Published in the May 2006 SAMEDA Papyrus

About Sohaila - An Interview with one of San Diego's "Shining Stars"
by Lucia

This month, Sohaila will have her annual extravaganza at the elegant Crystal Ballroom in El Cajon. This international star has led an exciting life and during my interview with her, shared the following:

1. How did you start Middle Eastern Dance?

I grew up on a farm with horses, chickens, ducks turkeys, rabbits and many animals. It was a lot of fun and exercise was a big part of a daily routine including riding the horses and feeding the animals. When I was 12 years old, my Mom started taking an exercise "belly dance" class at night; one day I asked to join her and from then on, I was hooked.

2. Who was your first teacher?

My very first teacher was "Liza" from Vista. However, my instructors in Seattle, Washington, Shamiram Peck and Zarifa deserve the most credit. Shamiram Peck, an internationally acclaimed Persian/Armenian Singer, had extensive knowledge in the belly dance field, having been raised influenced by music. Shamiram's moves were naturally intuitive. Zafara was also an excellent instructor.

3. Where was your first performance in the US?

In 1980, my mom and I moved to Seattle and I began lessons with Zarifa and later, Shamiram. Shamiram transformed me into a "dancer" in six months. My dance debut began in Seattle. I still recall the first time I was about to go on stage and one of the musicians asked my name to introduce me. I said "JoJo," and he said that name wouldn't do. Shamiram immediately said "her name is Sohaila." History was made. Sohaila means "a star in the sky"..she always knew I had potential to become a star!!!

4. What made you travel to the Middle East and Mexico to perform?

In 1982, my Mom and I returned to San Diego and I began to attend college. I studied Architectural Drafting and Criminal Justice. Since high school, I wanted to become a policewoman or Sheriff Explorer. To assist with my education expenses I began dancing at San Diego's Hajji Baba and The Seven Veils restaurants. Wow - what memories! Well needless to say, people started hearing about me and started calling me to dance at other restaurants. The owner of Adonis, a restaurant in Mexico City, called me to begin dancing for his grand opening. I became the first belly dancer in Mexico City and was the Adonis' house dancer for many years. Currently, I perform there on special occasions and present workshops. I also had the opportunity of entertaining at prestigious and distinguished events in Guatemala to El Salvador.

During that time, I performed at Byblos, another prestigious restaurant, and eventually around the world to Europe including Paris, Egypt, Israel, Syria, Jordan, Dubai and Greece. In Greece, I spent three seasons dancing on a cruse ship that sailed the Greek Islands, Turkey and Israel.

5. What is your most memorable performance ? Why?

Wow, I have had many! I guess every performance I do is memorable, making people smile as they watch me perform, dancing around the world, knowing that I am in a place that I am so fortunate to dance at. I would have to say the first time I performed in Egypt, in a Penthouse of the Meridian Nile Hotel. It overlooked the Nile cruise. I began the show with an entourage of musicians who played my favorite song "Awal Marar" by Abdul Halim Hafez. It was so incredible, I had to pinch myself every time I walked in to my dressing room, which happened to be Najwa Fouad's dressing room.

6. What advice do you have for aspiring new dancers?

To truly further your career, you must travel to Egypt, the heart of "the danse." Just being there, to experience the rich culture and history is essential. You will know what I'm talking about when you are there. Study as much as possible and try what suits you. No one is ever a professional....in any field. There is always so much more to learn...every day.

7. Tell us about your annual events - why do you have them and when did it start?

Initially, my dance recitals were established for my students to show off their talents to friends and families. Every year, the event has grown. To date, my annual Dance Extravaganza is the biggest in San Diego County. I have over 80 performers, plus top guest performers and 500 guests. I give San Diego a taste of Middle Eastern style dance with other dance avenues to be seen. I want people to know the beauty of this art form. My Extravaganza not only includes my students but also former students like Lucia and Monika, who have gone on to become top teachers and performers in San Diego. This year's show will feature artists DaVid of Scandinavia and Marguerite with her mesmerizing swords!

8. What are your future plans in dance?

I would like to continue teaching and dancing as long as God wishes me to. It is such a joy for me going into class everyday seeing my students patiently waiting to start a class, knowing that they will be challenged with new and exciting moves. To assist, I have developed a new series of instructional dance DVDs.

I am also currently working on a few books, one of them I hope to have out by July for this year's SAMEDA Faire titled "Dance Costuming, Ideas and more." The book features costuming tips including "How to make a costume from scratch," my advice, and stories about costuming "do's and don'ts." I also have a new line of purses and dance wear that I am very proud of. I am hoping to keep growing with knowledge of this fine art form.

Sohaila's Vision:
"I strive to preserve, promote, entertain, teach and train others to experience the art of belly dancing with passion, class, elegance and style."