I was dancing on Saturday nights at O Aitos Taverna in Berkeley, CA. My teacher, Bert Balladine, taught his classes there so it was natural for some of his students to entertain on weekends. The owners, Ted Sofios and his younger brother, John, were pretty fair cooks and served some delicious Greek dishes.
I remember one evening in particular that ended being more exciting than it began. A friend of mine, George, a Balkan and Turkish folk-dance teacher, had just finished a class an hour earlier and agreed to take charge of the tape recorder. He walked out on the dance floor and announced me. "Our dancer, Kalifa," he said, dramatically.
There were quite a few people having dinner, and I began my usual routine of the belly dance, spinning around the large dance floor.
My eyes began to sting and I could see a long plume of smoke coming from the kitchen, moving on the air like a large black snake floating into the room. It rolled into the restaurant area and drove everyone outside.
I was standing in the middle of the dance floor with my veil dragging the floor, wondering what I should do. I loved the old axiom, the show must go on, but if there was no audience, then it shouldn't apply.
George came out of the back and grabbed my hand, slipping his sweater over my shoulders. We followed the others out to the sidewalk in front of the club. My midriff and belly were somewhat exposed, so I tried wrapping my veil around myself, but the sequins kept getting tangled up in George's sweater.
Two of the dinner guests came over and started talking to me. "Have you ever danced in a club that caught on fire, before?" The man speaking was tall and hefty, his wife, short and petite.
I shook my head, at a loss for words.
"We shore were enjoyin' yer dance. I'm Earl and this is my wife, Lois. We're visiting here from the Midwest, and they don't have belly dancers back there." He stuck his hand out and I shook it.
Thanking them, I said, "You didn't get to see much of my dance."
"Well, we're hoping
the fire ain't too bad and you can start over again. How 'bout that?"
The man's sunburn
George smiled at me. "Not a bad idea. I'll go in and see if Ted has everything under control."
I looked toward the entrance and there didn't seem to be any smoke coming out onto the street.
"Say, how long it take to learn to do those tummy moves?" the man asked.
"Quite a long time. I'm afraid I was at the bottom of the class."
His wife piped up, "I know what you mean. It took me forever to learn to stitch appliqué." She smiled up at me, her head brushing my shoulder.
"Uh-huh," I said, noncommittally. I felt in charge on the dance floor, but somehow standing out in the cold in a skimpy costume didn't give me the same self-confidence. I was beginning to get chilled and wished we could go back inside.
George appeared beside me. "We can go back, now." He turned to the crowd of diners standing around. "Everything is cleared up, except for a slight odor of smoke. You can all go back in and finish your dinners and Kalifa will resume her dance."
"Why didn't the fire truck come?" I asked George.
"I guess because they weren't called. It wasn't really a fire. Just a burnt dinner and scorched frying pan."
There had been an awful lot of smoke for a non-fire, but I wasn't arguing. I still had a performance to do. So I started getting myself revved up, again, for continuing my dance.
George and I headed toward the back of the room. I noticed the couple took their seats at the edge of the dance floor. George rewound the tape that had been playing all the time we were outside. There still was a slight burnt smell wafting on the air.
Again he announced me, and again I started my routine. I had taped some lively Greek music and I began spinning around the floor, stopping at the tables to create an intimacy in the large room. I slowed with the music and went into the taxim using my veil to accentuate the stomach movements. By the time I went into the audience, my Midwest couple had seen how the other diners put money in my coin girdle and the husband was smiling and ready with a five dollar bill. His wife had her five ready, too. I gave them some extra hip shimmies and smiles and went back to finishing my dance.
When I had changed out of my costume and returned to the restaurant, I saw George talking to my two new fans. Earl and Lois waved to me so I joined them.
"We shore liked yer dancing. The wife thought you was real good. Thanks so much for introducin' us to a new art form." He smiled and grabbed my hand and shook it again.
"First thing I'm gonna' do when I get home is look me up a belly dance teacher. They must have someone there who can teach, don't you think?" Earl's wife said, grinning.
"If you give me your address, I'll see if I can find someone there who teaches." I said, hoping to be of help.
"Oh, that would be wonderful," the wife said.
Earl gave me his card and George and I said goodnight. I never saw them again, but I was able to link them up with a young woman who taught belly dancing near their home. I don't know if Lois ever followed through, but I always felt good about that evening. I had done my bit to expose belly dancing to the Midwestern part of the United States.
God Belly Danced, Part III: Biblical Accounts
of Belly Dance in the Ancient Near East by Qan-Tuppim
of the 25th Anniversary San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival photos
by Susie Poulelis
Journey to Nepal by Daleela
Artwork of Scott Arguette