Gilded Serpent presents...
in a Name
If you were
a dancer in the late '60s thru the '80s, it was an important
part of your professionalism to adopt a "dance name" that
needed to be an exotic, preferably Arabic, Turkish or Persian
name to use when you danced. No one used her own Western name!
A dance name was given, and from thence forward, you were known
as such. It was especially important because when they introduced
you at the Casbah or
Cabaret, it always was the same introduction: "
now we have the beautiful/lovely/radiant (fill in name) dancing
next." In all the years that these clubs were open, I rarely
heard a different introduction. It became an ongoing joke among
dancers whenever we talked among ourselves."Oh yes, here
is the bee-uu-tee-ful Kashmira". So as you see, having the
name Ann wouldn't quite cut it in that context!
I was first dancing, the allure and excitement of receiving
your dance name was a celebration, almost an initiation
early '70s, there was a whole protocol for dancers to follow:
what you wore, who you "took from", what clubs you "danced
at", etc. There were a few dancers whom I remember who never
fit into Jamilla vs. "the
others" syndrome and they were Bert
Balladine, Najia, Amina and
several out of town dancers. By and large, whether you liked
it or not, it appeared to me that most of the teaching and dancing
that began in the Bay Area was from Jamilla Salimpour and her
students...good or bad.
When I arrived on the scene in 1972, most of Jamilla's performing dancers were
employed at the Casbah, and everyone else was at the Bagdad or assorted Greek
clubs. In the early '70s it seemed an important rite of passage to have a dance
name, but receiving one's name also became an initiation ceremony that proclaimed
your destiny, your new birth, into the future of Belly dance. There was a feeling
of rebirth or re-identification involved with becoming a Belly Dancer.
you had changed your name, and until you actually had "become" your
dance personae, you would never be taken seriously by other
dancers, audiences, or club owners.
Many times, Fadil
Shaheen owner of the Casbah Cabaret, reinvented or totally
changed dancers names to whatever name he felt was more appropriate
to use in his nightclub. An alchemical process occurred within
the dance field, as one shed her "ordinary", Anglo
name for the rich, exotic, and mysterious Middle Eastern flair,
the whole emergence of new identity took over one's life. It
was expected to merge and meld into a complete separate identity
as a dancer that eventually consumed one's whole life and identity.
of a new identity was liberating to a lot of women who took this
opportunity to shed the cultureless backgrounds of their own
lives and develop a strong self-esteem and rich life. It also
became a crafty illusion, causing tunnel vision for some dancers.
tunnel vision caused them to become so immersed in the
dance, the Arabic culture and life, that there was no room
left for anything else in their lives except their new
identity. It could be as addictive and insidious as an
opium smoker's dream. We lived and breathed the dance and
its ethnic beauty.
(I knew dancers
who always wore the heavy black kohl-rimmed eyes, whether in
clubs or shopping. It became a world within a world.) There is
so much beauty and richness in cultures outside the American
experience that we grasped onto these exotic realms as the reality
of our own lives. Ethnic jewelry, clothing from the Silk Road,
homes transfixed into Bedouin indulgence, foods such as hummus,
tabouli, and babaganoosh, and spices such as cumin and coriander,
became regular, everyday things for us. I admit I still love
the food, decor, music and all the richness that these ancient
worlds bring into our lives. It truly was a Renaissance of creating
and living a world separate from conformity to the "American
Dream". It was common that once you received your dance
name and you became well known in the world of Belly dance, all
else fell away. Many of the greatest dancers are still known
by their dance names only.... and very few others would actually
recognize their birth names. Among them are: Jamilla Salilmpour,
Aida Al-Adawi, Galya, Rhea, Najia, Shukriya, Hoda, Rababa, Mish-Mish.,
also there was, Charisma, Saida, Karma,
Meta, Samira, Selwa, etc. It was an honor to be known only
by your dance name and established you in the ranks of known
people in the community.
dancers are choosing not to redefine their identity with a dance
name or an authentic Arabic dance name for their troupe. It's
an interesting turn around. I believe it started when we began
to see well-known and respected dancers emerging from Egypt with
names like Nellie, Fifi, Lucy and Dina. The song, "Linda,
Linda" became a hit, and no longer was finding an Arabic
name to replace your own the order of the day. Turning my thoughts
back to the '70s: Receiving a name seemed a tradition, and like
most Belly dance matters at that time, I believe it started with
Jamilla. She would personally give her dancers their dance names.
It was a very important time in a student's life, to be initiated
with a name personally thought of and picked exclusively for
you by your dance teacher. This tradition carried down through
my own teacher, Atash, and I eagerly awaited the name
she would bestow and bless upon me. It was one of the pivotal
rituals involved in becoming a dancer. Most dancers kept the
names given to them by their teachers, in reverent homage. My
name given to me was Adara. Adara! I asked my Atash what
this name meant. From where did it come? She responded that she
wasn't sure, but it "came to her and felt like my name".
So I was anointed thus. During this time, there was also a lot
of background information (attributed to Jamilla) that the origin
of Belly dance was an ancient fertility rite, for birthing and
done in antiquity by priestesses to the Egyptian Goddess. Thus
we have a strong influence of the belief in rituals, initiations,
and ceremonies that included community in the realm of dance.
Have I mentioned that I hated the name "Adara", but
that out of respect for my teacher, I kept it? My teacher left
the dance world shortly thereafter, and I began my odyssey with Rhea and
being in Rhea's troupe. Handing out names to students, went flying
out the window and everyone just picked her own. It was my opportunity,
so I changed my name. After much study and reading many books,
I picked the name "Ashera", which was an ancient
Babylonian creator goddess, who created the Tree of Life. I became
a teacher and well-known local snake dancer under this
name and even though every one mispronounced it, I thought it
was best to stick with it. That is, until one night at the Casbah,
while I was being introduced. I overheard snickers and laughter
from some of the Arab men. I hadn't started dancing yet, so I
knew they couldn't be laughing at my dance! This laughter vaguely
puzzled me, but I ran out on stage and danced my best. (No more
laughing or snickering.) Later that evening, Fadil Shaheen came
over to me and asked me where I had gotten my name. I told him.
He told me that in Arabic, the word "ashera" meant
the number ten. He advised me to change it. Stubbornly I held
on, I was known as Ashera, and Ashera I would stay!
By that time,
I was also a regular dancer at the incredibly beautiful Khyber
Pass Restaurant in Oakland. It had just switched ownership
from the original Afghani owner to a rich Arab. After dancing
my last set, the owner came over to me with a very worried look
on his face. Now what...? He asked me, "How did you get
we go again!" I thought to myself, and I began with the
usual Tree of Life story. He didn't buy it any more than Fadil
had. He said, " I'm sorry but you are using the word for
a very important religious Islamic Day-"The Day of Mourning"--
you must not continue to do so, it is very disrespectful".
He patted my hand condescendingly and walked away rather stiffly. "O.k.,
o.k. I've got it.. I have to change the name", I admitted
to myself. I wanted a name that no other dancer had adopted.
(There were so many repeats of dance names that now dancers were
adding Arabic surnames to their dance names to identify themselves
as the original owner of that name).
I found a name that I truly loved the minute and saw it. It has
brought me much luck, notoriety and has propelled me forward
into my destiny as a dancer. That name is Sadira. The
book in which I found it said it was from the Persian language
and means, " the bud of the lotus flower, denoting a mystic
or a dreamer." That's definatley me! So for the third and
forever last time, my name is Sadira.
indigenous, egalitarian societies and mystery schools believe
that the power in a name is quite formidable. A child is
given a name at birth to protect and identify it to the
community; also to fool the evil spirits.
true name is usually given during an initiatory rite, or after
that individual has a vision or after an event happens in their
life that signifies their "true name". They would also
have a separate, "sacred name" that would never be
spoken aloud or told to others for to do so you would cause you
to lose your power, energy, or life. So a name can be very powerful
and create a life of its own. When you choose, choose well and
with deep thought and understanding of what significance that
name reveals to you.
As a postscript:
when I told Persian people my name, "Sadira"...none
of them recognized it as a Persian word, let alone a name! Does
it matter? No. To me, it is my essence, my dance spirit name,
and it fits me well. By the way, my first dance name, "Adara",
which was given to me by my first teacher, was later found to
be a Hebrew name from the Old Testament of the Bible meaning "virgin".
No wonder I couldn't get used to it!
9-26-01 "RETRO-TRIEVING" by
remember those days back in the '70s when ethnic stylizing was
the only "true" way to dance. Latest addition to our North
Laughs Gives Reviewer Terrific Case of Readers Indigestion,
Reviewed by Sadira
Belly Laughs: Adventures with Celebrities & Other Unusual Characters book
written by Rod Long.
gift -Stage-worthy Names for Dancers
A whole book of names in a PDF file!