NEW Book “Behind the Curtain” by Joana Saahirah is arriving!

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Photo: Joana Saahirah performing with Mazzikatea orchestra in Slovenia, captured by the lens of Breda Jurecko.
Event organized by Ksenija Visket

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Ah…the anticipation…<3

I can´t wait to have my new book – “Behind the Curtain” -, a collaboration with the Slovenian Photographer Breda Jurecko, out there in the world.

This was an unexpected baby, one I´m deeply proud of. As usual, it comes out of my soul – no compromises, no shutting down, no faking. 

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Stay tuned for the NEWS on the upcoming BOOK LAUNCHING!

 

Join our FABULOUS Dance Community, claim your FREE Ebook “Egyptian Dance Wonderland” TODAY & start growing with us.

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Join our Joana Saahirah ´s Online Dance School Mailing List for access to exclusive contents, news, inspirations, and gifts I only share with my Dance Peeps.

Plus: as soon as you join our Mailing List, you can request your FREE ebook “Egyptian Dance Wonderland”, an introduction to a Magical World of Culture, Self-Discovery & Empowerment by Joana Saahirah.

*Email us at dancemagica@gmail.com

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What makes YOU happy? (I want to hear about it)

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One of my favourite things about the technological world we live in is how CONNECTED we can be with friends, random cool strangers, students and audiences from all over the world.

Joana Saahirah´s Online Dance School is a great example of how technology can bring us closer to each other and allow for an easier transmission of knowledge.

And, now, I – the technologically challenged girl who happens to love technology –  am reaching out to YOU to know

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WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY?

You can answer, with a text, a photography (high resolution images, please) or both, to my email (dancemagica@gmail.com). I´ll select a few answers to include in the book I´m currently working on: The Happiness Freak, my little book of Happiness.

If you wish to be a part of my research, and book, get your happiness juices flowing and send me your answer ASAP.

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The Trip

anniedillard3The more I work on my book(s) – projects I can only dedicate myself to during the rare breaks between work trips and daily dance commitments -, the more I fall in love with the craft.
I get into a silenced tunel, retreating behind the scenes for a lonely, yet transformative, adventure. I feel lost while doing it but I don´t mind. I´m used to getting lost.
If you´re not an adventurer, a seeker, someone who can get into a dark forest with no guarantee of coming out of it alive, or coming out of it at all, I don´t believe you can make it. Obsession also helps – I´d say it´s essential.
One the things that surprises me the most are the paths my unconscious opens while I´m writing. Characters come out of nowhere, asking to be seen; dialogues fall on my hands with no previous warning; situations, from a past I´ve long forgotten, revisit me so I can (finally) get over them.
I didn´t know writing a book could be therapy, self-discovery, expansion. I didn´t know my unconscious did most of the work – always presumed writing was a rational task. And I don´t know how to do it. But I keep moving forward, one word at a time, surprise after surprise, blessing upon blessing.

“She smiled back: two missing teeth and a few dark spots revealed by her open mouth. That´s what happens when you open yourself: the darkness, as the light, pops out. You´re exposed: BAM! Too late to play the doll. Off go the well behaved, constricted, Degas Ballet dancers; in comes the bad, loose, women of Toulouse Lautrec.
Maybe that´s the reason why people don´t smile a lot. They don´t want to expose their darkness. Light is cool, and it looks good on social media, but darkness…well…who wants to see your rotten teeth?

(…)

Our power, and we DO have a power, isn´t of this world. In other words: this world doesn´t allow us to bring our power out. It it did, the world would change.

From wars, action warriors, fear and separation, we would move into love, stillness as action, trust and unity. That would be a revolution, one those prostitutes were, silently, shamefully (or not), working on in the secrecy of hotel rooms hidden in the cheesiest, darkest corners of Paris. The same revolution I operate with dancers every time I get into a classroom.

Maybe they were right, after all: I may be a prostitute. We´re working on the same craft.

-I wonder if they know they´re Love Warriors…the dancers, the prostitutes, every woman who invites freedom into her gut.

Nobody answered. Everybody had a job to do and focused on it, just as they should.

-Let´s go! – I told my student. – It´s time to dance.”

Excerpt from the book “Messages from The Womb” (work in progress)
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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Going down the Rabbit Hole

The start of the Journey.JPGPreparing for a book writing marathon feels like preparing for a scary, though exciting, sky or water diving – you jump into the unknown, embrace the vertigo, and smile, somewhat awckwardly, at the uncertainty. You don´t know where, or if, you´re going to land after you take the leap.

You light up candles & incense, organize a romantic dinner and invite the Inspiration Muses to join, keeping your fingers crossed, hoping they´ll close an agreement with you: we´re going to show up when you show up. That´s what you´ll wish they´ll say between the main dish and the dessert yet they remain silent, chewing their food (you´re a good cook!).

Although you´re the perfect host, the Muses play hard to get. By the end of the evening, they´ll say farewell without the promise to show up.

-Will I jump alone? Will I screw this one up? Will I be able to write a good enough book? Will I? Will I? Will I? – You ask yourself while washing the dishes. – Oh, damn it.

You only know when you do it. No safety net, no guarantees – just emptiness and a purpose strong enough to pull you through word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page.

You stock up with groceries, have the house clean and operational, finish the eternally unfinished TO DO list (or simply prioritize, throwing it into the I´LL DEAL WITH IT LATER box), warn everybody of your upcoming absence, buy a package of cigarettes –  even if you´re not a smoker when you´re on “regular self mode” -;  take a deep, fearful breath, and start doing it.

It feels like I´ve been falling down the rabbit hole, Alice in Wonderland all over again, and I´ve finally landed at the bottom of the earth. I´m not ready to open the tiny door which will (eventually) take me to the Magical Creation Channel, one which is required to “write a good book” but I know I´ll never feel ready. I open the door, anyway, praying not for a challenge-free adventure but for a blessed, fruitful one. One that makes me grow along the way and, hopefully, inspire others to do the same once the literary baby is out.

The Muses show up because I show up.

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Or The Beginning

Joana Saahirah´s Happiness Project

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The new year started in heaven. But heaven can easily turn into hell (don´t I know it?).

It all went down, down, down and it hasn´t picked up again ever since.

Nobody likes to talk, or write, about unhappiness. I know I don´t.

I´m a positive, moving forward, faithful person who sees every challenge as an opportunity for growth. I believe in going through pain in private, only sharing the stuff that can inspire, and empower, others. But I´m human, after all, something I tend to forget. And sharing our pain can inspire and empower others. How we go through adversity opens up possibilities for others:

-If she can do it, I can do it.

As an answer to unhappiness, I´m creating  Joana Saahirah Happiness Project, a collection of essays about happiness – what I´ve learnt, through experience, on the subject – and stuff that makes me happy. Texts, photos, references of music, movies, trips, attitudes that contribute to chronical happiness. A straightforward, simple, “writing to save my life” king of project.

This will, no doubt, annoy a lot of people:

-She should resign to her unhappines, just for a moment, and stand in front of the television, wrapped in a blanket, watching bad movies and binging on chocolate. That Turning Rocks into Diamonds thing is deeply irritating.

Well, well. As much as I´d like to, I cannot afford to do that. I have work, deadlines with different people, things to accomplish and a tool – myself – to take care of. Artists who live – exclusively – from their art cannot afford certain luxuries. Like feeding unhappiness.

Everybody has a way to grieve. Mine is connected with creativity. It has saved my life many, many times. I build palaces from the rocks life throws at me. If I´m down, I´ll dance and write about that place, no matter how dark and uncomfortable it may be.

In darkness, too, resides light. We just need to open our eyes. And Be.

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Rocking Worlds

 

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Thanks to every reader who keeps supporting, sharing and sending feed-back on my book. This second edition makes me immensely proud – I find inspiration there every time I open the book, randomly, in search for light. And I was the one who wrote it so imagine how readers must feel! Let´s keep growing together, shall we?

“I observed how the local audiences, a mix of 90% Egyptians, 10% Arabs and other foreigners, reacted to my dance in a much more enthusiastic manner. They started to respond to my dance – to me – in extremely emotional ways. Honesty pays off.

 How ironic! Success was on my hands, more than ever, when I was at my lowest point (from a personal point of view).

 Not enough strength to fight on stage; not enough breath to run and keep the doing machine thriving; not enough heart to pretend to feel whatever I was not feeling. My defenses had literally  vanished – in my life as in my dance. The places where I performed were public – I could be dead at any moment.

 STILLNESS, SILENCE, PAUSE and HONEST MOVEMENT (saying exactly what I NEEDED to say) was all I had to offer. My musicians started to think I was under the effect of drugs due to the state of deep RELAXATION and SURRENDER I was in.

-She used to be so tense and ambitious! What happened to that?

– Life happened.”

Excerpt from the 2nd edition – revised & updated – of “The Secrets of Egypt – Dance, Life & Beyond” by Joana Saahirah

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How to get your own copy of “The Secrets of Egypt – Dance, Life & Beyond”: http://www.lulu.com/shop/joana-saahirah/the-secrets-of-egypt-dance-life-beyond-2nd-edition/paperback/product-22459466.html

Mozart´s Twin Sister

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The excitement and the dread, all too familiar, of returning to the writing of my upcoming book are back to my desk. The dance mirror where I choreograph and teach; the dance shoes, cds, scarves, weird props only Oriental Dancers would recognize and MUST READ – ever growing – pile of boks are on the side. The exterior world – its movement, noise and permanent requests of attention (often towards insignificant things) – starts to bother me really hard. I lift my fist and threaten it:

-Leave me alone. Stop stealing my focus, energy, inspiration. I have a book to write, for God´s sake!

That side of me, which my mum calls “Joana´s convent mode”, takes on bizarre contours. I don´t know how professional writers, people who live from/to writing, do it; I have no clue if they act as wild as I do, if they become cave people with mad eyes that sparkle in the dark; if a deep silence, almost like a doom, falls upon them while they´re writing as if every significant word they carry in their veins had to be saved for their book. Do they become – psycho killer style – silent like I do? Do they look like Mozart´s twin brother/sister on his final phase of absolute decadence? ´Cause I know I do. At least I feel like I do which ends up being the same.

tumblr_nubrbeYTgy1rwillro1_500.gifHow selfish a writer must be! And how demanding is this lover called “my book”. Even when I´m not writing, I am writing. Matters exterior to the writing process don´t interest me, unless I can use them in the book. I´m always absent, even when around people, lost in a land of my own making where brooding over chapters and characters rules.

Shallow talk, which has never been my cup of tea, becomes unbearable. I turn into an anti-social animal who forgets civilization (or whatever that means). The panorama worries me – I´m a public figure and a dancer; I cannot afford to close myself away in a paradisiac cabin by a lagoon, only a hot lover as company, in order to focus solely on my writing. Besides, there´s no guarantee this book will turn out good (so many hours of unpaid work and cave digging may end up in nothing). Although I write with passion and have the assistance of an editor who´s revising the text with me, I´m the one who does the writing and puts her neck on the rope.

The hours and energy I take away from my dance work, the one that pays the bills at the end of each month, will never be returned and I cannot know, for sure, if this gigantic enterprise will pay off in any possible way. Still I move forward.

The first volume is practically done – thanks, 2015! – but there are two or three more on the way. Is it daunting? For sure. I still have to function in the “real world”, dance to pay my bills, act as if I haven´t turned into an alien.

I keep walking, writing, believing, reigniting The Flame without guarantees, recognition or a public who reads what I´m producing. I go away from The Lover because I have to – traveling for work, teaching and doing my regular job – but I always go back to It. It´s like one of those affairs: I cheat on my husband (my dance) with my lover (my writing) and there´s nothing I can do about it.

To the question WHY? Why would a successful dancer take her precious, productive time to sit and write for thousands of hours without any guarantee of success?, there´s only two possible answers: OBSESSION or LOVE. Maybe both, simultaneously.

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“One cannot be taught to write. One can only learn to write by writing—and reading. Reading good books written by real artists—until you understand why they are good.”

― Truman Capote from a letter to Alvin Dewey III (25 May 1964) included in TOO BRIEF A TREAT: The Letters of Truman Capote By Truman Capote

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Word of Heart

12341530_909591692422558_9169881466588863195_nThe concept of “word of honour” – the same, for me, as “movement of honour” – has always been dear to my heart. And it´s, in fact, a question of heart. Because my honour resides in my heart and when I deliver – write/dance- a word, I deliver my heart in & through it.

For me, words – or dance – are not intellectual – or physical – entities but my heart in the shape of characters, words, dance steps; messages. I don´t just write, or dance, something – I offer you the purest part of my heart when I do it. Dangerous adventure, a child trying to jump over a pond filled with crocodiles she knows will eat her alive. How much more imprudent could I get?

Being VULNERABLE has never scared me more but, hey, I don´t know how to do it any other way. Letting myself bleed in public; exposing the joys and the sadnesses with the same easiness; opening my womb to the crowds. Ah, woman! You´re asking for it. 

 

A rare full moon is up and shining; Christmas is still hanging from the trees, family is around but today I managed to create a space of private terror and sweet silence. Though scared to death (it is also a question of death), I return to my book.

Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide – although that´s exactly what I feel like doing. Completing this book is nothing less than completing myself or the self I once was; completing it is honouring my word – I said I´d do it so I have to – and, more than that, honouring my heart by healing it, sharing it and expanding it through the telling of a real life story no one will believe it ever happened.

Aromatic candle lit; coffee by my side; holding my breath, waiting to jump, once more, into the Ocean from where nobody returns the same. Or at all.

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There´s no depth without darkness. What a drag! I´m a Light kind of girl forced to go down the rabbit hole (so damp, dark and frightening). Here we go:

Writing Time.

P.S: Nobody told me the book I´m writing would become a demanding husband, the one I´ve always run away from. Not a lover but a husband, a jealous and overwhelming husband who wants me all to himself, leaving no space or time for distractions. I think I was tricked into a marriage. HELP!

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Back to the Womb, the place where all Creativity sleeps, waiting to be awakened by the intrepid hand of a mad Person.

Sheherazade

contentWhy do we choose a book over the other? Why do we keep rereading some and throwing others into the ark of forgotten one night stands?
If you take away the readers who pick certain titles for status – ´cause it makes them look nice/intelligent/educated/sophisticated – or students who have a MUST READ list over their heads, we´re left with the Others. By Others I mean everyone else, the ones who buy – or reread – a book for unofficial reasons.

I have a natural aversion to authority, even where books are concerned. I don´t read what I should read or what others recommend – by the way, what should I read? – but what my heart asks for.

As far as I´m concerned, books are chosen the same way lovers are chosen – just because. No benefits in sight – books and love have nothing to do with benefits; no diplomas, contracts, guarantees, condecorations, Mrs This and Mr That.

At the end of each book/love affair, there may be blood but it´s hot – where there´s hot blood, there´s life. What a Ride! Have I regretted any of it? Not really. My choices may be unorthodox but they´re always heartfelt, passionate, filled with purpose. I eat those books (and men) with gusto and I lick my fingers after I´m done; there´s no sacrifice (bye, bye, Eve!), no martyrdom, no lie.

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I can honestly say I´ve read and loved only the books and men my heart and desire sang for – no money or social acceptance in the world can buy that kind of freedom and the satisfaction that derives from it. My tummy is full, thank you very much.

No surprise when, once more and apparently out of nowhere, I grabbed my copy of Scheherazade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems by Fatema Mernissi (RIP), a Moroccan author I´ve always loved.

The book is clearly used; stained, marked by life, with wrinkled with twisted edges; there´s a chocolate (Mozart) wrapping inside and a train ticket from the day when I bought it. I know I´ve read it twice before. And, despite the huge (HUGE) pile of books I have to read – yelling at me at the top of my desk – and the (HUGE) book I have to write , I had to reread it. But I didn´t just read it. I drank it in a single shot, like one of those desperate red nose folks who try to drown their existence inside a cup of Cuban rum:

Aaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! ´sta buenissimo ese rum.

Mernissi argues that both East and West have their particular kind of “harem” and women in both sides of the world are controlled, limited and caged – that I agree. She also focus on the figure of Sheherazade and how the West turned her – an educated, intelligent story teller who saved her life as well as the lives of thousands of women due to her eloquence – into a mindless sexual object. I see her point(s) and agree with part of them.

Ferdinand_Keller_-_Scheherazade_und_Sultan_Schariar_(1880)                       Ferdinand Keller – Scheherazade und Sultan Schariar (1880)

What I don´t agree with, a disagreement that comes from study and personal/professional experience in the Middle East,  is the premise that Arabic men value and seek intelligent, fierce, independent and highly educated women.

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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Give me moment.

………………………………….

What? Come again, please. 

I need some time to open my mouth, in astonishment, every time I read – or write – such statement.

According to Mernissi, Eastern men have turned women into sexual objects, passive and manipulated through beauty standards that confuse plastic dolls with real femininity. They use time – or ageing – and body weight control in order to keep women down. Check! That´s true.

But then she adds that Arabic men, curiously enough and contradicting what we would expect, have always appreciated the opposite of those plastic dolls: wild women with guts with whom they could have an intelligent conversation. Let´s get real; I´ll say it like it is: excluding very few exceptions, those women – those wild women who run with wolves, the ones with whom men could have an intelligent conversation – have been called whores and threats to society; they´ve been tortured and burnt alive. Literally.

Those women, and they exist because I had the honour to meet a few while I lived in Egypt, are beaten by their fathers, brothers and husbands and condemned to perpetual humiliation or death. Those women, especially if they belong to higher social classes, are great on paper, nice to present during fancy Cairo “vernissages” at the Opera House, but they´re not allowed to breathe in real life. And no, they´re no desirable by any standards. Not Western, much less Eastern standards. 

I´d like to have met Fatima Mernissi but, mostly, I´d LOVE to meet the extraordinary Arabic men she dealt with, the ones who have inspired her to concoct her outrageous theory. Who are those men? Where are they? (Fatema was from Fez – gotta book me a trip to Morocco right now!).

Every Arabic man I´ve met – and I met a lot, from all walks of life, in 10 years of life in the Middle East – was disturbed by intelligent, educated women. If you add fierceness and independence to that cocktail, you have an explosion – not the good kind. But if tragedy is what you´re looking for, add the ORIENTAL DANCER label to that already damned creature.

Those (Arabic) men find that intelligence/education exotic, even sexually enticing. I´ve had surreal conversations with men who thought my “smartness” was a plan to lead them into temptation, a vamp strategy, an aphrodisiac more alluring than an EAT ME sign hanging from my neck:

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Allah…A Tiger that speaks! A beautiful tiger that speaks – how interesting

-Oh, go fuck yourself, mister!

At first, at a distance, they DO find it exciting. It´s not common, after all, to find a woman whose conversations go beyond finding a rich husband, cloths and the best salon for a good manicure. But if they get intimate with those women, with a perspective of an intimate relationship, they do their best to crash that intelligence/education until there´s nothing, but a shadow of a brain, to show for. The threat of a female brain that´s truly awakened is something no man can take in the long term. If there are exceptions to the rule, and I hope there are, I´ve never met them.

Other men are plainly, and openly, terrified or disgusted by the sight of such a woman. I´ve been called “masculine” by most of the men who hired me in Cairo, men with whom I dealt face to face in the absence of a manager.

At least, in the West, we have laws that protect us, women. In the East, a woman – intelligent or not; educated or ignorant – can be killed by her father, brother or husband, in the blink of an eye without any consequence for the murderer.

In the West, we can choose to accept the pressure of beauty standards (which Mernissi calls “another way of veiling women”) or to refuse it, walking our own path and paying a price for it; we can choose to surrender to the myths Patriarchy still throws upon us (a woman should be this, that and whatelse) or build new roads of our own. At least we can choose. Most women in the East can´t. It´s that choice that makes the Western “harem” a little less horrible than the Eastern.

Besides this disagreement – sorry Fatema but Arabic men are VERY distant from the fierce/bright/educated women lovers you mention -, what keeps dragging me to this book is the figure of Sheherazade and what she represents to me. A good friend of mine, an Egyptian doctor who was also my landlord, once told me:

-You´re like Sheherazade. I could listen to you forever.

That was one of the best compliments I´ve ever received. That man, a rare gentleman with impeccable ethics and musical taste, was actually listening to me – as king Xariar listened to Sheherazade – instead of staring at my breasts, my derrière or other appetizing parts of my soul. That was a novelty.

As a Dancer, I´ve also felt like her – the heroine of the One Thousand and One Nights: the story teller, the one who takes her audience into different, marvellous, magical trips to distant Lands; the one who grabs her kings and queens (Xariar) by the heart, taking them wherever she wants them to go. And the fear – of men, mostly, but also of women – is still there. Big time. A talking Sheherazade isn´t nearly as scary as a dancing Sheherazade, one who SPEAKS her Being (not only mind but her whole being), instead of perpetuating the odalisque fantasy.

My grandmother – she was Portuguese but could have been Egyptian or Morocccan – advised me not to speak my mind too much – that would scare men, she warned me. Pretend you don´t know much – just enough; act as if you were as innocent as a baby lamb. Men like such women or, at least, they marry them. (I heard this conversation from Arabic women, my many mammas, as well). She was right; they were right. In the East, the West and everywhere in between.

There´s something about an intelligent woman – who also happens to be free and an Oriental Dancer, sin of all sins! – that mistifies and TERRIFIES men. That kind of fire seduces them but, once they get close to the flame, they´re afraid they´ll get burnt (rightfully so?). Then the “harem”, that movie they invariably project on you, reveals itself, subtly or openly:

-I´d like you to dance for me…- he whispers, almost but not quite apologetic – You´re a dancer, why don´t you…

– YOU – dance for me. Dance is my profession. I wasn´t born to dance for a man, my audience is the wind. You´re not a dancer – only you can make it private(ly). For me

And, truth be told, they have done it – the men I loved. While I sit and watch, as focused as Ingres´odalisque (see painting bellow) but a bit more dressed.

If I knew how to be a passive odalisque, mindless and ready to please (in silence and sweet submission), I swear I´d give it a try. For a while, at least, for research purposes. But once you go Woman you never go back to odalisque. There´s an Intelligent Order in the Universe and I follow it, like the obedient, silently pretty servant they presume I am.

Jean_Auguste_Dominique_Ingres,_La_Grande_Odalisque,_1814Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, La Grande Odalisque, 1814

P.S: If I ever find a man who´s not afraid of the Woman who runs with the wolves, I promise I´ll allow him to dance for me. Odalisque style; Sheherazade style; his style.