Mara al-Nil

Mara of the Nile

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Mara al-Nil

Mara al-Nil (Mara of the Nile) comes from a line of dancers, musicians and raconteurs. Her grandparents were known for their dancing in their immigrant community, and her grandfather was also a featured brass instrumentalist at military functions. Little wonder that their son, Mara’s father, became a ballroom dance instructor, who, with Mara’s mother, routinely won dance competitions!

Mara’s father introduced her to ballroom dancing at the age of 2, when she also began modern and interpretive dance classes. Music lessons followed, so that she and her siblings could participate in the spontaneous jam sessions that enlivened family gatherings. Her father, a Judo instructor who studied for his black belt in Japan, also introduced her to the martial arts.

Family activities routinely included visits to various restaurants in Greektown, where belly dancing, including floorwork, was the norm. Other excursions included the ballet and international festivals. The entire family also enjoyed participating in community theater. Mara’s mother, besides raising 5 children, danced, practiced yoga and introduced her to costuming and set design.

wo circumstances led to a hiatus in Mara’s involvement in the performing arts. Her music teacher, not imbued with the current ideas of preserving a student’s self esteem, routinely shouted at her whenever she played a section of music poorly. “You’ll NEVER be a musician!!” Repeatedly, her ballet teacher declared, “You’ll NEVER be a dancer—you’re too tall!!” (5’ 6 ½” by age 13; now as an adult, a mere 5’8”). Mara’s sister, who was “short”, was instead cultivated by the teacher, and eventually became a professional dancer with her own dance company in New York.

Not surprisingly, Mara avoided music and dance for several years, and eventually left home at age 17. While working, she became friends with an older co-worker, who had a day job and was a professional bellydancer in Greektown at night. She encouraged Mara to take her first bellydance class (where she was deemed “too thin”—and long since remedied!). This would have been the start of Mara’s career, but relocation in pursuit of a college degree left her with no access to the Middle Eastern community. Her pre-med studies also left little time for dance, though she found fencing and folkdancing to be enjoyable extracurricular activities. She also studied filmmaking, photography and graphic arts, taking dual majors in Liberal Arts and Science.

After college, she lived abroad for a year, then relocated to San Francisco where she completed her graduate studies at UCSF and started taking bellydance and ballroom classes again. A final move to San Francisco’s South Bay, where she now resides, allowed her to continue her dance studies with Luceen, Ghanima and Dahlena, as well as enjoy workshops with several well-known visiting dance greats, such as Morocco, Aisha Ali and Mahmoud Reda.

Mara al-Nil is currently the artistic director of Sultan’s Delight Middle Eastern Dance Troupe.

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