Dance Career’s Dark Side:
seen through a fog of murky emotion
published on Snakeskin.com11-20-98
Revised December 27, 2006
recounting my dark stories help me to purge them? Should
one forget those special moments of insult and bad human behavior
that all performers face? Should it be a priority to forget
them, I wonder—to balance out what could easily become memories
of a perfectly satisfying career in dance? Let’s drag them out
of the murky past, scrape off their barnacles, and see if the
process will diffuse some of the hurt they have caused for too
At the same
time, perhaps this will become a warning or wake-up call to new
warm and invigorating as the experiences of performers can be
at times, the performer makes herself vulnerable to the very
public she entertains and for whom she labors.
who follow dance are worthy of a dancer’s open heart: perhaps
that is why so many public figures and celebrities end up taking
harmful drugs and indulge in other counter-productive behaviors.
Performers often make misdirected attempts to stop the pain of
easy marksmanship—from a few critical blog writers or chat room
frequent chatters who, more often than not, contribute nothing
beyond the superlatives they save for their friends and the epithets
they gratuitously heap on their competitors.
#1: When Did I Become an Old Broad?
With my second dance of the evening finished, and as a
relatively new dancer in my mid thirties, satisfaction in creativity
caused me to feel giddy—after dancing to a new selection of music—in
a new costume of my own design. The applause, smiles, tips, and
requests for lessons from the patrons of the Moroccan restaurant
felt more than gratifying. I never could have anticipated what was
to happen next:
older, gray-haired patron, sporting his dapper plaid leisure suit,
strode across the room and in a loud voice (modulated for all
in the room to appreciate) proclaimed, “Not bad for an old
#2 Do You Know Where Your Children Are?
In a Greek folk dance tavern featuring international folk
dance lessons and live music, a woman at a front table roughly grabbed
my wrist, pulling me toward her, yelling rudely into my face, “Young
lady, does your mother know where you are this late and what you
first, I was stunned; she was serious! Then, as kindly as
possible under the circumstances, I replied, “No, I do not think
that I should have to phone home at the age of 32 to tell my mother
what I am doing each night—especially as I am a married woman!”
said in a lower-level and now sheepish voice, “ You look
as though you are under 18!”
is not that perception becomes reality for audience members but
that dancing often gives dancers a youthful quality that mystifies
audiences. How can a dancer, whom they perceive as so very young,
perform with (apparently) such little possible experience? Appearances
can be so deceiving among performers of any age!
#3 Guess Again
It is a special birthday banquet for an old grandfather’s
birthday. I over-hear one woman say to another, “Well, I
don’t care what you say; I say that that dancer
has to be at least 35!” My true age, at that time, was 48;
so, my smile was extra toothy at the end of my performance.
#4 My Cooties
Part of the job description at this particular restaurant was
to compel as many people as possible to leave their plates of
food, getting up to dance. Perhaps it was not entirely a
bad idea, because, in the truest sense of things, people are more
entertained by their own actions and the actions of those they
love than by any “dancing girl”—no matter how beautiful she looks
and with however great skill she may dance!
held his hand out to me, and sharply, his wife warned him (so
that all at the table could hear), “Don’t touch her, John!
You don’t know where she’s been!” She was not attempting
to be humorous.
dismay, I smiled at him and said, “Have a nice evening,” and moved
away to another table quickly. There was no need to drink the
poison of anymore sick comments of this irritating, judgmental,
and most probably, jealous ignoramus!
#5 the Dance Star
At a pre-wedding party, in which the women
hiring me had assured me that both women and men would be present
(otherwise, it would have been termed a “Batchelor Party”) I experienced
a few extremely tense moments: to my complete surprise, they
had lied through the deception of purposeful omission. All
the women were partying in the garage while they expected me to
dance inside the house for the men only. I was foolish enough
to think that since I was there, I should simply do a short performance
and quickly leave.
I could not stop myself from saying to one young man, “If you
touch me again, this dance is finished!” He smirked, pointed
at the diamond star necklace I was wearing, and taunted in a singsong
voice, “Nice Jewish star you are wearing, little girl!”
I said, adding, ”but you should know that the Jewish Star of David
has six points. This five-pointed star symbolizes stardom
and someone who believes I am a star of dance gave this to me.
That is why I am wearing it with my dance costume.”
#6 the State Senator
While dancing at a famous restaurant
in San Francisco, to honor the birthday of Senator J. U. who was
an honored guest at a luncheon, I encountered some particularly
depraved behavior. (He was a California state politician
who has been dead a long time now; so, it would serve no useful
purpose to use his name, thereby sullying his family’s memory
of him.) Senator U. grabs the hem of my skirt, pulls
it up and tries to grab at my knickers. I exited — up-and-over
a table – and I ended my performance in haste. Sometimes, the
show does not have to go on! Within the spirit of this moment,
I learned that a dancer should make constant eye contact with
members of her audience for reasons of dignity preservation, if
#7 the State Governor
thrilled and somewhat honored me to have been hired to come from
out of state to dance at Greek Orthodox Church fundraiser in the
state of Nevada. The Nevada state governor happened to attend
that evening because he was of Greek ethnicity. One of the
governor’s aides approached my manager and pleaded with him not
to let me dance anywhere near “Governor Ethnically Greek Guy”
because it would be political mayhem for him to be photographed
with a dancer—much less, a Belly dancer! He received our
pledge, but the truth was, since I came from California, I would
not have been able to recognize him if he were squarely in front
one is the Governor?” I had to inquire.
#8 My Family Reunion
A few years ago, I attended a family
reunion of my father’s family in Sacramento. This
is Evelyn’s daughter, the Kutch dancer--you know,
the Hootchy-Koutchy dancer,” my auntie said as she
introduced me to new members of our family, wiggling her fanny
and making hula-like hand gestures! A mental joke to myself
occurred to me: Someday, I ought to print up special business
cards for such occasions. The special card will proclaim:
Marlyz, (Evelyn’s Daughter)
Specialist in Hootchy-Koutchy Dancing
When the cards
are ready, I plan to distribute them everywhere—proudly and with
a secret smile.
#9 Ted’s Loft Guest
Holly was a vacuous, bleached blonde-haired young woman,
and we were both in Bert Balladine’s dance class together.
She followed me into my dressing room after my performance and exclaimed
shamelessly, “I hear there is a loft in here; where is it? Can I
see it? I hear your boss lives here in the restaurant and sleeps
in the loft.”
pointed, “It’s up there, up the ladder.” She scrambled up
the ladder, and peered down at me through her lovely, curly blond
tresses and announced, “I am going to sleep with him and get your
I clucked my tongue and challenged her, “Be his guest!”
week I could not wait to ask my boss, laughing, “Has Holly got
my dance job, yet?” A funny look crossed his face
and he chuckled, “Is that what that was all about?
Nope! I want a dancer with class in my place! You
dance; she can play in the loft.” That was
the last time I ever saw (or heard) anything about Miss Holly.
# 10 the Dance Sisterhood
In an Arab-owned restaurant where the dressing room wall
did not extend to the ceiling, restaurant patrons could not peer
in, but the dancer inside could hear clearly the conversations at
the tables nearest the dressing room. A local dancer ripped
my dance technique to shreds in criticism for the benefit of her
date. Next, she called the restaurant owner over to her table,
and said, “Tell the dancer I am here, my name is (Blank), and I
am borrowing her costume because I didn’t bring one. I want to show
my guests how I dance.”
Employer knocked on the dressing room door and inquired, “Well,
did you hear?”
answered, “Please tell her, if she wants to dance, she will
have to dance in her street clothes. I wouldn’t dream of asking
a dancer to loan me her costume that she spent hours designing,
beading, and fitting to herself just so that I could show off
in front of a date...”
With a sheepish
grin, he dutifully told her what I said, and she exclaimed, greatly
miffed, “Najia obviously knows nothing about the sisterhood
of all dancers! I would never turn down
a request of a sister dancer (whom she had just
As I left
my dressing room, I turned to her and said, “Nice to see
you here tonight, (Blank)!” Whatever she muttered
back, I did not hear and did not want to hear; I just kept walking.
At closing time, Mr. Boss-man asked me why I was so uptight about
loaning out my costume to a “sister dancer”!
loan a stranger your clothes to dance in and sweat
on?” I asked—in answer to his question. “Oh,
I guess not,” he said.
#11 the Strip-Tease that Didn’t Happen
The woman who hired me to dance at her party wanted her
dancer to wear street clothing to the gig so that her surprise would
be complete. Her instruction was to use the back bedroom as
a dressing room.
began to set out parts of my costume on the bed, and I heard subdued,
muffled, male voices just outside the window of the bedroom.
“Oh, no, no! —I am not doing a strip tease for voyeurs tonight!”
I thought to myself. I walked to the wall-switch, flicked
off the light, and dressed in total darkness—while lying on the
floor between the two beds.
performance, I left the venue, still costumed. I reminisced, coldly,
about the sleazy Walnut Creek restaurant (now gone) where we dancers
all knew that there were peep-holes bored into the wall of the
dressing room as well as the ladies’ restroom, and we dispassionately
stuffed paper into all of them before using them.
#12 the Stupid Little Bitch
My dance went really well for me and a second party from
another dining room of the same restaurant asked me to dance for
their party, too. I explained that I did not work for the
restaurant, but for a private party. However, if they wanted
to hire me, I would send over my manager since I was already there
and already in costume. They and my agent agreed upon a
suitable price, and I danced again—just for their party. My manager
went to collect my fee and returned quickly, telling me that the
new clients want to pay me in person, and they expected me to
meet “the lady” in the women’s lounge/restroom. I went there
and she informed me, “We have decided to pay you with a toot
(a snort of cocaine).” I was appalled. I reminded
her that we had had an agreement for a specific price and that
price was in dollars! Furthermore, I informed her that I was not
a user of drugs. She turned red and hurled her purse against
the plate-glass mirror in the restroom, shattering it into a million
pieces. (I was lucky that she did not throw it at me.) My
agent managed to get my payment from another person in her party
and the restaurant management billed her for the mirror on the
restaurant check. However, I never have forgotten the look
on her face when she threw the purse nor have I forgotten her
epithet to me: “You stupid little bitch!”
# 13 the Fountain in the Floor
My agent obtained a booking for a private birthday party dance
in a beautiful downtown San Francisco basement restaurant called
the Marrakech. Awaiting my introduction, I stood in the
foyer across from the entrance, listening for my cue, a handsome
man entered alone and looked across the room at me, appearing
somewhat stunned as well as startled. His reaction caused me to
feel powerful, and beautiful in that moment, ...and then he stepped
forward—directly into the tiled fountain full of water sunken
about one foot into the ornate floor.
fellow laughed at himself and said aloud to me, “Well, I was hoping
you were real, and I guess you are!” Then he squished away in
his water filled shoes, both of us glad that he had not fallen
down or been injured. I think I will never forget his dignity
in the face of adversity and embarrassment, and I will remember
him always when I think of my dance career moments that were unforgettable.
#14 the Naval Officer
Among the quality gigs my agent managed to book for me
was one especially unforgettable occasion. A private
party of co-ed Naval officers in San Francisco at a formal party
wanted a dancer for a senior officer. Truthfully, however,
one officer in particular made a horse’s patois of himself, obstructed
my dance and disrespected me. I asked him three or four
times to please return to his seat, and though officers were rolling
their eyes, none arose to help diffuse the situation.
When he disregarded
my request again, I danced over to one of the several female officers
present and whispered, “Can someone please get this drunk idiot
under control?” She hissed through her teeth, smiling a
phony smile while whispering back, “None of us can do anything;
he is the highest ranking officer here!” I told her
with regret, “Please give my regrets to the honoree, but I have
to end the dance before this gets any more embarrassing than it
a carefully worded apology in the mail a few days later. I wish
I had kept it—I would have shared it with you here—if only for
#15 the Dancer’s Drug
Once I was thinking to myself as I danced: “Of
all the music I have ever danced, this is the most
complex, passionate recording!” I thought, “Music certainly
connects one to the ear of God! Similar to the red ballet
slippers in Hans Christian Andersons’ tale, ‘The Red Shoes,’
this music causes me attempt incredible feats of dance I might
not otherwise attempt!”
In that moment,
a plump, blond matron sitting at a nearby table turned to her
husband and exclaimed, “Believe me; without taking drugs
she could never dance! She’s completely stoned—I
can see it in her eyes!” Her statement shocked me personally
because, unlike some Berkeley people with whom I have danced (and
one or more of our ex-politicians, who smoked but never inhaled)
I inhaled the music but never once did I feel that
it was necessary to smoke or sniff in order to get high on dance.
In an odd fashion, I felt honored by her comment.
#16 Time Flies!
“Young Lady!” a red-faced woman snarled at me in the
women’s restroom. “I just want you to know that we all are disappointed
in you! We drove for an hour and a half to get here to see
you dance because we heard about the unusual and beautiful dance
performance you put on. We got here early just so that we
could sit up front, and then, you only danced for ten minutes!
I am going to complain to your employer!”
I was, at
first, puzzled and speechless, and feeling defensive. Then
I recalled that I had just danced to canned music, and I knew—and
could prove—exactly how long I had danced! I had recorded
and danced with a tape cassette that ran according to my employer’s
standards exactly! My cassette tape had played fully 39.5
minutes, at least, and perhaps longer—with inclusion of the extra
music I added to the end for audience participation. I managed
to squeeze out through my strangled vocal cords (full of shocked
and defensive emotions), “M’am, I dance with music on a cassette
tape. My cassette played for well over a half hour—closer
to 40 minutes or more. The proof of a good dance is that
it can seem to make time speed up for an audience... That’s why
the old saying is ‘Time flies when you’re having fun’!”
been,” she grumped, and stomped away, still angry.
muttering to someone who had overheard our conversation, “The
fact is, time flies whether you’re having fun or not!”
has flown, and I have had fun. These 16 vignettes are only
a few of the experiences in my dance treasury. There are
many more—some even more baffling and too weird for public consumption.
While reflecting upon them, I sometimes ask myself why I wanted
so much to be a performer! Why are dancers so willing to
suffer the insults and the risks to their emotional and physical
being? My only reasonable answer is: there were many more incidents
that happened that were heart-warming, funny, uplifting, and even
inspirational. Sometimes, even negative happenings have
added learning and drama to my life and given it meaning.
What more could a performer ask?
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Fundraiser Part IV: The Berkeley Fire Department and Act 3, Bert
and Najia's Duet by Najia Marlyz Slideshow coding by Tammy
Near the end of our Second Act, the curtain began to
smolder badly filling the air with an acrid stench and blue smoke...
The Taxim from a Dancer's
Perspective:Tarab or Tyranny? by Najia Marlyz
Sometimes, these improvisations
can be quite elaborate. The effect is somewhat like modern jazz
and stays within the framework of the traditional maqam or maqamat.
Photos PAGE 2-Carnival
of Stars Photos by Michael Baxter
Sponsors Alexandria and Latifa November 11 & 12, 2006 Centennial
Hall, Hayward, California
Its Not Your Grandmamma's Zar By
Luckily at some point we hear the distinct rhythm for
a Zar and follow the drumming right to the front door of an apartment
Inconvenient Body Truth by
here I am now, having worked very hard to learn as much as possible
to master my body, invest in the costumes, and—Bam!—suddenly,
menopause has hit me!