Moab Utah artists. Moab is home to many
local artists and nationally known artists. These talented
people work in a range of mediums from visual arts through
literary to musical. Each month Moab Happenings features one
of our talented local Moab artists.
Artist of the Month - May 2002
Jamila: Belly Dancing
by Sydney Francis
am thrilled to have had the opportunity to break into the
performing arts by interviewing a professional belly dancer
stage-named Jamila. Jamila has had over 25 years experience
at belly dancing and another 20 years experience in Western
dance, including ballet, tap, and modern dance. Here in Moab,
Jamila teaches a weekly beginning and intermediate belly dancing
class at the MARC, as well as organizing a dance troop of
10 local women, which performs at a variety of fundraisers,
events, and benefits.
dancing, although it looks easy when performed right, is a
very complex and controlled art. In order for the belly dancer
to perform the floating rotation of the hips, such as seen
in the taxeem, or move gracefully weightless across the floor
requires physical discipline, flexibility, centering, and
balance. First of all, the average Americans hips do
not easily perform the 2000-year-old Middle Eastern motion
of the taxeem - the classic belly dance hip rotation from
side to side in an apparent figure eight. This movement utilizes
a group of muscles in the hips, abdomen, and butt that most
of us did not know we had. In addition, the belly dancer must
keep the shoulders back and level, while moving the hips and
bending the knees, all the while maintaining her balance on
her center pole. Then there is the gentle movement of the
hands, called a floré, which mimics the movement of
a snake or a butterfly. And finally there is the perfect positioning
of the arms to frame and accentuate the movement of the hips,
creating visual lines of illusion that emphasize the movements
particular to tribal belly dancing.
The above comprises the simple mechanics of belly dancing.
However, putting all that together, smiling and letting the
movement flow though the body with the passion and grace of
a true performer is what distinguishes Jamila as an artist.
I have seen her perform a sword dance in which the sword rested
perfectly still on her head, while she performed a dynamic
range of movement from the neck down. These apparently mystical
movements express the energy that comes through a skilled
and gifted performing artist. Jamila made it clear to me that
what she found most special about teaching belly dance at
this point in her career was the way it effects her students.
or most of the women who come to belly dancing to learn the
dance are not professionally trained dancers or performers.
They are women looking to become more comfortable in their
bodies, minds and spirits. And they seek belly dancing as
a means of falling in love with themselves. Let me admit that
most of us do not want to get up in front of a huge mirror
with our midriffs exposed and watch the awkwardness of our
movements. For a number of reasons, we do not like the way
we look, we do not believe we are beautiful, and we are afraid
to move, express physically, and enjoy it (this is a tragic
commentary on where we are at with our bodies in American
culture). And it does not matter what your body type is. Most
women (and probably most men) feel uncomfortable with their
bodies and in expressing themselves through movement or dance.
One student sought out belly dancing as a means of learning
and healing her lack of self-confidence and self-love. She
wanted to learn to belly dance, but she had to confront and
deal with a great deal of fear, lack of self-esteem, self-consciousness,
and feelings of being unattractive. She suffered an internal
struggle to go week after week and watch herself learn to
move. And, yet, she pushed through the resistance and after
almost one year has found a renewed sense of self and body
in the process. She recently had the following realization
while practicing in front of her mirror: I am beautiful.
I actually like myself.
Another woman had an accident while pregnant which broke her
sternum down the center. Her sternum was completely separated
and she suffered a great deal of pain when breathing, sleeping
and lifting heavy objects. She was not even able to lift her
own child to her chest. After six months of belly dancing,
she was able to move painlessly, carry her child and breathe
and sleep freely.
September 11th, Jamila has been asked on a number of occasions
how she could continue to belly dance because of its heritage
in the Middle East. She related to me that the oppressed women
of the Middle East and North Africa dance in secret in front
of one another as a way of keeping their traditions alive
and affirming life. Tribal belly dance is a dance of family,
spirit and tradition. It is not really a dance connoting the
sexuality associated with nightclubs and the cabaret style
of belly dance. Therefore, Jamila and Desert Veils dance as
a prayer for peace for their own lives, families and culture,
but also for the women of the Middle East, North Africa as
well as all women and people everywhere. After bringing me
to tears a number of times, Jamila commented we are
the wind beneath each others wings, in reference to
the troop spirit. In belly dance women (and men, too) gain
valuable self-esteem. They also learn balance, centering,
and movement. And in dancing together a bond is formed as
a family, which is a precious experience of community. Tribal
belly dance, at least with Desert Veils and Jamila, is a means
of creating meaning, joy, faith, self-love, beauty, prayer
and community; and, therefore, what a heavenly art it is.
will be performing at the Moab Arts Festival on Memorial Day
Weekend. They will also be performing at Swanny Park on the
4th of July.
Look for Night at the Kazba in June, a fundraiser
to pay for Desert Veils trip to Salt Lake City to perform
the Belly Dance Festival in August.