Gilded Serpent presents...
I began studying
Belly Dance in 1972, right in the beginnings of its brightest
light of existence here in the San Francisco Bay Area. There
was only one group that was considered "The Only" dance
troupe, dancers, or instructor that had any validity in the Middle
Eastern dance scene. If you did not belong to that one group,
it was like being an outcast! It was like an actual war at times.
For me, it was a strange scene. As a 17 year old. I had come
up with the "Peace and Love Generation", where everyone
was supposed to work together.
no experience with the political intrigues of the art world
and the cruelties that opposing artists would justify committing
in the name of "The Dance"!
feel, as do I, that Jamila Salimpour and her Troupe "Bal
Anat" deserve a great deal of respect and homage for
the tremendous influence they had on dancers and styles of dance
in the San Francisco Bay Area during that time. Yet, there was
a very dark side to that dance scene. If you did not dance and
study with Jamila, or one of her designated dance teachers, you
were considered a pariah and, many times, purposely snubbed and
sometimes, efforts were made to sabotage your dancing or gigs.
considered by many locals as the grand matriarch of dance. She
reminded me of the High Priestess card in the Tarot; except that
she seemed a dark, sinister Kali version. This, of course, was
because I was not a member of her group, but was connected with "The
Others". I was never privileged to meet or see the benevolent
side of her presence; nor was anyone I knew at that time. Jamila
always appeared larger than life, whether on the Renaissance
Faire stage or on the stage at the Casbah,
presiding over her student nights or "moon festivals".
She seemed a towering presence, with the plumes of dark ostrich
feathers adorning her headdress. All one could see would be her
beautiful, white face with its dark kohl-rimmed eyes and her
faux tattoos. Yet, there were her eyes....piercing, commanding,
condemning and exuding energy. You knew you just had to be in
the presence of a Goddess, for that energy, for many dancers,
was all consuming.
Most of the dancers at the Casbah were from her retinue, and they were the
most incredible dancers I had ever seen. The Renaissance Faire....when
the sounds of the mizmars and zornas wailed throughout the fairgrounds,
one was pulled, mesmerized, to the performance unfolding.
Jamila now has admitted publicly that it was mostly made
up, and only in part, real, but this was not acknowledged
in the early days of Bay Area Belly Dance.
This was the
only...true...way to dance, to costume oneself, otherwise your
work was considered trashy, or "in-authentic".
Seeing everything from the perspective of almost thirty years of dance, I now
see the irony that many dancers have begun to reinvent the " Tribal
Style" into "American Tribal Style", and I remember those
days back in the '70s when ethnic stylizing was the only "true" way
to dance. Now, Assiut cloth dresses with coin jewelry are back in style,
vs. beads, bangles, and shiny see-though cloths. Many of the new dancers
of today have no idea of the origins of the dance from the '70s , when
that look was the only "accepted" dance fashion. History does
repeat itself.. I mourn the death of true individuality and creativity
that took so long to develop among American dancers. There are still many
who do stand out, for example, Suhaila Salimpour, Jamila's daughter,
who are paving new directions and dancing their own dance.
I had the unfortunate experience (in the eyes of the Salimpours' dynasty),
of taking dance lessons from a teacher, Atash, who was banned from
the Bal Anat Troupe for daring to teach without Jamila's approval. Jamila
had to give her approval to any teacher that had been affiliated with her
did not announce that you could teach under her guidance,
and you stepped out on your own... you became one of "the
Atash had been
a sword dancer with the Bal Anat Troupe. She had started teaching
before Jamila gave her the blessing to teach. Thus, she and all
of us who came after her, were heavily scrutinized in the dance
community and were led to believe that we were ignored. Unfortunately,
all the political back-stabbing became too much for my teacher,
and she retired after only a few years of teaching on her own.
the style and anything else was unheard of! Coin bras and belts.
striped heavy weight skirts and veils, two pairs of circular
skirts, and pantaloons, along with various scarves and authentic
Afghani and Turkoman jewelry; was the only proper way to dress
for dancing. I believed that if you wore anything different than
this type of costuming, you were not a "real dancer".
disparity between ethnic styling and the cabaret styling
went on for many years, until the videos and music from
Egypt showing Nagua Fuoad and Sohair Zaki for
instance, showed a very cabaret styled format.
I have studied
with many teachers, mostly those who have been extraordinary
for their own talent and the authenticity with the various styles
of dance among Egypt, North Africa, Saudi Arabia, Persia or Armenia.
My next and most influential teacher, was Rhea. I first
saw her perform with her troupe on the Naji Baba Television
Show. After watching Rhea on television, I yearned to duplicate
that sinewy, and energetic dance style. I met her, became a long
time student, friend and member of her troupe "Nara Nata".
Francisco, was the highlight of the time; The Casbah and
The Casbah, always lured the more "traditional" styled
dancers. It was like being inside a Bedouin tent with the highlighted
stage and the ambience of a secretive, treasure. For the most
part the dancers there, at least in the beginning, were from
Jamila's group. They included some extraordinary dancers. Two
of the major stars of the stage at that time, were Selwa and Aida.
Their presence on that small stage seemed to me to be breathtaking.
The live music of Fadil
Shahin singing and playing oud, Jalal Takesh on
kanoun and Salah
Takesh on dumbek (tabla) was incredible. My favorite
thing was seeing Selwa dance. She danced out with her coal black
hair, and beautiful almond shaped eyes, wrapped in her veil like
an unfolding flower. She had the most incredible 3/4 shimmies
I have yet to see to this date. Of course, the shows were almost
an hour in length and constituted the five-part dance which was
becoming standard : Entrance, veil/taqsim, middle section with
more exuberance, floor work (complete with Turkish drop), tip
music, drum solo and finale.
One night when I was at the Casbah Cabaret, I had a dollar bill with which
I was planning to tip Selwa. To illustrate to you how deep and disturbing
the chasm between the Salimpour dancers and "The Others" were;
Selwa danced near me, and I reached out with my dollar
offering, the dancer I admired so much purposely pivoted
away from me and would not accept it.
It was quite
common to have other dancers who knew you were a performer or
student, snub you in the clubs and refuse to take your tips.
(More to follow soon
It was my perception that some friendly dancers also refused
to accept tips from other dancers they recognized in order to
keep the cost of going to the clubs repeatedly affordable. Some
dancers were honored by the same practice that was considered
a snub between the two factions.]
8-1-01 I Walk In
Pain And Beauty by Lucy Lipschitz
I also walk with
the Hope that other dancers will read this and know that they don't
on this double-edged sword alone.
Takesh Interviewed by
he was involved in the San Francisco North Beach scene during the eighties
as a drummer while
his brother, Jalaleddin Takesh was a kanoonist and restaurant owner.
We asked him to recall some of his experiences for our North
Beach Memories series.
RITUAL Enhancing our daily lives with drumming and dancing, by
patterns and dance movements of this tradition, steeped in antiquity,
steeped in women's ancestry, rekindle a natural and sacred state of