ART AND COMPASSION~ Bellydance for Humanity

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For the past three weeks I, along with my dance partner Mariyah, have been organizing this fundraiser event for Syrian Refugees. A slow building personal need to respond to this humanitarian crisis met with a flash of inspiration at seeing the Global Hafla for Humanity organization uniting bellydancers around the world to raise money. Suddenly, it was clear I could do something.  And we went to work.

Since November 14th bellydancers in more than 25 cities around the world have been organizing events to raise money for the International Rescue Committee to benefit Syrian refugees. With an original goal set at $10,000, Global Hafla for Humanity events have raised over $13,000 to date. Mariyah and I were inspired by the movement and organizing a NYC Hafla for Humanity called out to us as way to use our talents for good.


“Bellydance for Humanity” December 21st at Drom NYC

Two weeks later, and hours and hours of time invested in, my partner and I hit an impasse over a small aspect of the organizing process.  I began to get emotional…I felt misunderstood, isolated, overwhelmed.

It took hours of conversation and the un-peeling of many layers to uncover the source of that material.  And then there it was…”I don’t feel safe. I don’t know what it’s like to feel safe and settled in the world.”

And I wept. And I understood why this cause, among so many important and worthy causes in the world, is the one that called me to work with it.

I know the feeling of sudden uproot and uncertainty, and I know the fight for survival that is born out of panic and fear. And I know that none of us are different from these people fleeing their homes in desperation.

Granted, I was born in America.  And though my upbringing was desperate and impoverished, in a broken home stricken with mental illness and alcoholism – my reality is a world apart from those living in these war-torn areas.  But, the connection of experiencing those feelings – human feelings that we as a collective all share – is real.

Everyone, at some point in their lives, has experienced that feeling of having the rug pulled out from beneath them and seeing their world sent spinning.  People just like you and me are suffering and dying.  UNHCR data calculates that women and children make up three-quarters of the refugees fleeing the violence in Syria.

This is not a political issue, it’s a humanitarian one. We just want to help.  And yes, everything is screwed up and complicated and kind of a no-end-in-sight type of situation – but that doesn’t give us a pass to ignore it.

By giving voice to my own feelings, I suddenly realized I was in the right place, doing the right thing…however uncomfortable and terrified it made me. I’m blessed to have a dance partner who is incomparable in her integrity, wisdom, and beautiful presence in the world. And a boyfriend who continually blows me away with his kindness, his drive to lift his loved ones up, and his supreme humor and humanity.

I owe a great deal to the two of them.  They, and the refugees, have helped me on my endless journey in learning to embody: Compassion. Collaboration. Acceptance. Fearlessness. Empowerment. Letting go. Action.


Go to Drom NYC for more information and advance tickets for Bellydance For Humanity on December 21st.

Visit our facebook event page here.

Layla Isis
*header photo credit: Alison Domzalski. Additional photos of Layla Isis and Mariyah by Katrin Albert.