I get asked a lot of questions on belly dance but one that I have found that I don’t get asked  often is regarding “Layering” and what it really is.

Looking at our dance field today, it has changed into an accumulation of personal interests and the pursuit of  relevance for each individual dancer. So layering can be sharp to soft movements or upper body to lower body and many other interpretations in-between. Without layering our dance tends to look a little flat almost one dimensional and you can usually tell an experienced dancer from a novice by her ability to layer in movement.

Layering is also the focal point for the audience that prepares them for each chapter in a story that a dancer tells through out her dance. It’s the dramatic or subtle change in the phrasing in the music interpreted by the dancer.

As with any painting what makes it have depth is the usage of the shadows and color interchanges with subjects either in the background, middleground or foreground. The Abstract purposes that the interpretation of the strokes is just as or more important than the detailed idea. Impressionistic themes want to suggest what the image is without giving it away totally to the viewer. Realistic paintings say it all and leave nothing for the imagination because they become as real as the room you are standing in. Each style takes you in and makes you apart of the painting.

Our dance is a compilation of our own interpretation of what we like and view as beautiful. So to me “layering” is the stroke of our movements that makes the performed choreography understandable to the audience. Put a shadow of an accent to the melody of any song and you bring to life the wordless meaning of the song. Even songs with words don’t have the same impact without a dancer up on stage becoming the mime or interpreter. Sometimes it’s the impact of movement that the audience sees first and the music accompanies the dancer. I have had people say to me that the movement I did  at a certain part of the song was beautiful more often then being asked, what song was I dancing to. There is a romanticism that sets our dance apart from all others because we surrender to our movements tirelessly with each performance. Because of this we have more performers questioning their dance in dressing rooms or darkened hallways; it all has to do with the realism, abstract or impressionistic stroke of their visual interpretation of their dance. Really what they are questioning is, “Did the audience see what I created?”

So “layering” isn’t just the accent of a chest lift or drop or soft swirls of  hip circles with shoulder rolls but an individualized signature that takes your dance from a primitive, one dimensional performance to an explosion of movement. Even in the subtle moments of your dance stroke, you lead the audience where to look as you complete your canvas. With live performing they get to see the canvas blank first and the strokes of movement added in to create an image, story and emotional journey that otherwise wouldn’t exist. They are pulled into its meaning and they become apart of the canvas. It is and always has been the sharing of energies and imagination that keeps the dancer and the audience connected. But little do they know that it’s the “layering” of a dancers signature strokes that leads them into her dance and into her canvas.

Leyla Najma is a professional belly dancer with 26 years experience teaching and performing as well as writing articles recently published in “The Chronicles” Belly Dance Magazine.”