Gilded Serpent presents...
Conversations with Bert Balladine
The Belly Dancing Boom
of San Francisco in the 1960's
by Lora Schoen

The birth of the boom:
The company gathered around the dining room able and sat down for tea, coffee, and the best hazelnut cake in the third dimension. The conversation around the table buzzed and boomed with talking and laughter. Immediately, Bert began to enthusiastically reminisce and joke about "the good old days" when belly dancing first took hold in the ready to boom flower power decade of San Francisco in the 1960"s.

Bert: "Do you remember Leila? Dark haired Leila that came from 'Russia with Love'? She was a waitress at that Indian Restaurant, Omar Khyam. She learned to dance from Naji Baba."

Company: "Oh, yea. He was a nice guy, Naji Baba."
"Naji Baba!" someone else exclaims, "Oh! He was red hot!!"

Bert: "Yes, he worked as a drummer and would hang out at the Casbah. He was very nice, very friendly."

Company: "I think Najia did a tape with him. Didn't you do a tape with him, Najia?"

Bert: "Do you know who one of the first really good Bellydancers in San Francisco was? Betina. She had a flat in North Beach. This was before the belly dancing boom in SanFrancisco. One night she fell in a show and twisted her ankle. She had a fund raising party and invited everyone to come dressed up in togas. She draped herself on a leopard skin chais lounge and everyone was there: the wanna-be belly dancers, old men, club owners, the local drug dealer, you know! And many people were making out under the coats. One room was full of coats on the floor and there were people underneath all of them! There were orchids floating in the bathtub and candles everywhere. In fact, Francessca was there, and she was standing this close to some candles. I was a fire eater at the time. Anyway, her hair caught fire, and I grabbed her and threw her down on the floor. Most of her hair was saved."

And this was before the boom! The Hippies didn't come out of nowhere. Bert continues and almost gives out the vital information.

Bert: "The birth of belly dancing in San Francisco was."

I leaned forward, straining my ears, when another guest too soon interjects,

Company: "Thirty years ago?"

Bert: "Ehhhhhh."

Company: "Longer?"

Bert: "Well, you know it has been lied about so often because certain people want to take credit. There were no dancers, but there were musicians. The leader of the group was Antonio Daloop. They played on Thursdays at The Black Hawk (I got the day of the week, but not the year!) with jazz people, but they played Arabic music. They wanted some dancers. There was one Greek student and an older Greek woman. That's where I came in. I was supposed to make belly dancers out of them, but I couldn't. So I recruited some Spanish Flamenco dancers. I persuaded them to take their shoes off and replace their castanets with zils and it worked. sort of. And then we got into it. Pretty soon we were dancing downstairs at The 12 Adler and then at GiGi's, on Broadway."

And that's how the craze began San Francisco, whatever year it was! The time was right, the music was here, and all that was needed was the magic of Bert Balladine and some barefoot Flamenco dancers!

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Ready for more?
2-1999 Conversation with Bert Balladine by Krista Gettle & Lora Schoen
Words of history and wisdom from our dear mentor!

2-25-00 Bert Balladine- at long last Bert begins his North Beach Memories!



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