The Gilded Serpent presents...
Saida Asmar and Ahmed Jarjour
North Beach Memories of
at the Pasha Restaurant
in San Francisco, California
on November 6, 1999
I, Saida Asmar,
(my stage name) arrived in San Francisco in 1969. I grew up in Berlin,
Germany and then Montreal, Canada. My mother was involved in ballet
internationally, so I grew up taking ballet also. I received my
degree in accounting and foreign exchange. I have danced in Berlin,
Montreal and New York, starting as most ballet dancers do, as a
child in the Nutcracker Suite. I danced in many musical shows, and
did a lot of cattle calls and auditions. I knew Russel
from Montreal he was Lebanese and a dancer also. We worked together
in a show in Las Vegas and then teamed up together. We were to work
together for only 3 months and then I had the show, Hee Haw
in Las Vegas to do. In belly dance there was more money and jobs.
Russel's stage name was Ahmed Jarjour. I chose
the full name, Saida Asmar.
Russel was friends with Yousef
Kouyoumjian. Yousef needed help and arranged for us
to work at the Bagdad for two
weeks. It would be a good place to work on our routine. (except
for the 2 x 3 foot stage!). We had a contract to work on a variety
TV show in Mexico City. It was a regular show scheduled every Sunday.
After appearing in Mexico, Ahmed and I went back and forth between
a Greek Club in Oregon and an Armenian club in Fresno a couple times.
Then we returned to San Francisco to visit Bahia
whom we met when we came to the city the first time.
I was very tired of Ahmed's constant
party scene which involved me in an almost caretaker status. He
left to return to New York to take care of some health problems.
He was a friend of Bobby Farah too, who took care
of him in New York. I felt burned out! While back in San Francisco,
I met Jalaleddin
Takesh and became romantically involved with him. I did
not enjoy working in North Beach. Shows did not seem to be run professionally.
Club owners and musicians expected the dancer to dance to anything
that the audience requested. These particular folks had no respect
for their own culture from my point of view. It was very hard to
be a classically trained dancer and to work in a place that just
wanted a woman on stage in a costume. It didn't seem much different
from the strip clubs next door. I thought that they had no sense
While I was in New York, I had worked
many clubs where they presented a "real show", places such
as the "Round Table" on 50th Street. These were classed
as large supper clubs. Morocco
danced there also. All the performers in New York did other kinds
of performance too. They would rotate around in different venues as
their contract required. Nejla Atesh was another
performer in New York who worked in the show "Kismet". The
Gole Gole Sisters opened the "Round Table" long
before I came to New York.
I quit dancing in 1970. I had been working for Fadil
Shahin for two months, when I had a particularly distasteful
experience. I never went around the cocktail tables for tips, but
on one particular evening an old man approached me on stage with a
dollar to tuck into my dance belt. When I turned around to let him
tuck it in, he shoved it down to the nether regions, an action which
he knew was off-limits and insulting. I was very disturbed by this
transgression. I packed all my costumes and belongings. On my way
out, a brother of the owner, taunted me, "Who do you think you
are?" adding, "You're nothing but a belly dancer!"
I stayed with Samia Nasser
while here and then got stuck there because Samia needed help with
the rent. I sent Bahia to Fresno for the job there. I thought that
Samia was a nag! She was messy and was a real pain! Samia was from
Iraq. I wanted to go back to Santa Barbara. After meeting Jalal,
I finally went back to Santa Barbara. He commuted every Monday to
visit me. I took a job at Robinson's department store and was soon
promoted to manager of designer sportswear. Thank God, my parents
stressed education! Can you believe it; I eventually burned all
my belly dance mementos. The reminders sat about for a while and
one day I decided that they just didn't have any meaning for me
anymore because they were not fond memories. After Jalal and I were
married, I didn't want anything more to do with show business. Jalal
promised he would only play music until he had finished his engineering
degree. So I stayed in Santa Barbara. Jalal decided that he could
not live without the music, and he quit school. I moved to San Francisco
when I was four or five months pregnant with our son, Amir.
After we bought our house and had the children (daughter Sophie
was next), we held parties at our house almost every Monday, with
constant music and socializing.
When we bought the Pasha Restaurant
in 1986, hosting all the parties stopped. We were just too tired.
Before purchasing the Pasha Restaurant on Broadway in San Francisco,
Jalal was in Hawaii for one year and played at the Pasha the year
before that. Contrary to the memories of others, we did not take
any partners because nobody really had any money to put up! We didn't
want a partner, anyway! Jalal had approached Michael "Mike"
a couple years before about purchasing the Pasha. The Pasha Restaurant
did not have entertainment at first. Habib was
Michael's uncle and silent partner. They opened Pasha together.
Other comments and memories
They were very interesting to me! They seemed almost fairy tale
like. They created something very uniquely San Francisco or Haight
street. They were always in costume and in character 24 hours a
day, even when they weren't working. It didn't seem professional,
more cult-like. Like the hippie movement, they were barefoot in
black with silver stuff hanging off them, like a 1920 magazine advertisment
or something from the National Geographic. This would never
happen in New York!
They apparently despised me because
I was a trained dancer. They broke down steps and gave them names
like "triple vibration with something or other". I thought
to myself, "What are you talking about?" They also had
schools. This is the first time I had seen that.
know Morocco had students, but I didn't know how
she taught. Ahmed Jarjour
taught by putting on the music and having his students follow him
as he danced. He would occasionally stop to explain something.
I remember meeting Jamila Salimpour
in Las Vegas and in Fresno. She always had her little daughter
sleeping under the table on the floor. Jamila used to work in the
circus on the backs of elephants! I heard this through a co-worker
at Robinson's who was a neighbor of Jamila's.
Bert was the Andy Warhol of the scene. He had the
wildest parties with all kinds of dancers, including topless. I
remember being introduced to him once in those days.
Yes, Yousef had dancers that worked only for cab fare!
Latouf and Yousef
Mustapha join us at the end of our interview-
Nazir arrived in March 1979 and played at the
Casbah. He remembers a punk place next door with the
kids all wearing chains. It was an ugly, unsafe district down there.
Yousef Mustapha (not Bagdad Yousef) arrived around
September 1979, but then went to Los Angeles. Magana Baptiste,
Jamila Salimpour and Amina
Goodyear and all the other major teachers were always at
war with each other.
a comment? Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Dancing on Broadway
in the ‘70s by Kalifa
of my strangest experiences on Broadway involved getting a small
part in Carol Doda’s movie...
The Greek Scene
were the usual politics at the Taverna, of course, and if management
felt that a dancer was holding back on her tips, she rarely made
& 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.