The day after a successful performance of Oriental Fantasy at Berlin’s Tempodrom in 1992, I was standing in line at a fruit stand. The place was full of customers and the line was rather long. Suddenly, a man in a loud voice said:
“You are that belly dancer, aren’t you? That guy who has been featured in the papers recently – that’s right, you are that belly dancer!”
All heads turned towards me and the expression on their faces seemed meant to make me ashamed of myself.
By then I had developed an aversion to the term “belly dance.” I prefer to call myself an oriental dancer – actually it’s classical term. But then I would have had to explain what oriental dance is and people would always ask, “is that belly dancing?”
It seemed impossible to get away from that name, the stereotypes and the pre-judgment as well as misconceptions about the dance. Fortunately, times have changed and with it the image of belly dance.
After another performance of Oriental Fantasy, in Brussels, in October of 2003, a man of Greek nationality told me that he had watched belly dancing since he was a child but that he had never seen a man perform it. He thought that in order for a man to be able to do what I did that night, he must be completely free of all taboos. That made me realize, looking back on my past, that life prepared and freed me from all inhibitions so that I am able to do what I do.
I was introduced to belly dancing by Magana Baptiste, wife of the great spiritual guru, Walt Baptiste. Both of them became my spiritual teachers and my inspiration, providing me with high moral values and spiritual guidance. It was a performance by Magana, doing a cane dance or raks el assaya that revealed the essence of dancing to me. After years in the world of professional ballet, being surrounded by perfect bodies with amazing technical abilities, it would actually be a woman over fifty who showed me what dance was really about. When Magana, a mother of three, performed at that studio show, I saw such grace, such beautiful energy and light coming from her eyes as she danced, that I was inspired to become an oriental dancer myself. It would be through her encouragement that I began lessons at her studio and in time followed more lessons with numerous other teachers.
It was her husband, Gurudev Walter Paul Baptiste, who brought spiritual light into my life. Meeting him was a turning point in my life. Until then I had followed an ardent spiritual quest, but it was Walt Baptiste who provided me with a method of spiritual discipline based on practical experience and not on blind belief – a philosophy based on knowing and not on speculating.
This is the story of my life since the earliest memories of my childhood. Everything that I tell is true, although some passages may seem fantastic. I tell all, from the darkest experiences to the most sublime moments: the excitement of discovering dance at an early age; my dangerous affair with drugs; the weird and sometimes even macabre life with my family; the wonderful way circumstances guided me to classical ballet and encountering belly dancing – which lead me to explore the complexity of Arab culture and the Muslim world.
My wife Beata tells me she finds it amazing that I wrote this book under the circumstances we have at our dance academy. I am not the typical author writing in a private cabana, finishing a book within six months. I have written this book in the midst of chaos, little ballet children screaming, telephones ringing, dogs barking and dance students asking all sorts of questions. It has taken me over a decade to complete. My anecdotes range from the normal to the outrageous. I share my highs and lows, my blissful spiritual awakening, dark depressions and the hardships of a late attempt to become a classical ballet dancer.
I was encouraged by Belyssa, an oriental dancer from Australia, to write this book, and started in 1998 to recall my experience of life and of dance. I sincerely hope to entertain you with my story and perhaps bring some insight into classical ballet and oriental dance at the same moment.