1 here- One Ad Changed My Life
2 here- "I'd
Rather Stay Home with my Kids"
3 here "A
Marriage Made in North Beach"
that I was legitimately part of the
Bagdad family and on the payroll, Yousef
told me that
the dancers had to split their tips 50/50 with the band. This
meant that I was making less money than when I wasn't getting
paid at all.
really meant that I had just received a pay cut - what Yousef
was paying me certainly did not equal the 50% of my tips that
I now handed over to the band. In fact, since Yousef was also
a band member, he could use his share of the tips to pay me and
still come out ahead. The more I thought about it, I was in, fact,
actually paying myself to work. I no longer had to ask Yousef
when to show up for work because I was officially getting paid
and working 6 nights a week like the other "real" dancers.
after the club closed, I could sit with the rest of the gang,
sign my "contract labor" receipt and get paid. Getting paid meant
that the other dancers accepted me and I was included in the afterlife
of the Bagdad. On weekdays I usually would go straight home from
work, but on Saturdays when "I just got paid" meant that I was
invited to go out for breakfast with everyone.
a few restaurants and cafes that stayed open after 2 a.m but I
think I liked Enrico's on Broadway best.
only half a block away, was an outdoor café with some indoor
seating and was great for people watching while having coffee
When we didn't
go to Enrico's we would go to a little café probably between where
the Palladium or the Lusty Lady sits today.
It was just around the corner on Kearny St. and they served great
pancakes and French toast.
or after breakfast I would go home and stay up the rest of the
night (usually until 6 a.m.) sewing costumes. I only had one costume
and beading took time. months! As a result I would just drag around
the house during the day, clean house, shop for either groceries
or fabric for more costumes, cook, make dinner for the family
and then go to work. Going to work was like going on vacation.
I would drive my new friend Najma Saline home.
She lived off upper Grant in a little alley. She told me that
before working at the Bagdad she had worked at a club on Broadway
Port Said. Gigi's was the club owned by Aisha Ghul's
boyfriend, but it no longer employed belly dancers. It was now
just a topless-bottomless club like most of the other nightclubs
on the strip. Najma said that Gigi's once had real shows, paid
dancers more and used contracts. The club existed no longer; when
Gigi's closed, Najma moved her act across the street to the Bagdad.
act was quite an act. She was tiny in size. probably the smallest
dancer around. She had long dark hair.
(At that time
we all had long dark brown hair or we'd "better buy a long dark
hair wig so we could look Arabic and keep our job.") She would
energetically dance/run up to the stage (there were about 4 steps
up to the 8' half round "piano bar" style stage) and whirling
her chiffon circular skirt (we all wore chiffon circular skirts
- 1/2 circle panel in the front, lots of "leg" showing and a full
circle in the back.) she took a microphone and she sang and danced
her first song which was either "Oolooli Asmarani" or "Al Asfuria."
The size of her voice made one forget how small she was.
floor dance with a musician playing an oud solo, she danced on
her knees. She made hip circles that included rising up to a kneeling
position then descending to a position of sitting on her heels
and featuring her hands and arms. This portion became faster and
faster, up and down, up and down, and up and down; circling, circling,
circling with her hips. (She liked doing this because she believed
that gave her strong thighs.) Soon I was doing it too in my floor
dance. (She was sooo right; it really made my thigh muscles burn!)
routines and playing finger cymbals for all the fast sections
(entrance, veil, middle fast, floor and a finale that included
collecting tips and drum solo) were a requirement then.
was my favorite part of her routine. She completed her drum solo
and then the drummer stopped drumming, and she played complicated
rhythms on her finger cymbals and her dancing hips would follow
her own cymbal playing. It was really quite a dynamic show and
it was even more stunning because she was so tiny!
I became friends because we had much in common, as she was a single
mother of two pre-school girls and I had three pre-school children.
We often hung out together in the daytime after my husband went
to work. I would pick her up and with our five, (yes five) babies,
all under four years of age, we would go to places like Home Yardage
on Geary St. or Dance Art on Powell St. and scour the stores for
fabrics to make our costumes. Although Home Yardage was larger
and less expensive and had lots of satin blanket binding for the
bottoms of our skirts, we were more fond of Dance Art because
of their large variety of chiffons and trims. Dance Art also provided
a black-light room where we could test our glow-in-the-dark fabrics.
was quite an ordeal trying to control five screaming babies
crawling and wandering and getting lost in the aisles of bolt
after bolt of fabric. In those days there were no "store-bought"
costumes; there were only costumes we made ourselves!
night Najma and I took a break from reality. At work there were
no babies, no responsibilities and no money worries; but it was
hard to make our changeover, and transform ourselves into happy,
sexy entertainers with no apparent problems. We wanted to look
relaxed and happy in order to please the customers and fulfill
our role as professional dancers.
I would have rush to work after making dinner for my husband and
my children and I barely had time to put on make-up and not reveal
myself as the mother or the housewife that I was. Luckily Yousef
had told me about a secret parking place! It was behind the Gallo
Salami Factory. There was a very narrow little alley between two
buildings a couple of doors from the Bagdad on Broadway. The alley
led to a small loading dock behind the salami factory, which later
would become the infamous Mabuhay Gardens. At night it was isolated,
dark, scary and smelled of salami, but it was only two doors away
from the Bagdad. Parking in North Beach has always been a nightmare
- even then!
When I danced
my first set, I felt that I was still "Mom" and imagined that
I smelled of salami, diapers and baby bottles; so I always asked
to dance first - usually before any customers arrived - so I could
decompress and make my transition into an exotic Belly dancer.
This was okay with the other dancers because no customers meant
that there would be no tips!
think that Najma had a problem similar to, or worse than mine
in "making her transformation." She often arrived at work stoned.
commented that she could not leave the house or even walk down
to Broadway without the help of a few tokes. Then it would be
hit of pot (or more) before each show and, of course, smoke more
pot before leaving to go home. I smoked only cigarettes, but lots
of them - I used to be a 3-pack-a-day smoker; as a result, the
dressing room was thick with stale perfume, cigarettes and other
mysterious unidentifiable odors.
No smoke alarms
were required in those times. There were no windows either. When
only Najma and I were in the dressing room alone, it became my
job to spray Lysol or similar air fresheners down the long stairway
from the dressing room so Yousef could not smell the smoking going
on upstairs. As you might imagine, all that smoke initiated a
lot of giggling and laughing in the crowded dressing room! Our
haven from having to sit with customers was up one flight of stairs
and was long, low and very narrow. One side was used for hanging
all the costumes. We just claimed our own territories and left
our costumes hanging. I didn't have to stake too much of a claim
then as I only had my one costume. The only time we took our costumes
home was when we were fired or when we quit. The other side had
four chairs facing a long black Formica counter with ashtrays
on top and four drawers below. Above the counter was a long narrow
mirror surrounded by lots of light bulbs.
Each "regular" dancer had a drawer in which to keep cymbals, makeup,
nail polish, perfume, safety pins, hairbrushes, sewing supplies,
jewelry, candy, snacks, matches and cigarettes. We made all our
own costumes. We tried to stay upstairs long enough to sew a little,
but we were supposed to spend our time downstairs sitting with
at the counter, putting on makeup, applying nail polish, beading
costumes and stalling from having to go downstairs, Najma sometimes
told me stories of how (in another life). she had come from
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Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
“In a Beirut Mood”:
Jalilah's Raks Sharki 6, A Review by Amina Goodyear
found the selections included make exciting listening. Each selection
is a beautiful arrangement and a good mix. Best of all: each musical
selection is useful and conducive for dance.
on the Edge by Amina
I learned from
the first evening chasing Fatma around the stage that in order
to have a serious dance company in the Egyptian style, I had to
seriously play with the appearance of disorder.
TO START A MIDDLE EASTERN BAND or How The Arabian Knights Came
of a band that would play music to make us look good always.
Dance is in their blood by Kevin
dancing served as a way for women to share emotional experiences
with each other. It is a part of everyday life for ordinary folks,
and so worthy of attention by me, even, the pretend-to-be working
Photos of Gala Show for
Raqia, photos by Carl Sermon, prep and layout by Michelle
night there was a show at the Veteran's Hall. The Show was: Big
on technique; sometimes a little too studied. The soloists were
selected mostly for being Raqia's students.
A Report on the First International Bellydance
Conference of Canada Part One- Lectures, Workshops, Panel Discussions
by Diane Adams Photos by Lynette
18-22, 2007 Toronto, Ontario. Hosted by Yasmina Ramzy of Arabesque
Academy in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, this International Bellydance
Conference of Canada, the first ever on the Canadian dance scene,
proved to be one of the top dance experiences in this reviewer’s