highway undulated in the blackness like a silk ribbon with a yellow
stripe running down the middle. The windows of the big 72-passenger
renovated school bus opened wide to the balmy night air that eddied
and flowed through the living room area near the driver’s seat.
The Manhatten Transfer crooned a jazz tune from the stereo.
Marj sat behind the wheel with her nightgown billowing
around her lap as Tony, our roadie, stood beside
her laughing softly and helping her steer. Cece
peered out from the front of her bunk where she lay with her arms
folded under her head. John and I immersed
ourselves in a ferocious cribbage game, which I was loosing.
Marty was tallying up the day’s T-shirt sales
and Muzzy was silently fingering scales on the
oud. Janet and Jennifer
had already crashed for the night, and their bunk curtains swayed
gently in the breeze. As our cribbage game folded and John
gleefully put the set back up on the shelves that held our games
and books, tapes, and stereo, I looked around, marveling at where
I was in this particular moment of time. I was rolling down a
highway in the central valley of California in the middle of summer,
on my way to another show at another club, just one of many in
the middle of a month long road tour.
the coattails of the hippie era, in the midst of disco fever,
I was part of a Middle Eastern dance and music band that cut
a rock n’ roll swathe across the west for 10 glorious, tumultuous
We made it
up as we went. We tried harder, worked longer, took more chances
and entertained more people than anyone or any group even thought
of doing. We played fusion before there was any, created
our own dances based on photos in books, glimpses of dancers in
old films, and from our imaginations. We carved our own
niche, created our own style, scandalized, delighted, educated,
and entertained everyone around us, including ourselves.
We were Bou-Saada.
until 1984, the Bou-Saada Dance Troupe was my life, 24 hours a
day, seven days a week. Several times a year for ten years,
we took to the road and played shows in Washington, Oregon, California,
Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and British Columbia, Canada. At
our largest, there were eight of us, plus a roadie. Additionally,
at various times, children, a dog or two, sisters and brothers,
groupies, friends, and lovers occasionally made their way onto
the 72 passenger Kenworth Pacific converted school bus that became
our home and haven, our trusted steed and cursed behemoth.
music, sang, danced, sold T shirts, and spoke a language all our
own. We navigated our way through the landscapes of people’s imaginations
with the northern lights as a backdrop, the rolling plains of
Montana as our stage, the towering Douglas firs of the British
Columbia coast our set. We ran the rapids of the Rogue River,
did street theater from Portland to San Diego, played grimy taverns,
outdoor arenas, Shrine banquets, rock n’ roll concerts, Army bases,
colleges and universities.
single one of us could play an instrument, sing, dance, run
a sound board, set a stage with backdrop, lights, monitors and
microphones, plug them in, and put them away. We made
our own costumes and our own drums and used duct tape in a thousand
creative ways. While we never made a living from it, it
was our way of life. Our experiences will bond us forever.
encounter with group touring took place on the Wet Paint Bus,
a decrepit old vehicle belonging to a band of the same name.
We not only used their bus but we hired their roadie for the duration
of that tour. One tour out was all it took for us to decide.
We had to
have our own vehicle. In 1975, we found a 1952 Kenworth-Pacific
flat nose school bus with a Red Diamond engine in an old bus yard
down near Seattle. Considering how much we used it and how convenient
it became, we bought it for a song. The very first thing
we did, as required by law, was wipe out the “School Bus” designation
on the side. We roughed out the S and H in school and it
became a “cool bus”. We held a Bus Benefit to pay to fix
it up and paint it, and chose the colors, a nice tan and chocolate
with chocolate lettering and metallic highlighting. A local
artist volunteered to do the lettering and designed the logo on
the front: an elaborate winged Isis, the Egyptian symbol of long
life, which has a winged sun and serpents. We contacted
the owner of an empty warehouse down in the old industrial section
of the south side of Bellingham, and for $10 per day, we had the
use of the space for painting. Since it was late winter,
we needed to be indoors, out of the damp—in a space where we could
hook up lights not only to see, but also to dry the paint.
The only thing left to do was to prime the bus for painting.
was a 72-passenger school bus, well over seven feet high! It needed
a good sanding down before it could take new paint. Muzzy
found several sets of yellow raingear for us, courtesy of the
Shell Oil Refinery, and we spent a potluck day out in the northwest
drizzle sanding the bus (a real “wet-sand”). Once sanded,
we pulled it into the warehouse and wiped it down. We rented a
compressor and paint gun, masked off the windows and painted the
bus: two generous coats. This was no body shop, and we needed
heat, as well as shelter, to cure the paint. So, we set up the
stage lights around the ceiling and ran them all night, hoping
the old wooden warehouse wouldn’t catch on fire. The
Bus looked mighty fine with its beige body and chocolate
trim! When it was completely dry, the artist came in to
do the handwork. Perched on a tall ladder, she drew the
design freehand and then carefully filled in the big wings around
a reddish sun. Two green snakes rose on either side, --their
hooded bodies standing sentinel over our endeavor. The decoration
was beautifully rendered with lots of subtle coloring and shading.
Lettered in an Arabic-style script on either side, using
midnight blue paint with silver highlights was: “Bou-Saada Dance
Troupe, Bellingham, WA”. The bus looked spectacular!
bus was a marvel of efficiency.
Our men carpeted
the interior, floor to windows, for warmth. They built a
couch with a seat that opened up to a storage compartment that
could hold all the sound and light system cords. There was
a table with double bench seats facing on either side, a double
seat left in the front opposite the drivers seat. Overhead shelving
held a stereo system, there was a small icebox on the floor, and
two more sets of seats near the beginning of the bunks.
In the center portion of the bus, there was an escape door and
an escape hatch in the roof. We used this area to store
our costumes, sound equipment and the pieces of our portable backdrop
and set. The large piece of wood for the
glasses dance fit neatly along the side of this compartment
and our elaborate ethnic costumes had room to hang unobstructed.
experience on the road traveling with a 30-gallon gas tank, we
realized we needed to do something drastic or spend most of our
tours scooting from gas station to gas station. We found
a used 100-gallon gas tank and installed it as a back up.
Welding the new tank in place was a dicey deal, and I kept wondering
about gas fumes and explosive ignition, but it worked. From
then on, we started out with the 100-gallon tank and used the
30-gallon only as a backup for emergency. We could switch
to the second tank by using a toggle switch installed inside the
bus, and there were several moments of gliding and sputtering
before we were sure the second tank engaged. The first couple
of times we used it were very tense, and we each held our breath,
hoping we would not have to make a dash for the side of the highway.
(Of course, you never really made a dash in the bus. You sort
of lumbered over to the side of the road and coasted to a halt.)
To add fuel to the larger tank, we had to unload a considerable
amount from the center storage compartment. Fortunately,
we never once spilled gasoline on costumes or equipment, nor did
we leave anything (except passengers) behind.
In the thin
air crossing over the Continental Divide on our way to Montana,
the bus lurched and heaved itself ever upward and over in spastic
jerks. The carburetor was incapable of mixing an effective
fuel ratio at that altitude.
the snappy pace of five miles an hour, we all leapt out the
door of the bus to the deserted highway and ran along side,
jumping and shouting encouragement, then held on for dear life
as the equipment bounced and rattled in a breakneck plunge,
coasting down the Rockies on the other side.
click for enlargement
names-In red pants is Marj, blue shorts-Kelleen,Jennifer
in the middle, Cecilia in bikini, Yasmela on right. Guy
in hat is Marty, on the log is John Zeretzke (of the Salame
Ensemble) Muzzy in the vest
inaugural journey was a 3-week tour to Montana. Life on
the road was pretty nice. When we grew tired of mixing with
one another, we retired to our private bunks and pulled the curtains.
Each bunk reflected our individual styles and needs. There
was storage space under the bunks that the upper and lower occupants
shared. The couch could accommodate two persons for lying
around, and if we felt exceptionally bored, we could run up and
down the aisle or open the hatch in the storage compartment and
stick our heads up to get a better view. On one trip, we
vied for spots to look up at the tall towers of the Golden Gate
Bridge as we crossed over from Marin County. What an amazing
view! The bus was a refuge and solace when shows were bad or
scary. It was a little bit of home on the road when times
got strange. It was classy, brassy, startling, and a pain
in the ass, but one of the main reasons we could do what we did.
Without it, we would probably have been “just another Belly dance
We were proud
of our bus. It was the ninth member of our troupe, a rolling
advertisement, invoking curiosity as the Bou-Saada Bus boldly
rolled into cities and towns. Our homeport appeared on the
sides and back, and we kept her washed and gleaming wherever we
went. The bus allowed us to play gigs in places that could
not afford such a large group. It allowed us to put on a real
show, one with sets, lights, and sound. We were able to
sustain a tour with minimal expense to our employers, and because
of this, we reached places and people who would never have seen
Middle Eastern dance and music.
it was often a sore point and frustrating for all of us that
we could not make a living doing something we loved so much,
it never seemed like the most important part of what we did.
I think we all understood that concept from the outset.
click for enlargement
names- Jennifer, Ceclilia, Janet, Gwen, Yasmela,
Marty, Muzzy, and John
disbanded after ten years on the road. My daughters used
the bus as a summer hideout for a few years and hosted wonderful
sleepovers for their friends. We finally advertised it for
sale, and one day, a young man showed up at our door with his
money in hand. He planned to drive it to New Orleans for
Mardi gras. He envisioned himself making pizzas, and throwing
the dough up through the hatch opening. Unfortunately, driving
the bus was a skill that he had not mastered. We had to rescue
him twice before he left town, and as we gassed it up for the
last time, I cried as I pulled down all the photos and posters
that had been glued to the interior. As far as I know, he
made it as far as one of the islands in Puget Sound.
For me, the
bus represented the fulfillment of a dream, and I guess I was
not the only one who gave credence to the mantra, “You’re either
on the bus—or off of the bus!” carrying around the conviction
that it implied as a secret dream for years. It had always
been my goal to travel the road in an old school bus. The
Bou-Saada bus fulfilled my fantasy and so much more, and we did
it with so much comfort and so much class, offering entertainment
along with our gypsy-styled arts. I can hardly imagine more
of an adventure than that!
I heard that
someone had seen it in a used bus yard a few years ago. Since
I occasionally drive to the Tacoma area, passing the bus yard
off I-5, I strain to see if I can find it in among the derelict
buses and motor homes…
would rather think of it gaily painted, pizza dough flying into
the air, and happy customers, munching as they leave the Bou-Saada
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Music and Style
by Yasmela / Shelley Muzzy
ATS seems to be pushing Middle Eastern dance, at least in the
U.S., back into that safe and sexless area, sans the real knowledge
of true folk movement
Fire and Ice by
What makes some of our dance good, what makes some of it bad is
puzzling to me...
How to Charge What You Are Worth
by MIchelle Joyce
first step to becoming an effective negotiator is to emotionally
detach yourself from the outcome. If you can’t walk away
from the deal, you have already lost.
The Devil's Details, Show Ethics
for Professionals, Part 1- Booking a Party by Yasmin
When a dancer
looks good, she, or another, will get called back to perform again.
When she looks bad, customers might be turned off to our lovely
art form forever. Therefore, a bad dancer not only ruins things
for herself, but for all of us
How We Got our Video Groove On by
however, it seemed that getting a video is like getting a gig:
sometimes, you have to create your own opportunities.
Antique Textiles: Renewed Life for Dance by Najia Marlyz
we often danced for many little luncheon gigs in offices and other
places as a surprise birthday gift—to the music of our own
solo sagat. Now, that is a skill that I have never seen anyone
repeat since the early seventies!
A Marriage Made in North Beach
by Amina Goodyear
stage was alight with the flames of the candelabrum’s candles
and the eerie glow of her costume. Fatma’s costumes were
always comprised of material that glowed in the dark as her show
began with no light—except for “black light”.