Gilded Serpent presents...

Sula

Sula on stage

An Artistic Life

by Monica
posted May 18, 2010
Some photos are linked to enlargements

Sula Frick (1937-1978) was a San Francisco Bay Area belly dancer, costumer, promoter, teacher, publisher, shop owner, studio owner, and would-be record producer. Although, she was with us for a relatively short time, she managed to pack in a full dance life while also spearheading many innovative ideas and projects for the belly dance community that endure to this day.

A Young Dancer

Sula was born and raised in Contra Costa County, California, 30 miles east of San Francisco. She was active in the arts from a young age, studying painting, lettering, design, acting, and folk dance. She was a member of the Shell Folk Dancers of Martinez at 13. By 17 she was teaching social dancing at Yolanda’s in Oakland. In 1963 she studied Tahitian dance, and performed group dances with Dances of the Pacific and a lead soloist for the Lei-Aloha Dance Troupe. In 1965, she began taking belly dance classes with Bert Balladine in San Francisco. She would continue full time in belly dance for the rest of her life.

Belly Dance Education and Teaching

Sula studied with Bert that first year for a minimum of 6 hour per week. By 1966 she was dancing at several clubs in and around Northern California, including the Baghdad in San Francisco, Zorba’s in Sacramento and San Jose, Arabian Nights in Fresno, and more in the East Bay. In 1967 she opened the Belly Dance Navel Academy in Walnut Creek, teaching 4 classes per week. She later changed her studios name to “Sula’s Belly Dance World”, and it is still in business today at the original location under the name “Belly Dance!”, run by a former student of Sula’s, Leea Aziz. By 1972, Sula was teaching ten classes per week at her studio, and 4 more at Concord Cultural Arts. Sula also had a troupe called “The Khadines’ that danced at county fairs around Northern California.

Sula continued to study with Bert through the early 1970s, though by 1972 she called him “my ex-teacher and now equal partner”.  Bert was extremely proud of Sula, as she was among the first students he trained who began teaching seriously.

In addition to Bert, between 1969 and 1972 she also studied with Fatma Akef, a “belly dancer of 30 years experience from Cairo, Egypt”,  Amina, “featured dancer from the Bagdad Cabaret in San Francisco”, and Jodette Camilla, a “famous Egyptian belly dancer”.

In 1971 she began to study Arabic drumming with Vince Delgado at the Ali Akbar College of Indian Music. According to her resume, “teacher went to east coast on a scholarship or I would have continued”. She went on to study percussion with Henry Hurst, lead drummer at the Bagdad.

By the early ’70s, Sula’s focus was less on performing and more on teaching dance and costuming. According to Leea, Sula’s strength as a teacher was in breaking down steps. Leea uses some of Sula’s methods to this day to explain certain movements.

Leea AzizCostuming

Costuming was always a big part of Sula’s belly dance life, and it had become a core part of her business by the early 1970s.

Her fine art and design background combined with a strong sewing ability culminated in her creating original patterns, designs, and dance costumes for herself and for other dancers. Most dancers of this time made their own costumes, but Sula’s artistic eye made her well-known throughout the community.

Her sketches were inspiring, and her costumes were of quite a high quality compared to what else was around at that time. In 1972 both the Concord and Pleasant Hill public libraries had a display of her costumes at their branches. She had a “Handmade by Sula” tag sewn into all of her work, some of which can be seen on long-time dancers to this day! Her original patterns are also still commercially available. After Sula passed away, her sister Wanda continued to make costumes for the belly dance shop Sula founded until she left the area.

Publications

Sula was the publisher of Belly Dance Magazine which began in 1972. The magazine focused on local topics for working dancers, and had teacher spotlights, cultural information about the Near East and North Africa, belly dance record reviews, book reviews, costuming tips, advertisements, letters from other dancers, and lots of photographs of local dancers performing. By 1977 Sula had sold the magazine, though she continued to write for it along with other local dancers including Nakish.

Sula authored two books, including “Astrology for Belly Dancers” and “Secrets of Belly Dancing”, the latter co-authored with her mentor, Bert Balladine. Sula and Bert are also credited with co-authoring Adela Vergara’s “The New Art of Belly Dance”.

Sula and BertBelly Dancer of the Year Pageant

In 1973 Sula developed what would become one of her proudest achievements, The Belly Dancer of the Year Pageant. The Pageant was a culmination of several different events Sula had produced in the late ’60s to the early ’70s. She wanted to create something that would last, and the pageant became that something. At the time of this writing the Pageant is entering its 37th year! It remains a well-respected event that attracts high quality competitors and judges.

After Sulas death, her long time student, assistant, and studio instructor Leea was asked directly by Sula’s 17 year old son to continue the Pageant in Sula’s name. That was in 1978, and she has honored her promise to him by keeping the Pageant going through today.

Other ideas

Sula had in mind to release records for dancers to use in studios to teach and practice to, and in fact had purchased the rights to some music for that purpose. Unfortunately, the record was never released.She also mentioned an interest in taking dancers to Cairo, Egypt to study dance. We’ll never know if this would have come to fruition.

Sula’s Legacy

In 1978 Sula was diagnosed with malignant melanoma only six weeks before she passed away. The suddenness of her passing left a void in many lives. Leea Aziz bought the business from Sula’s husband after her passing. Jack Frick remained close to Leea and her family until his own death.

The studio that Sula established in Walnut Creek, California, is still open and actively run by Leea, who teaches ten classes per week, books professional dancers for restaurants, parties and weddings, and operates a full service retail belly dance shop. Leea has trained many dancers who have gone on to work professionally, and in some cases to teach.

Leea continues the legacy both Sula and Bert left, with an emphasis on live music, continuing education and training for dancers, and a focus on professionalism and keeping belly dance the class act Sula taught it was.

Though I never met her, Sula is my dance grandmother. Through my first teacher, Leea, one of Sula’s protégés, I was able to study regularly with Bert Balladine throughout much of the 1990s. Sula in many ways was a silent and powerful link between Bert and Leea, and her dance voice lives on in many of their students who are dancing today. Sula’s ideas were vast and varied, and we still enjoy many of them today.

 


Attempted restoration from a photo of a photo

Just part of the vintage photo collection at Leea’s Studio

Leea, that’s also Leea higher up on the page with the sword on her head!

one more restored from a photo of a photo

 

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   |       |    4 Comments

  1. No Gravatar
    Helen

    Jun 18, 2012 - 09:06:08

    My Aunt was Sula and I miss her dearly even after all these years, My mother sewed custom for her and Leea for many many years, as myself I made several along the way.. its nice to see her photos after all this time .

  2. No Gravatar
    Mara

    Oct 4, 2014 - 07:10:06

    I had the very good fortune to connect briefly with Sula in the early 1970s. I remember her as most kind and one of the best teachers ever. Think I must have been in the Khadines for a short while though I do not remember the name. I kept the beautiful costumes she taught us to make at the Navel Academy for almost 20 years before donating to a high school drama class. But, I still have the cymbals. Have to say it was among my best experiences and most special memories. Although it was long ago, I have only recently learned of her untimely passing. And, even now I am sorry for your loss. Thank you for printing her biography.

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