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The Cowboy Bar in Montana
by Kalifa

In August of 1971, Bert Balladine called me to ask if I could fly to Great Falls, Montana for a month long gig.

"Sure. When?" I asked.

"Tomorrow," He said.

Bert didn't know any details, only that it paid well. He gave me the phone number of the club owner so that I could call him. Being inexperienced, I didn't ask for any information when I called except to confirm that the job was to last for a month.

I packed a few warm-weather clothes and several costumes. I left Berkeley, California the next morning. When I arrived at the airport in Montana the club owner (I'll call him Chet since I don't remember his name) met me and took me to the apartment in which I would stay. On the way to the apartment he explained that he had another act working at his club, a country singer by the name of Stephanie. We would share the apartment. I was overjoyed that I didn't have to rent a room somewhere.

Stephanie and I got along right away. She was from the Bay Area too. Chet left with the understanding that I'd walk across the street to the club later that day to see the layout. I would be dancing for the first time that evening. Stephanie would do the opening act and then I'd do a nine o'clock show.

My first shock was when I saw the name of the club, The Great Mountain Saloon. I didn't realize that I'd be dancing in a saloon!

The second was when I saw the sawdust on the floor. I knew it would be very difficult to dance either barefoot or with heels on sawdust. I asked Chet if he could sweep it up around the dance floor where I would be performing. He agreed that after Stephanie did her set he'd have his son come out and sweep up the floor. He also told me Great Falls had never had a belly dancer come to town. Terrific! I could probably make a million mistakes and no one would know.

That night as I prepared to do my first show, I peeked through the door from the back. It looked like party-night at the OK Corral. Table after bar stool was filled with cowboys of every type, shape and height complete with cowboy boots. Some even had guns on their hips. Most still wore their Stetsons. I was a tiny bit nervous that they didn't have to check their guns. I knew that this would be an interesting night.

As soon as I glided out on the floor and started spinning to my taped music the club quieted down. When the bouzouki began playing the audience started to clap and stomp. The cowboys thought it was an invitation to dance! Before I knew it there were three of them dancing around me. No one from the bar or the club came to help. I was alarmed, having never experienced this before. I didn't have the foggiest idea how to incorporate them into my dance so I knew I had to get them seated. Gradually, I coaxed them to sit back down so that I could continue.

At the end of my first set fifty cowboy hats sailed through the air landing all around my feet and bouncing off of my arms. I made a quick exit through the door to the dressing room that Stephanie and I shared.

Out of breath, I asked her, "Why didn't you warn me?"

She laughed. "They weren't quite as excited when I was out there."

My four weeks went by very quickly and I made many friends. The cowboys of Northern Montana turned out to be a great bunch of guys. A group of them took Stephanie and me to the county fair to see Sonny and Cher perform.

The last week I was there a freak blizzard hit Great Falls. I had to buy a winter coat and warm clothing. The temperature plummeted from 80 degrees to 10 below zero overnight. I caught a terrible cold and bronchitis with a temperature of 101, probably from dancing barefoot on the cold floor. Chet took me to his doctor. When I insisted that the show must go on the doctor promptly prescribed some fabulous painkillers. The medicine helped me float across the dance floor the last week of my gig.

I never again danced in a saloon but it was an experience that I wouldn't trade for anything.

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