The name Najla means “Of Wide Eyes,” in Arabic which is certainly a great description of the successful Belly Dance Instructor who not only, literally, has wide eyes but also enjoys learning even more about the craft she seems to have mastered.
The tall and slender Najla (her real name is Kristen Windmuller), sat across from me in Starbucks and told me about her true love to the soundtrack of Joe’s Pub’s sponsored Make Music New York on Astor Place.
“Like one of my instructors, Morroco, always said, ‘I wanna dance ‘til I’m three weeks past dead!’” That’s what Kristen intends to do.
At age three, Kristen was bitten by the dancing bug. She took jazz and modern dance up until age twelve but the clique-like atmosphere of dance turned her off and by chance turned her toward Middle Eastern dance. Magically it came into her life and transformed dance from being less about popularity and more about technique and the “physical expression of music.” She continues to use what she learned in her nine years of jazz and modern dance for structure and choreography but her life is devoted to Belly Dance (or Middle Eastern Dance).
The leadership in her craft started her freshman year at Yale University when she became the president of the Yale Belly Dance Society. In just three years she took the group of a handful of dancers to a group of sixty. As her love grew so did the crowd. Kristen went on to teach classes at Yale’s Payne Whitney Gym , where many who wanted to learn to dance (but not necessarily learn to perform) attended.
On July 13, 2010 the visitors of Governor’s Island who attended the Figment Festival became her students. During the show, “Belly Dance on the Island,” she taught her fellow New Yorkers about the history of Middle Eastern Dance and the techniques to a great time and great body through this dance form. Young elementary school girls surrounded the stage mimicking Najla’s movement as the familiar sound of a Jay-Z, song, “Khusara Khusara,” written in the 1960s, filled the island warranting the diverse crowd to join, even in the rain.
Governor’s Island is among the many places the brilliant Najla has shared her gift. Her first performance in New York City was at the Lafayette Grill & Bar where her favorite musician, Eddie “The Shiek” Kochak was in the audience. Funny enough, she was dancing to one of his songs. Her nerves didn’t stop her from wowing the crowd and gaining a fan base. Her charm has moved people throughout the tri-state area where she continues to teach and perform at private events such as weddings and birthday parties.
Of course the interests of this intelligent young lady do not stop at dancing. This fall she will be attending Princeton to obtain her PhD in Art History. Her undergraduate degree, a B.A. in the History of Art, speaks to who she is: artistic and graceful. She loves to draw but shows more of a fascination in the history and the social aspects of art. For this same reason she studies and shares the history of Belly Dance with her students; it’s important to understand the significance and intention of what she’s doing. It seems to give her more power and increases her passion for her work. She will use her knowledge to become a curator with a focus on African Art and continue to teach and perform Belly Dance.
“The minute you stop learning is the minute you stop trying.”
Najla will continue striving to perfect her two loves: art and dancing. Her campaign against the misconceptions and the sexual stereotypes of Middle Eastern Dance will lead her around the world rallying fun-lovers and raising the self esteem of many. Though this dance form may seem simple it is a great forum of learning how to be care-free, plus as Najla pointed out, “the costumes are fun.”
Najla currently offers private lessons and in August will be teaching a beginner’s course. She also entertains at many functions. Her performance includes a mini-lesson for guests, a unique addition to any event.
For more information, go to www.najlabellydance.com
Photos by Erica Lauren Jackson Photography