try to examine your own learning process. Do verbal cues help you remember what comes next? Does the music give you cues in the instrumentation or accents? Does repetition provide the muscle memory and training to improve upon your execution?  Perhaps all of these apply. One last tool I can mention that really helps is video taping your progress. You can see how your transitions look, how your form is holding up and if you happen to have your troupe mates with you, how well are you matching each other.

Hopefully this tidbit of info is helpful!

Learning choreography – Part 1

Poster-AIW1When I was notified about being selected to perform with Jillina’s Bellydance Evolution: Alice in Wonderland, I was thrilled. Then I panicked. Well at least after I got the full cast breakdown. In doing shows with my student troupe, I only select four routines at most for them to perform. That usually depends on the amount of rehearsals leading up to the show as most of them have families, jobs and such that can take priority. Usually out of those four routines, one might be a solo and two or three are routines they have performed before. But this Bellydance Evolution show? 11 yes ELEVEN routines. In three weeks or so. Yeah – WTF!

I am so grateful for the amount of time I spent in classes and workshops over the years. I think it is so unfortunate when dancers hailing themselves as ‘professional’ ditch weekly classes or turn their noses up at workshops. Without that training, I would not have been able to achieve what I have in recent years.

When I became a member of Awalim Dance Company in 2009, I was tasked with learning a bunch of choreography in a short amount of time. We had two monthly shows plus Tribal Con facing us immediately after I joined, so I had to get on top of it. I learned about four or five choreographies in that first month, three of them we performed at Tribal Con so by then a lot of rehearsals had happened. I prided myself on learning fast, but Ziah was tough on nuances and my ‘perfectionist’ tendencies made those first few performances tough.  It was a great learning experience – much of what I took away from that has helped me with my most recent undertaking.

Being a part of a troupe and working with other dancers is very rewarding. The camaraderie, knowledge and experience shared is priceless.  Before Awalim, I performed with Atlanta’s top corporate production company at the time – Bacchus Productions. I took part in several performances at big corporate functions including at the fabulous Fox Theatre. Learning from the artistic director, Virginia King, hugely impacted my skills as a performer and a choreographer. She was a prominent performer in restaurants and I took a few workshops with her as a result. Her background in jazz, tap and ballet informed her choreography not to mention nearly all of the dance company were heavily trained in jazz  and ballet. I was definitely the ‘ugly duckling’ and remember falling victim to sneers and frustration from my troupe members when my long legs and arms clumsily came in contact with them. But I did preserver!

What Ginny taught me helped me in Awalim and subsequently in Bellydance Evolution. I have a ways to go yet but without that background and experience I would have surely reconsidered taking on this challenge. Stay tuned for Learning Choreography part 2. In the meantime, here’s a video of me and Andrea Moreira performing as Bacchus Production’s Jewels of the Casbah at the Fox Theatre all those years ago:


Aziza Nawal to perform in Belly Dance Evolution

Aziza Nawal will be a cast member in two upcoming performances of  Bellydance Evolution – Alice in Wonderland! She will perform alongside the featured stars: Jillina, Heather Aued, Sharon Kihara, Louchia, Lauren Boldt and Danielo Mendes; plus fellow audition winners: Samora, Fatin, Kaitlyn, Heidi, Charlie, Nawar, ShoShannah, Faaridah and more!!

Show Details:

Saturday 9/13/14 8:00PM
Belly Dance Evolution reimagines this magical tale through the lens of world fusion dance! Click here for tixs.
Show will be held at the Rialto Theater located at  80 Forsyth St NW, Atlanta, GA 30303



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

Now until June 29 – Dance Dance Dance!!!

1798385_10202330530436905_1467321749_nAziza Nawal and her two troupes – Banat Nawal and Troupe Mumtaz will be performing all around Metro Atlanta in June! See our super busy schedule below for more details!

Featured Performance: 

Aziza Nawal and Awalim Dance Company Summer ShowcaseSmith’s Olde Bar – June 29, 2014 @ 7pm

Aziza Nawal and Ziah McKinney Taylor are teaming up to bring you another fantastic showcase of classic belly dance, American Tribal Style and innovative fusion performances! Special guests Black Sheep Ensemble will be joining us once again performing lively boisterous brass band music!

Tickets are $15 and on sale now!

Taverna Plaka:

Aziza Nawal’s upcoming restaurant performances:

  • Saturday May 31
  • Friday June 6
  • Saturday June 28

More Performances:

Rak the Kasbah – June 8 @ 5pm

Aziza Nawal and her student troupe Banat Nawal from Atlanta Fusion Belly Dance will be performing at the Gala Show at the Woodruff Arts Center on Sunday June 8 at 5:00pm – tickets available here

 Mohamed Shahin Gala Show – June 14 @ 7pm

Aziza Nawal will present two solo performances in this gala show at the Roswell Cultural Arts Center. Tickets available here

Open Mic Night at Steve’s Live Music – June 20 @ 8pm

Aziza Nawal and her new advanced Troupe Mumtaz will perform! Show starts at 8:00 pm. Tickets are $10 and available at the door. Steve’s Live Music also offers a full bar and food in a smoke free environment. The menu is primarily vegetarian and pescetarian fare.

Aziza Nawal’s Megeance at Nicola’s

A “Megeance” is the name used to refer to an oriental dancer’s opening routine. It is also sometimes referred to as a “mis en scene”  which translates to “taking the stage”. The music is typically composed for the dancer and features multiple rhythm changes. Safaa Farid is the leader of a fantastic orchestra in Egypt and has played for many top dancers including his wife, Leila. They have produced several wonderful recordings and I chose two selections for the showcase on April 13th at Nicola’s Restaurant. Enjoy!

Aziza Nawal’s Double Sword @ Nicola’s on April 13th

Ever since I posted the performance I did in Turkey a few years ago, I wanted to perform it again. My student showcase at Nicola’s Lebanese restaurant was a success once again! The show focused largely on solo performances of the advanced level students and I announced the formation of my new performance group, Troupe Mumtaz. I was able to present two routines – here is my class double sword routine followed by Nuha Tabla – another signature drum solo!


Upcoming spring class sessions

Wow! The recent snow extended my current sessions a bit BUT new class sessions are just around the corner at both locations.


Thursdays @ Atlanta Fusion Belly Dance Studio
500 Bishop Street NW
Suite F-6
Atlanta, GA 30318

New Six-week session begins March 6 (no class March 27)
Thursdays @ 7:40pm
Choreography (Level 2) –

Habibi ya Eini – a fun, upbeat original group choreography by Aziza Nawal that will be performed in the upcoming AFBD Rak the Kasbah Anniversary Show! This “Raqs al Assaya” features the use of a cane and draws movements from the Said (upper) region of Egypt. A limited number of canes will be provided for use in the class, so if you have one please bring it! You can still take this class if you do not plan on performing
Click here to pre-pay or use your AFBD All Access Pass


Sandy Springs:

Wednesdays @ Muse for Life

New 8 week session begins April 2nd and goes through May 22nd

7pm – Technique for the masses! Intense technique training on Middle Eastern Dance fundamentals. All levels welcome. Build your movement repertoire by improving upon your current knowledge, learning new combinations with the goal of really owning your dance. Shimmies, isolations, traveling steps, layering and combinations will be covered.

8pm – Veil Choreography: This brand new choreography by Aziza Nawal is set to a unique arrangement of Miserlou by local brass band Black Sheep Ensemble! This will incorporate Middle Easter Dance fundamentals fused with vaudeville and American cabaret. This choreography will be performed at the Banat Nawal/Almeh Summer Showcase at Smith’s Odle Bar on June 29th. You can still take this class if you do not plan on performing

Learn more

New Directions – Another Level

New Directions

I was a member of Awalim Dance Company from 2009-2013 and helped found the Awalim Apprenticeship program (Banat Almeh) with Director Ziah Ali. Once I amicably left the company for personal reasons, I still intended to teach classes and perform with my students. I planned to continue producing shows with Ziah, host my own shows and take part in various other performances in Metro Atlanta.


From Banat Nawal to Almeh to Nawal

Just before founding the Apprenticeship program, my student troupe was called Banat Nawal – which translates to “daughters of Nawal”. They were absorbed into Banat Almeh for any co-produced shows featuring students of Ziah’s and mine.

Now that I have separated from Awalim, I will resurrect Banat Nawal as the name of my student troupe. Students are still encouraged to continue their participation with the Banat Almeh Apprentices. This troupe will consist of any current student who regularly attends class, rehearsals and performs in a show with their classmates. This troupe is intended to promote camaraderie in a supportive environment.


Taking it to the “HNL”

I am ever inspired to improve my performance skills, by taking workshops, exploring new styles, and researching the legends. I have a philosophy that’s based on the recurring skit from Mad TV performed by comedian Keegan-Michael Key who portrays an enthusiastic delivery man who subjects celebrities to an unscheduled interview and frequently uses the term “taking it to the HNL” an acronym for his catchphrase “whole ‘nuther level” that expresses admiration for his guest’s accomplishments.

I wanted to find ways to reward my students with a job well done, provide more performance opportunities and creative outlets. Just having a student troupe did not seem sufficient to achieve this so I decided to form a troupe for advanced students to take them to a “whole ‘nuther level”.


What’s in a name?

My former official advanced troupe was Sawwah Dance Ensemble – members included talented dancer Gina Weatherman, Amira (KC Nelson), Yasmina (Ginny King) and special guest Amani Jabril. But I didn’t feel very empowered to use the name again – it meant something different to me at the time and I feel some things need to remain a memory. I tried to come up with another ‘original’ name. I got some suggestions from students. Still not inspired. Then I remembered a troupe of cute girls taught by someone I really admire and how she would proudly introduce them at shows.

Alima,  who “has established a reputation for vivacious solo performances in workshops, ethnic festivals, civic and charity events since 1978”, was the director of that troupe. I met her years ago when I was just a budding performer and immediately fell in love with her genuinely warm southern charm. She is an impeccable performer and I was always enthralled by her confidence, passion and sense of humor onstage. She had a small group of lovely students at that time who performed under the name “Mumtaz” which translates to “the distinguished” or “excellent”  in Arabic.  I loved that name!

Now years later, finding myself without a name for this fresh new troupe, I contacted her on Facebook  – I knew it had been a while since she had the troupe named Mumtaz so I thought – “maybe she wouldn’t mind if…”.

Thanks to Alima my new advanced troupe has a name! Troupe Mumtaz!


Please look for upcoming shows featuring Banat Nawal and Troupe Mumtaz! I am very excited about going on a new adventure with my students, taking them to the “HNL” all while growing strong bonds of friendship in dance.