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Yes, you read that right. It has taken me ten years to make this website a reality. So, just for a moment, imagine me running up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum with the Rocky theme song playing in the background and you’ll understand the magnitude of this moment for me.


I am what you might call a hermit showgirl. Having been born with the gifts and the passion for a life in the performing arts and yet wholly deterred by our modern society’s construct of what today’s artists must do to survive in this digital age of immediacy and relentless self-promotion.


It’s clear to me how important a job it is to bring the arts into the world. And there’s plenty of audience to go around for all who truly feel this calling.  Yet these days, legitimacy is not won unless you have built an empire around your name that is measured in social media followers, a high google ranking, and a cutting edge online portfolio. But a lacking in technical savviness has not been the only thing holding me back.


When I started my career, I was soaring through a kismet of opportunity and circumstance that made it clear I was destined to become a successful bellydancer. Having returned from a job touring with the famed Bellydance Superstars in 2004 and ready to make my mark in the world; I asked my Dad to help me make a website.


We collaborated joyously on this project until unexpectedly, tragically, he passed away.  I was in my early twenties, full of passion and determination to rise to the top of my art when I suddenly lost the one person in the world who truly understood me. Grief-stricken, it felt as though the wind in my sails, the aim of my arrow had been stolen from me.  One can never be prepared to lose someone so important to them, no matter the age, and the devastation can sometimes change the course of a life’s path.


I moved south to New Orleans soon after, withdrawing from the hustle of New York and joining up with my brother Jason.  Hurricane Katrina arrived later that year and forced us to evacuate the city indefinitely, so I landed right back in New York.  I found myself reeling from a year of death and uproot, and went to work to survive.


Luckily I was already established, and work came easy again.  But I was not the same.  The period that followed was abundant with money-making gigs and a smattering of high-profile jobs, but my heart was not in it and I felt empty of purpose.  Every time I thought of returning to the work of building my website, solidifying my ‘brand’, and putting myself out there in the arena of important emerging artists in my field, I shied away, procrastinated, or self-sabotaged.  It was too painful.


I burned myself out, averaging ten to twelve shows weekly performing mainly at hookah bars and nightclubs, never replenishing my reserves or finding time for inspiration. Slowly, the life-force that bellydance had awakened in me waned to a dim flicker of auto-pilot output and not surprisingly, life provided the change of pace and environment I could not give to myself.  Enter the next phase of renewal, re-discovery, and re-organization of what kind of artist I am.


I joined The Dalia Carella Dance Collective and became immersed in theatrical world-fusion and high-art bellydance again. I joined Zikrayat and enriched my foundation with a deeper understanding of the classical roots of Arabic music and dance. I took more classes.  I partnered up and began collaborating with the soulful Mariyah on projects like Entelechy Dance and Infinity Bellydance.  And my joy returned, whether performing in a theatre, at a restaurant, or a special family occasion.  Dance is my home.


Entelechy Dance performing “Double Helix”
These past few years of finding this balance between commercial work and artistic endeavors, of challenging myself creatively to discover my own genuine voice, and doing the work on myself to be able to move on from the moment in time I lost that voice have led me here, to this moment.  To claim life, to surpass limitations and live up to the existent potential. To be human is to seek this out and do what’s necessary to arrive here.


My dad would have wanted me to finish our project, and for me to have a presence in the world that reflects who I am and what I can offer.  I’m proud of the work that I’ve done professionally and personally, though it hasn’t always been as graceful or as efficient as I would have liked.  But my days of waiting in the wings are over.  I’m ready to embrace who I am, and hopefully, help others on their journey of finding their own voices.  And throughout it all, do the good work of bringing joy and art into the world.


I dedicate my website to my father, the great Gregory Ellison.  A powerful, one of a kind and magical dude who lives on in me forever.


Love and Boundlessness,
Layla Isis