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The Pirate, the Psychic and the Mummies in the Basement

Malia dreams of Egyptian Temples at age 4

Malia’s Story, Part 1

by Malia DeFelice
posted March 2010

Often, I am asked what inspired me to become a Belly dancer, and while definitely there is a short answer, if you flip that coin, you will find a tale waiting to be told!

As far back as I can remember I have had a fascination with Egypt, North Africa, the Levant and Arabia.  I was very much enchanted with the “mystery” of the enchanting lands of the East. When I was 4, we moved  to  Bethesda, Maryland. There was a cellar there with an opening at one end that went into a crawlspace under part of the structure of our home. When the sun cast just the right light in this crawlspace, you could see large column-like house supports rising up off the dirt floor.  I knew, beyond a doubt, that there were Egyptian mummies laid to rest there and the columns marked their graves!  I was an only child with no siblings; so I spent a lot of time entertaining myself.

I had lots of contact with my family. However, as a child, I had very few opportunities to associate with children my own age. I was generally in the company of adult family members.

Meet the Members of My Family:

My Irish Uncle, Omar Brennan, would come to visit and he taught me to extract ore with a magnet from soil.  I enjoyed collecting iron ore from the dirt in the crawlspace and would tell anyone who cared to listen to the musings of a 4 year old that the Egyptians that used to live there could turn the iron ore into gold and then make nice jewelry out of it, but sadly, no one knew how to do that anymore. My Uncle Omar had a tattoo of a dancing girl on his bicep which he could make undulate by flexing his muscles. She was beautifully detailed with coins and jewels and colorful costuming.  Uncle Omar also had a peg-leg, a bald head and wore a big thick gold earring. He was black Irish and he looked like something between a pirate and a genie. 

When we would go to visit my father’s side of the family in Massachusetts, my parents would talk about my great aunt Katie. Though she died before I was born, I was fascinated by the fact that  the older members of the family  were superstitious about her.  My great aunt Katie Garbarino, who was Italian, was a fortune teller by trade and psychic. She would talk about her visions and strange things would happen around her.  

Aunt KatieHer mother, Mary, came from Northern Italy and family legend had it that great great grandma Mary had been left at an orphanage by a group of wanderers described as traveling minstrels. 

So, at age 4, my world was good.  I had a rich imagination sparked by images of Egyptians in the crawlspace and  iron ore waiting to be turned into gold. I had a family that consisted of pirates, genies, fortune tellers, wanderers and minstrels.  Most of all I had been captivated by the bejeweled beauty in the dancing tattoo.  It was 1957 and I knew, like my Uncle Omar and great Aunt Katie, I would one day grow up to be someone who would follow a special calling.  I decided, at age 4, that it was my destiny to become a Belly dancer!

I started dancing at age 3, even before I decided my calling was to become a Belly dancer.  When I was born, there was some deformity in the muscles of my legs.  The doctor explained to my mother that one course of action would be a series of surgeries and the need to wear braces over a 7 year period, and my mother was horrified.  He then suggested that some children had success correcting this problem with stretching exercises and ballet classes. Thankfully, my mom chose the second option.  I studied ballet until I was 15. While living in and out of my birthplace, Hawaii,  I also studied Polynesian dance on and off for several years while growing up. To complement dancing, I was also enrolled in piano classes, which I studied until my early 20s.


We traveled and moved a lot during my childhood and teens due to my father’s being in the Navy. The two constants in my life, wherever we moved, were my dance and piano classes. My father retired from the Navy in the early ’60s, and we embarked on a vacation of a lifetime, traveling to Europe by ship, buying a VW bus in Germany and camping in it for months as we worked our way throughout most of the continent.

The VW bus

We sailed Space Available across the atlantic on a navy medical relief ship (my dad was ex-navy).
Thats how we got to Europe.Once there we bought this VW bus right out of the factory in Bremen.
These are some of  my Italian relatives. This picture was taken in a small town outside of Naples

During my time in Europe we came in contact with  many people, including Romany gypsies whom we camped alongside.  In the campgrounds, I befriended other boys and girls and regardless of languages, we would run amok in the wild places where we visited and played together.  I caught glimpses of dance and music in all of our travels, even though I did not go to school during this time but rather learned from museums, historical and archaeological sites, and just from the life-pulse of ancient, modern and stylish Europe.  We would
occasionally stay in an inn or hotel in order to take a proper bath and in one of these inns, somewhere in Italy, I saw Belly dancers perform in a variety show.  (I think it was called the Catalina Valente Show.)  Once again, I was smitten with the idea that as soon as we returned home, I was going to find a teacher and learn to dance.

Malia in Venice

This was my 10th birthday. 1963. We spent the day touring venice.

In the 60’s women were not allowed to wear pants. Or at the very least it was socially frowned upon.

I remember hating having to wear skirts and dresses the whole time we were in Italy.

Eleanor Bron in Help with Lennon

The 60s

In 1964, we returned to our new home, California; I was 11.  One of the first things I did was to look in the want ads to find a Belly dance teacher but to no avail.  All I could see listed under dance instruction were ballet, tap, and Aurthur Murray dance classes.  I was re-enrolled in ballet and piano, but kept checking the newspaper every week in hopes of starting my Belly Dance education.

Meanwhile, every where I turned, the world was turning up Belly dancers.  Lisa Guiraut (Leila) was featured as the Belly dancer in a movie trailer in the 1963 James Bond film "From Russia With Love".  In 1965 "Help!" starring the Beatles, Eleanor Bron plays an Indian Cult priestess and performs a Belly dance. Many songs in the film featured traditional musical instruments from India.  In 1966, I became hooked on the local music group, Kaleidoscope, whose albums like “Beacon From Mars” contained music with heavy Middle Eastern instrumentation.  Of course it did!  Kaleidoscope’s band member, Solomon Feldthouse, later formed Middle Eastern Band Sirocco with Armando, Uncle Mafufo.

Finally in 1968 or so, I found an ad in the newspaper for Belly dance classes!  It was taught by Magana Baptiste in San Francisco at her Yoga Center.  I excitedly showed it to my mother, but she told me I needed to wait until I could drive and until I could pay for classes myself, as she was not paying for nor driving me to San Francisco for Belly dance classes.  Meanwhile, I tried to remember what I had seen of Belly Dance or other Ethnic Dances in our travels and would practice those moves.

Dancing with Shells
This is me in on some beach somehwere. I have little shells in my hands, trying to play them like cymbals

So wait I did.  It wasn’t until 1970 that I was finally able to start taking Belly dance classes.  By then, we had moved to Half Moon Bay, and I had graduated from High School early and started attending a Junior College in San Mateo.  I also got a part-time  job in a local retail store selling beading supplies and piercing people’s ears.  At school, I saw a notice posted for Belly dance classes–and what luck!–they were in Half Moon Bay.

My first teacher’s name was Sherri, but to my disappointment, the classes were nothing like what I hoped they would be.  However, in class, I met a girl named Rossah Golub.  We immediately bonded and became best Belly dance friends and we shared each other’s visions of dance and both knew there had to be something more to Belly dance.  Together, we eventually found the dance lessons for which we were searching.

Malia in Ballet
This is me in Ballet class. Im "snapping my fingers". I used to do that while I danced or heard music.

I think I must have seen a belly dancer or flamenco dancer playing zils or castanets in a movie or something.
It used to drive my ballet teacher crazy. She would always yell…"hands" "hands"!

Part 2:Belly Dance Teacher Found! Coming soon!

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