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Meet Neenah of Authentic Belly Dancing Entertainment and Academy in West Dallas

Today we’d like to introduce you to Neenah.

Neenah, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I am originally from San Antonio, Texas, I moved to Dallas in 1980 when I married. I have been belly dancing for 36 years and have been involved in coaching and teaching the art of belly dancing for 23 years. Fitness, music, diversity and culture have always been important to me and the belly dancing world was the perfect means of bringing all these things together, but there were many challenges that I had to overcome.

Stay At Home Mom And Graduate School:

It all started when I was trying to find a way to be a stay at home mom with three babies, pay for my graduate programs and stay fit. After getting a B.S. degree in Chemistry and working as a chemist for Celanese (Robstown, Texas) and then Frito Lay (Irving, Texas), I had my first child (1984). I took 3 months off from work when she was born. When I returned to work, I would wake up with this horrible sense of dread, guilt and tears because I had to go to work and leave her in a day-care. I was so miserable and felt guilty for not raising and caring for my own child and she was always getting sick. My husband and I decided that I would quit my job and be a stay at home mom and return back to work when she started school. I was jazzed and loved taking care of her. However, it soon became clear that in order for her to have great opportunities, I had to prepare myself for the future return back to the work world when she would start school, but not as a chemist, but something greater and bigger, so I applied for graduate school and got into the MBA program at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Belly Dancing Hobby:

At that time, I was taking belly dancing classes and studying with an awesome teacher, Angelika (who performed at the Foxhunter in Dallas, Texas in the 80’s). She and another professional belly dancer, Marlana (founder of Belly-Grams in Dallas, Texas in the 80’s and 90’s), provided me with gigs and opportunities to perform and earn money in the evening and weekends to pay for graduate school. I was also doing gigs for entertainment companies like Eastern Onion, Livewires and All Class Acts, etc. It was great as I was staying in shape, staying at home during the day to care for our baby, and studying at night and performing on the weekends. I was lucky to have a supportive husband, Philip, who watched the kids at night when I danced and studied. This support was absolutely pivotal for my business to take off and fly. One of my assignments in MBA School was to create a business plan, so I created a business plan for a belly dancing company and got an A+.

Two More Babies:

In 1985 and 1987; I had two more beautiful girls. During the child rearing times, I would perform till I was about 5 months pregnant and return to the dancing when the baby was a month old in order to pay for tuition. During the non-performing period, I made time to practice and perfect my technique, so I could jump back in when I could. In 1988, I met an amazing; beautiful dancer, Zeyna, (zeynas blog) who taught me stage presence, performance skills, belly dance history, rhythms, how to pour shots and roll quarters with my belly muscles.

Turned Belly Dancing Hobby Into A Business:

In 1988, I excitedly returned to performing after my younger baby turned one; however, the belly dancing gigs were declining. Further, several of the entertainment companies had gone out of business and several of the belly dancing contacts had left the business and went back to work full-time in other professions. I was wondering how I was going to pay for my tuition. My husband encouraged me to start implementing my business plan. I applied the marketing, accounting and tax skills that I had learned in MBA School and opened my company in 1988. Sure, the beginning was bumpy. I had to learn so much about being an entrepreneur. I needed to use every penny I earned to feed the business, but it all started falling into place. I named the company “Authentic Belly Dancing Entertainment” so I could be on top in the phone books. Later I changed the name to Authentic Belly Dancing Entertainment/Academy.

I got my first clients to perform at various venues (i.e., grand openings, Smirnoff concerts, birthdays, retirement parties, weddings, etc.) and restaurants (Café Istanbul, Marrakesh, Goldfinger, etc.) were hiring me. Thank you super clients and restaurants that supported me right from the start – you know who you are and I appreciate you! And lo and behold, here I was, working from home, doing what I loved. It just took a whole lot of small business enthusiasm and self-love. I stand humbled in gratitude.

As the demand for belly dancing grew, I was given the opportunity to teach belly dancing classes at a popular Moroccan restaurant “Marrakesh” in Dallas, Texas. Marrakesh brought in a lot of publicity for belly dancing (i.e., featured in a lot of magazines and newspaper articles). From this program, I trained several belly dancers to learn how to perform at various gigs and at restaurants. When the Marrakesh closed down in 2000, I moved the belly dancing program to Dana’s Dance Academy in Irving Texas. From this academy, more belly dancers were born and several troupes were created, “The Harem Jewels”, “The Sultan Gems”, and “Texas Jewels.” As their talent grew, so did their popularity at various venues and local eateries (www.belly-dancing and www.facebook.com/AuthenticBellyDance).

Building the Academy:

It was a never ending but fulfilling challenge building the academy (www.belly-dancing.net/classes) Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, there were very few belly dancing teachers and no schools. You had one long-time teacher and took private lessons.

Programs to guide the teaching for various skill levels did not exist. When I started the school, many of the belly dancing teachers made fun of me telling their private students not to go to our school because we did not know how to dance, etc. I ignored all of that and focused on what I could teach and created programs for beginner, intermediate, advanced and professional students. I found ways to get dancers to perform and apply what they learned. In 1994, one of the Marrakesh owners and I came up with the idea to have a “Harem Nite” once a month and invite dancers from various areas to showcase their belly dancing talent. This was awesome for the students as it was a vehicle to motivate them to practice and meet other dancers. Further, the Harem Nites gave other dancers an opportunity to perform at a different venue. This Harem Nite tradition (www.belly-dancing.net/about/harem-nite) continues the first Thursday of every month at Stratos Greek Taverna in Dallas, Texas (www.clubstratos.com). In 2006, I created the choreography for our troupe in an International competition (Alan Cairo) and the famous Egyptian dancers from Egypt, Nagwa Fouad and Dr. Mo, were some of the judges. We won first place.

Keeping Up With Change:

During the next decade, so much change was happening in the business (i.e., social media, competition, client needs, building new relationships and coming up with new ideas) and my personal life. After returning back to work full-time in the mid 90’s as a CPA, I had less time to spend on the business, but now my three girls were getting ready to go to college, so the extra money for education was now a must. I was wondering how I was going to continue this business and make a profit with less time and energy in order to help fund our three girls’ tuition, rent, and all the extra costs that go with college. With the help of my Web designer, Jennifer Ross with Limelight Design Studio, who not only maintains my web-site and social media, but informs me of updates that need to be done, I was able to save time, build a good client base, and make the transition to a full-time job and run my business in a seamless fashion. While the business was growing, we also became recipients of many awards (e.g., 2013 Gigmaster Award: Best Entertainers, 2017 Feedspot Top 100 Belly Dance Blogs, 2017 People Love us on Yelp) and getting great reviews.

Getting More Women Involved In Belly Dancing:

In 2016, I collaborated with Crescent Moon Belly Dance Studio from Fort Worth to share choreography amongst the belly dancers in our schools. We named this group the Texas Jewels and once a month, the Texas Jewels get together to create costuming ideas, share choreography and resources. It has turned to be a beautiful program as women are safe to learn, experience, laugh and dance. The Texas Jewels is a troupe that is growing and so is their popularity as they are called upon when a large group of belly dancers are needed to perform and entertain across a variety of venues. Our most recent events were for DIFFA, Channel 4 Fox to raise money for Women Veteran United Committee, Tulsa Zoo in Oklahoma where $8 million dollars was raised, State Fair, and several engagements and grand openings. We will be performing at the Muddy Mortal event Halloween weekend.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I was a hard worker, I loved challenges, but I hit so many roadblocks and lost many opportunities because I did not have the confidence I needed to act like a wonder woman. However, with time, family support, great teachers, and listening to great motivational thinkers like Jim Rohm, Earl Nightingale, Napoleon Hill, etc., I was able to build the confidence to deal with the many challenges that include team building, vision and time management.

Team building was a big challenge. As the business was growing, I had to find a fit for a venue/gig and sometimes not always with the right belly dancers. I wanted belly dancers who would be loyal to the team and organizational development. Having the wrong belly dancers on our team was a big cost to the organization. In the beginning, I had to rebuild my company with new belly dancers almost annually. As soon as I started listening to the belly dancer needs first, and hustle for opportunities to meet their needs and motivate them to rehearse and practice and be awesome performers, I noticed the belly dancers started to become more dedicated and the clients were calling for more gigs. I have belly dancers who have been with me for more than 10 years.

Along with team building, there are other business challenges that come with the territory, such as staying focused on your vision when things go crazy. For example, when competition emerged or when the team hit an impenetrable obstacle, I was expected to come up with the ideas and a response plan. Other examples of a business challenges included; (1) moving forward a diversifying client base before the work dries-up; (2) trying to establish a brand and adjust to match or exceed the competition and keep your business profitable; (3) on-the spot creative thinking; and (4) not having the luxury of time for creative thinking or creative practicing while managing gigs and keeping clients happy.

Reflections:

Energy propelled me to build a business and dance my heart out. Passion made me love the business. Perseverance in overcoming obstacles is all I knew. Adapting with the times (i.e., social media, business administration, marketing), being accountable (i.e., being where I say I am going to be and building trust with clients), providing classy and professional belly dancing entertainment, and having a wonderful support system (i.e., husband and children) continues to make this business a success.

I finished my MBA, earned a CPA and went back to the work-world as a CPA for the Internal Revenue Service and then KPMG. Later, I went back to UTA and earned another Master Degree in The Science of Taxation. I am currently an Assistant Director in Financial Management Assurance for the US Government Accountability Office in Dallas, Texas.

Please tell us about Authentic Belly Dancing Entertainment and Academy.
5 STAR REVIEWS AND AWESOME ENTERTAINMENT FOR ALL YOUR SPECIAL EVENTS!!!

Neenah and the Belly Dancers in this organization are sought out performers and have a wonderful and unbeatable reputation in the Dallas/Fort Worth area as well as many other wonderful Texas Cities. Every week they are featured at the Dallas/Fort Worth Area popular restaurants and eatery cafes: Cafe Istanbul in Plano, Stratos Greek Taverna in Dallas, and the list goes on….

The Harem Jewels, Sultan Gems and the Texas Jewels are popular professional and family friendly belly dancing troupes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area whom will turn your party into a memorable, family friendly event. Their dance is a gift of joy that they love to share with their audiences.

The show stopper performance includes an assortment of awesome performances with veils, swords, wings, canes, trays of candles, etc.

The beautiful belly dancers are popular at Birthday, Retirement, Children’s Jasmine Party, Corporate Event, Private Party, or Graduation parties. The variety of genres the Harem Jewels bring to the public are professional, family friendly, and amazing: Greek, Persian, Egyptian, Arabic, Bollywood for India events, Jasmine Children Events, and Lebanese, etc.

Neenah and the Harem Jewels are Champion Belly dancers and Dallas’ favorite belly dancers. Fabulous and beautiful stage presence with a colorful and exciting personality makes everyone want to dance. Spell-Bounding and Just Amazing!!! They are spectacular and leave the audience with a feeling of “AWE”. They are featured at Dallas’ favorite restaurants and high profile events and grand openings. They continue to dance for many celebrities including sports icons, movie stars, queens and kings, etc. Neenah was featured for 30 Smirnoff Concerts.

These dancers specialize and have trained many belly dancers in the beautiful art of belly dancing. The featured soloist, duets, trios and troupe are under a rigorous schedule of training. Watch them roll quarters and pour shot glasses using abdominal muscles, dance with zills, swords, canes, candle trays, wings, and veils for your entertainment.

Neenah is the director and first place winner of the Queen Raks Sharki Troupe Competition. She has trained a lot of teachers and taught a variety of group events. She is available for Belly Dancing Seminars, Belly Dancing group class sessions, lady’s night out lessons, bachelorette parties and any special dance training in art of belly dancing.

Clients include Stephen Pyles, Neiman Marcus, Central Market, Dallas Museum of Arts, Wholefoods, Dillard, Este Laude, Lancome, Mac, House of Blues, Dallas Cowboys, Smirnoff and many more…

We are proud of our dedication and continuous practice to perfect our performance. We love being part of causes and have performed in many events to help raise money. For example, on June 16, 2017 we performed at the Tulsa Zoo for the Waltz on the Wild Side Organization. the Zoo raised $8 million. We also participated in celebrating Father’s Day at more than 11 Nursing homes in the Dallas Fort Worth Area.

What sets us apart from others is that most of the belly dancers are brainy and several have Masters Degrees in Finance, Accounting, Science, law, etc. We also put family first, which means that we all watch for each other and cover for each other when a family concern develops.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Big Family BBQs with lots of singing and dancing.

Contact Info:


Image Credit:
Easy Street Images
Tasha Photography

Getting in touch: VoyageDallas is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

4 Comments

  1. Nannette

    July 12, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    I have never been so proud. I love her story and I love her more. My beautiful sister and great friend. Always NEC.

  2. Miabella Harrell

    July 17, 2017 at 9:38 pm

    Having joined forces with this amazing lady to create The Texas Jewels Belly Dancers, I have learned so much in regards to the business end and work ethics of belly dance. Together, with The Texas Jewels we have done some amazing shows and have many more planned in the near future. I am looking forward to working more with Neenah and The Texas Jewels. Neenah, an amazing lady, incredible dancer, & saavy business woman. Congratulations on a great article!

  3. KARINA ISABEL

    July 19, 2017 at 3:27 am

    I started taking her classes a little over a year ago and Neenah is amazing and an awesome instructor. I am very grateful that she has given me the opportunity to be part of the Sultan gems. I’m a single mom and the extra money from the venues have been a great help. I have also met amazing women who I now consider friends. Thank you Neenah!!

  4. Phariah

    July 20, 2017 at 9:34 pm

    Neenah is a fabulous and dynamic dancer and teacher! I have been studying with Authentic Belly Dance Entertainment and Academy for the last four years and performing with the Harem Jewels for the last three years! I’ve learned so much from Neenah- techniques, dancing with props, stage presence, performing at restaurants, weddings, corporate events, etc. Neenah is not only an inspiration in dance but also in life. Her personal and professional achievements helped to push our troupe to always do our best. She is simply amazing!

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