Inspiration: Egyptian art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Sometimes you need to recharge your inspiration (or just take a break from the summertime heat!). The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has a wonderful show on lesser-known aspects of Egyptian art. But act fast, it closes soon. If you don’t make it in time for this exhibition, you can always buy the catalogue or view the 39 permanent galleries of Egyptian art, which include the famous Temple of Dendur, a Roman-era temple originally located near Aswan.

The Dawn of Egyptian Art (closes August 5)

An insightful look at the world of art before the time of the pharaohs. Dancers may want to look for the many animal-shaped palettes made out of graywacke (a kind of stone); they were used for grinding kohl and other pigments for makeup!

One of these palettes is on the exhibition catalogue; it shows two turtles, possibly an image of love, or the two sides of a single idea.

A New Year’s Steampunk Belly Dancer

As 2011 draws to a close…I look back fondly on all the successes–and struggles–of the past year, and look forward to where they’ll take me in 2012. Best wishes to you all!

To start 2012, here’s a sparkly, winter wonderland steampunk-inspired window from Macy’s in New York City’s Herald Square. She has to be a belly dancer, right? Don’t believe me? Watch the video!

Macy's Herald Square Steampunk Belly Dancer

Macy's Herald Square Steampunk Belly Dancer

Tis the season…for Arabic holiday music!

Najla Belly Dance Christmas Third Ward

Najla's Christmas belly dance at Third Ward, NYC

If you’re a belly dancer like me, you want to decorate the tree while listening to the old standards like Jingle Bells…with a (hip) twist! Here are some of my favorite Arabic interpretations of classic holiday songs, plus my very own belly dance Christmas performance from last year. For even more holiday goodness, check out Shira.net’s Christmas Songs in Arabic page for lyrics in English and Arabic.

a3yaad sa3iida, everyone!

The beautiful voice of Fairuz singing “Leylet Eid” to the tune of “Jingle Bells.”

A high-powered interpretation of the same song by Sassine Abi Khalil.

Wafic’s “Kel Eid,” a mind-blowing Arabic and English version of….”Feliz Navidad”!!!!

My own holiday take on some Christmas standards, complete with poinsettia costume and candy cane assaya. 😉 Thank you to Daily Bellydance Quickies for featuring this video in their 12 Days of Christmas countdown!

“Authentic Native Egyptian Dancers” at the Barnum & Bailey Circus, 1895

Here’s an interesting tidbit on Egyptian dance at the Barnum & Bailey circus from an 1895 issue of The New York Times that I came across while researching a paper on ethnographic presentations and photography at circuses. Enjoy!

The impossibility of a scrubwoman who has been employed In the Garden for some years to conceal her astonishment when the Egyptian dancers came in sight incidentally revealed quite a little romance. One of the dancers, gorgeously arrayed in pink, gauze, and tinsel, had the loveliest pair of “real Irish eyes” that one would see In many a day’s journey. But she spoke in the language of the Egyptians and danced in the peculiar custom of the country with an ease that equaled any of her associates.It was learned that, three years ago, that young person was a scrubwoman in Madison Square Garden. She had come to this country from Ireland in search of a recalcitrant lover. The leader of a troupe of Egyptian dancers, who Is an accomplished linguist and a very well-Informed man, fell In love with, married her, and took her to his native land. This year she reappears here as a “native” dancer. This story was corroborated by a gentleman who has known the husband very well for a long time.”

2011 Medieval Festival at Ft. Tryon Park

This past Sunday I had the pleasure of dancing at the 27th Annual Medieval Festival at Ft. Tryon park, home of the Cloisters Museum. Not only was it an absolutely beautiful fall day with an enthusiastic audience, but the stage I danced on had replicas of some of the museum’s tapestries on it! One of my favorite parts of this event was teaching the audience afterwards, especially my new troupe of lil knights’n’ladies.

Scroll down for a picture gallery and video.

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2011 New York Theatrical Bellydance Conference Recap

2011 Theatrical Bellydance Conference

2011 Theatrical Bellydance Conference

It was really a pleasure to attend, perform and present at the 2011 Theatrical Bellydance Conference. The main event was a 4-day marathon of classes, panels, talks, and stellar performances from 10am-11pm daily! I’ll admit I’m feeling a little separation anxiety after all that quality dance time, but I’m also feeling totally refreshed and inspired by everything I learned and by the incredible (no seriously, INCREDIBLE) people I met at this conference. A big thank you to co-directors Ranya Renee and Anasma, as well as their team, for a wonderful experience.

In lieu of a detailed recap, I pulled some of my favorite workshop notes and pictures from the conference. Hopefully there will be lots more photos up on the official conference site soon. Enjoy! (and share yours if you have them)

Selected workshop notes

  • be a peach
  • no struggle!
  • belly dance is 20 moves + your essence
  • a pose is the punctuation for your movement
  • feel energy, don’t just move planes through space
  • be simple
  • come out like a slingshot
  • the veil will ALWAYS upstage you
  • you have the power to change the mood of the audience
  • stack your body
  • follow through from top to bottom in whatever you do
Najla and Aszmara

Najla and Aszmara

Najla and Ranya Renee

Najla with conference co-director (and fellow Yale alum) Ranya Renee

Wendy Buonaventura, Hanan and Najla

"Orientalism and Dance" panelists Wendy Buonaventura, Hanan and Najla (not pictured, DaVid of Scandinavia and Andrea Anwar)

Najla and DaVid of Scandinavia

Goofing around with DaVid of Scandinavia

Beatbox Guitar Jebon

Dancing to the music of Beatbox Guitar at the conference after-party at Jebon


Sneak peak! “Dancing the Other: Belly Dance in 1920s Paris” talk at the Theatrical Belly Dance Conference

Princess Ben Madhia, c. 1920s in a Parisian jazz magazine

Princess Ben Madhia, c. 1920s in a Parisian jazz magazine

Here’s a sneak peak of my talk on the wild world of belly dance in 1920s Paris, from the world’s fairs to the ballets to the bawdy music halls. This Saturday 7/9 at the Theatrical Bellydance Conference, 1:30-2:30 pm, Room 16T, Ripley-Grier Studios (520 Eighth Avenue 16th Floor, NYC). Free for conference-goers, $5 for general public.

Paris in the 1920s was a city electrified by dance, a city that moved to the sights and sounds of the latest trends at a seemingly unstoppable pace, where belly dancers tantalized audiences at the music halls and Oriental ballets played to packed houses in the city’s opera houses. The dance scene was colored by visions of otherness, stereotypes and simplifications of movement and culture that were shaped by the French colonial mindset and the wildly successful universal expositions whose presentations of “authentic” foreign dances served as one of the primary influences on the Oriental dances that came into vogue during the height of the colonial period…This talk seeks to analyze and interpret the presentations of Middle Eastern dance at expositions, music halls and concert halls in 1920s Paris and the preceding decades as both a historical study and as a lens through which we can view our present day conflicts and considerations in Middle Eastern dance, many of which center around the intersection of authenticity, fusion and theatricality.