birhday with cake & champaign
with Samra/Sherifa Zuhour (1976?)
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.
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.
a week or so, Majed, the owner of
Khyams on Vermont Street, hired dancers from San Francisco's
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.
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.
Dancers that worked at Khyams in LA after the strike
(Top left-right) Shirin, Paula, Maha, Majid (owner)
(Bottom L-R) Mish Mish, Selwa, Yasmine, Rababa
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.
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.
EASTERN CABERET DANCERS ASSOCIATION (“M.E.C.D.A.”)
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
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
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)
(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)
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
How MECDA Began by Feiruz
(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...
Unionizing Belly Dance:MECDA's Beginnings,
Part 3:Tying Up Loose Ends, by Samra /Sherifa,
The problem was that after the first strike, where the
issues were so clear cut – no one had been paid since the
owner gambled away our money, tip-sharing had just been instituted
-- people were unwilling to continue with strikes for getting
contracts all over town.
Loay Dahbour: Kuwaiti Drum Pro Interview
by Yosifah Rose
addition to teaching us about drum solos, Loay also took some
time to share with us his valuable insights as a musician after
working for the past thirteen years with hundreds of San Francisco
Bay Area Bellydancers.
The Danish Caricatures
a Muslim-American Political Cartoonist Weighs-In,
by Khalil Bendib
Try as I may, while reviewing the infamous Islam-o-phobic
Danish caricatures, I fail to discern in them any clear political
statement other than the questionable assertion that Islam equals
Cairo 2005 How to Eat, Drink,
Sleep, and Breathe Raqs Sharqi, Part One of Four, by Andrea
is an historical day in Egypt! The first “real” election
with actual opposition candidates is taking place. I’m trying
to stay abreast of this important event from TV news, but the
American and British news sources barely talk about it.
What Kind of Snakes are Good for Dancing?
many snakes, so little time.” What is a girl to do? I am
often asked what is a good snake to dance with. Well, that depends
on two things.
and Reason Series, Article 9, Can't
We All Get Along? Dancers and Musicians by
Mary Ellen Donald
you don’t have to be afraid of working with live music.