Motherhood & Bellydance Balance
May 11, 2023
When I first decided I was going to learn how to bellydance, I knew it was going to become a passion and obsession. It was back in 2001. I was a professional musician and music teacher. I taught children how to play musical instruments in an elementary school, and after school I taught private music lessons while attending graduate school for music education. I was assistant conductor for Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York, which is an elite program for gifted and talented young musicians. I was focused, made awesome money, had full medical and dental insurance, and since I was a teacher, I had summers completely off. I had wonderful relationships with the parents of my students, the kids were all genuinely interested in learning how to play their instruments and I had full support of the administrators in my organizations.
Although I had it “all together” according to societal standards, inside I felt like there was more I needed to do. I didn’t feel that teaching was creative in the way I uniquely needed to express my personal individual creativity. I was based within the confined structures of mainstream society. I remember talking to another teacher in the parking lot after school and saying, “I always dreamed of being a dancer.” Well, this conversation echoed on in me for several years. After taking a few years of bellydance lessons and performing in various showcases and weekend gigs, I eventually made a bold and courageous decision to leave the security of teaching future generations of musicians to pursue the adventure of becoming a professional bellydancer. It sounds wild, but it was the only way I can see me living a life where I felt completely free to be inspired as an artist and creative.
I gave the school district until the end of the school year of 2009 for my resignation. I completed the school year and although I felt sad to say goodbye to the students and their families, I was happy because I was finally free to explore my creative side. With this newfound freedom, I also felt overly tired for some reason. Eventually I noticed some changes in my body and realized that I never got my period. I took a pregnancy test and it came out positive! I was pregnant with my first child, pretty much the exact second the school year ended. It was ironic and humorous, but I knew that it was perfect. I understood this was the real reason I resigned when I did, and this is when the journey of bellydance life / mom life truly began.
Today, as I write these words, my son is a 13 year old teenager. We have officially moved through the various stages of childhood - from infant, to toddler, to pre-school, elementary school and now adolescence. I developed and expanded my career as a professional bellydancer and performer while experiencing the various responsibilities of motherhood. The balance I needed to find was never easy, because I was so passionate about dance and at the same time I wanted to be fully present for each stage my son was in. I had to allow my own process as an artist to unfold, and I am completely honest when I say that I fought hard to keep my art and passion alive. My family never understood the drive I felt for bellydance. There were a lot of tears and frustration on my end, but I stood strong and held my ground. It took YEARS (maybe about 10 years) for them to “get it” and understand and respect my passion. I am living proof that consistency, dedication and determination is the path to success.
Maybe my parents didn’t 100% agree with me being a bellydancer, but they 10000000% love my son. They were always very welcoming to him spending time at their house when I had my performances on the weekends. This created a very strong bond with my son and his grandparents. To this day he loves spending time there and asks me to bring him to his grandparents house to sleep over at least one night every week. His grandmother loves to cook for him and he enjoys spending time with his grandfather. Perhaps if I didn’t have the opportunity to leave him when he was a baby to spend the night, he wouldn’t be as close to them as he is now. The relationship my son has with his grandparents is formative in his character development and I would never trade that for anything.
At the core of it, discernment is a primary skill and an evolving element in my decision making. I did not and still to this day do not have the availability to accept every single opportunity that knocks on my door. I needed to learn to set limits to what I can accept and what I need to turn down. For me, what worked in my schedule was only performances on weekends, with limited Sundays. My mom was available on the weekends and the work was more abundant on those days, so I automatically knew that weekday gigs would not work in my schedule. When I got the calls for weekday bellydance performances, it was not always easy to turn down performances, because I am passionate about bringing the music to life through dance. I had to teach myself that it’s OK to say no and to accept the limitations of my schedule.
Discernment and judgements shift over time depending on a multitude of factors. The opportunities I get now are not the same opportunities I got when I was at the beginning of my bellydance career. For instance, traveling for special events, bellydance festivals, master workshops / classes and destination weddings are opportunities that I never got at the beginning of my career. Guidelines and qualifications for whether or not I accept the opportunity for travel had to be thought out and revamped. For instance, destination weddings and high profile events are wonderful travel opportunities. Logistically, this means that most of the time, it is one day to travel there, the second day of the event, and the third day to travel home. That means I am out of the house for 3 days in which my son’s schedule needs to be coordinated (school, tae-kwon doe, homework…). I lean as much as I can on my family for the support so that I can attend the event - but only if it’s worth it. I have to always be discerning and take everything into consideration. I ask myself some key questions, “Is this a place I want to go to? What type of event is this? How much will I be compensated? What accommodations will I be given?”
Bellydance festivals, specialized master workshops, and dance training is fundamental in making sure I am staying fresh and ever evolving. I’ve been traveling to Egypt at least once a year for my pilgrimage to the motherland to attend the “Jewel of the Nile” Bellydance Festival. This trip usually lasts about two weeks because I combine it with touring the country. Since it is such an extended period of time, I cannot attend other bellydance festivals (for the most part) so that I don’t overstretch my support system.
If you know me, you know I am a devotee of my dance mentor, Mr. Yousry Sharif. He teaches around the globe and when he’s not traveling, he is teaching in New York City. His classes are completely enriching for technique, musicality and choreography among countless other factors. During the weeks he holds his New York City bellydance classes, I am even more disciplined and focused to complete all my other responsibilities so that everyone has their needs met - including myself! I talk to my mom, my husband and my son with very clear communication to organize things to allow me to attend at the very least 3 out of 5 classes Yousry Sharif classes per week.
Recently, I got myself into a bit of an inconvenience. Before I began working at Beirut Restaurant every Friday and Saturday for my 11:15pm bellydance show, I was offered a destination wedding in a different state. I originally was planning on spending the night in the wedding area, but I decided that the time was spaced out enough for me to do the wedding and then drive to Beirut. What I didn’t factor in was the torrential rainstorm and the late start to the wedding. It was very stressful to drive in that weather under pressure. Thankfully everything worked out and I delivered a beautiful show at Beirut, but the cost was anxiety and stress. Now that I’m exclusive at Beirut I know that I cannot accept any situations that will risk my punctuality (granted that I accepted that wedding opportunity before my residency at Beirut began, but lesson learned nonetheless).
The journey of bellydance has taught me so much about balance! I’ve gotten over some major hurdles with my loved ones and have reached a place where I have the full support to further my education by consistently taking classes with my mentor and traveling to Egypt to study. It took years and lots of tears for everyone to understand how much I love this art and how positive it is for my spirit to dance freely and explore the music and perform at beautiful weddings and upscale Arabic nightclubs, such as Beirut Restaurant . I understand that discernment is ever evolving, especially as my opportunities are expanded with movie roles and video shoots (click to see latest video shoot with Sal Mamudoski) . I LOVE being a mom to my son and he deserves a happy mom who loves her career as well.