When I began Bellydance classes in 2000, the interest in the dance form had not yet reached the groundswell of popularity that it enjoys today. I was living in Atlanta, Georgia at the time, and have since seen the area produce many excellent dancers, productions, and events. Though I had never had a face-to-face conversation with her, I was impressed by the mastery of one of Atlanta's most popular teachers and performers who goes by the name "Samora".
Though my own skills were still a bit beginner, we had both begun class around the same time at the Nazeem Allayl studios (owned by a local dancer named Schadia and her husband), when I saw Samora burgeoning in the competitive environment of Nazeem Allayl's professional troupe. Eventually Samora, who is a staff attorney for Gwinnett County and married with two children, began her own class structure, directed a performance troupe called the Amoraat Dance Ensemble, and in addition to appearing throughout the area at events, produced an annual "Student-Teacher Showcase" at Nicola's Lebanese Restaurant.
Samora stands out among the diverse group of Middle Eastern dancers that have arisen from Atlanta's rich pool of talent. Her movements flowing naturally to Oriental music, while she dances the first thing you might notice is her nutmeg skin, impeccable beaded cabaret costumes, and long black hair accessorized by large flowers ("I'm a girly-girl!", she jokes). Effortlessly, she makes the stage her own. While perusing her website Bellydance by Samora, I found that she had a multi-layered dance and life story: a full-time profession, family, and passion for the art. The road, however, was not sprinkled with sequins and glitter. The Bio section of her site addresses the issues of race and colorism that affect African American dancers: "a pervasive view of who is acceptable as a belly dancer in America has been very narrow, according to Samora."
In a later interview that I conducted by email with her, she hints sadly but with conviction that racial discrimination has affected her ability to secure dance work. In the commercial sense, Bellydance has its stereotypical image of which color and race do not comprise the only misconceptions. Making her a pioneer as well, this forward-thinking and unstoppable attitude contribute to Samora's success in dance and in her many other roles of leader, teacher, and entrepreneur.
After knowing of this and curious about how she keeps it all together, I used Facebook to reach out to Samora who graciously took time to provide these honest and personal responses to a series of questions on dancing and her personal experiences and philosophy:
1.) How long have you been belly dancing and where did you start?
I started belly dance classes back in 2000 and began dancing as part of a professional troupe and soloist in 2002. I started my studies under the tutelage of Schadia with the Nazeem Allayl Studios in Atlanta.
2.) When did you start performing and start your own school?
I started performing in 2002, at first with a troupe of other professional dancers, and then developed as a solo artist (while still doing troupe work). I danced with the troupe until late 2007. I started my own company in 2008.
3.) Have you been affected by stereotypes? Racial issues?
Unfortunately, I have been affected by stereotypes and racism in my belly dance career...most instances occurred when I first started my belly dance career- back then, dancers with dark skin tones were very, very sparse (in America). There have been instances where I have been turned down for restaurant gigs or private gigs because of my race- too many to count over the years. However, I will say that things have come a very long way- so much progress in regards to racial diversity in the art form now. For the most part, people are far more open to accepting belly dancers of color and the beauty that we bring to the art. It's really very great to see.
4.) How has bellydancing enhanced your own life? What can women in general, get out of it?
Bellydance has made me more confident for sure- more aware of my body. It has helped me maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. It has developed my ability to be creative and it has given me the chance to do what I love (I have been in love with dance ever since I was a little girl). It has given me refuge during tough times. It has afforded me tremendous opportunities. It has given me a forever sisterhood with women all around the world. That's a start. I could go on and on. When I think about it, belly dance has quite surely been one of the best things that life has allowed me to experience.
Belly dance has so many benefits- to the extent one benefits is a very individual experience. Generally speaking, belly dance improves flexibility, posture, balance, coordination, muscle strength, tone and overall health. It reaches and reinforces body awareness. It has benefits related to preparing women for child birth. It has been known to assist those dealing with a host of physical ailments (recovering from surgeries/injuries, arthritis, the list goes on). It has social benefits- allowing those who take classes who may not otherwise have the opportunity to be around other people in social settings on a regular basis. It improves and promotes creativity, it builds confidence and stamina. It helps create or maintain positive self image. It improves overall emotional, psychological and physiological well-being. It stimulates the mind. Again, the list could go on.
5.) How do you balance a full-time career, family, and the bellydance business? What is your general mission for teaching and performing?
It is difficult to balance it all. But you just make time to do what you love. My family is first. There's no room for compromise there. Everything else just kinda works itself out. I have always been a creature of wearing lots of different hats- and a creature of hard work. I have been dancing longer than I have been practicing law (my full-time career) and before I was a wife and mother; so dance will always be a part of who I am. But I also love what I do during the day. I spent many years studying to become a lawyer- a goal I made when I was a very young girl. So, I definitely take my work seriously and I do it well. These days, I don't have as much free time as I used to- or as much as I would like- to devote to my dance career because I choose to spend time with my family and friends doing other things that I enjoy. I currently do not teach regular classes for this reason (started a hiatus about a year ago). I still perform regularly and attend dance conferences and workshops as I can. I also teach private individual and small group lessons.
My general mission for teaching is to always try to give to my students even just a little of what belly dance has brought to me. I tell my students not to compare themselves to other dancers. Be their own person, their own dancer. Take bits and pieces of what you learn and become your own artist. Above all, have fun! That's rule number one.