Gilded Serpent presents...
Rhea and Aziza!
Where You Find Them
have made comments about the generally unfortunate character of
the belly dance community, and most of them are pretty unflattering.
While acknowledging the all-too-frequent accuracy of these criticisms,
I must add that I have found some very good friends among the
dancers I have met. Some of them were friends for the length
of time we worked together or were in some kind of association
together, but some of them have been my friends for twenty or
were some dancers that I didn’t much like at first – or maybe
we had some disagreement or whatever – and then I was surprised
to realize, as the years went by, that we had become good
friends! There are too many to list here, but you all know
who you are and how I care for you.
There was one
woman with whom I was close for many years, who then passed out
of my life in an odd fashion. Her name is Ginny,
though she was originally called Kattoura. When
I was teaching in Santa Rosa I started hearing about a belly dance
teacher in Sebastopol, a neighboring town. After a while we started
to share a few students, and we had an acquaintance or two in common,
such as Kadiya. I started hearing stories about
how she was bad-mouthing me or criticizing my teaching, and at first
I was none too delighted with her – but then I started considering
the sources from which I heard these stories, and started wondering
if she was getting the same kind of stories about me. She had recently
opened a studio in Sebastopol, so I knew where to find her, and
I went over one day to talk to her about all the garbage. Well,
I was right – she had been hearing the same kind of stories about
me – we had a good idea of where it had started, though not why,
and we decided right then that we weren’t going to let disagreeable
gossip mean anything. We started a friendship and association that
lasted more than twenty years.
Mimi plays for Kattoura at the Bagdad
taught a weekly class in her studio, but one of the best things
that happened was that my costume business was nurtured there.
In one room of the studio (which was in a remodeled Victorian
cottage) she had a few things for sale – some scarves, used costume
bits, fancies from India and so on. I started putting in a few
costumes that I made and then a few more. She expanded her stock
of scarves, etc., from India and eventually bought the importing
business and became the wholesaler (and retailer) for most of
the belly dance community. Together, we brought in such guest
teachers as Amina,
Hoda, Khadija al Nakhla and
the Greek folk dancer Paulette Janetos. Ginny
put on a series of Middle Eastern Nights in which her students
and then her troupe performed and in which I and my students/troupe
One of the
things that Ginny was involved in from its beginning was “an association
of Middle Eastern Dance Artists” known as the Greater San
Francisco Area Teachers’ Guild. This was a group dedicated
to such worthy ideas as encouraging co-operation and goodwill
within the regional dance community, promoting competency in the
dance form, and promoting ethical standards and communication
within and without the Guild. The original members included Ginny,
Leea, Sylenia, Shahreena,
Tamra, Farasha and Shukriya,
but the final group included Mimi Spencer, Najia
El Mouzayen, Malika, Mary
Alice, Namora, Najwa,
Aneena, and me.
I was invited
several times to join this august body, but I have never been
much of a joiner, and besides, I was pretty busy already. Finally,
in 1983, I said that I would try it for a while, but as it turned
out, I remained a member. One of the first things we did after
I joined was to make a performance video, with the aim of selling
it in Europe, where belly dancing was really just coming into
vogue. All the Guild members at the time participated, and Bert
Balladine joined us as Tamra’s dancing partner.
It was taped at Fadil
Shahin’s restaurant, El
Morocco. We had live music - Fadil on oud, Mimi
on kanoun (she also danced), Robaire Nakashian
on dumbek, and Rashid on additional percussion.
It was called “The Art of Middle East Dancing Volume 1”
– there were, perhaps, thoughts of making a series. It is an
interesting tape to watch – we all danced just fine, though there
were one or two girls who had sort of that deer-in-the-headlights
look, and one or two tried to fit absolutely every trick they
could do into the short time we each had to dance. Namora featured
her “snap dance” technique,
a style that no one else has perfected. Well, it turned out that
the video was really basically unsaleable. The videographer
was using equipment that was very much out of date – at that time
there were videocams that would have done fine with ambient light,
but he had big old lights shining on us that alternately washed
us out or didn’t quite light us. The editing is not the most
sophisticated, and the sound is mediocre. However, I am delighted
that we each got a copy and I can watch all those dancers, many
of whom have either moved away or have just stopped dancing.
It was an exciting thing to do!
About four times
a year the Guild would put on a “Workshop Spectacular and Debutante
Showcase.” The job of planning and hosting these all-day and evening
events moved around among the members.
kind of all-day workshop with an assortment of teachers was
still in its infancy, and people were excited to come.
As a general
rule, the teachers for the classes were members of the Guild,
with an occasional guest teacher. We had vendors all day and
lunch was supplied. In the evening there was always a big show,
with performances by some of the members, but with the main emphasis
on “Debs” – up-and-coming students, each presented by her teacher.
As often as possible, there was live music. When Ginny, Farasha
and I put on the events in the Santa Rosa area, we had them either
at El Rancho Tropicana or at the Flamingo,
and had Jazayer or Coral Rose play for the evening
show. Other members presented theirs at locales like the Scottish
Rite Temple in Oakland, Zorba’s Symposion
in San Rafael, or Spenger's Restaurant in Berkeley.
Everyone looked forward to these well-done, classy events.
At one point,
the Guild decided to do a troupe-like number, taught to us by
Mimi Spencer – originating, I think, with Mahmoud Reda.
It was a candelabra dance, and we worked on it and worked on it.
We came up with elegant outfits - sleeveless dresses of black
and gold knit, black highish-heeled sandals, long cuffs and belts
of gold pailettes, with tidy headwraps. We needed the headwraps
because of the type of candelabrum we had to use. We could neither
find enough nor all afford the tall, Egyptian style of candelabrum,
but, after a long search, we came up with a substitute from Cost
Plus that was actually, I think, more like the Swedish
Santa Lucia style candelabrum. It was a flat ring with four(?)
candle sockets on it, and we had to hold it on with an elastic
strap that went under the hair in back. We got “dripless” candles,
but nonetheless, some of us (including yours truly) were decorated
with hot wax in the course of our dance. Jazayer played our music,
and we got up on the temporary stage in front of a lot
one of the early moves, my heel caught between sections of
the stage (in spite of the thin carpet covering it) and I
stumbled and almost went down (and never mind what I said!),
but I recovered and we did the rest of the dance very well.
Whew! Some of the members absolutely refused to ever do the
dance again, let alone learn any more numbers – they felt
that they were very bad in group dances – so that was the
end of the Guild Troupe! Never mind – I have that dance on
tape and I think we looked good!
was in existence for several years. We had our ups and downs,
but things went fine until two things happened. One was a dispute
among the members over a casual remark by one of them, and the
other was that one of our new members decided that the bylaw regarding
confidentiality of our proceedings didn’t mean anything and started
putting our business on the street and bringing back to us what
non-members had to say about it. Disputes and arguments became
more common, and pretty soon we had to give up the effort as over.
It was too bad, because the Guild was a very good idea and we
had laudable aims, but it proved unsustainable.
Ginny and I started taking our vending out of town and then out
of state. Her scarves and veils and fabrics complemented my bras
and belts and skirts and so on very well (especially because I
used them to make a lot of my stuff), and we would go someplace,
vend, teach and perform. It was a lovely few years. Then she
left her husband and moved to Reno, and it became a little more
difficult to maintain the same relationship, especially after
I left Milt and moved to Redding. Ginny married my second brother
and they moved to Montana, and it became even harder. Finally
she decided to get out of the business, but didn’t tell me about
it – she was always secretive about her business – and the first
I really knew about it was when I showed up at Rakkasah that year
and she didn’t. Many people then and since have asked me what
happened, and I have to tell them honestly that I don’t know.
Some people thought that we were partners, as we were so close,
but that wasn’t the case, either.
always has refused to talk to me about what happened, and
after a little while, she and my brother split up and Ginny
informed me that we were no longer friends.
As I said
earlier, I have many friends that I have cared about for many
years, and some that were friends for a while and are no more.
I am lucky to have had so many good relationships with other dancers,
and I am always delighted when I can see or talk with them. Real
friendship among us dancers may be rare, but it’s a wonderful
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Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
more by Aziza!
Zelzeleh, My Troupe Adventures
first thing that I discovered was that I hated to design or perform
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I wasn’t too hot at it, truth to tell.
to Santa Rosa
I married a Greek, and for a while it was okay with him that I
continued to dance...
The Taverna Athena
I didn’t see just how it happened, but evidently a couple
of brothers from Cyprus were hired to put the Taverna out of business.
Loving Remembrance &
Requiem: the Best “School” That Ever Was, Part 2
by Morocco/ Carolina Varga Dinicu
much great stuff; so little time to see and learn it all. So much
of it disappears down the oasis daily.
Dance Journey to Nepal, Part 2 by Daleela
music had suddenly changed pitch from regular speed to very fast