Dancing Amidst Changing Realities

An Interview with Alhazar

BY NIKHITA WINKLER

In the world of dance, where emotions and movements intertwine, one artist stands out: Alhazar, a captivating dancer, teacher, and the visionary founder of Dancer´s Ways, an online dance school. Alhazar is based in Spain but reaches students from all corners of the globe. This interview with Alhazar delves into the pivotal moments of her life, a tale of transformation, empowerment, and embracing the changing realities that shape our lives as dancers.

Note: This interview was first published in Stance on Dance’s fall/winter 2023 print issue. To learn more, visit stanceondance.com/print-publication.

Alhazar nurses her baby with her back slightly turned toward the camera. She is wearing a blue dress and the background is blue.

Photo by The Factory Fotografia

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What inspired you to pursue a career in dance?

I was a young girl when I came across an advertisement in a newspaper for a belly dance studio. It caught my attention so much that I went to the studio on the same day. As I approached the door, it suddenly swung open. It seemed like a class had just ended, and the room was filled with laughing and talking women. The energy was so intense that it scared and embarrassed me. I ran away, suddenly overwhelmed by an irrational fear of going in. I felt that this would be a profound experience, and the beautiful path my intuition showed me scared me. Doubts invaded, along with the insecurities of being a teenage girl with chubby legs and a belly. I thought I wouldn’t be good at moving like that and that I needed a flat stomach. How wrong I was. It was a friend, now my partner and the father of my daughter, who said to me, “What do you have to lose by trying? If you’re not good at it, you can quit. If you never try, you’ll never know.” Filled with courage, I returned the next day and joined a class. Beatriz, the teacher, spoke to us about Egypt and how ancient this dance was. It felt like all the women from the past were dancing through me. It was an ancestral magic, as if I had been dancing this dance my whole life; my body felt elated to discover these undulating and fluid movements, as if it had been waiting for them. From that day on, I couldn’t stop learning more.

Throughout your career, have you faced any setbacks that you initially perceived as negative but ultimately turned out to be valuable learning experiences?

Let me tell you a story from many years ago, from when I started dancing as a very young dancer. I had recently begun dancing tribal fusion. I worked hard on my technique, studied intensely, and thought my technique was very good. And yes, it was good, but I had much more to do on all levels. I went to a casting for Bellydance Superstars with some friends and fellow dancers. I had just started with tribal fusion, but I believed I had a chance. My technique was good, though with room for improvement, but I could be…! What if they picked me? I thought about it so much that I started to believe it. Jillina was the one conducting the casting. We all started dancing, and… surprise! Jillina didn’t even look at me! It was as if I were invisible, and I kept thinking, “Why is she not looking at me? I’m doing it well, right?” I didn’t even pass the first round. Her gaze didn’t even graze over me… was I invisible? I hadn’t done that badly… how naive I was! That day, I learned a lot. Much more important than having good technique, if you don’t have stage presence, you go unnoticed. That day, I started working on my stage presence. The following year, while dancing in a class with Rachel Brice, with over 70 students, my first class with her, she approached me and whispered in my ear, “Good job.” And I understood I was on the right track. In fact, years later, once I was fully prepared as a dancer in every aspect, incredible things started happening, and I had the opportunity to dance alongside amazing dancers and my idols. I am grateful for that failure from my past because it taught me a great lesson.

Motherhood is a significant aspect of your life. How has motherhood influenced your journey as a dancer, and how do you balance both roles?

I’ve always been a ‘sexy boom’ woman. When I was young, walking into a bar would catch everyone’s attention. I had a special allure, not fitting the typical magazine or movie stereotype. There was something about me that attracted people, though I couldn’t quite grasp it back then. Now, in my adulthood, I can link that attraction to my sense of feeling good about myself. Feeling good and secure in my own skin, seeing myself as beautiful with all my imperfections and virtues — I felt gorgeous, and I took care of myself. Feeling good about yourself is so important, and I was fortunate to experience it early in my life. Dance gave me even more wisdom, self-esteem, and humility to be who I am — beautiful and loving.

Alhazar stands onstage in a spotlight and looks up with her hands on her navel and her chest. She is wearing all white.

Photo by Alba Rodriguez

However, there came a moment when a great friend and mentor said to me, “In your dance, you rely too much on your natural sex appeal. There will come a time when this resource won’t serve you, and if you don’t enrich it your dance will lose its purity, originality, and interest.” I deeply reflected on this advice. My mentor was right; I needed to enrich my dance, my body, my experiences, and my emotions. I had to evolve beyond being just that sexy girl. And you know what has been my most significant experience? I became a mother.

My body changed, marked with scars and stretch marks. I was not in top physical shape for a long time. I thought these changes would profoundly affect my life, but you know what surprised me the most? They didn’t. I began to see my students in myself. All those who were mothers or felt their bodies were not ideal. Those who looked at their flaws when starting dance classes. I remembered all their processes of learning to see themselves as beautiful. When I looked in the mirror, my post-pregnancy belly’s skin was different, the muscles softer, my hips broader, and my breasts, altered by breastfeeding, were no longer perfect. But looking at them, a bit saggy, I saw them as more beautiful than ever because they had nourished my daughter with love during breastfeeding. They were beautiful. My belly, with the skin’s marks after pregnancy, was beautiful, is beautiful — more beautiful than ever. I see myself as beautiful, sexy, mature, and confident. The woman’s body is beautiful in all its stages. After physically recovering from childbirth, which took a little time, I was able to resume my life as a dancer and teacher.

However, I must say it was thanks to having the support of my daughter’s father and my family, who waited with the baby backstage while I performed on stage. I’m also grateful that my dance embraces all aspects of being a woman. I could teach while baby wearing when necessary, and always with my baby close by. I could maintain my work and breastfeeding in perfect harmony. But, of course, no one can take away the sleepless nights. Now, as my daughter is a bit older, she sometimes joins my classes as a student. When she feels like it, she dances and stretches, and when she wants to, she sits, watches, or draws. And in my performances, she’s my number one fan.

How did the pandemic affect your Dancer´s Ways online dance school and retreats, and how did you navigate through those difficult times?

I have seen many women who were lost, unsure of what to do in life, or what their purpose or desires were. I helped them navigate through that phase and reconnect with their soul’s desires. But I had never experienced it myself. The pandemic forced us to take an uncertain pause in our lives. It made me stop dancing, stop giving in-person classes every day, stop performing in theaters, and put a halt to retreats for people from around the world. Fortunately, I experienced it in my home, secluded from the chaos, in the mountains.

However, I felt the impact of being forced to stop what I had been doing for so many years. The life I had been leading until then was no longer sustainable. At first, it felt like a significant shock. Then, I realized it was in alignment with my life because the family life I loved demanded more free afternoons to share beautiful moments with my daughter once she started school. Working outside the house every afternoon wouldn’t have been possible. Everything was actually falling into place. I just had to leave behind a routine that I had been following for many years, and a new life awaited me behind a door I hadn’t yet opened.

This uncertainty lasted for two years, filled with vital changes for me. Grieving the end of several stages, both professional and personal, takes time. Even if you understand mentally that everything is in order and that it’s the natural flow of life, it takes time for your body to assimilate it and for you to truly say it’s over. I needed to reconnect with my new body, now less fit due to not dancing as much every day. I needed to rediscover the pleasure of training and dancing for my health and well-being. I needed to find myself in a new environment, full of noise, people, stress, and far from nature, which is what living in a city entails. I found myself again through dance. All the work I’ve been doing for so many years provided me with the necessary tools to navigate and embrace life as it comes.

They say that when one door closes, another one opens. And it’s so true. Doing it through dance made the process beautiful, sweet, and perhaps bittersweet, loving and conscious, and fun at the same time as it was effective. Dance always makes everything easier. Through dance, we can navigate through difficult moments. It takes us out of our confused minds and brings us back to the present, to our bodies, to our essence. And from the present, it’s much easier to close and open chapters. For me, the pandemic chapter has ended. The online school has been reborn, and the retreats are back on track.

Alhazar poses with her arms above her head and wearing a gold belly dance costume.

Photo by Nei Mad Photography

You are 40 years old and still creating and performing. Sometimes, age can be seen as a barrier in the dance industry. Have you faced challenges related to age?

The type of dance I do has no age limit, so I consider myself fortunate in that regard. One of my mentors is still teaching and performing at 60. However, it is true that in certain circles, age is not always viewed favorably. The idea that one must be young to dance is not an isolated case. In our society, being young is a patriarchal mandate deeply ingrained in everyone’s minds. Women over 40 seem to become invisible, as if they no longer matter. However, they only lose significance if they want to adhere to industries governed by the patriarchy. If you want to dance to please what is deemed masculine, you must be young and conform to imposed standards. I have never engaged in the game of industries and competitions. My dance has always aimed to go beyond the superficial, to convey something meaningful, to open hearts, and to make those who watch and those who dance feel something.

It is true that as you age, you may not be able to perform as many physical feats unless you maintain a strict training regimen. But as the years pass, you realize that these feats are not as important as you once thought. Your presence, your essence, and the story you tell take center stage. The significance lies not in what you do but in how you do it, and with maturity, you gain tremendously in this aspect. So, how have I dealt with these challenges? I refuse to believe in these imposed mandates. I listen to my body, the only one that will tell me when and if I ever need to stop in my life.

I also want to add that my students have always been my inspiration, especially the older ones. I have had many older students, and they are the most grateful because dance brings tremendous benefits to their lives. They feel younger, more agile, but most importantly, when a new student comes in thinking they are too old, they finish the course having reconnected with their younger self.

Being old is something you feel, just as being young is. Of course, our bodies age, but dance gives us youth and spirit. Many times, it’s incredible how older students seem younger than the young ones because they have the wisdom of knowing how to truly live.

A circle of women lean all to one side with their arms in the center of the circle. The background is of a mossy rock.

Photo courtesy Dancer’s Ways

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Explore more of Alhazar´s therapeutic work with women at Dancer´s Ways. Visit dancersways.com.

Nikhita Winkler is an African contemporary dancer, choreographer, and dance teacher from Namibia who currently resides in Spain.

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