LAYLA TAJ


by Sherif Awad

LAYLA TAJ



Egyptian Belly Dancer, Layla Taj‘s peregrination in oriental dance began in her native New York and excelled to Dubai, Cairo and Sharm El Sheikh. Ms. Taj hails from the aristocratic ancient Greek lineage of Philippides which reaches back to Alexander The Great. Her Mother, an early supporter of Layla’s career was a notable artist herself. Mary: a beauty queen (Greek American GAPA) was also a trained actress, opera singer and a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).  She influenced her daughter’s life and propelled her interest in Egyptian melodies when she sent Layla to Alexandria and Greece to reconnect with her Greek relatives. There, Layla discovered the music of Oum Kalthoum. “Those eight months molded me into who I am today” says Layla, she continues “the rich culture of the east implanted emotions and great affection in my heart which I ordinarily would never experience in the states,” she adds. 
Layla’s initiation into the artistic world began with daily classic ballet training at the Rockville Centre Academy of Dance in New York and private classical piano lessons when she was just a teenager.  At 21 years old, Layla’s fate riveted into the music business when she was introduced to a music producer from Atlantic Records at a music convention.  He recognized a rising star and signed her immediately. They wrote and released a hit single which charted on the Billboard Chart surpassing Michael Jackson. Layla ‘s presence also inspired songwriters such as Grammy award winning producer Keith Diamond (Mic Jagger, Billy Ocean) and Parisian artist Jean Marc Fustier to write songs about her.  Her reputation as a muse took hold but the aloof Ms. Taj forged forward leaving the industry behind. Rap music entered the scene and Layla was happy to exit and return to her first love of dance.
Layla began taking belly dance classes in New York, but she longed for more authenticity in Egyptian style, not fusion.  Layla say’s “I insulted some teachers in New York to the inner core when I traveled to Europe and studied with the Egyptian masters, but the Egyptian teachers understood my goal and always had my back, I am forever grateful to them.” Master Dr. Mo Geddawwi said of Layla “there are dancers and there are stars, Layla is a star!”  In 1999, Layla was then invited to perform in the Gala Show at the Stockholm Belly Dance Festival in Sweden. That’s where I met the exceptional Mahmoud Reda and Raqia Hassan.   “These incredible teachers were premier at what they do, and I was honored to meet them.”  says Layla. After a few years in Germany, Layla went back to New York, she  danced six hours a day developing her own signature style. She watched the classic black and white Egyptian films and familiarized herself with the stars of Egyptian dance. Layla say’s “the stars of that golden era were the best dancers in my opinion, they danced with great feeling within the body not outwardly jerky movements jumping over here and there.”
Then Layla received a call from a dancer friend in Cairo, she told me I should go to Egypt now. It was known the Egyptian government would be revoking the license of foreign belly dancers very soon due to the shenanigans of Russian belly dancers in Egypt. Layla’s mother handed her money for the flight and Layla prepared 18 lavish costumes. She auditioned for a Five Star hotel in Sharm El sheikh at 10:00 a.m. and Layla landed the contract on pointe.  Her contract included all amenities and a room in the main hotel. She performed for Royalty and politicians in the Royal villa’s . Her contract included a room in the main hotel and later her own modern condo with a personal driver. Layla says “in order to save money, I insisted on living in the hotel, thank God the Egyptians were generous to me.”  She went on to perform under contract at the Cairo Sheraton and the J.W Marriott in Dubai. Layla has since formed her own corporation ECPAS Egyptian Cultural Performing Arts Society which aims at promoting Egyptian culture through the performing arts. Her cultural program “Journey Down The Nile.” presents signature pieces which depict Cleopatra VII and regional dances of Egypt. She has performed  this show for the Egyptian Tourist Authority, Egyptian Ambassador Yousef Zada and the United Nations in New York just to name a few. The raven haired beauty currently lives in southwest Florida and reigns as the leading belly dancer for weddings and events.  Layla say’s “I have other goals on my plate right now which will continue to promote Egypt and the dance in general, there is always a desire to raise the bar even higher ” Layla adds “ It’s never high enough until it reaches the stars.”