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Lynn modeling one of Alexandria's hats All photo are scanned from old issues of Habibi. We would love to include original higher quality photos if anyone is willing to send them! Photo taken by Alexandria.

Gilded Serpent presents...
Lynn Zalot
and the Creation
of the Habibi Magazine

by Sadira

I’m sure most of the readers of Gilded Serpent know of or have read Habibi Magazine when Shareen El Safy owned it.  But how many dancers realize that she had bought the rights to Habibi from its original publishers, Bob Zalot, in memory his wife, Lynn Zalot?

Habibi was one of the first major news magazines on Middle Eastern Dance and events to be published in the United States.  It was also the premier news magazine that had subscribers around the world.  Many other publications came after Habibi; but it became the forerunner of a venue for those interested in reading articles and reviews about Middle Eastern Dance and included a bi-monthly highlighted dancer or musician who graced the cover of the magazine on each new edition.  It was ahead of its time and most everyone that was involved in the dance world at the time, subscribed to it.

Bob and Lynn Zalot were the producers, editors-in-chief, brains, and physical developers of this new format.  The articles were a combination of upcoming events, reviews, and personal accounts.  Habibi was among the first to contribute to scholarly and researched articles on ethno- regional styles, issues regarding society and xenophobia.  It fulfilled a multi-layered collaboration of writers producing articles on subjects ranging from research to personal stories and events happening in the Arabic world.  It was the first of its type to review albums, shows, and events. 

Habibi was a major portal into universalizing the Middle Eastern dance, music, historical and personal accounts into a cohesive and important terminology that all could appreciate. 

Issue #2, Suhayr Majdi, not Jamila
examples of old printing presses

Habibi Magazine, in newsprint format, began in the mid-1970s.  It was the collaborative brainchild of Lynn and Bob Zalot.  Bob had been a long time aficionado of Belly dance, the club scenes, the dancers, and the arena in which dance revolved.  Even while holding a permanent job at Lockheed Aircraft, Bob was also a writer, and a poet.  Bob was everyone’s friend! He held no animosity or pre-valued judgments about anything in the dance world. To be a featured person on the cover of the issue published every other month was as important and exciting as those who yearned to be on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.  Bob held his post as Editor-in-chief, elucidating in every edition about a particular issue to digest fully or consider in a new perspective.  One of Habibi’s earliest issues appeared, featuring a full-page cover of Jamilla Salimpour.  It was the first time she had written her autobiography for a large audience.  (Jamilla was an enigmatic figure at that time.  If you did not know her personally through classes or being in her troupe, still you may have heard of her as the “Mother of Belly dance” in the 70s throughout much of Northern California.)  She spoke of her own beginnings, and the development of her troupe, Bal Anat.  To many of us dancers, at this time in recent history, it was riveting to hear her story in her own words, as well as it being the first time to hear her version of many elements in dance history.  Jamilla was also listed as Co-editor for many years for Habibi.  

Photos of dancers from many areas were displayed as cover stories in Habibi.  There was never any favoritism shown to a particular instructor, area, or style; which became the hallmark of being featured on Habibi’s cover.   Musicians such as Fadil Shaheen, Jalal Takesh, Robaire Bozeman, and Jazayer were showcased in cover stories; as well as famous dancers such as Bobby Farrah, Morocco, and Dahlena.  To revisit the original copies of Habibi newsmagazines now is truly seeing a historical timeline in American Middle Eastern Dance and Music from the ‘70s through the early ‘90s.  Cost Less Imports of Berkeley, (owned and operated by Philip Au) was the first major supplier of coin and mirrored bras and belts for dancers was, for most of this time, the only full-page advertiser on the back page, supporting the continued viability of the publication. 

Habibi also brought us the incredible written essays by Edwina Nearing also known as Qu’uamar Al Malouk on the “Secret Lives of the Ghawazee”.  Besides Aisha Ali, Edwina was the first researcher to unveil totally this important part of dance history.  These articles have been now republished in the Gilded Serpent, and I encourage many to read them because you will never find a more thorough understanding of the history, and background of the Ghawazee dancers!

While everyone knew of Bob Zalot, who came to so many performances sporting his happy smile and booming laugh, many had no idea that his wife, Lynn was the true guts, heart, and workings of Habibi. 

Personally, I was so grateful to be friends with Lynn and Bob! Friendship with them included an annual invitation to their summertime, (whole-lamb) barbeques where there were dancers, musicians, and kids just hanging out, playing music, swimming, and enjoying the occasion. 

Most importantly, I am grateful to have been a close friend of Lynn.  Lynn Zalot in the early ‘70s had danced briefly at the Casbah and worked as a cocktail waitress there.  Lynn was a beautiful and comedic personality with energy like a newly popped champagne bottle!  Lynn “held her own” with suave diplomacy, an underlying wit of worldliness, and she was able to deal with any dance personality with whom she came into contact.  She never appeared star-struck by anyone, and treated everyone the same with her vivacious laughter, sparkling blue eyes and compassionate nature.  Lynn would have made a great mediator as she had had the full responsibility of “running shotgun” on many a dance diva’s demands for attention. 

Habibi was a large endeavor for two people to put together and produce every other month.  This was before computer help with layouts, fonts, etc.  It was just the old-fashioned newspaper press style of typesetting and printing.  All of this production happened in a very cramped garage in the Zalot’s home yard.  Lynn took care of orders, soothed harried writers and dancers, bought postage, expedited mailing, composed the layouts, and hand-pressed every issue of Habibi!  Additionally, Lynn and Bob had three active children at the same time they were publishing Habibi. 

What was so evident, however, was the passion that went into putting Habibi together, for each issue.  Also notable, was their dedication to having a place where the dance scene did not break itself into camps of layered cliques.

While Bob, so much the entertainer himself, represented the outward appearance of Habibi, Lynn preferred to remain anonymous and uninvolved with the outer politics of the dance world.  Those who did know she was the “wizard behind the curtain” loved her for her loyal friendship.   Many times, I would see Lynn in her sweats, with ink stained fingers and pants, bundles of newsprint around her ankles, talking about some disaster or other with the antiquated machinery and trying to reach for the ringing phone at the same time.  She was a bundle of energy and quick wit.  We laughed for hours at the absurdities of life and sometimes wanted to do anything that had nothing to do with anymore Belly dance. 

I remember one of the summer parties at the Zalot’s house, where the whole lamb was roasting in the backyard, people were swimming in the pool, drummers were playing, and Lynn and I got into the hot tub.  Lynn’s son, decided to pour liquid detergent into the hot tub and before we knew it, we were encased in frothy, bubbles, overflowing onto the patio.  We loved it! We made soap bubble beards, hairdos, bathing suits, and we laughed uncontrollably as others dived into the fun.

In the 1980s Bob Zalot and Lynn decided to produce the first seminar and show held by Habibi.  It was during this time that Lynn began to notice she was exhausted and in a lot of back and muscle pain… 

The show was extremely stressful. It became a 4-hour production with dancers and musicians, all well known, performing.  Nakish was mistress of ceremonies and the announcer; it was one of the biggest shows of its time.  After the extravaganza was over, Lynn noticed she was still having problems with her muscle pain and some balance problems.  She went to chiropractors, acupuncturists, and tried everything, but her symptoms became progressively worse.  She was having trouble sleeping, and her words began to jumble, but she never complained. Lynn joked about her trips to the store, running the shopping carts into the aisles, or not remembering what the food was she was supposed to buy.  The only way you would know that anything was going wrong with Lynn was by noticing the dark circles under her eyes. 

Finally, she went to a specialist to find out if she could get relief.  I think I was one of the first of her friends that she called to tell me what disease the doctors had diagnosed; it was Multiple Sclerosis, she told me over the phone.

I was in shock, and tears started to pour down my face.  As usual, Lynn made a joke about the stupidity of the situation, and we talked of other things. She didn’t tell anyone of this diagnosis until quite awhile later—when it began to become apparent.  Lynn was a fighter and refused to let this illness stop her in any way.  She was also a stubborn woman who denied that any of the limitations she was experiencing should be thought of as permanent. 

The Habibi annual parties continued, and Habibi went out regularly. I noticed Lynn, losing her balance, or sometimes calling me into the garage to cry for a few minutes because she couldn’t remember something, and she needed me to remind her.  I know this time was difficult for Bob and the entire family, but because of Lynn’s tenacious attitude about this disease not affecting her, and demanding that no one help her; its debilitations did not appear to be severe for a long time.

Multiple Sclerosis is a disease that affects the central nervous system, messages to the brain, and is a long-term wasting-away disease that affects the muscle’s ability to remember how to function, the brain’s ability to remember or speak.  To see a person’s slow descent into this formable disease is incredibly painful to watch.  Famous people whom you may know, who have fought this disease and finally succumbed, to it are: Richard Pryer and Marie Funnicello. The statistics on acquiring Multiple Sclerosis are on the rise.  It strikes at the prime of life and leaves a person a prisoner of his own body.

Lynn tried non-traditional Western medicine, and she tried fighting her MS, but it began to take its toll on this incredible life-loving, energetic woman.  It started in little bits: an unsteady gait, slight stuttering, and problem with grasping or holding objects.  I continued to talk to Lynn by phone as it became harder for her to travel.  She never wanted anyone to see her as limited, until the day came when she told me she was going to have to use a wheelchair.  I remember watching the tears streaking a trail down her cheeks as we both made jokes about racing her down the hills in the wheelchair. 

At about this time, Shukriya, produced the Rakkasah Festival, had started giving awards to recognize people in the community who had been instrumental in affecting the dance world.  Lynn Zalot was the first award recipient at Rakkasah, for her work with Habibi.  She was nervous, letting others see her in her wheelchair, having to go on stage and accept the prize.  Lynn had always hated being the center of attention.  We made an agreement: I would wheel her up on stage and off, and I also promised to help her look beautiful by doing her make up that day.  I wheeled Lynn into the women’s bathroom and got out my make up kit.  She was already beginning to look pale and tired from her illness.  We giggled as I put overly heavy Belly dance style make up on her face.  Under all the bravado, I could tell she was scared. 

Her name was called, and I wheeled her up to the stage to receive her plaque. The whole audience arose to give her a standing ovation.  She glowed! That was the last time I remember Lynn allowing herself to be seen in public.

There comes a time when even the strongest person can no longer hold on to the frail net of beating and fighting against a formidable, relentless foe.  Lynn’s health began to decline rapidly, and she hated the process.  She became dependent on others to help her move from place to place, help her to eat, and eventually, to take complete care of her.  Her husband, Bob, never wavered a moment from his love and caring of her and became her full time caregiver.  I visited her, and each time I arrived, she would have deteriorated to an even greater extent.  I felt helpless and overwhelmed by emotion.  I loved Lynn; I knew she hated being in this body that was failing her, and I talked to her as if nothing had changed.  Then, it came to the point when she needed to be fed, and I tried to do that during my visits with her, with dignity and some of the old humor.  The next visit, Lynn was in a hospital bed in her living room. I’d massage her muscles in her legs that had begun to become useless.  Soon, she was unable to talk to me anymore, though she could understand what was said to her.  That was the hardest thing of all, seeing Lynn, who was like a bright blue jay chattering away at the sun, lying there unable to say more then a single word.  Finally she turned her face away from me and stared out her window.  She never looked back at me, and I knew this was more difficult for her to handle than it was for me.

I never had the opportunity to visit my beautiful friend again after that.  Her life had cycled into the impartial grip of a terminal disease.  Multiple Sclerosis sneaked behind us and replaced Lynn’s bright flame with a simple golden glow.    Lynn lived for many years at home while Bob took care of her, and then, for a while, in a nursing home.  With Lynn unable to work on Habibi, it, too, foundered.  

Lynn Zalot passed away quietly a few years ago, and I believe she dances now among the clouds. I have written this accounting in her memory and spirit—to recognize and celebrate her life and the impact of her inspiration to create Habibi, the first Belly dance newsmagazine.  Habibi is the Arabic word meaning “sweetheart” and nothing better describes my friend, Lynn. In loving memory, ya Habibi, Lynn, shukran!

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