The Laws Of Belly Dancing
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. In a few minutes, we'll go behind closed doors to talk about the growth of fraternities for Asian-American students. And we'll talk about the increase in hazing complaints that's gone along with that growth. That's in just a few minutes.
But first, we're opening up the pages of the Washington Post Magazine, something we do just about every week to find interesting stories about the way we live now. This week, two articles caught our attention. We start with the story of Rachel Galoob Ortega. For years, she made a six-figure salary as an attorney, but if you want to know Rachel's real passion now, you have to meet Saphira.
That's the name she goes by as a teacher and performer of belly dancing. Her journey from the courtroom to the dance floor is featured in this week's Post magazine. And Saphira is here with me now in our Washington studio. Welcome.
Ms. RACHEL GALOOB ORTEGA (Belly Dancing Teacher and Performer): Thank you so much for having me, Michel. I'm thrilled to be here.
MARTIN: Well, I have to say, your look is somewhere between Saphira and Attorney Ortega because you've got this fabulous kind of orange, but there are no spangles. I'm a little disappointed there are no spangles. So what drew you to belly dancing, and is that the right term? I often wondered about that. Is that one of those just made-up terms that we use here? Is there actually another phrase for it, or is that really what it's called?
Ms. ORTEGA: Actually, the formal term is raqs sharqi, which in Arabic means dance of the East. And the belly dance came from a promoter of the world's fair, who brought over Moroccan women who had her dancing and called it danse du ventre.
MARTIN: Wow. So, what drew you to it?
Ms. ORTEGA: You know, I had always danced, and I met a wonderful friend during law school who had completed her undergraduate in Cairo. And she started showing me the music and the movements, and I absolutely fell in love with it at first sight. And it was so delicious on my body, which was not kind of your on the slighter side. And so it really felt natural and very beckoning.
MARTIN: A lot of people do this as a hobby. What made you decide to leave your law career behind to start a school?
Ms. ORTEGA: You know, when I began really studying it intensely and started studying it with a masters in Egypt and throughout the U.S., I really began to see what was available there, not just from an artistic point of view, but a physiological and a psychological point of view for women. And that was very satisfying to me as a teacher and a dancer, and exciting to me as a future opportunity.
MARTIN: Now, your school now has nine instructors; it has hundreds of students every week. What do you think draws women to your studio? Do you think that they're looking for the same thing that you were?
Ms. ORTEGA: I think they come looking for different things, and some of them come out of curiosity. I think what's most interesting is that when they come, they find something a bit unexpected.
MARTIN: Like what?
Ms. ORTEGA: Well, I think a lot of women are not used to developing a relationship with their body in this way. I mean, it really does celebrate the fact that as women, we have what I call residual, which is your instrument and your shimmy. And suddenly you're working with your body in a very rhythmic and musical and comforting way. When in society, we really sometimes - society we always, in the U.S., at least don't value that aspect of our femininity.
MARTIN: Are there people who come thinking it's something other than what it is? That it's some sort of, like, exotic dancing for - to use that euphemism, as opposed to an art form that dates back centuries?
Ms. ORTEGA: Certainly, a lot of women come in with kind of conceptions that it's, kind of has a sexual connotation. But after they meet me and work in the curriculum and the approach in the culture of the studio, they are both corrected and excited to find it in a whole different genre of movement and art.
MARTIN: And so there.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Your story is, in part, about risk. It's actually about leaving something that a lot of people understand what that is - as you're a lawyer, we get that - for something that's riskier but more meaningful to you, a passion. Now, a lot of people, I think, right now wish they could do that, but in this economy, I think a lot of people are feeling torn, perhaps frightened. I know you started your business in a very different era, but is there something you can say to people who have that desire that you had?
Ms. ORTEGA: You know, I definitely can speak on my own experience, and I'd say that when you're working in something that you love and that feels like it is your own calling, the amount of energy that you're willing to give it and dedicate to it is a completely different energy than you do in a day-to-day job.
And that really gives you both the momentum as well as the endurance to withstand a time like this economically, and also the tolerance to maybe not be as successful in the front end, because at the end of the day, you're incredibly satisfied and feeling like each day is lived fully.
MARTIN: And I do want to ask you, as a small-business owner, has your business been affected by what else is going on in the economy?
Ms. ORTEGA: Definitely. I mean, I have students who send me emails and indicate that they've lost their job, or their husband has. And we're really trying to work creatively to change the structure of payments, and also work in ways to help people be able to dance because it's such an important part of so many women's lives.
MARTIN: Oh, well, good luck to you. Rachel Galoob Ortega is also known as Saphira. She is the founder of the belly dancing school Saffron Dance in Clarendon, Virginia. Saphira's story is featured this week in the Washington Post Magazine in a piece written by Christina Ianzito. You can find the story in its entirety on our Web site. It's titled "An Advocate for the Shimmy." Just go to nrp.org, and click on TELL ME MORE. Saphira, thank you so much.
Ms. ORTEGA: Thank you so much, Michel.
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