Gilded Serpent presents...
Tahya of Fort Collins
in a series - a history of bellydancing in (and out of) the San
Francisco area, as told by Aziza!
New horizons! Travel! That's what we needed! Sales of costumes
and accessories at Ginny's dance studio in Sebastopol
were okay. The costumes I made and the scarves and such that
she had to sell had found an interested market - just not a very
big one. We also sold an acceptable amount at the local functions,
such as the Rakkasah Festival, that we attended with
our wares. Then one day in 1983 we got a flyer in the mail -
a woman in Fort Collins, Colorado, named Tahya
was putting on a dance event that would draw from several western
started thinking about the possibility of packing up our goods
and actually traveling somewhere to sell! We got in
touch with Tahya, reserved some space in her marketplace, and
we were set to go!
had the larger car - a little yellow Honda "woody" wagon - we
decided to go in that. We packed it so full we could hardly breathe,
and we still had to tie the biggest racks on the top. It must
have looked pretty funny! The Beverly Hillbillies meet the Glitter
Queens! Off we went to Colorado - a trip that was an adventure
We had a great
time at the event, selling a lot of our inventory, meeting new
people who became friends (that's where I first met Suzanna
del Vecchio) and seeing interesting sights. The dancing
in Colorado was a little different from what we were used to on
the West Coast (a little more enthusiastic, a little more naļve,
a little less progressive), and that was interesting, too. We
stayed in a dorm room on campus, and we both had trouble sleeping,
as we were overwhelmed with sadness in that room. We later learned
that its last tenant had been a girl who committed suicide - an
unsettling but explanatory story.
Aziza! posing with Jason in '85
On our way
home from Colorado, we stopped in Salt Lake City at Yasamina's
dance studio. She had heard of me from somewhere and had called
me at home before our trip, at which time we had made arrangements
for our visit. Yas turned out to be a charming woman, and her
students were delighted with our wares, so it was a good stop
all around. Also at that time we met Jason Roque,
who was later to become Yas's husband - though he didn't know
it yet! They invited us to vend and dance at their Belly Dance
Festival in August - it would be their second annual - and we
accepted with alacrity.
And so began
my annual trips to Utah! I have been selling costumes at the
Festival every year since 1983, and it is like a second family
for me there - people have been warm and friendly and I just love
to visit! Our first trip or two was not, however, without incident.
The Festival has always been held outside, generally in a public
park, though the first few were in a different park from the one
that has become home to the event. The first year we set up under
the trees - lots of racks and goods piled on tables - it took
quite a while to display it all.
came down much more quickly, however, when there was a sudden
wind/dust storm! Ginny was on stage, dancing, and she said
later that she could see the wind coming across the park almost
like a solid wall of dust and trash!
into action to try to preserve all the vendors' goods - every
booth had a dozen people helping to get stuff under cover - in
our case, jammed into that little Honda! In a short time the
storm passed and we were able to set up the booth again - but
think the person most excited was the girl who was trying on
a costume in our portable dressing room when it blew over..
year we went, there was thunder, lightning and rain - a standard
occurrence at the Festival. The show went on, however, as it
usually does in spite of whatever the weather comes up with.
The musicians were under shelter and most of the stage was pretty
dry. When I danced, I did manage to find a slick, wet spot on
the stage, and my feet flew out from under me, dumping me unceremoniously
on my rear! Well, I was full of adrenaline and I had on several
skirts, which sort of cushioned my landing, so I just got up,
said to the horrified musicians, "That was the latest San Francisco
style Turkish Drop," and continued to do the rest of my show.
Ginny had borrowed Lara's Ghawazi costume and
learned our routines, so we were able to give Salt Lake City its
first exposure to Ghawazi dancing. As we also taught classes
every year at the Festival (they have always presented a lineup
of teachers), I was able to teach some of it that year, too.
& Adam at the Salt Lake City Festival in 1990
continued to grow and thrive. After a while, Ginny and I stopped
dancing while we were there, as it was too hard to run the booth
and be ready to dance well. We did, however, continue to teach
classes during the show, and eventually we made an extra trip
to Utah every year a month or two before the Festival - we would
teach some classes and sell costumes so people could have something
new to wear to perform at the Big Do. Then Ginny moved to Reno,
so it wasn't so easy to go together - she started taking her daughter
Kelly with her, and I took my son Adam.
It is a bonus having Adam there, as he provides excellent booth
security, and he is so tall that he could reach the upper frame
of the tent without a ladder to put up the lights for the evening
hours. (The Roques had long since realized the advantages of
including the price of a tent in the booth fee to protect the
vendors from the yearly rains and all.) Some years ago Ginny
quit going (as she quit her business) and now just Adam and I
travel to Utah every year. The most exciting thing, I think,
was once when lightning struck a big tree just across the parking
lot from us! It made the air sizzle and it was the loudest sound
I have ever heard!
For the twentieth
anniversary of the Festival, Yas and Jason moved it up into the
mountains just outside of Salt Lake City, to the Snowbird resort.
It felt like the event had grown up! It was a gorgeous setting
and certainly much cooler than down in town! My favorite
thing that happened while we were there was that the first evening
there was a concert somewhere outside on the grounds. They were
playing the "1812 Overture", and when the time came at the end for
the "cannons" to fire, thunder broke out in the mountains and really
made it exciting! Away from the middle of Salt Lake we didn't have
to worry about the park people - pilferage had been a problem down
in the park - but it also meant that there was a lower attendance.
very high altitude was a problem for some dancers, especially
those from the sea level San Francisco Bay Area, for instance.
There was always an ambulance with oxygen standing by.
problems dealing with the management of Snowbird, but the Roques
persevered for three years there. We vendors had other problems,
too. Though we didn't have to worry so about shoplifting, we
did have to spend a lot more to stay on the premises (or make
the long drive from town) and for food on site. Transporting
our setups and wares from the parking lot to the booths was long
and a pain in the neck. Because the attendance was lower, so
were our sales. Due to the configuration of the site, all the
booths couldn't fit in the same place, so people had to hike around
from one area to another. This caused unrest, as some of the
vendors wanted to be in an area where they were not. It was in
some ways a relief to hear that the Snowbird era was over!
Stage at Snowbird in 1998
it meant the end of the Festival - for a year, anyway. After
one year's hiatus, the event was presented at the Community
Cultural Center (as it turned out, a bad idea) - but now
it is back once again in Liberty Park!
When we first
watched the dancing in Utah, we were struck both by how much behind
the trends on the West Coast the dancing was and by the enthusiasm
and fresh spirit that was a characteristic of the performances.
the years, Yas has brought in some of the most well-known and
interesting teachers in the country to give the dance community
there the benefit of their knowledge, and they are now as up
to date as anywhere. We have watched the growth and development
of their community, and it has been interesting.
It has also
been interesting to watch, in microcosm in Utah, the dynamics
that go on in the greater belly dance "world". There have been
feuds with other teachers in the area, as well as battling festivals.
One of the dancers in the area was mad at Yas and Jason, and so
decided to set up her own dance festival - always the weekend
before theirs! She kept at it for several years, but it was never
a great success, and I think that she has stopped trying. Local
ethnomusicologist Lloyd Miller attacked the Roques
and the festival repeatedly for years (why? who knows?), but finally
realized that he appeared just ridiculous after his last try,
so maybe he has given up now. There have been internal upheavals
in their troupe, Kismet, but they keep on going, trying
to present belly dancing to a large audience and to educate people
about its beauty, its history and its delight. It has been some
Well - I got
a little sidetracked there! Once I got started, for years I took
my costumes in my car hither and yon to belly dance events, science
fiction/fantasy conventions, etc. The farthest I went was to
Chicago, to the World Science Fiction Convention. That
was certainly an adventure! I went to two different events in
Texas (San Antonio is great! El Paso, not so much) and to a lot
of conventions in Oregon and Washington. These days, except for
Salt Lake City, I pretty much stick to events in California.
One of the main reasons for this is adventures like having a transmission
that blew in Texas on my way home and then, replaced, blew again
a few hours later in the middle of the New Mexico desert, causing
a "rest" of eight hours by the side of the freeway. (There's another
whole story there!) I'm just not interested in that kind of adventure
any longer! As more and more people set up to sell (mostly imported)
costumes, the globalization of the dance continues, while the
horizons for the small, do-it-oneself costumer have drawn in further
and further. What will come next? I don't know, but I look forward
to it with great anticipation!
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Episodes in Aziza!'s series of columns-
9-4-04 My Costuming Roots
however, it became obvious that I couldn’t do three shows
a night, on and on, with only one costume! And Yousef, owner of
the Bagdad, supported this realization by telling me that if I
didn’t get some more costumes, I was fired.
Belly Dancer of the Year
contestants were limited to ten, and all danced to the same music,
though they were permitted any props they wanted.
Photos from The Luna Gitana Festival,
Santa Cruz, California photos by Monica Berini
produced by Vashti on November 13, 2004
The Grand International Bellydance Tour
or How We Fled India at Midnight, Eluding Our Captors and Evading
our Go-Go-Dance Responsibilities. or What Would Fifi Do? by
Michelle and Sandra
may not have been such a problem for us had the prostitutes not
been posing as bellydancers!