Updated: Jan 14
Hey, Nawal here.... Most of you know me through my work as a "bellydancer" and an alternative scene woman who appears 'fierce' does what she wants, is brave and confident...... You are not wrong. There have been many circumstances that have led me to the life path I walk today........ I'm going to share with you a little story about being a woman of Egyptian heritage in the 2020 bellydance scene and my experiences with the INDUSTRY.
I go in to these blogs to give a deeper understanding of my motivations behind my programs and statements. The Art and Business of Bellydance is a different Journey for all of its practitioners. For me it is deeply rooted in my finding my way back to my culture and deep healing. As a woman who was shamed for simply existing as a woman, for me to stand here today as a "bellydancer" is a deeply powerful gesture in my own sovereignty that I believe people feel in my teaching and dancing.
My Orientalist Fantasy Sword Dancer photoshoot.....by Blue Butterfly Photography aug '20
I have mentioned In previous writing or blogs my Egyptian heritage...... which many people think...Egyptian... bellydancer ..... makes sense.....
it does and it doesn't .
What a lot of people do not know is I haven't spoken with my Egyptian Father for nearly 20 years, because of who I am as a person....
I even went to Egypt after tour in November 2019 and he couldn't see me....
Primarily because I am an alternative woman, I have earned an ' X' from my traditonal father. ' X' as in excommunicated, 'X' as in being disowned by your family...... for many years my siblings ( I'm the oldest of 7) were not even allowed to utter my name in the house..........
He had said many things which I accepted a normal such as : I will was my hands in your blood, or if you disobey, i'll break your legs....
Photo of My dad as a young Sailor in Egypt circa 1960's.... I guess this is where I get all my Pirate Swag.
I left home at the age of 16, the end of grade 11 and finished 12th grade on my own. By that time I had been accused by my own father of being a "whore", wanting to 'have sex in the dark room at school, and told that I had been seen at 'drug houses' during school hours......or lets not forget that if I asked to do anything extracurricular I would become pregnant...... . Horribly fantastical accusations thrown at me as a young woman. Accusations of wanting to get pregnant or be a whore when I wasn't even sexually active or wanting that. I got 'caught' wearing eyeliner, and plucking my eyebrows....You want your brow plucked? my dad said; Here... and he literally grabbed a chunk of my right eyebrow and ripped it out. It still doesn't grow back in that spot. I would powder it it in every single day...... and have a memory of being attacked.Thankfully I got microblading this summer.
In addition to the physical violence I suffered at the hands of an angry Egyptian father, there was uncountable insults, accusations and psychological abuse. ( THE ACCUSATIONS were making me INSANE)
So, at age 16 I couldn't take it anymore, living in flight or flight constantly...(still getting therapy for that) . I left home and finished high school, and worked to support myself, I finished 12th grade and enrolled for a BA at the local university..........
I was denied student loans to further my education as my father 'made too much money' and social workers didn't understand that when you get an X- from an Egyptian dad, you don't get any money either..... the support workers said I would need to present documents to prove my father wouldn't support me, and in classic Dad style, he refused to even sign those documents. Leaving me to figure it out on my own.
It was seen that a child who leaves home is doing so simply because they are rebellious or don't want to be subject to authority....... my reason was I truly didn't believe I would be alive much longer if I stayed, my dad's violence against me was getting more angry each time, and I feared him loosing hold of reality and having a violent outburst claim my life..... I am a survivor and knew I could not be ended that way. And so, I left my family at a young age. My siblings and I have talked a lot about this over the years as we all ended up leaving young because my fathers anger and violence, we call it " When we Fled" or had to 'flee'. Not so much the 'runaway', but more relational to refuge.
My Grandmother Fahimah centre and my Aunts (my father's sisters) Shadia (left) and Mona (Right)
I'm not telling you these thing to feel bad, just to create a little context of where I come from and what my first experiences being Egyptian meant. For me, all things being Egyptian were painful. Once I fled I did not want anything to do with arabs, or people in hijab or anything "islamic"- it was very triggering to me.
Bellydance had always been in the back of my mind as something...... that I wanted to explore, I had my Nawal-ness about me and my image was quite masculine. I rode motorcycles, sold weed, and was generally rugged.
I knew deep inside myself that I needed to feed the flame of getting deeper in this dance, I fully recognized the family's thought process.... she left home to be a whore, so, here she is being a professional whore.........
And so I wanted my learning to be substantial and and serious. When I was initially entranced with bellydance it was the "tribal fusion" style I was very interested in- women who I looked like were presenting bellydance in a different way.......and I related with it, and I liked that it had NOTHING to do with arabic music or culture. As I continued with my studies, I saw FCBD was the root of the "Tribal Fusion" style I was drawn to. Many of the hot dancers of the time also noted studying with Suhaila Salimpour..... She was super serious about bellydance, there wasn't any...."hire us for your birthday party" on their website... it was an actual bellydance school...... So, I went to the Bay to study many times over the past 10 years. and Since getting "certified" tribal, I have also quit teaching that style and focused primarily studying with Salimpour School.
In 2012 I was still quite the baby bellydancer, I had JUST started traveling to the bay in 2011, I saw a call for a bellydance competition that landed on the dates immediately after a Suhaila level 2 workshop, sp I applied and got accepted ! It was to take place in Palo Alto California. I was not ready for the Seriousness that all the participants had brought, This was deff not my vibe but I did meet a LOT of amazing woman that I still have in my network to this day!
Photo: MSW January 2020 Nawal the Bellydancer
At this competition I had a cute little lady run up and excitedly introduce herself as a fellow Canadian in this competition. Parler vous Français Aussie, she asked with a very English accent. Oui, I responded, mais je suis plus comfortable paler en Anglais. ( I would be more comfortable speaking English). wow, too many questions...and I was already quite stimulated being a maritimer in the Silicon Valley.
And then she asked, So, Nawal, Is that your REAL name??......
..ummmm, yes? I responded....
So, you're Arab? she asked quickly....
ugh, yeah, my dad's Egyptian, I said I muttered.....
And I'll never forget how she said this next sentence.... the shrillness of her as voice ascended on the yyyy sound....
Egyptian!! she gasped.....YOURE ....SOOOO.....LUCKYYYYYYYYYYY
Now I was truly confused. Lucky? I thought. What is she talking about?? I don't remember if anything else was even said, I think I just excused myself and went outside. I saw another fellow participant out having a smoke.
Can I have one of those, I asked...
She gave me one no problem.
I didn't even smoke.......
When the Term "cultural appropriation" started coming in to the collective consciousness shortly after that I would ask my peers, hey, is this an example of that........
(Was my Your so Lucky story a C/A story?) yesss, indeed.
To this woman being Egyptian was a GIFT! I was soo Lucky to be Egyptian....
And I have learned through alchemizing my pain that I am lucky to be Egyptian.
To me at that time, being Egyptian was humiliating and painful..... she had no idea of this for me. And she had no idea how further confused I was when she told me HER 'bellydance' stage name was : Hala Jamal..... this woman was not that name.... I didn't get it. Still don't in a way. I understand it was an era, but that time is done now. Some dancers are grandfathered in or have a name bestowed on them for their sheer reverence and dedication to the culture, honorary arabs in a way. ... remember I do not believe in absolutes, there are exceptions to every rule. (she was not an exception)
Recently (last 2 years) I saw a dancer from Montreal (so relatively near by in Canadian standards) who had begun following me on Instagram, Who's name was also Nawal ,I was like cool! I have only met one other Nawal and it was over the phone when I worked at a call centre. I sent her a message to say hey nice to meet you fellow Nawal and she responded back to me, Oh Nawal is just my name for the scene.....
I was shocked.....sort of.... Oh, I said, I didn't think people did that anymore.... and she never responded.
Fusion: Finger Cymbals in Rock Music.... bringing the Egyptian Flavour 2016 Messtival
Here's my initial Facebook post .... I have been withholding this writing for years now..... Guess 2020 was time ;)
I will always remember being asked by a bellydancer what my “Real “ name was.
Nawal is my real name. ......I said....
Wow, she responded...... you’re sooo luckyyyy!!!!💩
And I was like............. 😟🙀😳
This happened to me in 2012, I didn’t understand at the time that this is an example of cultural appropriation, which is why it made me feel so weirdly dirty at the time....
￼ during any cultural appropriation discussions that I’ve had this example has always come up..
I’ll be diving deeper into the story my next blog post..... 😉 ￼
Enjoy this video being shared currently with Egyptian ambassador Karim Nagi
I would like to mention that in 2016 Karim awarded me : Heritage ￼Scholar for his Arab dance at seminar that took place in Dearborn Michigan. ￼ It was that that time that I realized I did not actually know that many Arabs in belly dance generally. ￼ And that It would be important for me to stand up and take my place as an Egyptian dancer and a representative of what I wanted being Egyptian meant to me .......
Like Karim says here, if arabs don't claim the position for them selves then they cannot complain.... and I do feel this way also.
If you don’t take time to Revere and understand the culture, and do not dance to the music, do not take the mantle of representing a culture.
The reason a lot of Arabic families don’t produce belly dancers, is because that it’s shameful and looked down upon by many traditional families.
When an Arab woman becomes a Belly dancer it is often to the dismay of her family.
If you exercise the privilege to not have been disowned by your family because of your fun hobby￼￼￼￼
You better exercise your responsibility of learning the cultures.
In 2021 I will be launching a program called Recreational bellydance,
for fitness and yoga instructors to be able to share the geometry of this healing art form with their people without having to take on the mantle or pretend that they are belly dancers. ￼
The truth is most small communities don’t have the venues or the population for people to be professional belly dancers, and a lot of teachers and practitioners of this dance hang out in this amateur level all their lives but insist that they are semi pro.
I’ve thought long and hard on this topic as I believe in the healing benefits of dance, and I have spent my entire professional adult life becoming a professional in this art form... it is my life, and I take it seriously, as an artist, and as an Egyptian￼￼.
Stay tuned I have much to share on the subject.
Here's a photo of my Alchemizing Pain in to beauty Photo by Kate Tadic
￼￼￼If you have stayed with me until the end here THANKYOU
I will be launching my certification program this Winter along with many other personal development tools for us to all move forward more educated and united. Confident in our own legacy and gifts.
To be launched early in 2021 so we can get to there and educate and enjoy each other when this pandemic passes. xoxoxo
If you would like to support my Photography projects please do so here:
if you would like to take ONLINE classes with me check my Instagram for updates and get access to short tutorials and off the floor recorded classes
and my Instagram Nawal_Doucette