Never, in a million years, would I have ever predicted becoming a dancer; becoming a belly dancer had not even crossed my mind. I was actually inspired in Las Vegas at the Aladdin when I had my first encounter with belly dancers and drummers. I was in awe with their fluid snake-like movements, and just as enchanted with their sparkly costumes and rhythms they danced to. I was determined to find belly dance videos as soon as I returned to Phoenix, not knowing there were actual instructors there. So, I began my belly dance journey in August 2001. My first video was from Joynan of Colorado, who actually inspired me to begin dancing with double veils. I had the fortunate opportunity to take a workshop with her when she visited Mesa in 2002.
As a mother of two and still getting used to our recent move to Phoenix, belly dance was the perfect opportunity to get back into shape and meet new people. After being so used to male-dominant athletics, such as martial arts, belly dance was an enticing invitation to explore my feminine side. I was able to discover a whole new confidence that I did not have before, and there was a renewal in friendships with the women I met and danced with.
Eventually, I found my first belly dance instructor, Danah Stedman. Danah had a very upbeat personality and was very knowledgeable of the different styles of dance, though we mostly favored Egyptian styles. Danah had a lot of faith in me, already urging me to dance in my first show not six months later in the San Gennaro Festival. Though I had a few practices at Jitters, a coffee shop in Phoenix, I didn’t think I was ready for an outright performance. Lucky me, I had my first double veil solo, and I didn’t fall off the stage! My participation that day boosted my confidence to continue with the dance. I joined Danah’s Arizona Belly Dance Troupe, and we danced in festivals and private parties. That was the first year I went to Rakassah (which everyone should do at least once in their lives!). Danah also encouraged me to get more experience and training from master instructors, which I did very willingly, if not more so. I received advanced training from master instructors from all over the world such as Leila Haddad, Jillina, Aziza, Bert Belladine, Leyla Jouvana, Fahtiem, Suhaila Salimpour, Rachel Brice, Kami Liddle, and more. I learned so much, the training was sometimes too difficult to remember, even with intensive notes. My head seemed to spin from too much information!
Anyway, in May 2002, a co-dancer, Linda, decided to open up her own store, the Belly Dancer’s Boutique. She invited me to teach beginning belly dance. So within nine months, I was already taking a role most dancers did not have the opportunity to do for years. I may have had natural abilities, but I was still considered a “baby” in the belly dance community. I considered the opportunity a blessing, despite what others may have thought. I learned more thoroughly myself by teaching others than all the master instruction I ever had. Granted, I am very appreciative of all my teachers, as they are the roots and basis for which I stand on.
2002 was the same year I met Ava Fleming, as she also began teaching at Linda’s new store. I began a new path with Ava, joining her troupe, Black Opal Dance Company. She was also an Egyptian dancer, so I was able to refine my style as I continued my training. I also received specialized workshop training and classes with other local instructors, such as Yasmina, Katayna, and Melissa.
In 2003, belly dance was no longer my hobby, but my full-time job. I taught throughout the Valley for places such as Thunderbird American Graduate School of International Management, Naturally Women Fitness Centers, City of Peoria, the City of Glendale, and Gold’s Gym. My concern for safety encouraged me to obtain my ACE Personal Training and Group Fitness Instruction Certifications, so I could properly teach my students about muscle groups, safety, posture, and form.