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The Gilded Serpent presents...
of Oklahoma City
interview by Lynette

Her home is in Oklahoma. She says that she is proud to be an “ Okie” and says she is also part Cherokee. Her dance name is Soraya! Her first dancing lesson took place in 1972 was at the YMCA, in Oklahoma City. Her teacher was a professional dancer from New York whose husband was transferred to Oklahoma City be a television news director in a local station. He told her during those years not to tell anyone that she was a belly dancer.

Soroya laughs as she reminisces, “One night my girlfriend called and said ‘You have fifteen minutes to get into your leotard and meet me to take a belly dancing class.’ So I ran to the YMCA to meet my destiny! Two years later, my teacher went back to New York. Her name was Shani, and she turned to me just before she left and said, “You have to be the teacher now!” I laughed and then realized that she was serious! So I did it! I had to start going to workshops to amplify the technique I had already learned. As I told you, Shani was from New York. In those days, dancers didn’t go to school to learn to dance.

Shani had learned by going to watch the belly dancers at the Round Table after working as a ‘twister’ (a dancer who performed The Twist) at the Peppermint Lounge”.

(See Soraya's poem to Shani in right margin)

Shani didn’t break the dance movements down as I do when I teach. I had to learn to do that… We had to follow along; just as in they do in the Middle East (especially if there is a language barrier). Once a month, I went to Dallas to study with Meara. I assumed three classes from Shani that she had been teaching in different parts of town.

I selected my name after I read a book by the former Empress of Iran, “Soraya.” She was a second wife and the love of the Emperor’s life. His Parliament made him divorce her because she was unable to bear children. Soraya is also the other name for “Pleiades”, “the Seven Sisters” constellation of stars. It also means “candelabra” or, to me, “light”. This is why I chose this name.

In the 1970s I met Bert Balladine, at a workshop in Fort Worth, sponsored by Carol Shannon. I brought Bert here to Oklahoma several times for workshops after that.

Bert and I look good and work well together! We were complementary heights. We read each other while dancing with a mutual instinct. We each knew what the other was going to do. Bert would give me a brief over-view of the choreographic outline and then we would just do it. And it always worked!

We also appeared on television together on a show called “The Danny Williams Show” It was a noontime entertainment. It included some news too and then special features. First we were interviewed and then we danced. It was the first time that Belly Dance had been presented in Oklahoma. In the interview, they seemed surprised we were doing such a thing. We tried to tell them how Belly dance is truly an art form and that there were many misconceptions especially here in the heartland. It was still something new here. We tried to present it in a very dignified and artful way.


There was a lady who was publishing a magazine in Wichita. She sent a letter saying she was going to quit, or that she was planning to suspend her publication called the Binty Balady. I then decided to start a magazine called The Mirage. I published my magazine for four years and had subscribers in 42 states, including Germany and Sweden. Our subscriber in Sweden was an Egyptian man, Bahi Barakat, who had about three hundred students with blond hair and blue eyes. One time, he called to say he was coming to the states to show his dance films, including one of the Zar. First, he was going to New York and then to California. He was a 6’5” native Egyptian.

Of course, I’m married, and I had danced for 14 years in a Jordanian restaurant. Bahi came and stayed a few days here and played the drum at the restaurant. I wrote an article about him in Mirage, which I will send to you. I took a picture and wrote a little text about him and his dance. He knew about it, of course. He went on to California. He bought some of my books about Egypt and its dance before he left. He died shortly thereafter, in Sweden.

I love Egypt, especially ancient Egypt, and studied it a lot in school. I fell in love with Egyptian antiquities in art history classes. I graduated with a degree of Bachelor of Fine Arts from Okalahoma University. Fortunately, I have had the chance to go to Egypt and to Athens also.

I routinely go to one private grade school in my area, to perform and teach dance. I’ve been going there for 14 years now. They are in the 3rd grade and they all come dressed as Pharaohs and Cleopatras. The children usually tell me whom they are portraying. There is usually only one scribe in the crowd. They have their Egyptian feast every year in October when they are studying ancient Egypt, and I perform a folkloric cane dance for them. I really enjoy working with the children and sharing my knowledge. The kids love it when I say I’ve been inside King Tut’s tomb. “Who was the first feminist?” I ask. “I know! Queen Hatshepsut,” the kids will shout.

1978, I danced at the opening in New Orleans for the King Tut Exhibit touring the United States. I did what we called a Pharonic dance. I was wearing white pleated dress costume to resemble an ancient Egyptian. That was a fabulous gig. I did this with fellow dancers from Houston. Naderah had her hair braided, and she played Isis. Her husband was Osirus. Inadvertently, my dance became the dance of the widow of Tut, Ankhnamen. It was in supplication to Osirus to accept the soul of King Tut in the after world. This is how we melded our characters into one show.

Soroya speaks about her dance shows with Bert:
“Cleopatra and Mark Anthony”
I thought the character was supposed to be Caesar! I rented a costume for him. I had an Egyptian architect paint the backdrop so that it looked like an Egyptian tomb painting. Four men, costumed as slaves, carried me in on a fancy litter. I wore my gold lame cape over a beautiful costume. Bert was standing on the stage, posturing, awaiting my arrival. I entered the stage after coming down off of the litter. Two ladies were on either side, fanning me. Nobody will ever forget this show. Such fantasy! Then, of course, we did our duet with the veil.

Soroya remembers seeing Dalilah in Europe:
Dalilah was also a former partner of Bert’s. For personal reasons, she and her family decided to move to Madrid, Spain, her place of birth. One of their children was killed there in the elevator shaft of their apartment. They had twins, Peter and Paul; Paul was the son who fell. They were out of touch with everyone after that tragedy. Oh! They also had a daughter.

By some coincidence, I got in touch with a lady that knew how to contact Dalilah in Madrid. We were going to Madrid on vacation, so I sent a letter to the address I was given. She called just before we left. They took us around Madrid and showed us all the great restaurants with the best tapas. We had a great visit. We talked about bringing her here for a workshop. She died shortly after our visit, though.

She had been here before, and she stayed in my home. I knew her through Bert. They had danced together before. When I first met her, they were living in Las Vegas. I met her again in San Francisco at an event of Bert’s. We hit it off, became immediate friends, and I went to see her and her house in Las Vegas. After I reconnected with her in Madrid, I shared her address with everyone who wondered what became of her.

The Jordanian Restaurant that I mentioned earlier was called “Sweis”. This was the owners’ family name. They were Christians from Jordan, and they specialized in Middle Eastern food. I told them I wanted to dance in their restaurant, and they had a stage built just for me. I became like part of the family. I brought lots of artists into their place. They felt I had done a lot for them. He still has a pita bakery, but the restaurant is closed now. I am still in contact with the Sweis family.

I was the only Caucasian in a Japanese dance troupe in Oklahoma, after the Japan American Society asked me to join their group.

One of my former dance partners has been working in Dubai. When he got married, I held the wedding reception for him and his bride. He has since become a Muslim, and he has made the pilgrimage to Mecca. He wouldn’t want me to reveal his name now because of his new religious life, and he will not be dancing as a performer again. I am happy to say that I am still considered a good family friend.

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Phyllis and Dick Manning

From the great Roundtable she came,
but not that of Lancelot fame.

Out of the East to change the lives
of all of us suburban wives.

She was fair of face
and full of grace,

But spoke with a strange accent
at very rapid pace.

She said she would teach us
the dance of the Nile,

So we signed up with hope
that our friends we'd beguile.

She danced her way into
our hearts that day

With a one - and a two -
and a three, she'd say.

Now shake your touche'
it's not gonna break

And get off your pelvis,
for heaven's sake.

Then arch your back,
get your eyes off the floor,

You've only gotta dance
for thirty minutes more.

So we sweated and strained
and we swayed and swore

Then we swooped and stretched
and we sweated some more.

We vowed to practice
but just never did,

So when our turn came
our faces we hid.

Each evening our bodies
would scream "no more",

But all we would hear was
"Get down on the floor.”

For months now we've paid
such a terrible price

Just so we could hear her
tell us, "Oh, that's nice."

Mission accomplished, she's now moving on,
our teacher, the temptress, soon will be gone.

For whatever Fate may upon us smile.
one thought we'll remember for quite awhile.

"Very nice girls, but for God's sake, smile!"

To Shani
'with love.

The Gilded Serpent

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