ad 4 Fahtiem


 


Celebrating my birhday with cake & champaign with Samra/Sherifa Zuhour (1976?)
Gilded Serpent presents...
How MECDA Began Part II

To Whom It May Concern:
by Mish Mish El-Atrash

I have never been one to brag, but after seeing an article on Gilded Serpent recently, I feel I must set a few things straight. I was very curious to hear what Fairuz had to say about how M.E.C.D.A. began, as I was one of the original dancers to organize it. Naturally, I was very upset to see that my name was not even mentioned. I want to add my recollection of events to the history already laid out in Gilded Serpent.

Samrah Zuhour (Jenkins) was my roommate at the time and the two of us would come home from work every night and complain about working conditions in all the clubs. It was on one of those nights that we decided to take action. We began contacting most of our sisters in dance, who were working at some of these clubs, to organize our first meeting. The meeting was at Marie Silva's studio, which was located at that time on Hollywood Boulevard. All of the main dancers working in the Los Angeles area, Hollywood and Orange County were invited.

One of the most important facts that was left out of Fairuz's article was that we had Gloria Steinum (attorney and women's rights activist) helping us by providing important legal advice. She told us step-by-step how to begin to take action against the club owners regarding our situation. First, we tried to organize a meeting with the club owners, but they basically just laughed at us and said their businesses would survive without us. It was at this point that we all brainstormed and came up with and implemented a plan to go on strike and picket the clubs.

After a week or so, Majed, the owner of Khyams on Vermont Street, hired dancers from San Francisco's Bagdad and Casbah Night Clubs to come down to work. Those dancers had no idea what was going on or what we were trying to accomplish, so they didn't really care about crossing our picket lines. During the strike we drew up a list of dancers’ rights and performance standards in a contract* that we then presented to the club owners who eventually decided to come and negotiate.

I still have an original copy of those guidelines that I've saved over the years as a reminder of what we did and what we accomplished. I recently tried to scan my copy of the poor old and faded guidelines we all wrote, but the paper was so faded I had to re-type it. I have to admit, looking at them after all these years, I really had a good laugh at the way it was all worded. Most of all, it saddens me that the ideas and spirit of the guidelines were respected for such a short time by the club owners. And forgotten by most of the dancers.


Dancers that worked at Khyams in LA after the strike (1978?)
(Top left-right) Shirin, Paula, Maha, Majid (owner)
(Bottom L-R) Mish Mish, Selwa, Yasmine, Rababa
I am not sure (as it was so many years ago) who actually had their contracts signed, but I was able to get my contract signed by Maroon Saba, the owner of the Fez, Majed, owner of Khyams, and George Debah, the manager (and brother-in-law to Ed Nash, owner) of Ali Baba’s. They lived up to their signed contracts for about a year, and then, unfortunately, everything went back to the way things were before.

I feel that the constant flow of dancers who moved down from up north gave the club owners more leverage to hire or fire those of us who had united together against them. It's really quite sad that after all the hard work and sacrifice we all made so many years ago, there are still dancers today who are completely unaware of how the road was paved for them to have an easier and better future in their dancing communities and careers.

I am grateful that there are sources today like the Gilded Serpent. It is so important that teachers and dancers continue to share stories and document past events. It would be wonderful to have a library or museum completely dedicated to our art and how it has evolved and continues to survive.

Well, this is all I have to say for now. I just wanted to add these notes to the article that Fairuz wrote; I would like to be remembered as one of the proud dancers who began it all.

MIDDLE EASTERN CABERET DANCERS ASSOCIATION (“M.E.C.D.A.”)
PERFORMANCE STANDARDS

1) EMPLOYMENT STATUS. ARTIST shall be deemed an employee of OWNER.
2) Tips. All tips paid to ARTIST shall belong to ARTIST as additional pay. OWNER shall arrange for all tips that have fallen to the floor or stage during each performance of ARTIST to be picked up immediately after the performance and for said tips to be paid immediately to ARTIST. No tips will be shared by ARTIST with musicians, or with any employees of owner, or with owner, or with anyone else.
3) PAY. ARTIST will be paid a minimum of $30.00 per night. Pay will be deemed earned for any night as soon as ARTIST reports for work that night unless ARTIST refuses to perform that night. Pay will be 1 ˝ times base pay on legal holidays, and will be 2 times base pay on New Year’s Eve.
4) PERFORMANCES. Each separate performance by ARTIST will be from 20 to 30 minutes, and no longer. A rest period of 1 hour will be allowed between the end of one performance and the start of the next performance. During the rest period, ARTIST will not be required to perform “B-Girl Duties” and ARTIST will not be required to mingle with customers. OWNER will not pressure ARTIST to drink with customers or hustle customers into buying drinks. Only two (2) performances will be required by ARTIST on weeknights (Monday through Thursday) and only three (3) performances on weekend nights (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). ARTIST will provide and appear in traditional Middle Eastern costume during the performance, and the performance will consist of traditional Middle Eastern dances, primarily “Belly Dances” performed in a proper, respectable and traditional manner. ARTIST will not be required to perform in “topless” or “bottomless” dances. ARTIST, when not performing, will not be required to appear in public in costume.
5) WORKING CONDITIONS. OWNER will provide ARTIST with a dressing room with a mirror and lock for the door. OWNER will provide for the safety of ARTIST while ARTIST is performing on stage. OWNER will cause the stage to be inspected and cleaned of debris before the start of each performance. During the performance, only the ARTIST shall be permitted to appear on the stage. Prior to the start of the show, OWNER will cause and announcement to be made that no photographs of ARTIST may be taken during a performance by ARTIST.
6) REHEARSALS. OWNER will cause a rehearsal to be held with ARTIST and musicians prior to the start of the engagement, and also a new rehearsal with ARTIST and each new musical group hired by OWNER.
7) AUDITIONS. OWNER agrees not to publicly audition any prospective dancer (s) during show time unless the prospective dancer is paid a token payment of at least $5.00 for the public audition.
8) PUBLICITY. OWNER agrees to consult with ARTIST as to the wording of the introduction that will be given for ARTIST prior to each performance, and all introductions shall be subject to ARTIST’S reasonable approval. OWNER will not cause any introduction to be made of ARTIST that is not in good taste. During the period of the engagement, OWNER may use pictures of ARTIST in costume solely for the purpose of publicizing the engagement and for no other purpose. After the engagement is completed, OWNER will not have the right to use any pictures of ARTIST for any purpose whatsoever. Any pictures of ARTIST used by OWNER must be respectable pictures in proper, respectable, and traditional Middle Eastern costume and must be used by OWNER in good taste. No picture of ARTIST will be used by OWNER, unless the picture is approved in advance in writing by ARTIST, which approval will not be unreasonably withheld. All publicity using the name and likeness of ARTIST shall be subject to reasonable approval of ARTIST.
9) REPLACEMENTS. If ARTIST is ill and cannot perform, ARTIST shall have the right to select a competent substitute replacement to perform during the period of the illness of ARTIST.
10) DRINKS AND MEALS. OWNER will provide ARTIST with the following free drinks and free meals per working night, as set forth below:
___________________ Regular alcoholic drinks
(None, 1, 2, etc)
___________________ Meals
(Zero value, $3.00, $5.00 etc.)

11) NON-EXCULUSIVENESS. ARTIST shall have the right to perform for pay for other establishments during the time that ARTIST is not required to perform for OWNER.
12) OTHER. (Additional terms to be inserted by OWNER and/or ARTIST if appropriate)



OWNER (PRINT)____________________________________

(SIGN) ____________________________________

(DATE)_____________________________________

ARTIST (PRINT)____________________________________

(SIGN)_____________________________________

(DATE)______________________________________


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Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?
10-17-05 How MECDA Began by Feiruz Aram
M.E.C.D.A., (Middle Eastern Culture and Dance Association) is a nationwide organization which began in 1977 for the purpose of organizing working dancers, sharing information between teachers...

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First, you don’t have to be afraid of working with live music.






 
 

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