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A Rose by Any Other Name...

Is this an identity crisis?

by Nisima

Here’s my odyssey of how I got my present dance name, “Nisima”.  I was getting ready to audition at the Casbah in San Francisco as a belly dancer, and I still hadn’t found a dance name I liked.  Remember, in the 70s and 80s it was expected that a belly dancer would have at least a Middle Eastern-sounding name. In addition, most of the dancers I knew in the clubs were reluctant to give out their first and last names for security reasons.  So, here I was, about to audition for a belly dance job and no Middle Eastern dance name! 

A good dance friend of mine came up with a list of various names for me, all of which checked out okay in the English-Arabic dictionary, and I just picked one:  Annisah.  It was very important to check names out; one dancer I knew had decided that she wanted to be known as “Nefa”, a dancer name from a Hollywood biblical movie.  So, we both rushed to our dance instructor who looked up “nefa” in the English-Arabic dictionary as she had never heard it before and doubled over laughing, telling us the word  “nefa” in Arabic means “blow to the nose”! 

Fortunately, this dancer hadn’t started using “Nefa” as her dance name yet, but was truly mortified all the same and swore me to absolute secrecy, so I can’t reveal her true identity; sorry folks.  In any case, “Annisah” means pretty, so I figured I couldn’t go wrong with it, and that’s how I was introduced during my first couple of weeks dancing at the Casbah.

However, a couple of weeks later, a musician told me that the “real” Annisah was now in the Bay Area and coming in for a visit.  He looked a little uneasy, but I didn’t think anything about it until the following week when the “real” Annisah did indeed come into the Casbah with two friends in tow to “talk” to me about my choice of dance names.  She was polite, but clearly upset, and told me she had been performing as “Annisah” for 15 years, made her living as a dancer and that further this would cause problems when we worked at the same club, etc. etc.  

I was so surprised at the level of tension being expressed I decided it just  wasn’t worth it, after all, as I told her, I’d simply picked the name off a list and it wasn’t all that special to me.  At this, she left and there was actually an audible sigh of relief from the musicians who were listening to our conversation.  One of them was Elias Khoury, a very talented drummer at the Casbah, who announced then and there that he would find a name  for me that no one else had.  And he did!  He and his wife at the time, Faten, came back the next week with two names for me to choose from “Neran” (means fire in Arabic) and “Nisima” (from the Arabic word nesma which they told me meant a little  breeze at the end of a hot desert day).  Elias thought the best name for me was “Nisima” because it translated roughly to “a breath of fresh air”.   So, I’ve been “Nisima” for about 17 years, and my “identity crisis” had a very happy ending.   And, the “real” Annisah and I never did wind up dancing at the same club.  But, if there is another “Nisima” dancing out there somewhere, I will applaud her exquisite choice of names and  wish her all the best the art of belly dancing has to offer.

 

 

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