As a full time belly dancer for over 4 decades, I’ve been asked many times how I climbed the ladder to international success. How did I make my dance dreams come true? Did I know from the start where I wanted to end up? Did I draw an outline of my goals? Was I just one of the lucky ones, in the right time at the right place? The first thing I would tell you is there is no magical ‘secret’ to getting what you want. But there are some things that I would advise.
For most of us, dance is a sanctuary from the stress of everyday life. It’s not usually someone’s full time career. Yet, every time you choose to shimmy you take another step forward on some sort of dance journey that’s unique to you, and inevitably it will lead you somewhere. You want to keep your experiences positive and add value to your life. When you go from student to performer to instructor, you are always growing and evolving as an ever-improving dancer.
Here's some things you can do to be the best you can be and make your dance dreams come true:
If you want to learn how to share your dance passion with others, consider taking the Sakkara Dance Teachers’ course at www.SakkaraDance.com
This month we are honoring strong, bold, beautiful women, those who are mothers, leaders, influencers of all kinds. These women are often overlooked and underestimated. Even those who have fame don’t have the whole truth of their story revealed to the world.
Let’s take a look at one of the most famous women of all time. You may be surprised to learn that you (or a woman you know and love) is very similar to this fantastic historic figure. The woman we honor today is Cleopatra.
The story of Cleopatra is one like many others. It is filled with love and war, alliance and intrigue, tragedy and drama. Why was a woman born 2,000 years ago still commonly recognized today? Here are some highlights to her story.
Cleopatra was forced to face a monumental hardship when she was only 17 years old. Cleopatra’s father, the King of Egypt, died in 51 B.C. when she was a teenager. Her brother, Ptolemy XIII, was 12 years old. At the time, as was the custom, Cleopatra had to marry her brother to rule Egypt jointly. First the grief, then the formality of marrying her baby brother, then the huge responsibility of ruling a country!
Cleopatra was both brilliant and beautiful. For a woman, she was very well-educated. Cleopatra was well-versed in mathematics, literature, astronomy, medicine, and could speak several languages. Even though the Ptolemies ruled Egypt for 200 years and were of Macedonian descent, she was the first one who could fluently speak the Egyptian language. Her intelligence was assisted by her beauty, charisma, and passion. To others she was intimidating and envied.
One year later, Cleopatra suffered betrayal. Cleopatra’s own sister, Arsinol, worked with 3 official councilors to overthrow the new Queen. Because the young brother was easier to control, they kept him in place as King. It was only Cleopatra who they exiled from Egypt in 48 B.C.
Cleopatra’s cunning and determination won back the throne. Julius Caesar arrived in Alexandria 1 year after Cleopatra was exiled. It took some time, but Cleopatra managed to pull together an army. Then she knew not to approach Caesar directly because she would be killed if seen openly at the palace. To gain an audience with Caesar, she rolled herself into a carpet and had her army deliver it as a gift. Cleopatra instantly charmed Caesar, and they quickly became lovers. He helped her overthrow her brother, but the victory paid a steep price. The Great Library of Alexandria burnt down.
Cleopatra stood strong and proud against gossip that slandered her. Cleopatra traveled with Caesar to Rome. There she lived with him even though this offended the conservative Republicans. Caesar was already married, yet he wanted to marry Cleopatra. There were laws against marrying foreigners, so their marriage was forbidden, and their love was ridiculed harshly and openly.
A year later, Rome assassinated Caesar and kicked Cleopatra out. A conspiracy of Senators had Caesar assassinated because he was considered a huge threat. Cleopatra returned to Egypt and patiently watched from a distance as Rome fell into a Civil War between Caesar’s heir, Octavian, and Mark Anthony. Eventually Mark Anthony won. Because he had fallen in love with Cleopatra when she was in Rome, he went to Egypt to find her.
Cleopatra had a second great love, Mark Anthony. They were politically and intimately united for a year before Mark Anthony was recalled to Rome. Unfortunately, political pressure forced him to marry Octavia, the sister of Octavian, Caesar’s heir.
Cleopatra marries Mark Anthony. Four years after he left Egypt, Mark Anthony led a military campaign against Parthes, which brought him near Egypt. As soon as possible, he summoned Cleopatra to his side. He was still in love with her, and they married, even though he was technically married to Octavia. The war with Parthes continued until Rome was victorious in 34 B.C. Mark Anthony celebrated in Alexandria, and soon it became evident to Rome that he intended to stay with Cleopatra, rather than return to Octavia. In 32 B.C., Mark Anthony divorced Octavia. Then Rome declared war on Cleopatra. They fought long and hard, culminating in one of the most famous battles in history, the battle of Actium. It was fought off the coast of Greece in the Adriatic Sea between Octavian’s forces and those of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony. Rome won, forcing Cleopatra and Mark Anthony to flee.
Rome went further to destroy the love between Cleopatra and Mark Anthony. When Octavian claimed Egypt as a Roman providence, the generals of Mark Anthony falsely reported to him that Cleopatra died in her mausoleum.
Mark Anthony then attempted suicide. Dying, he was taken to Cleopatra. He learned all too late that she was still alive. Mark Anthony died in Cleopatra’s arms and was buried as a king.
Rather than become a slave to Octavian, Cleopatra committed suicide. When Octavian entered Alexandria, Cleopatra was captured and taken to him. He made it very clear that he had no intention of having a relationship with her. He planned on taking Cleopatra to Rome to exhibit his triumph, but Cleopatra refused to become his slave. She locked herself in her mausoleum. Three days before they were to leave Egypt, Cleopatra had her hand servants bring a basket filled with figs. Hidden within was a snake. The Egyptians believed that death by snakebite secured immortality. Cleopatra was bitten by the asp, as were the hand servants. Octavian found them all dead.
Want to learn more about the History of Belly Dance? There's a great new course you can take which covers all the delicious details and much more! Visit www.SakkaraDance.com
Romantically and spiritually, the belly is the core of a woman’s being, her femininity, her center of power. Historically, a soft, round womanly shape was considered beautiful, and a curving belly symbolized both wealth and position. It seems most men still prefer a woman with those curves, but modern society has influenced the opinion of most women. In the Western world, the least favorite part for most women is the lower abdominal, affectionately (?!) referred to as the belly. It is in that area of the body where you feel muscularly lazy and find it too easy to collect a pouch of fat. Most women give their bellies the evil eye, especially when they are in front of the mirror. I don’t know how many times I have seen this in dance class and can personally say I have felt the same way! I don’t know anyone who wants to look like the jolly Buddha.
Webster’s Dictionary states the noun “belly” is the abdomen. The verbs “bellied” or “bellying” mean to swell out or bulge. Well, that’s not exactly promising, is it?!
Here are some things you can do to define your midsection and slenderize your waistline:
There are technically only two movements that the belly can perform, namely contraction and release. The entire abdominal wall can be used, or different parts in different series, to create various interesting and challenging dance movements. The Stomach Flutter is a great movement that uses the entire abdominal wall. Release the control of the stomach as you let it out, then grab it back in. Do it at an even tempo, in-out in-out in-out without holding your breath. As you gain control, increase the speed to create a fluttering effect.
The second most common movement done with the belly is the Belly Roll. First, try to separate your ab muscles in two parts, the upper portion above your belly button and the lower portion beneath the belly button. Practice contracting and releasing each half separately. The slower you practice, the better. Once you get confident with the separate movements, try this sequence: contract the upper half, then while holding it in contract the lower half (so the entire abdomen is held IN). Then release the upper half without releasing the lower (that’s hard but not impossible!). Finally, release the lower half (so the entire abdomen is relaxed OUT). Repeat many times. Once you have the Belly Roll, you can reverse it or build upon it by incorporating it into a roll that uses the whole torso and spine to make a full Undulation. Advance into a moving Undulation, called a Camelwalk. An excellent version of Camelwalk is what I call the "small Camelwalk", which is executed entirely on the balls of the feet. It challenges your balance, which automatically tones your core. Check out my short instructional video on how to execute a Small Camelwalk: https://youtu.be/ErSvUYmCZTs
Belly dance wouldn’t be belly dance without great belly movements. As you work to improve your dance technique, take special time to develop your abdominal muscles. Not only will your dance technique improve, but you’ll love how your belly looks and will dramatically improve your long-term health. Go ahead, search for that better belly. It’s a win-win situation. You might find that Ozel was right, you are a goddess!
St. Patrick’s day is a day of 4-leaf clovers, pots of gold, and tons of good luck. Here is how you can attract good luck that will take your dance to new heights:
The Lotus is an exotic hand movement that has roots in ancient Egypt. It's history dates back to 4000 BC when it was an important part of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Flowers from the Nile Valley can be found on many of the objects that the ancient Egyptians used everyday. Sometimes the lotus designs were purely for decorative purposes, and sometimes they had religious meaning, particularly in funeral ceremonies in the Egyptian quest for eternal life. For the ancient Egyptians, the lotus flower was a symbol of creation, renewal and rebirth. The flower grows along the Nile, blooming at dawn and closing at dusk. It grows from beneath the depths of the water to above the surface. It is a symbol for hidden vitality, appearing as if out of nowhere, hinting at the true source of creation.
The belly dance movement called the Lotus captivates an audience more than most of the other hand and arm movements. The Lotus involves both hands and should be done at a time in your routine when you are not holding a veil or wearing finger cymbals. When performing the Lotus, it's best if you stay in place or do a simple, graceful glide across the stage, allowing the audience to appreciate its beauty. The center of the movement is around the wrists, which become the center of the flower. The hands and fingers are the petals. With constant movement, the petals appear to be many, creating the full blossom.
It's not the easiest hand movement to master, but once you break it down and practice it carefully, you'll see that all it takes is a coordination of flexing and bending your hands around the wrists. To help you master the Lotus, please take a look at the instructional video that I have posted on my YouTube channel. It breaks down the Lotus into 4 basic positions. It also gives you tips on moving the Lotus in a beautiful fashion. See link at bottom of this blog post.
Incorporating the Lotus within your oriental dance routine adds a touch of beauty and is an especially authentic addition to a pharaonic-style dance. The Lotus helps your dancing blossom to exciting heights!
Ever wonder why other dancers get more accolades or seem to get ahead faster? Self-doubt can lead us to making a fatal error that leaves you feeling like you are going nowhere. Sometimes we don’t even know we made an error at all, we just struggle with frustration.
What are the common mistakes an ambitious dancer might make? Check out the following list to see if you are stuck in the mire of an error right now and need help getting unstuck. Or maybe you can relate to an error that you made in the past and learned from it. You can help guide another in their dance journey.
JASMIN JAHAL, Author
I've been dancing since I was 3 and a professional belly dancer for over 40 years. I've learned so much from personal belly dance experience and want to share with you advice, tips, suggestions and more. Anytime you have any questions and need sage advice, please reach out and let me hear from you!