Gilded Serpent presents...
is a colorized photo take of me while I was performing on
the “Naji Baba Show,” broadcasted on a San Francisco station
in the early 1970s. This costume featured a bright lavender jacket
with long sleeves that zipped tight at the wrists and had
a built in bra. The costume piece was designed and
sewn in Hollywood and was worn by a famous figure skater
in the movies.
and My Muses:
looking at a piece of artwork featuring a classical dancer of
the past, turning it this way and that to get a better view, and
suddenly, I realized that I had lost contact with my treasured
mentors and had also abandoned my sense of artistic direction
that they had helped to foster within me. I mulled over my strong
conviction that an artist has to constantly re-evaluate his or
her work. An artist must continually take new perspectives in
order to keep the work fresh and viable. By chasing the adventure
of discovery and learning with the maps drawn and given to me
by previous dance artists, I had admitted ordinary and trite content
into my dance unwittingly. I had done this in the name of authenticity
and correctness of form. Previously, creative adaptation
(similar to poetic license) had been a major element of
my dance that had brought me early recognition for ingenuity among
my contemporaries in everything I was accomplishing.
be outstanding, a dancer (or any other artist, for that matter)
has to become more than an excellent reproducer of what others
can do and have already done.
it would be simple to write about the many ways in which costuming
the Belly dance has changed. I imagined that I could show you
photos of some old costumes and tell you how I made them from
revitalized items gleaned from local garage sales and flea markets.
However, after going through my photos, I realized that actually,
I had done more of the reclaiming than I had remembered, and each
item had become a special project in itself. Moreover, each one
had progressed through several metamorphoses.
will focus on a few of my favorites to represent the process of
transformation (--from Victorian window shades to Middle Eastern
fantasy dance costume like Scarlet O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind”).
Those of you who have talent with needle and thread will be able
to figure out your own solutions toward transformation for the
purpose of individualism (should you dare to chance sacrificing
an antique or two).
would like to see some of today’s accomplished performers expand
away from the styles that the current costumers of Egypt are turning
out like widgets on a production line!
hope to be instrumental in beginning to banish the phenomenon
of the overly ornate and elaborate “dancing costume on
a dancer” (as opposed to someone dancing in a costume
befitting her dance, her body, and her dance style).
- This is
a colorized photo (see top of page) taken of me while I was
performing on the “Naji Baba Show,” broadcasted
on a San Francisco station in the early 1970s. This costume featured a bright lavender jacket
with long sleeves that zipped tight at the wrists and had a
built in bra. The costume piece was designed and sewn
in Hollywood and was worn by a famous figure skater in the movies.
paired it with an antique color-variegated fringe shawl that was
a half circle and had extraordinarily long (variegated in color)
fringe. I do not know if it had been a to drape over a musical
instrument in a former life (as was the practice of the time).
Since it was relatively clean and dust free, I suppose that it
had been worn as a light-weight wrap for an evening party dress.
- I was
wearing the same fringe shawl in another photo with Bert
Balladine in the early ‘70s. The white costume was
made entirely of antique silk and the long sleeved blouse tied
up in the front was nearly sheer and felt airy to wear.
It was like a dream to feel it flutter against my skin while
dancing. It transformed my dance into a sensual experience for
both my audience and me.
you can see from the photo that I refrained from tying the relatively
heavy shawl on my hips with a knot, preferring instead to strategically
tuck it into my dance belt (which, by the way, we ‘70s dancers
wore much lower than is the practice today.
America of the ‘60s and ‘70s, we dancers only began our routines
with our bodies elaborately covered and soon shed the large, and
usually heavy, drape of the dance veil, learning to remove it
in such a way that we “hid our mechanics” as Bert required of
his students. The term meant that we had practiced the art
of attention diversion. Some of us become so adept at removing
these items without a fuss that our audiences were rarely aware
that we had unfastened anything for removal; instead, it seemed
that magically, hair or fabric appeared, deftly flying through
- To my way of thinking, the long fringe
of the shawl shown in this photo echoed the movement of my hair.
I tucked, released, and flew them both with great awareness
of the sculptural patterns I could produce using both as shown
in this 1975 photo taken by Jules Kliot at
the now defunct Helmet Club in Berkeley.
this photo (approximately 1976), I am wearing:
- A dance
belt made from the crocheted lace I removed from an antique
Victorian window shade.
- A bra I
made from two sides of a metal link gold purse.
gold tassels with crystal beads (reclaimed from an elaborate
I wore a hand made silk embroidered fringe shawl.
occurs to me that there may have been less body image discomfort
to the psyche three decades ago than exists today. Some of our
dancers nowadays have become almost Victorian in attitude—some
dancers resorting to wearing two and three skirts with harem pants
is a photo taken at the Casbah
Cabaret on Broadway in San Francisco during the brief
time when I danced there professionally. The sleeves of my bolero were handmade exquisitely
for some other garment and were about 100 years old --or possibly
more. Here I had paired the little jacket with a cabaret
sheer skirt and another piano cover in gold. The look and style of the costume was too heavy
for cabaret work, and soon I began to look for lighter, and
more shear, laces and fabrics.
work (a la Turk) has fallen into disuse these days, but in
this photo, I am dancing on my knees, displaying my long mane
while wearing a costume bra made from the flower collar of
a 1930s dress. The beads were pearl white and the mirrors
were shiny and set into silver bezels. Things seldom matched
but they were always, somehow, co-ordinated.
1976 posed photo of me became my favorite trademark publicity
photo because I believed that it combined both the idea of a
modern cabaret costume and the classicism of the sensual antique
hairstyle. I am wearing a sheer iris sequined skirt crafted
from a 1920s flapper’s dress. I spent approximately 200
hours painstakingly designing and creating the bra and belt
with my needle, carpet thread, cake of bee’s wax, pliers, and
a kilo of deep blue bugle beads and sew-on jewels. Jules Kliot
of Lacis in Berkeley was my photographer.
photo shows me dancing at the Belleview Hotel in San Francisco
as part of Jamila Salimpour’s Middle
Eastern Faire. Jamila whispered to me as I came
down from the stage, “Exquisite!” I felt that her comment
was an extraordinary compliment because of her invitation
to me to perform in the first place, and because I had arisen
from another style of instruction in the second place. In
the accompanying photograph, I am wearing an extremely sheer
tulle skirt made of handmade sprang-lace, sequined and beaded
in the art deco style. It was living its second life
after having existed as a 1920s dress during the flapper era.
all, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, we showed more leg and more torso than
one commonly sees now and yet, we maintained our dignity because
we had learned to hide dance mechanics and create an air of simplicity.
Veil dancing (or fringed shawl dancing) rarely featured what I
think of today as frantically and frenetically performed “Irrelevant
Veil Tricks”. Though vapid veil tricks may seem impressive
and reek of slick professionalism for a short time, they are still
tricks, and tricks will only rarely illustrate the mood or lyricism
of the musical score.
recall of one of Bert Balladine’s favorite class sayings, “No
matter how much lipstick you put on a pig, it is still a pig!”
For me, veil tricks are just tricks that one dancer teaches another;
they are usually irrelevant to the intent of the music and illustrate
nothing more than a great memory for detail and a dancer’s intent
to dazzle. It is worse than lipstick on a pig!
this 1979 photo of Eddie the Sheik and me in Riverside, California, I am wearing a beaded belt in my hair
that I had worn while dancing in the show to hold back my contemporary
“big hair.” (The belt was from a 1930s dress.)
- The antique postcard dancer I chose for
my recent Gilded Serpent ad is wearing the gold serpent necklace
that I bought from an antique store in Berkeley during the 1960s.
I have loved it and worn it for dancing and social events centered
on dance ever since. I wonder if there were hundreds of them,
or do I own the same necklace as the one she is wearing?
my quest for authenticity, both in dance and in my costuming for
the dance, I had gradually ceased doing one of the things that
was truly authentic in this dance form: I had stopped making both
the movement and costuming individual and unique. I no longer
melded envisioned, reused, fused or re-vitalized design elements
from various countries, times and literature as I once had.
last, I remembered that the great dance stars I had seen in Egypt
were unique and different from each other. With that sudden moment
of insight, I began to reunite with the many beautiful and neglected
items from the years past that I had stored away.
each piece re-emerged from storage recently, it seemed a new treasure!
My collection continues to be a source of pleasure and a poignant
reminder for me and for my students who come into my home studio
today, where they can see it framed and displayed as if it were
in an art gallery. Purposely, I have made my home into a gallery/museum,
and I live, dance, and teach among my objects d’ arte, antiques,
travel collections, and items of fascination and curiosity.
Fund Raiser, Showtime at the Helmet Club in Berkeley”
of a very special show that I produced in 1975 with the help of
Bert Balladine, many members of the dance community, and Jules
and Kaethe Kliot of Lacis (formerly Some Place). We raised
funds to support the studio for Middle Eastern dance that I had
opened two years earlier in the East Bay Area of San Francisco
in 1973. The studio name was The Dancing Girl Studio,
and then later it became Belly Dance Arts Studio when the
women’s movement during the seventies became contentious and made
the concept of a mere girl dancing become offensive and verboten
in Berkeley. How was I to know that the term ‘Belly Dance’
would soon follow the suit, becoming politically offensive in
the ‘70s, instead of just a simple matter of a dancer’s personal
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
2-16-05 Lace and My Muses,
Part 4 of 5:Tarnished StarDust
until very recent times, could I admit, even to myself, that I
had lost a large part of my creative thrust along with many of
my treasured friendships because I had perceived wrongly that
I needed to become more like the Egyptian and Lebanese dancers
of the day.
Defiant Dancer: How
I became a Dance Pioneer In a small 1970s California Community
Festival My attitude turned from community spirit
to outright defiance.
The Nile Group Workshops in Cairo
it sounds! How could we, in a small country that a lot of people
couldn’t even locate on a world map, compete with her enormous
festival in Cairo?
What is a Ghazal? by Leigh
“Ghazal” is a word in Arabic that means talking to
Rhythm and Reason Series, Article
4, For Whom Do You Dance? by Mary Ellen Donald
do you dance for – your audience or yourself?
9-8-05 Belly Dance, Burlesque and
Beyond: Confessions of a Post Modern Showgirl by Princess
Farhana (Pleasant Gehman)
WAIT!!!” I can hear you screaming, “ BURLESQUE IS