Gilded Serpent presents...
by Bert Balladine
In the early 60's
I arrived in San Francisco from the Far and Middle East, where
I had been touring as an acrobatic dance team (also known in the
trade as an "adagio team"). We did anything from jazz
to Spanish to fantasy. We even had a pseudo-Arabic fantasy number
which played well in Middle Eastern countries but was much too
vaudeville for American audiences. Here we only performed it in
a month-long theatrical production in Denver.
I wanted to stay in San Francisco, because it was my American home; however,
jobs for dance teams were very scarce and that was our sole source of income.
So, my partner, Carol, became Princess Samia and
danced at Gigi's and
I became the house choreographer at the Moulin Rouge. As I
was an all-around dancer, I was able to work in many styles and clubs. This
was when Broadway was in its heyday. As my cousin has told me, for many years
earlier all show business enterprises were in the "International Settlement",
which was a couple of blocks long on a street just below Broadway,
probably Pacific Avenue. With the passage of time, the area had gotten quite
seedy and even promoted the reputation of being "naughty", so the
city fathers decided to "clean it up", which eventually had the effect
of killing it. As a result, some businesses, like Bea and Ray Goman's Gay
90s, (the Goman's son, incidentally, Ray, Jr., became a TV personality)
moved to Broadway and originally the area started out pretty classy. One of
the old standbys, the Bocce Ball, even offered operatic entertainment.
Ann's 440 featured a variety program and a young singer who
started out there eventually became very famous - Johnny Mathis.
The topless craze moved in later.
The Middle Eastern clubs (Gigi's, 12
Adler, Bagdad and
later the Casbah) were not the
only ones who had belly dancers. I have personally worked at the Spaghetti
Factory, the Casa
Madrid, the Sinaloa, Bimbo's,
the Red Balloon, Miss Keiko's Chi
Chi Club and the Garden of Eden . . . and others
I can't recall. Princess Samia left for Europe and my first partner in the
genre was the late Sabah (Jamie Miller).
I also had a troupe of four dancers (the first interracial group, I might add)
that appeared on club dates all over the Bay Area in a Spanish-Moroccan show
with the late Cruz Luna, who was an international Flamenco
star and a dear friend of mine. We had to call it Spanish-Moroccan in order
to mix the two dance disciplines, a very successful combination. Finger cymbals
and castanets sound good together. I ate fire and Sharlyn,
then a budding star, danced with a snake. I still treasure a poster where we
"Los Belly Dancers con Culebras Vivas"
This is the first installment of what I hope will be many funny and interesting
anecdotes about the old days on Broadway and North Beach. Things might not
necessarily appear in correct chronological order, but, as time moves on, memories
fade and/or change.
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