Gilded Serpent presents...
to Belly dance 101, I am your teacher, Layla Katrina.
Let me introduce myself.
foremost, I am an individual who thrives on expressing myself
through art, which in this case is “Belly Dance”.
I am an expressionist.
I am not
particularly interested in presenting to you a duplication
of an authentic cultural dance as it was done by so and so
in such and such a time and place and in such and such type
of costume. (There are many dancers and scholars who do that
kind of thing very well, and I hope to be able to guide you
to them, if you are interested.)
best at dancing improvisation and knowing the music. I would
rather feel my way through the music than count it. I have,
over the years, however, had to train myself to think in
a linear form, to learn technique, how to count musical rhythms,
and to value technique. It is crucial.
it is vastly easier to learn technique than it is to
learn to feel.
don’t feel the music and the dance, and don’t
have a love for it that is a connection in your heart and
your soul, you will have a much harder time learning this
love than learning technique. But don’t let me scare
you away; you must give yourself a chance! You came here
for a reason. Is that not right?
love music and are driven by a burning desire to express
yourself in this enchanting dance/art form, you have come
to the right place. Welcome!
is more about your teacher:
I am a white girl brought up in the South Eastern United States, with no Middle
Eastern or Arabic blood of which I am aware. I say this only because in the
course of my pursuit of dance and music from cultures other than my own, I
have found that it can be an issue.
the questions I am often asked is: How did I come by the
name of Layla (an Arabic as well as Persian name)? By the
way, Layla means “a night”(singular), or “of
the night”. Of course, it is a stage name. I don’t
like to have to admit that, but I usually do. Unless I just
smile and keep dancing, as if I don’t speak English!
It is very
important, when studying or performing the art of another
culture, that you do not come across with as an arrogant
know it all when in fact you may know very little. Unfortunately,
people from the U.S.A. and other western countries can appear
to be arrogant and ignorant when it comes to the rest of
the world. But, I would like to think, without intention
to be. So claim what you know and admit what you don’t
know, and be honest about it!
first saw belly dance...
in 1985, in New York City, in a little nightclub called Fazil’s.
I was in a graduate illustration program as an art student. We art students
were required to go watch a certain belly dancer perform, and later she modeled
for our class. Our assignment was to illustrate her story. Well, having grown
up in South Carolina and in Tennessee, I had no idea what a belly dancer was.
I had just a vague memory of a friend once suggesting I take a class and my
mental picture of an overweight woman in a tacky costume with too much stomach
hanging out. I laughed off the notion.
I thought about going to see a belly dancer in a New
York City club, I pictured a frightening place crawling
with dangerous men waiting to pick up vulnerable young
to Fazil’s with three guys from my class, and I was
dressed in an oversized flannel shirt with blue jeans and
hiking boots. I needed protection, you understand!
I was enchanted with Fazil’s, and within minutes of
entering, I wished that I had been dressed in some little
black spaghetti strap dress with high-heeled sandals and
a rhinestone necklace. This is my memory of how the attractive,
dark skinned women of all ages looked. They got up and danced
to the live music of the band, which included a most charming
white haired, Turkish accordion player who soon won my heart.
The women danced in groups or individually, not in couples,
and not with men. Where I come from, no one ever gets up
to dance unless she is with a member of the opposite sex!
I was astounded, and wanted to get up and dance, too. But,
my goodness, how I was dressed!
was a little family-owned club, up a narrow flight of stairs.
It had lighted candles on all the tables, a stage for the
band, and a polished wood dance floor in front of the stage.
There were mirrors along the walls, which reflected the flickering
lights of the candles everywhere. The whole atmosphere was
romantic, intimate, and lovely. The music was beautiful,
and haunting, such as I had never heard before. The men were
well mannered and dressed, mostly with family, and obviously
not threatening. The dancer we had come to see was putting
up drawings art students had done of her in the entrance
hall when we arrived. I had no idea then that the woman putting
up the pictures was she. She just seemed to be a friendly,
average woman who had the look of a school teacher.
took a long time before the dancer performed. We waited and
waited, ordering the least we could get away with on our
college student budgets. We had sketch books with us, and
I spent much time drawing all the people, wishing that I
were dancing, and falling in love with everything about the
place. Finally the announcement came, the introduction of Badia,
dance floor cleared, the lights brightened over it,
and an exhilarating and unforgettable entrance song
flowed from the musicians as she spun into the space,
swirling sheer pink veils while wearing layers and
layers of sheer chiffon skirts in pinks, reds, and
whites. I was transfixed.
the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life! I knew
then and there that that was what I was meant to do. I had
no idea of how exactly, but I knew I would.
Badia is dancing on the right, Dunya
is sitting with her face showing between the two
standing dancers, Adnan Sarhan the Sufi Master is
drumming. Kay is on the far left, and I do not remember
the other girls in the pic.
I had been
somewhat of a wondering, pot smoking hippie chick prior to
this, with a B.F.A. (Bachelor of Fine Arts) in commercial
art. I wanted to be a fine artist but my father thought I
should do something that had, at least, a hair of a chance
to make a living, and he didn’t think painting was
going to do it. I had gotten by with grades of “B”and
even a few “A”s in school, but my heart had never
been there. I’d have done, oh, so much better, if my
heart had been in my studies. I’d probably be some
big wig corporate art director somewhere right now! Who knows?
heart was here at Fazil’s in the dance for sure, and
I had never been that certain about anything in my life before.
It’s funny how the whole universe can shift in a minute’s
time…Even though it all appears the same, everything
has changed. The manifestations of those changes sometimes
take awhile to show on the outside, but eventually they do.
I never did earn my Master of Illustration Degree. I struggled
through the rest of that year, and I went to every dance
class I could afford that Badia taught, as well as those
of her teacher, and tried to use it all as a thesis project
for my illustration degree by drawing the classes and everyone
did a lot of drawings with bold dancing fluid lines
and not much structure. I wanted to dance off of the
pages, and I did; I’d draw and then I’d
dance, and then I’d dance and draw.
lost interest in the Master’s Degree program at the
School of Visual Arts.
me to explain the nature of the dance classes I was attending.
They were not the usual beginner Belly Dance (or any kind
of dance) where everything is explained, 1-2-3, and specific
steps are taught and the students spit them back out, 1-2-3.
Badia was a Sufi. She had once been trained in ballet, but
had studied Sufism with Sufi Master Adnan Sarhan for
over 10 years when I met her. Sufis teach, but not in the
usual way. I realized that the minute I entered her class.
I was entranced, and couldn’t stay way. At the same
time, it was something I had never experienced before, and
I was afraid.
articles by Layla Katrina coming soon!
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