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I was born in Phoenix, Arizona and have lived there for all but 10 years of my life. My mother is Lebanese and my father is Irish. I recieved Arabic features from mom and the lighter coloring from dad. I won’t complain…too much. Of course I want darker hair or more “olive-y” skin tone. But I’m sure whatever package I would have been handed, I would see the greener grass somewhere else. However, I’m learning to be just fine with my personal mixture.

I grew up seeing my mother dance the folksy woman’s dance she always danced with her family in the privacy of their home or at the occasional wedding or party. She keeps time with her feet instead of her hips and she has the most graceful arm and hand movements, reminiscent of Persian court dance. I have always loved dance, in all forms, but oriental dance always captured my attention in ways no other form could. According to my mother, starting at around age one, I would sit in my crib and entertain myself by doing chest lifts and wrist circles. No wonder my paternal grandmother thought I was a strange one! He he he! Drum beats always held a powerful attraction for me, even as a small child. Every time I saw a parade, I just couldn’t keep my hips still when the drum core passed by.

At age 18 I started formal belly dance training with Megan Pattenaude from Rhode Island. She is an earthy, full figured, statuesque red-head, who is sexy and ultra feminine without ever trying to be either. She taught the dance in its classiest forms and swore if she ever caught wind of me dancing in an un-ladylike fashion, she would hunt me down and do rude things to me!

I studied every bit of Middle Eastern music and every dance tape I could get my hands on. What helped to a large degree was my background in anatomy, physiology and kinesiology, which is the study of the body in motion. (I was a personal trainer for several years.) Whenever I want to know how a dancer is performing a certain movement, I look at it from a structural point of view.

One of the things I learned early on in my study of anatomy was how an isolated muscular contraction is accomplished. All this helps immensely to figure out where movements originate from and how a complete movement is formed. The Lebanese “flavor” of belly dance is the style I have always gravitated to and found the most natural for me…coincidence?

I started plying my baby dancer art in a tiny little restaurant in Temp, Arizona, the original “Sinbad’s”, frequented by local artists and musicians. It was my first gig and I know it showed, but the clientele was supportive and encouraging.

I started taking workshops with well know dancers when they came to Arizona and classes with local teachers, but more than anything…I practiced whenever I could. One or two nights a week, I would get together with other women who wanted to dance and we would boogie into the wee hours…. I taught drum rhythms, Lebanese style and basic Egyptian for the past 6 years.

When I left Arizona to go to Iraq, I had 14 years of dance experience behind me, but I want to keep dancing so as not to get rusty, and because it gives me a great deal of peace and happiness. I brought an mp3 player with me, filled with drum rhythms and assorted belly dance music. I figure this time can be a great opportunity for practice…as long as I drag my shimmy maker out of bed in enough time before work…….

Articles on Gilded Serpent by or about Meena

Undercover Belly Dancer in Iraq- “THAAWUMPFF”
The women who work in the Ministry are brave women. At first they looked at me with suspicion, not sure of my ethnicity. I sometimes get thanked when they realize that I share the Arab blood.

Undercover Belly Dancer in Iraq
My name is Meena. Until a month ago, I was a professional belly dancer in Phoenix, Arizona.