The Gilded Serpent presents...
I was born the third sibling of four 50 miles north of California’s capitol city of Sacramento in what was then the booming town of Marysville. Enclosed in levies to keep out the floodwaters of the Sacramento and American Rivers, its growth has since spilled out into what is now known as Yuba City leaving Marysville fenced and stagnant within its custodial boundaries.
In my first year of life, I was whisked away along with my older brother and sister to Spain where I learned to speak the native tongue before that of my birthright. I don’t know how they did it, but even in Spanish my English-speaking parents seemed to know what I was saying. I really had to hand it to them. Of course, our two maids usually had a hand in translating my wants and desires.
When I was three years old, my mother hired a dance teacher, and my older sister and I began Spanish dance lessons as well as lessons on the castañelas (castanets). Before long we were dancing Alegrías for friends and family and sporting the traditional Spanish dance attire; I chose a white with red polka dotted ensemble fringed in red. I loved that dress.
At age five, with a younger sister now a part of the family, I was again whisked away from the familiar faces of Madrid and found myself amongst the brown bodies of the black haired natives of Bangkok, Thailand. Then, one of only a handful of white skinned Americans, I was increasingly aware that I was somehow different as giggling native children my age would gather around staring at and touching my hair and skin. It was only later that I discovered that they were gawking at my startling genetic freckled features and not at the mustard stains that I had been trying to hide which had splattered on my cloths earlier that day.
I started school in Bangkok, and before long I discovered Thai Classical dance, which the school offered after regular school hours. For the next nine years I took advantage of the school’s extracurricular dance hour and was soon making the rounds dancing with my fellow dancers for special Thai functions including the Queen’s birthday and for regular school events. But, after my ninth year in school, my family packed up again and headed for the United States. I saw Apollo 11 land on the moon and heard Neil Armstrong’s now familiar statement from a motel room in San Francisco - my first night in the United States since I was a year old.
Back in the US
After an uneventful six months in Oroville, Washington, where we resided after a couple of weeks in San Francisco, we headed back to Marysville where I graduated. After graduation, I attended Business College in Sacramento. It was there that I discovered Jodette’s Belly Dance school while looking through the Yellow Pages, and on a whim I drove to her next beginner’s course and signed up.
For the next three years, Jodette’s studio became my second home. I saw many many girls come and go from each beginner’s course, and I saw a few stay. Those that remained became part of Jodette’s “girls”. I was ecstatic to be a part of Jodette’s girls. It never occurred to me to drop belly dance classes and I could never understand why so many beginners did.
Jodette opened new doors for me including the opportunities to dance and perform for the public as a paid professional. Professional? What did I know back then about being “professional” - only three years into this novelty of a dance? What did I know about her culture, or her native land, or her experience? Be that as it may, I even taught a few of her beginner classes.
After and extended vacation traveling throughout Europe for two weeks and through the Mediterranean on the Achille Lauro cruise liner for following two weeks where I was asked to perform on board the ship, I made up my mind to leave Sacramento; and upon my return to the United States, I uprooted myself from Sacramento and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. It was a move I knew I had to make to save myself from a tumultuous relationship, and I was thankful for my mother’s support.
Performing in North Beach
I began looking around for competent teachers as I had just left the only one I had ever known in Sacramento. I studied with a few, but always felt like I was missing something, something that only Jodette seemed to possess. Now, at 26, I ventured to downtown San Francisco, auditioned, and was hired as one of Bagdad’s belly dancers. I also began dancing at the Greek Tavern, the Athena Taverna in Oakland, and the Casablanca in South San Francisco. Not fulfilled with dancing all over The City in restaurants and cabarets, I signed on with Eastern Onion Singing Telegram Service and did countless “bellygrams” for birthdays and anniversaries.
While dancing at the Bagdad, I was approached by a frequenter who told me of a small restaurant called The Grapeleaf that was located out in the Richmond District of San Francisco, and that the owner was looking for dancers. And there I met my former husband. Prior to my marriage, I joined the U. S. Navy Reserves, and it was through this 22 year spell that I was able to dance in Naval bases across the globe, my most favorites being Iceland and Antarctica. Sicily, Spain, Crete, Japan, and Korea are also included within this spell as well as personal vacation trips to Germany, Tahiti, France, Italy, Switzerland, Mexico, and numerous states across the Americas including Alaska, Hawaii, and Guam. Also on my list of dance places are The Rotterdam and The Princess cruise liners.
I was married for nine years and danced at The Grapeleaf as often as I could -- at least twice a week. During my marriage I started the first Middle Eastern packaged prepared food line, which included humos, baba ghanooj, felafel, taratoor sauce, shay naana tea, and limon was zeit salad dressing. In no time, I was delivering the product to over 100 natural and health food stores in Northern California. I also decided to quit my position with the U. S. Postal Service, and dove right in with promoting the restaurant and the dance by sponsoring top belly dance names, producing belly dance functions, and publishing and distributing a belly dance quarterly as well as an annual belly dance guide, both were distributed for free to over 2,000 Bay Area dance residents and over 10,000 global belly dance residents respectively. The quarterly lasted ten years and the annual lasted for six years and ended with the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web.
At age 41 I found myself alone as my husband and I separated. I struggled to keep the food packaging business alive during the next year, but I felt its unrealistic demands for one person to work it, and so I decided to close that part of the business. Three months later I met my current partner and best friend, Hatem.
Hatem seemed to come out of nowhere, this tall, good-looking Egyptian fellow. I had seen him come and go during the time I was married and had even had a couple of brief “hi and bye” conversations with him, but I never thought that he and I would become business partners. One day, a year after my separation, he walked into my restaurant, heard my story, and after a few minutes stated that he and I would turn things around and make the restaurant work – as the only Egyptian restaurant in Northern California. In fact, it was Hatem who came up with the name, Al-Masri, which means The Egyptian.
We opened Al-Masri on December 17, 1999 after a year of remodeling and restoration. Within six months we were written up in numerous magazines and periodicals, and we were featured on Bay Area Backroads, one of KRON’s Channel 4 news events.
The next year Samar came into my life looking for lessons in Belly Dance and began dancing at Al-Masri to the acclaim of every Egyptian patron who ventured in to enjoy the heart and soul of their homeland. Through the skilled performances of Samar as my protégé, I discovered that my talents as a belly dance teacher were being sought after. After three years of private classes, I opened my dance school under the name Sausan Academy of Egyptian Dance.
Hatem, Samar, and I still operate the restaurant. Owning and operating a restaurant is extremely difficult, but the rewards outweigh the hardships. I am the Executive Chef, Hatem is the Host, and Samar is the Premier Dancer. And our restaurant family continues to grow with Amany as a featured weekend dancer and Nawal as the next bright star.
Sausan Academy of Egyptian Dance focuses solely on the Egyptian style of belly dance. It is comprised of four semesters after which when all are attended, the dancer graduates with the knowledge of the differences between Egyptian style belly dance and its offshoots.
The future looks bright, and there is a lot in store for my “family” and me. I am writing several books, one of which will be on Egyptian Style Belly Dance, and the other on Egyptian Cuisine. We are also looking at the possibilities of opening another restaurant with the same Egyptian concept.
Who knows? It has all been a whirlwind from my perspective. But I do know this: that I never would have expected 30 years ago back in my first beginner class with Jodette that I would end up owning and operating an Egyptian restaurant much less open a dance academy where I would be teaching the future generation the style of dance I have grown to love and respect, and that is the Egyptian style of belly dance.
Articles on Gilded Serpent by or about Sausan
- 1-12-12 Nightclub and Restaurant Gigs, Paid Auditons or Justified Entitlement
Belly dancing in any public venue, like a nightclub or a restaurant, for compensation is a privilege.
- 12-11-11 Egypt's Golden Age, Timeline and Synopsis
From around 1850 to 2000, Egypt saw the birth, rise, and transformation of its cultural expression through dance. With each period, a new energy in the dance was introduced and, with it, new dancers with new dance movements and new costumes.
When did Ballet become a requisite for Belly dance, and why is it stated that it should be an essential part of a Belly dancer’s daily regimen?
- 3-29-11 The Magic of "The Grapleaf", 1976-1997
Back in the early '80s when I was performing at the Bagdad Cabaret on Broadway, a customer strolled into the Northbeach nightclub and told me about a little known restaurant
Jodette: Undeniably Authentic
“ Why do students go against their own teacher,” Jodette continued, “and spread ugly rumors?” I looked at her a shook my head. It's a lament that I, too, have experienced from time to time as teacher of this dance.
- 6-3-08 The Egyptian Dance Code: Technique to the Perfect Dance
Twenty-eight years after my first class in Belly dance, I looked at all the dancers once again and realized what they were doing to look Egyptian. I had discovered the Egyptian Dance Code. That was back in 2000.
- 4-14-08 Taheyia Karioka, Queen of Oriental Cabaret Dance
In the 1980’s, the spread of Islam and its fundamental militancy proved to be a big blow for Egypt’s belly dance industry. As a result, several dancers publicly renounced their pasts and donned the Islamic veil.
- 3-8-07 Nakish-An inteview with "The Lady with the Eyes"
I worked hardest for the dancers in San Francisco to wipe out the discrimination factor and to make sure that all cultures were included in the performance of this dance.
- 1-18-07 Who Really Gave Us This Dance?
And, in their quest for self-expression, they, too, would fall prey to the sweet expressive motions of a timeless dance only to find a cure for their soul in the performance of this expression in front of an appreciative audience.
- 8-16-05 Sausan’s First Egyptian Dance Seminar
What would you think if you heard somebody say, “There are no isolations in Egyptian Belly dance"?
- 3-3-05 The BDSS Experience and Miles Copeland; Doing What He Does Best
Even though Miles Copeland’s vision is similar to that of mine and the majority of belly dancers I have canvassed in my lifetime, he and I differ in our mission approach to elevating the dance, and this is where the discussion became a heated debate.
- 7-17-04 Dancing in North Beach
On the occasions when the door was still locked, I was often invited to drink coffee next door, where young girls made their money stripping.
- 11-12-99 Sausan's Saga at The Grapeleaf Restaurant
Phoenix-like, arising from the ashes of a dreadful divorce and forced closure, petite and spunky owner-operator Sausan has persevered and returns stronger than ever with her new partner from Egypt.