Gilded Serpent presents...

Hooray for Hollywood!

Rebaba on stage at Khayam's

Queen of Denial, Chapter 3

by Rebaba
posted October 14, 2010
Chapter 1: The Safety of the Stage
Chapter 2: Paris, The City of Lights

In 2005, with the support and love of my immediate family, and my extended “Hahbi’Ru” family, I entered into a drug & behavior rehabilitation program. While there, I started the long and difficult process of freeing myself from a life of addictions – of food, drugs and love (yes, you can be addicted to the wrong kind of love). Together these addictions had all but ruined my life, and in the 3 years before rehab, I came very close to ending it altogether! The stories that follow are about my love affair with Belly Dancing, and how this art form literally helped save my life. However, we all know love affairs begin by soaring very high and then sinking lower than we can imagine. For me, it was dancing and then not dancing… It is my sincere hope that my stories will entertain you as well as help you understand a little about the illness of addiction. The success statistics are staggeringly low, with a rate of less than 5% of those who seek treatment. I am one of the lucky ones. I have beaten the odds, to dance again and tell you my tale…

I pulled into the first gas station I could find on Sunset Boulevard, popped my hood, and looked down to see my radiator cap explode off and up, just missing my head!  A mixture of boiling water and anti-freeze sprayed my face and ran down my neck, chest and on to my thighs at which point I stripped to my underwear regardless of the garage attendant at my side!  Hooray for Hollywood, that’s how I arrived in “Tinsel Town”, with a blast, literally!

The memory of my first days in Hollywood was of intense pain, during which I was in and out of lucidity only resurfacing enough to reapply vitamin E oil and aloe juice over the massive burns on my legs, chest and face.  After a week or so, I had to start performing or risk losing my job!

My first performances at Khayam’s were done with a very red sunburned face (NOT! It was a water and acid laced radiator fluid burned face!), and two blisters the size of grapefruits on my upper thighs so big I could feel the water moving like waves crashing on my legs when I danced!  What a glamorous Hollywood debut!  As if dancing like this wasn’t bad enough, the knowledge that my new boss thought I was too fat and consented to hire me at my girlfriend’s insistence, (as we were best friends, and more importantly she didn’t drive and relied upon me to chauffeur her to work), all of this weighted heavily on my mind. Even though my employer admitted that he thought I was a good dancer but too “voluptuous” for his taste. Great, I was a glorified chauffeur and Belly Dancer with throbbing burns over 30% of my body! As you can imagine what little self-esteem I possessed was at minus zero and dropping.  Thank GOD for stage lights, clever costuming, loyal best friends, pain killers, fantastic Egyptian music and most of all, an audience that enjoyed my performances in spite of my employer’s taste in women! The regular customers, who immediately befriended us along with our friends already living in Los Angeles, helped to make those first very difficult weeks of performing a joy. Even the excruciatingly painful burns couldn’t dampen my spirits that I was performing and living in Hollywood!

As for Khayam’s, it was the extremely popular nightclub and restaurant that was known for having the best live music show in town, with good dancers, good food; a constant supply of good drugs, and in particular the more and more fashionable cocaine.

Musicians
Khayam Musicians- Abdulah on Oud, Abdel Halik on dumbek,
Galal (standing behind Abdulah) singer, tamborine

The place was a one-time steak house complete with red vinyl booths encircling rows of Formica tables, and faux-wood paneling to complete the “look”.  It was in appearance, as far from a Middle Eastern restaurant as you could imagine!  However, when the music started, and the singers sang with the dancers dancing you were as close to Egypt as one could get in the middle of Los Angeles. According to the many who called Khayam’s their “hangout”, once the show started and you added some alcohol, a couple of lines and a puff or two off a joint, you weren’t just “home” you were in Heaven “Made in America”! The parking lot at Khayam’s was almost as famous as the nightclub, for one reason only – drugs.  During the musicians break each evening at about 10:30 pm, the place literally emptied out and the cars in the parking lot became the “lounge” and a regular drug emporium.  Cocaine and pot for the most part, though I’m sure there were pills as well; however, smoking pot and doing lines were the “break” of choice by the majority of the clientele and entertainers.  The drugs were a sign of the times in every major city on both coasts of our country, and prevalent in every type of entertainment establishment in Hollywood, not exclusive to Middle Eastern nightclubs by any means! The year was 1978, and Los Angeles was the new Mecca of Middle Eastern music and dance on the West Coast.  With the largest population of Middle Eastern immigrants,  the number of live entertainment venues was unsurpassed.  In Hollywood alone there were at least five good nightclubs featuring live music and dancers.  For us San Franciscan Belly Dancers, it was nothing short of “heaven on earth”! 

In addition to the staggering amount of work available to us, we were paid more than twice as much as the clubs on Broadway in San Francisco. We performed two shows instead of three, each lasting approximately 15 to 20 minutes as opposed to 45 minutes in SF, and floor work of any length was not acceptable! After dancing in Paris, France, this was the best music I had ever performed to, and most certainly the best audience, packed to standing room only six nights a week.

It was a wonderful time for me, I was surrounded by my best friends, dancing full time, and finally single, having left the “crazy” boyfriend in San Francisco.  In fact, our move to Hollywood was in part the result of my wanting to escape a very bad relationship I was in at the time.  Fleeing seemed the better option rather than staying and trying to deal with the paranoid neurotic my current boyfriend had become due to the massive quantities of cocaine he was ingesting.  I was just beginning to experience the residual problems of drug addiction and the behaviors that resulted from long-term daily drug use.  I myself was still a “recreational” user.  My drug use hadn’t yet escalated to the point of taking over my life.  I still associated doing drugs with “partying” and used cocaine occasionally when someone else bought it for us, as it was expensive even back then.  We partied often, and probably more than most, as our work was a kind of “party” in itself, but, drugs weren’t yet a necessity to being able to enjoy myself.  I was able to control my consumption, and in fact I really disliked the feeling cocaine induced when I was performing.  It hindered my ability to enjoy dancing and performing.  The fact that I was able to realize this and abstain from using when I was on stage is a testament to my love of dancing and how much it controlled my behavior in a good way.  My serious problems with drugs came years later in life, and after I had retired from professional dancing.  In 1978, my major struggles were with my perceived weight problem, and the insecurities my obsessive compulsive behavior created that resulted in very bad anxiety attacks, along with the binging and purging that had plagued me for years already.  So, like I said this was a relatively good time in my life, to everyone who knew and loved me, I was doing exactly what I dreamed of accomplishing, dancing professionally, and I was doing it in Hollywood!

Best friends!

San Francisco Belly Dancers and BBFs, Yasmine, Rebaba, Katarina, Paula.
We dubbed ourselves the "Glamals". This picture was taken at Disneyland as we definately played toursit on our occasional days off.

My dancer buddies and I quickly passed on our new found source of performance opportunities to our dancer friends still in San Francisco.  As a result, we were soon joined by two more girlfriends, increasing our household numbers and turning our very small Hollywood apartment into a Belly Dancer dormitory!

We rented a tiny one-bedroom apartment to save money, and gave beds to 3 and then 4 dancers, along with our visiting boyfriends, family members and their pets and their friends! Our living room/bedroom was filled with fabric covered pieces of foam that we used as couches and beds; we made low tables of bricks topped with planks of wood, the walls were covered with tapestries and posters, and finally a “boom box” and a black and white T.V. completed our little “home away from home”.  The place was constantly filled with the sounds of laughter, music, our sewing machine, the smell of Mexican pot, food cooking, incense burning and the perfume we used nightly on our costumes.  Our floor was habitually covered with bodies in the process of eating, drinking and smoking; putting on make-up and sewing costumes. If you were anywhere near our little dormitory, day or night, you could always hear the constant chatter of happy women doing what they loved most.

The "So Wrong" sisters! Paula, Rebaba, Yasmine

Summer without air conditioning in the middle of LA is about as hot as you can get!  There’s no relief from the heat, you just sort of become one with the sweat except for an occasional escape to Venice Beach or a movie theater, and if you were really lucky perhaps a little further up the coast to Santa Barbara (hopefully courtesy of a boyfriend).  We were very young and hot weather wasn’t something that could dampen our spirits…In fact the summer heat inspired us to create a portable show that we could take to the beach!

Having observed many street artists along the Boardwalk in Venice Beach, some good, and many that were not so good, watching them gave us the idea to try our hand at street dancing.  We put together choreography for several group dances with the four members of our household.  Between the three of us who lived together in Hollywood and a fourth friend who was visiting from home, we had two pot dancers and two sword dancers and all of us did a little Kashlamar and Egyptian Folkloric style dancing from our “Bal-Anat” days.  Together we had plenty of material for a 30 minute show.  Our idea was to do two performances and then do lunch with our earnings!

In downtown LA we found a roll of off white cotton gauze for practically pennies!  It took us about two days to dye and sew four costumes of harem pants with little vest tops in four different colors.  Then we each decorated our “color” with fringe, sequins, and the occasional rhinestone, gluing everything together with Sobo (the best material glue around at that time).

On a hot Sunday afternoon, we trotted out to Venice Beach with our “Boom box” stereo, to make a little spending money! Just minutes after turning on our music, we were immediately surrounded by an audience of at least 200 people maybe more.  After our very well received 30 minute show, we counted up an amazing $300!

  We couldn’t believe how much and how fast we made all that money, and in 1978 that was mega bucks!  No need for a second show, we went and had ourselves a fabulous seafood lunch with champagne at the fanciest place we could find on the Venice Boardwalk.  We had enough money left after eating and drinking ourselves silly to go shopping. Our beach boardwalk reception was so fantastic and our little costumes so fetching that we were inspired to perform our group show at Khayam’s the following weekend.  Our Venice Beach collaboration (the costumes and choreography that we put together in just a few days with lots of glue and sweat), received standing ovations at Khayam’s, and became a regular part of our show for several months.

Now that’s the way you beat the heat Hollywood style!

Such was our carefree lifestyle in the late 1970’s.  The economy was stable and low enough to provide us gypsies with the simple pleasures of life, doing what we loved most and surviving on a couple hundred a week!  They really were the “good old days”!

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   |       |    1 Comment

  1. No Gravatar
    Tasha Banat

    Nov 18, 2010 - 05:11:33

    I just talked with John Comptoin last week while he was here in Abq. and he told me how wonderful it is that you have published this story about some of the darker events in the life of a belly dancer.

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