Wednesday, May 30, 2012


It's summer and the dance festival frenzy has already my house is in complete chaos with a bunch of suitcases sitting around: some about to be packed, some full of stuff from my last event! My living room is like an obstacle course, there's so much crap laying around on the floor, but I just love the entire process of getting ready for dance festivals.

Since I've spent the better part of the past couple of decades jetting all over the world to perform and teach, I’ve learned to pack extremely well. Many of my sponsors have joked that I should teach a workshop on packing skills!

I used to drag “just in case” things along that never got used: extra costumes, glamorous dresses, blow-dryers, full-sized toiletries … until I wised up and realized that it wasn’t the dancing that was sending me to the chiropractor’s office, it was my heavy, unmanageable luggage!

Even if you don’t take trips at the rate that I do, packing lightly makes sense. If you are going by plane, and have your bag with you, there is zero chance of the airline losing it, and believe me, that happens way more than you would imagine! If your luggage disappears and your costume(s) and music are inside the lost bag, then you are up the creek without a paddle.

The key to a “great pack” is to determine what is absolutely necessary costume-wise, prop-wise, comfort-wise.

Usually, it’s impossible to fit everything into a carry-on bag, though I have done it pretty often! If you have multiple costume changes, are traveling with props, workshop essentials like notebooks, flyers, business cards or carrying any amount of merchandise or promo you probably WON’T fit it all into one suitcase.

In this case, make sure your essentials are in the carry-on itself; pack at least one costume, and music, so even if everything else gets lost you can still perform. You also may want to look into using door-to-door luggage services to ship an extra suitcase. These services tend to be more reliable than airlines, and guarantee delivery. They aren’t cheap, but it saves a lot of hassle and most airlines are now charging for checked bags anyway. You could also look into Fed-Exing or Priority Mailing a box of merch to yourself care of the front desk at the hotel where you will be staying. The concierge or manager at most hotel chains regularly deals with this sort of thing for their business clients.


The first law of packing for dance events is: costumes and props take precedence over street clothes and class-wear.

We all know how insanely bulky costumes are, whether it’s a fully fringed cabaret extravaganza, a big retro evening gown or a metal-encrusted, tribal bra and belt with a zillion-yard circle skirt. Take a look at your favorite costumes and decide which ones are most portable… a few may not make the cut for use as “out of towners”.

Ideally, your travel costumes will look absolutely stunning onstage, but don’t need too much attention when pulled out of a suitcase. The newer style Egyptian and Turkish cabaret costumes perfect: they’re feather- weight, and many have built-in belts, making them less heavy, plus they’re usually made of synthetics, which are wrinkle-resistant.

Lots of costumes appropriate for burlesque or belly dance fusion are also highly packable: use bras and belts that are highly embellished, and simple pants or a flowing skirt. Tribal costumes will be more of a challenge, with the heavy jewelry and yardage involved. For traveling with these, you may want to use only your most amazing costume pieces and accessories, and concentrate on strong stage make-up and a great color palette as opposed to piling on mounds of gorgeous- but ridiculously heavy - accessories. It’s your call!

Pack your costumes cleverly then fill in around them. Roll skirts up small and tight and call or email ahead to make sure the place you’re staying has an iron. Ditto for a blow dryer. These amenities are usually standard everywhere you go.

Headpieces or hair-flowers can be packed in Tupperware or utility boxes, cushioned by bra pads, a folded or rolled veil. Wigs or falls can go in a flat disposable casserole tray; pack earrings bracelets or necklaces in plastic bags and lay them on the bottom, before you put you hairpiece in. Encase dance or street shoes in recycled grocery bags; tuck them into the corners of your bag.

I pack my costume, and all the accessories, my performance CD, veil and zills in a two-gallon plastic freezer bag. At my destination, I know all essential parts are together, not stuck into some random compartment of my suitcase, or left out where it might be forgotten in a hotel room. Plastic bags also protect your costume. As long as your costume is clean and dry before it goes into the bag, it’ll be fine.

Once I had a suitcase sit on the tarmac at London’s Heathrow Airport for 45 minutes in a raging rainstorm. By the time it got into the terminal, the whole bag was soaked through. Boy, was I glad my costumes and regular clothes were encased in plastic bags- they were fine. As for the suitcase, it took almost two days of sitting in front of an English radiator to dry out!


Air travel with props can sometimes be tricky.

If you are flying with swords, know that there’s no way in hell they’ll make it into the passenger cabin.

No amount of begging (“ But it’s only a stage-prop!”) will help get it on board with you. I arrange to borrow swords for my appearances in foreign countries, it just makes things easier.

Domestically, you will want to protect your sword by putting it in a well-padded container with “FRAGILE” marked all over the outside. I use a hard guitar-case with a padded interior for sword transport; some dancers use rifle cases. I include business cards, a bio, and photocopies of myself using the sword onstage, just in case an over-zealous TSA agent who thinks my swords are actual weapons opens the case!

Though shamadans can be usually be disassembled or collapsed (always keep a screw driver and wrench with you!) they will probably still be too large to bring on board and will have to be checked. Pack it in a well-padded box, labeled “fragile”, and if it has chains with crystals attached, wrap those in bubble wrap individually before packing the rest of the candelabrum.

Canes, Isis Wings and large Sally Rand feather fans can be brought into the cabin on a plane, but call ahead to check the dimensions for the over-head storage bins, and make sure your items fit…you definitely don’t want to check these fragile things at the last minute. Many feather fans, or fan-veils or Isis Wings will fit into a carry-on bag.

I slip all my folding hand fans and even smaller Sally Rand feather fans into hard cardboard document tubes which can be purchased at an office supply store -this will keep them from getting their staves cracked or bent. When you get to your destination, open the wings or your fan veils and steam them in a bathroom with the shower running, to let wrinkles work their way out…. of course, this is not recommended for feather fans! Larger Sally Rand feather fans will fit nicely into a long mailer tube or office-store box- but again, it will need to be checked- pad it well!

Smaller brass trays and pots or jugs for folkloric dance can fit easily into a suitcase, protect them with clothes and costume pieces.

Street Clothes, Travel Togs And Classroom Wear

Dress in layers because you can be sure that planes , airports, hotel rooms and dance festival locations are either too warm or too cold. I almost always wear a tank with a light, long sleeved t-shirt over it, and a hoodie or wrap sweater. Bring a large pashmina -type wrap, which can be worn as a scarf, evening cover-up, tied over sweats as a skirt, or used in lieu of a scuzzy airline blanket. On planes I wear Ugg boots for travel because they are comfy and practical: they slip off easily for TSA security checks; they’re perfect for those mad dashes when you’re making a connection, and they are not bulky in a suitcase! I wear the same pants for travel as I do dance classes- jeans are another item that probably won’t be worn all weekend long!

In your dance classes, no one is going to notice or care if you wear the same pair of dance pants, and you can tuck in a spare pair of stretchy leggings, they can pinch-hit as pajama bottoms, and look great under dresses or skirts. Add in a couple of tanks or crop-tops, and you’ll be good to go for your workshops.

If you need a veil and zills, or gloves, stockings or heels for your classes, use the same ones you’ll be using for your performance. A lightweight cover-up will get you to and from the stage when you are performing, and doubles as a robe in your hotel room. Bring a pair of flip-flops to use for street wear, bedroom slippers or protecting your feet backstage.

Want to look pretty for evening? Think “little black dress” preferably in a jersey or synthetic knit. They roll up small and won’t wrinkle. Add earrings, a hair flower and heels and it actually looks like you made an effort!

Before You Go

I have a special “out of town” gig checklist on my computer, with all my travel necessities, costumes and props listed on it. Make one for yourself and refer to it, checking each item off as you pack it.

A day or two before a trip, I sort through my make-up bag, whittling it down to as few items as possible. I keep all my dry items like powder shadows and pencils, false eyelashes, brushes, etc., in the make-up case and fill a snack-sized baggie with lipsticks, gloss, eyeliner, eyelash glue, mascara- any of the “no-no” TSA items. That smaller bag goes into my allotted quart baggie- along with travel-sized toothpaste, contact lens solution, and moisturizer. Body glitter and a couple of extra sets of false eyelashes go into the bag holding my costumes.

Do a “dummy check” and make sure once again that you have everything essential for your trip, then edit mercilessly.

Pack a couple of snack-baggies full of raw nuts, dried fruit, or trail mix- and a protein bar or two. The stuff available at airports, or the “food for purchase” on planes is usually over-priced not to mention salty…can you say “bloated”?

Try to get as much sleep as possible before you leave, because you probably won’t get it at your event!

Make sure to fill a pocket of your bag with travel-sized trouble –shooters: make-up remover wipes, pain relief tables, band-aids, safety pins, a small sewing kit, a set of bra pads and feminine protection.

In Transit

Obey the “quart baggie” rule- it will get you through the airport security lines much faster. On the plane, I put the liquid items I placed into the quart baggie back into my cosmetic bag where they belong.

Before entering the airport, remove any metal objects from your person- including sunglasses, belt-buckles, and jewelry or hair accessories with metal clips and put them in your carry-on. This will save you from walking through the metal detector more than once. Keep your ID and boarding pass out so you won’t have to dig for it.

Buy a couple of bottles of water after passing through security- one to drink while you’re in the air, one for when you land. Yeah, they're expensive, but flying dehydrates you- this will keep you feeling refreshed and it’s good for you! Last but not least: fly with a clean, moisturized face, and before landing, freshen up and add a little bit of blush, mascara and lip gloss.

Special Destinations

Attending a dance retreat on a tropical island? Performing somewhere very cold? Off to a festival in Las Vegas or Egypt?

Check weather reports for your destination the night before and the morning you are leaving. Look at the ten-day forecast and see what the weather will be like. Bring along appropriate articles, like coats, waterproof boots, your bikini, bug spray or an umbrella.

If you going to Egypt or any other Muslim country, bring modest clothes that pack well and will keep you cool, but will also cover you up. I have found that long cotton Indian wrap skirts are great, paper-thin, loose, long sleeved T-shirts or gauze shirts to layer over tanks, and a lightweight, non-form-fitting jacket should serve you well.

Bring sneakers or comfy walking shoes, you might feel dorky wearing them, but you'll need them.

When going to Egypt, Turkey or any exotic belly dance land of origin, do what seasoned dancers do- check an empty or almost- empty suitcase to use for bringing back costumes and souvenirs. On the way back, put as many of the costumes you bought as you can fit in your carry-on, and pack your street-clothes in the checked bag.That way, if something gets lost or stolen (this happens way more than anyone would like to think!) it will be your easily replaceable street clothes, not a custom-made stunner from Eman Zaki, Bella or Hannan!

With efficient packing, you can look amazing wherever you go…both on-and off-stage!

** This post originally appeared on June 16, 2009

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Leila Farid is a force of nature.

She’s one of the most popular belly dancers working in Cairo today… and not just to audiences, but also to those in the biz, who are taken with her exquisite technique, elegant appearance and easy-going professional demeanor.

A long, lean dancing machine, the gorgeous American ex-patriot has resided in Cairo for years. She got her dance license in 2002 and performed at the Sherton, The Pyramisa, the Nile Phaoron, and many other hotes. Currently, she performs regularly on The Nile Maxim, as well as at concerts, weddings, and cruises, and most of the other and in music videos with superstars like Hakim, Waleed Toufiq, Ahmed Fathi, and many others. She also tours from time to time, performing and teaching workshops all over the world.

Leila is the founder of the belly dance and live music retreat, Camp Negum, has starred in three instructional/performance DVDs, and produced four hugely popular CDs of incredible Egyptian music featuring her famous husband, Safaa Farid, and his band.

In addition to her dancing, she’s also well-known throughout the Middle East as an actress and model, having appeared in numerous films, commercials, and on the cover of every fashion magazine in Egypt.

In her “spare time”, she writes extremely articulate and candid, well-thought out articles about her fascinating life in Egypt, which have appeared in a number of belly dance publications, including and Zaghareet Magazine.

True to her American heritage, she’s a really fun and a hip chick, as well as being a great dancer and business woman, and an all-around smart cookie. In fact, while we were corresponding about this article, she mentioned that she was currently absorbed in a huge book on the Civil War- as in Yankees and Confederates,-not the Egyptian Revolution!

But while she’s on stage, she’s all Egyptian… last year at the Mena House in Cairo, Leila closed the Ahlan Wa Sahlan Closing Gala with a set that was so beautiful and powerful, I just had to get her to spill the beans on how she prepares for her show.

Here, in her own words, is what she does backstage:

“ I feel like I can get ready for a show with my eyes closed. I’ve been in Egypt now for nine years and have worked between five and seven days a week for most of those years , the only exceptions being during the ban on foreign dancers in 2004, when I was pregnant, and during the Revolution when it was not possible to work.

I have a definite routine developed over the years with my hair and make-up that I rarely vary. Some dancers in Egypt have make-up artists and hairdressers with them all the time. I don’t. I’ve been lucky to have had most of the top make-up artists in Cairo do my face on different shoots and I’ve learned so much from them.

I am a very sweaty dancer so I have to put my make-up on in specific layers so that I won’t end up with raccoon eyes at the end of the first number. They taught me how to create nice Oriental make-up that stays on under hot cinema or stage lights. I also prefer to do my own hair and leave it as natural as possible so it isn’t trashed by daily hairdressing. Hair and makeup take about an hour.

One of the best things about working in Egypt is never having to schlep anything yourself. I have three technicians that go with me to all my work and prepare everything before the show. I have a driver who carries all the bags to the car.

When I arrive at the hotel or boat there is another technician who has already discussed where the dressing room is and has ok’d it (clean, no cameras, near the stage) and also carries the bags to the dressing room.

He is also in charge of dealing with any props for me and the folklore dancers. Both of these techs also lead me to the stage and stand near it (sometimes people are dancing so closely at a weddings that the techs need to go in and fish me out) but mostly they are waiting until I finish the number to help me find the dressing room so I can change my costume.

If you do enough weddings in a night, in big enough halls, you can completely forget where the dressing room ( that you came out of fifteen minutes before) is!

The third tech is the woman in the room with me that arranges all my costumes and accessories, and helps me change. Two of these technicians have been with me since the beginning of my career and they are like family. If they are absent it feels like the show can’t go as normal.

When I arrive, my dresser has already laid out all my make-up and costumes. I check my hair and make-up, do a few warm-up stretches and wait. I don’t change into my costume until I hear the overture or until a technician tells me the music has started. I can change quickly. Egyptian costumes are not very comfortable with everything buttressed up so I spend as little time in them as possible.

When I’m dancing outside of Egypt, I try and keep my routine as close as normal as I can (doing everything myself). Sometimes I get nervous when I dance outside Egypt, especially on a theater stage (yikes), so having my daily pre-show routine helps keep me calm.”


You can purchase some of Leila-and Safaa’s - amazing Egyptian belly dance music here:




Leila’s website:

PHOTOS: Leila portraits by Rudi Piero; Leila live at Ahlan Wa Sahlan 2011 by Andre Elbing

Sunday, May 20, 2012


A couple of the most frequently asked questions I get from students are "How do I turn professional?" as well as "How do I go about booking paying gigs?"

Negotiating gigs is a topic that will never get stale! This article is a re-post from December 2009, but the information is still pertinent now.

If you are on the threshold of becoming a working professional dancer, then without a doubt, you’ve been sweating in group and private classes, practicing your butt off at home, dancing with a student troupe and in dance show cases, honing your technique and stage presence… and you just bought a fabulous new costume.

Well, congratulations, girl, sounds like you’re about ready to go pro- all you need is a gig! Now might be the time for you to start working.

Exactly what do professional dancers know that you don’t? Well, for one thing, they know how to book shows.

Whether you’re donating your dancing to a charity event, performing at a private party or auditioning for a restaurant or club job, there’s “technique” involved before you hit the stage as well. The following information will help you book a gig like a seasoned pro… help you to determine the WHO, WHAT,WHERE, WHEN and HOW of your gig.

Private party, wedding, birthday, corporate show, Arabic club, holiday festival…etc. Make sure to find out exactly what your gig will be, so you can costume yourself appropriately and plan a set of songs that will reflect the mood.

Club owner, bride or groom, a deejay, caterer, event planner…???

How far is the event from your house, as well as whether the event is being held at a residence, restaurant, banquet hall, outdoor festival, etc.)
And "where" also includes your performance area; Is there a full theatrical stage, raised stage, dance floor, living room, patio or through a banquet hall, around the tables?

Get specific performance times, and let them know that you are flexible, but cannot stay at the event for hours at their discretion

Will there be a sound system w/ a deejay? Will you be using a CD or an iPod? Will there be other performers? Do they expect you to dance to a live band? If so- can you rehearse or do a tech check?

Depending on where, when and how long you will be dancing, state your rate, and negotiate your salary. It will behoove you to find out everything possible about the gig before stating a price- if the client asks my price outright, I stall around by blithely asking questions until I get more details...which makes it easier to come up with a price depending on what kind of an event it is! Keep all your prices in mind, or have it all written on a piece of paper that you can refer to when on the phone with a prospective client.
My friend Samira Sharuk, who is not only a lovely dancer, but a shrewd stickler on business issues, keeps an on-going log of regional rates on her website. See it here:

Undercut the “going rate”.
If you are not sure what the going rate is in your area, ask another local working dancer, or dance instructor. Start your price a little high, many people expect bit of bargaining. If you undercut the going rate in your area, you are literally depriving professional performers their livelihood.

Figure out if it is a tipping situation or not, this will affect the base pay you ask for… and also ask the host or person who hired you if they would like you to stay within your performance area, or if it is fine to dance among the seated guests. Some people consider this acceptable, others think it’s tacky.

Ask the person hiring you how much they wanted to spend on a dancer until you have stated your price. Everybody wants a “deal”, and will give you a lower figure. Know that it is fairly standard to charge not just for the party or gig, but the length of time it takes to get you there- think twice about accepting a gig that is far from your home base, unless you know it will be worth your time. And know that pretty much anywhere in the world, the “going rate” for New Years is triple whatever you would regularly charge.

If you can’t get directions from the host, call the venue. If you can’t get in touch with the venue, look up the address and driving directions on the internet or via your GPS or on your phone.

Get both a cell-phone number as well as the number of the venue itself.

At least a week before the show, as well as the day before.

These days, PayPal makes this part so much easier. Set up a PayPal account if you don’t have one already.

Any decent people in this day and age will perfectly understand the concept of personal safety. If you are going into a stranger's house to perform, do not go alone, no matter who hired you...because you just never know what might happen! if anyone asks who the guy with is, tell them it is your "driver". However, it is totally inappropriate for you to be hanging all over your driver ! Be professional!

That's it, that's all. Don't even question yourself- trust your instincts!

Arrive fully made up, and if it’s a private gig with no dressing room, arrive fully costumed with a cover-up.

This could be anything from a locked dressing room or office, to a cubby-hole behind the bar or a concierge desk at a hotel or banquet hall. Even if you have to change in the Ladies Room ( and this is a common “dressing room” , believe me) ...or have your "driver" watch them while you perform.

... leave your personal things- purse, costumes, etc. unattended!

No hanging around, you are an entertainer, not a guest.

... but firmly refuse anything you do not want to do…like perform a second time for free!

Need I say more?

Food for thought: If you act like a professional dancer, you will be treated like one!

Friday, May 18, 2012


Before I started belly dancing I was a confirmed rock ‘n’roll chick. For years, I went out to clubs almost every night to listen to live music, rockin’ torn up fishnets and leather jackets. My record collection was huge, and I enjoyed music of all genres… as long as the songs I was listening to had “that certain something”.

Shortly after I became obsessed with belly dancing- and had been listening to Middle Eastern and North African music non-stop- I began to make a connection and realized that many of my favorite western pop songs all had something in common.

The certain something they all had was that many of them featured some sort of Arabic influence, whether in the time signatures, minor-keyed chord progressions, subject matter in the title or lyrics, or the use of certain sounds, like the sustained drones in The Velvet Underground’s “Venus In Furs”. I loved The Stones in their Moroccan period, U2’s “Mysterious Ways" not only had an amazing riff but they also featured a belly dancer in the video for the song, and I couldn’t get enough of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”.

Later in my career, bringing this all to full circle, I performed twice for The Rolling Stones, and appeared belly dancing in the 2002 music video for "Addicitive" by R&B Truth Hurts, featuring Bollywood samples and guest starring Rakim.

You can see me belly dancing towards the end of the video here:

Thinking about all of this the other night, I compiled a list of these unique songs just for fun, off the top of my head. Aside from the absolutely obvious, such as Sting's "Desert Rose" featuring Cheb Mami, lots of Shakira's work or pretty much anything by Natacha Atlas, quite a lot of songs made my impromptu list.

All of these western tunes-of all genres- feature a Middle Eastern sound, some sort of lyrical reference to Middle Eastern-influenced fantasies, or use Arabic or Indian musical samples.

Here’s what I came up with:

PAINT IT BLACK The Rolling Stones


FATHER FIGURE George Michael

VENUS IN FURS The Velvet Underground

KASHMIR Led Zeppelin

HAREM SCAREM Elvis Presley







ARAB MONEY Busta Rhymes



ISAAC Madonna


ALI BABA Linval Thompson

WHITE RABBIT The Jefferson Airplane

BUTTONS The Pussycat Dolls



TOXIC Britney Spears


ON THE NILE Egyptian Lover

CITIES IN DUST Siouxsie & The Banshees



GALVANIZE The Chemical Brothers

LAYLA Eric Clapton


Can you think of any more songs like this?


Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Monday’s Child is fair of face, Tuesday’s Child is full of grace…

Since this is a Tuesday, let’s talk about how graceful you are as a performer- and I’m not referring to how well you move onstage, I’m talking about how you comport yourself.

Part of the Webster’s Dictionary definition of grace includes this phrase: "An easy elegance of manners".

In addition to showing up on time for your gigs, being quiet in the dressing room or in the audience while others are on stage, getting your promotional material, photos and music in to a producer by the deadline for which they’re needed, there is one thing many performers either forget, or do not know…and that’s how to gracefully- and graciously -accept a compliment!

What happens when you get complimented on a performance? How do you handle it?

Someone- your teacher, a friend, the star of the show, or a random stranger seeks you out after your performance, and tells you how much they enjoyed it…what do you do, how do you react?

If you are like many people, the compliment falls on deaf ears- YOURS!

The moment that someone tells you they liked something about your show, whether it’s your technique, stage presence, costume- all of that or anything else- is not the time to unleash your insecurities and point out how many things you did wrong.

If an audience member takes the time to seek you out and compliment you, you can bet it’s sincere! Why would they do it otherwise?

They obviously didn’t notice-or care- that you:

Missed sixteen counts of choreography at the end of the second chorus

Tripped as you entered

Didn’t hold a pose long enough

Slid on your veil

Had dry mouth the whole time you were dancing

Couldn’t get that damn glove off on time

Forgot that same part you always do in every rehearsal

Got your earring stuck on a strap

Sneezed when you’re turned your back

Borrowed your costume and it didn’t feel right

Felt so nervous you were hyperventilating before you went on

(Fill In The Blank with your own unique mishap)

And they certainly don’t need to know any of this either! This is for you and you alone to know, and for you to to work on and perfect in the future.

When someone pays you a compliment on your performance, simply smile warmly and thank them… even if you think that you weren’t working to the best of your abilities, or that your entire show sucked!

Evidently, that individual enjoyed your performance or it moved them somehow, otherwise they wouldn't have bothered to take the time to tell you. And since they are being enthusiastic about letting you know this, don’t make them feel like an idiot for saying they liked your show!

So even if you don’t think you had a particularly good show, the professional thing to do when complimented by an audience member is to accept it- graciously. If you don’t agree with the compliment, then just consider this moment a part of your performance!

Otherwise, you are basically telling the person who complimented you that they have horrible taste…and how rude is that?

Sunday, May 13, 2012


Key Words are the words or phrases people type into search engines that direct them to various websites. Aside from the obvious (“belly dance”, “showgirl”, “costumes”, “stage make up” etc.) I always get a kick at the random and often completely deranged and ridiculous things people search for… which somehow directs them to my blog!

Here’s the best of the latest crop of keyword searches, all exactly as they appear in my blog stats. Enjoy!












….And an honorable mention “OCD” Over-Achievement , Over- The Top Award goes to the insane individual who typed in FORTY SIX searches , in one day, during a period spanning about three hours looking for:


….and not only that, this isn’t the first time this same person has searched for that! Seriously, dude… get a grip!

Photo: Zoe Jakes ( sans boyfriend) by Sequoia Emmanuel

Thursday, May 10, 2012


All dancers are concerned with their overall technique and stage presence, and aside from that, many are also obsessed with their age, weight and looks. For professional dancers, this is normal. Older dancers are often worried about “aging out” of their youth-oriented profession, and physical appearance is an obsession with even young, slim and gorgeous dancers. But in the dance community as a whole, any sort of injury or physical limitation is really the big elephant in the room. Everyone knows it is there, but nobody really addresses it since dance is not just an art, but a physical activity.

Essentially, dancers are athletes… but unlike other professional athletes, most dancers do not have a large commercial enterprise behind them, and therefore, do not have the advantage of having a team of highly trained healthcare professionals at their disposal. keeping them healthy, functional and pain free.

Dancers in general have a higher than usual tolerance for pain- ask any dancer about this and they will tell you that repetitive stress injuries or routine complaints like strained muscles, sprains, tendonitis, shin splints and the like have not kept them sidelined. The show, after all, must go on!

Because this profession has such a short life span compared to other artistic disciplines, and because dancing professionally- in any genre- is so competitive, there are some pro dancers who work while seriously injured, rather than admitting their infirmity openly and facing the very real possibility that if their health issues became general knowledge, they might lose their livelihood. For other performers, the need to dance is so unbelievable strong that in spite of chronic pain or any sort of ailments, they need to dance to stay sane.

This article is the first in a series I’m doing on about dancers working through physical limitations. It is my hope that these articles will help other dancers -or civilians- that may be going through similar experiences.The focus of this article is on professional dancers with Fibromyalgia.

For those unfamiliar with this disease, Fibromyalgia affects millions of people, with the overwhelming majority being women. Doctors are still confounded by this complex and multi-symptomatic malady, and often it is extremely difficult to diagnose. It often manifests suddenly after a physical trauma such as a car accident, surgery, or major illness, but in other cases, the symptoms gradually accumulate over time with no single event triggering the onset.

The most obvious hallmarks of this “invisible” disease (sufferers often appear to be completely healthy) are chronic widespread musculo- skeletal pain and debilitating fatigue due to disordered sleep. Research suggests that Fibromyalgia causes this pervasive pain, hyper-sensitivity little or no sleep because the way that the neurotransmitters which processes pain signals in the brain has gone, for lack of a better word, haywire.

Many FM sufferers also have at least some of the following: tension headaches and migraines, TMJ (jaw and facial tenderness) sensitivity to sound and light, irritable bowel syndrome, sleep apnea, systemic candidaisis, cognitive and memory problems, numbness and tingling in extremities, digestive problems and nausea, endometriosis and painful periods. There’s also a whole boatload of other really fun symptoms, too.

Not surprisingly, anxiety and depression are common in Fibromyalgics… but who wouldn’t have either of those after suffering with the all the rest of those symptoms?

May 12, 2012 is Fibromyalgia Awareness Day…. and it also happens to be World Belly Dance Day. Because of this crazy coincidence, I decided it was time to come out of the closet: I have Fibromyalgia.

I was diagnosed in 2010, a year and change after I sustained a severe whiplash and multiple herniated discs in my spine from an auto accident. An SUV plowed into my car when I was at a full stop, and the impact on my vehicle was so intense that my glasses flew off my head and two cases of liter-sized water bottles literally jumped off the back seat. I actually thought there had been an explosion in the nearby high rise building!

Aside from being sore all over, my neck and back were way beyond being “ all jacked up” and I began having constant headaches that were so intense that they made me vomit. I began treatment immediately, from a conventional doctor and a chiropractor, went through MRI’s, X-Rays, two courses of physical therapy, and had regular massages and acupuncture. There was a bit of improvement initially, and then my recovery hit a plateau. Still in pain at a time when most people are judged to be recovered, I eventually got the go-ahead to get back to my dancing from both my doctors.

Nine months later, I was exhausted all the time, and still in constant pain, but it had somehow morphed into worse pain than I had ever experienced from any previous injury, or from the car accident itself. At first I attributed this malaise to my hectic performing and teaching schedule and jet lag. I thought I was being a baby and I reminded myself regretfully that I was no longer twenty…. or even thirty five!

Pretty soon it became clear that something was definitely wrong with me, but I couldn’t figure out what. Every day I felt like I was ninety years old, stiff and sore; I had pain when I hadn't even worked or exerted myself, and sometimes I actually couldn’t access my usually very extensive vocabulary! Though it had always been extremely easy to convince myself that I actually needed another costume, I was having a really hard time convincing myself that “old age” had seemed to come on so alarmingly quickly and thoroughly. When my hair started coming out in clumps, I began to get really freaked out. So on a mid-summer break in my schedule, I went to my general practitioner to see what the hell was up.

“ I feel like total crap all the time…. I can’t sleep, everything hurts. and now my hair is shedding … Test it all!” I barked to the doctor,

“Is it my thyroid, am I anemic, is it lupus, adrenal burnout, hypoglycemia, mononucleosis, diabetes, tuberculosis , a vitamin deficiency, am I in menopause? ”

Nothing is wrong with you, the doc said. Apparently, I was as healthy as the proverbial horse, and he added that I was not only absolutely fine, but also in great shape! How can you dispute a barrage of medical tests that prove you're "normal"? I decided to tough it out, suck it up and manage as best as I could.

Six months later, on a holiday break from dancing, I was still feeling like ten pounds of shit in a five pound sack, and in order to avoid getting addicted to painkillers, had been taking so much aspirin and ibuprophen- just to function- that my mouth now had an odd, toxic, metallic taste. I stopped the drugs immediately, and then actually went through withdrawal symptoms! The last straw was the day I woke up feeling like someone had clubbed my elbows with a baseball bat, they were swollen and hot, and hurt like hell. My hands were numb, I could barely move my arms, and it was difficult picking up my purse, let alone driving to the doctor’s office.

This time, after more blood tests, examining my arms, and poking me in my chest, back, and legs, the doctor told me he believed I had Fibromyalgia, and sent me directly to a rheumatologist.


I began doing research to find out as much as I could. Everything I read on the subject described exactly what I was going through. Some people close to me mentioned that maybe I should start considering a different career, that maybe this was a sign I should quit dancing. I was really scared, but vowed that this disease wouldn’t get the best of me. There was no way in hell I was going to stop dancing!

The standard advice for Fibro patients seemed to be eat healthy, and try getting a lot of sleep and even a just a little exercise. Since I was already eating clean, taking supplements, resting as much as I could and dancing for hours a day, I was kind of disgusted, and deciding I needed some firsthand advice, I joined some online support groups to see what other people with FM had to say.

While I was relieved to know I wasn’t aging prematurely, and that there was actually a valid reason for my body aches and exhaustion, I was absolutely horrified at what I saw in the chat rooms! The people in the forums were in such severe pain that they couldn’t get out of bed in the morning; some had lost their jobs, some were having a hard time taking care of their kids or even doing every day tasks like laundry or shopping…many seemed to have simply given up hope. I got scared.

Knowing that everyone has different experiences of pain and that no two bodies are the same, with some trepidation, I posted on the forums asking if anyone there was a professional dancer or athlete. Crickets. I posted again, and again, and still nothing. It was unbelievable. I got even more scared at that point. Was this what I had to look forward to?

I didn’t want to become a hopeless case like many of the support group people, and I certainly wasn’t going to let on to anyone in the dance community that I was not “just” injured, but diagnosed with an incurable disease!

Isolated and alone, I was definitely starting to see really quickly how depression could play into all of this…until I found Jolie Roberson, Saahira Ruhi and Kamala Almanzar. These strong, talented and amazing women are all professional belly dancers, and have all had Fibromyalgia for years. They all teach multiple classes, and/or are dance studio owners, and they travel for workshops. Uniformly, they’re a perfect example of the old adage “Where there’s a will there’s a way” and they all prove without a doubt that anything is possible.

I hope their stories are as inspiring to you as they are to me!

Jolie was my sole lifeline at first- the only other dancer I’d heard of who had FM. A mutual friend told me to call her, and when I did, out of the blue, she graciously stayed on the phone with me for over an hour, patiently answering all my questions, listening to me venting my frustrations and fears, and helping me become acclimated as a terrified FM newbie. Since then, we have become friends.

A lifelong, classically trained dancer, Jolie Roberson is absolutely gorgeous- lithe and supple, with huge aquamarine eyes. Eight years ago she began performing Tribal Fusion, which she teaches in Tucson, Arizona, where The Skirt Full Of Fire dance studio she owns –and her dance company of the same name- are based. Aside from all this, she also does graphics and is professional make up artist and hair stylist, working at weddings, parties and photo shoots.

Jolie’s belly dancing is lyrical, athletic and precise, infused with everything from ballet to hip hop, and done with impeccable execution… to look at her on stage, you would never imagine that she was hurting. See her in action at Levant Al Sonora’s big belly dance event Desert Shakedown, November 10, 2012, in Tucson.

Twelve years ago, as a teenager, Jolie was in a car accident. Shortly after, she was diagnosed with FM, and her life was irrevocably changed.

“I felt hopeless,” she says, “ As a dancer, you are accustomed to all sorts of physical issues, but the pain I felt with the Fibro was so intense and constant, it was hard to hear that there was nothing I could do to fix it. For the first year of my Fibromyalgia, I was, essentially, bed-ridden. I was on muscle relaxers, pain meds, anti-anxiety meds, and was treated with local anesthetics and electroshock therapy as well as physical therapy.”

Tongue in cheek, she confesses to having an imaginary dance teacher in the back of her mind, someone who is waiting to smack her with a yard stick if she doesn’t do everything to the best of her ability.

“It got to a point where the treatment was worse than just accepting the illness”, she says,

“ So I removed myself from all of it and started dancing and doing yoga again. I would say that my pain is at the same level as when I first was diagnosed, but that my capacity to understand, accept, and move with it has grown enormously.”

Jolie describes her pain as feeling as though she’s constantly recovering from a vigorous workout, with extremely sore muscles in the back, hips and legs. She likens some of the sensations to arthritis, with joints that are inflamed and stiff. And when her symptoms flare, she experiences what is known as “Fibro fog”:

“When my pain levels are really bad, I have a hard time recalling words and keeping up with conversation.”

A self-described Type A personality, and, as she puts it “stubborn as hell” Jolie is also a fighter:

“I’m not all about letting something beat me and that’s what is keeping me motivated past my pain. Find what makes you happy, find what gives you fire and energy and do it. That’s what will keep you moving. I create each and every day, take classes, exercise, and do things that make me happy. Even if you only have an hour to give yourself, do something that makes you happy and do away with unnecessary things that cause you stress. Remember that your stress levels affect your symptoms."

She continues,

Just don’t stop. Ever. Don’t let it win. We all have obstacles in this life, but it’s how you choose to face them that will determine where you go. Find your passion and follow it, no matter what. Remember that you aren’t alone in this and reach out for support when you need it. “

Jolie’s website:

Kamala Almanzar from Alta Dena, California is a performer, choreographer and teacher, with many weekly classes in the Los Angeles area. A devoted wife and mom, she often accompanies her daughter to gymnastic meets, as well as traveling to teach belly dance workshops, most recently, last week at Floralia in New Mexico.

An exquisite Egyptian style dancer, her elegant dancing shows the influence of Mahmoud Reda, but her sassy personality, unique fusion movements and quirky sense of humor show through as well. Many of her students have become champions, and she has also mentored many professional dancers, including me- I consider Kamala one of my “dance moms”.

When I heard last year that she had Fibromyalgia, I was shocked. Having known her since I was a baby dancer, I never would have guessed that someone who was as vital and on the go as she was had anything even remotely like that going on. A popular club dancer since the American Golden Age of cabaret dancing in the 1970’s and 1980’s, she also appeared on many television shows during that time, and frequently writes about that time period for online belly dance magazine During the ‘90’s, Kamala appeared regularly at restaurants and was co-director of Flowers Of The Desert Arabian dance Company, who gigged relentlessly.

Today, Kamala shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. In addition to her teaching, she sponsors several well-known dancers in workshops (upcoming events feature Aleya of Cairo and Sahra Saeeda) and she is furiously at work on the second show in her “Choreographers Collective “ series, which will take place August 11 & 12, 2012.

Kamala was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in the late 1980’s, so she has had it most of her career.

“At the time I was diagnosed, there was really not much information about it, so I was just happy there was a name for all the aches & pains!” Kamala says,

“I didn’t realize it could be very debilitating for many people. I have been pretty fortunate, because for a long time I have had minimal pain… I’m knocking on wood…One issue I have often, though, is costochondritis, which is an inflammation in the rib cage area. I now avoid stressful upper body movements…. So rib cage circles and pop locks have gotten cut- but I’ve never had it stop me from dancing!”

Like Jolie, Kamala is also quite driven, and believes that dancing has not only helped her deal with the disease, but is her raison d’etre.

“ I actually think it’s a mind thing - because I have no choice - I have to dance! And nothing will stop me, so it’s not an option I will consider. And I find I do feel better after dancing. I hear of people who can barely function… and here I am dancing all the time. Now, when I’m teaching I stress using the abdominal muscles & glutes to generate the movement and strengthen the core.”

Her advice to anyone- but especially dancers- with chronic pain:

“ As the mother of a gymnast, I can be a real tiger mom when it comes to getting the most out of doctors - so I say be aggressive getting the appointments and answers you need from doctors. You can still dance and have a full life and have manageable pain. Don’t let anything stop you!”

Kamala’s Website:

Saahira Ruhi and I first met at a belly dance workshop I was teaching a couple of years ago. It was, as they say in the movies a “cute meet”… at least when you put Fibromyalgia into the mix. She nonchalantly pulled out some hot pink athletic tape out of her dance bag, and it caught my eye immediately! At the time, I had no idea that I had Fibromyalgia, and of course, it didn’t come up in our conversation that she had it, either… but it figures that a belly dancer who was in chronic pain would find the coolest athletic injury “accessory” around, right?

Her graceful, traditional belly dancing and her ironic sense of humor initially struck me. I later found out that we shared a passion for rock ‘n’roll, and also that she was a single mom for years… and that twenty years after she gave birth to her first daughter… she had her second! And of course, when I found out that she had Fibromyalgia, we bonded heavily over that.

Saahira’s eyes are kind and welcoming and she most definitely has a Goddess vibe around her- she is one of the most spiritual, gracious individuals I have ever met. She is the creator of the collective Women Creating Peace, and she recently opened her own studio, Body Temple-Life Arts Center in Riverside, California. Along with belly dance classes, the Body Temple features other forms of movement and spirituality, including Tai Chi, workshops in psychic development, drumming classes for adults and kids, henna, Reiki and much more.

Though Saahira studied ballet as a child, she never dreamed she’d have a career in dance that spanned over two decades. Twenty-three years ago, at the age of twenty-six, she was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.

“I felt emotionally crushed and hopeless,” she says,

“ I just worked, parented, and sat in my recliner waiting for bedtime. I had stopped doing everything that gave me pleasure because it all hurt too much. It was a pretty sad time for me. I thought about dying a lot. I wanted to know what I was being punished for.”

Saahira’s pain was always relentless. She says that she has maybe three days a year when she wakes up feeling refreshed and pain-free, and considers those days to be holy. Her body constantly has an achy flu-like feeling, her joints become inflamed after any sort of physical activity, and she has a lot of trouble falling-and staying-asleep. She struggled with depression. Irritable bowel syndrome, and an inflamed chest wall that lead to pneumonia.

But three years after her diagnosis, Saahira’s life turned around.

“ I saw this older, heavier woman belly dancing at an event and fell in love with the dance. I saw her take the stage and then transform thru the dance. I began studying with her and drove into Orange County every Thursday night for class for years. At first it hurt so much...but then the pleasure to pain ratio went in my favor. I lived for those Thursday night classes. I began performing and my self-image changed form being ‘handicapped’ to being a beautiful, exotic dancers. I started sleeping better and felt better in general. My dark mood lifted and I’ve been dancing every since.”

Though dancing may not have healed her pain, it has healed her emotionally, and she often ruminates on dancing with deep gratitude.

“ I’ve had Fibro for over half of my life now, arthritis of my neck and spine, and several injuries… and all I can say is never give up on your dreams! When it hurts too much to dance in my body, I dance in my heart. Do what you can. Even if it means sitting in your recliner for the day and doing wrist circles. Notice how graceful your hands appear. Look at all you can communicate thru those hands of yours. Remember and connect with all the wonderful things our women ancestors hands have done throughout the ages. You have this power. Create your own reality and dance!”

Saahira Ruhi’s website:

Saahira’s blog:


If you have Fibromyalgia, suspect you may have it, or have a loved one who does, here are some resources:



Photos, clockwise; Kamala Almanzar, Jolie Roberson, Saahira Ruhi