Gilded Serpent presents...

Sword Disasters, A Lighter Outlook on Belly Dance

Weird Sword Arch photo by Kathryn Dykman

Part 2 of The Dumb and the Restless

by Tasha Banat
posted January 16, 2010
Revised from Tasha Banat’s Arabic Guide to Belly Dance
Originally published in 1983

Actually, there are several incidents regarding Swords that I have been dumb about so I will break them down, but not necessarily in the order that they happened.   This is to confuse the innocent and ME.

Amarillo, Texas: 

This job was a first rate belly dance contract produced by Bednar Productions, where I and two other belly dancers were paid a nice salary including our apartment, electric, gas, and telephone. 

Yes, these were good old days where, under the right conditions, a Belly Dancer could afford to be a prima-donna. 

We only had one problem – The stage was too hard for our precious little dancing feet, even with shoes, which I wore most of the time. So after much discussion, I was the one chosen to complain and tried to convince the owner that we needed a much better floor to dance on.

After much whining, Carl, the owner of CJ’s nightclub personally laid a beautiful floating softwood raised floor.  He set the floor board by board on his hands and knees, and if you knew the size of Carl, that was no easy chore. He varnished or lacquered it many times until it shone like a diamond.  He worked almost 24 hours a day and he had it finished in 3 days just to please us.  He was that kind of boss.

Since he was so proud of himself, his only comment was “Tasha; if anything happens to this floor you are DEAD, so NO SHOES, scuff marks or holes in that floor; PLEASE.

I laughed at him, but that very night during my grand finale Sword Act… you know – that dramatic spin where you stop and the sword continues to spin on your head like a helicopter blade?

Well, to make a long story short, the sword flew from my head and landed on Carl’s brand new floor.  BOING – the point sticking into his brand new stage.  The audience was impressed; I was told by the other belly dancer Shahira (aka Joy Germack), who stared wide eyed at the sword sticking out of Carl’s stage, that they applauded wildly.

I could only see Carl’s face turn a beet red and this man, who was usually a pussy cat, did not speak to me for three days while he examined that floor again and again on his hands and knees, looking for the hole the sword made in his floor.  He never found the spot, so we could only assume that it landed between the seams of two boards.  We did complete our contract and Carl eventually forgave us, but to this day, I can still see him searching that stage on his hands and knees.

Khyber Pass, Denver, Colorado:

Rooshana, a beautiful belly dancer wanted to take a sword class from me (I guess she never knew about my reputation with a sword!) and since I was teaching in the club several days a week before our shows each night, it was convenient to use the stage we performed on.

Rooshana, who still performs in the Denver area today, will confirm this story.  She was a very delicate dancer, small and fragile looking like a glass doll – not the truck driving Italian from New Jersey that she was in a much younger life. 

She had a pretty bad cold and every time I had her do a back bend to the floor, balancing the sword on her head, she would cough.  After being unable to do this move without coughing, we both decided that she was not ready for the sword  in her show yet.

So, she went back to the dressing room to get ready for her show and I went home.  A little later that evening, Ahmed, the owner of the Khyber, called me as he said hysterically;  “What did you do to Rooshana?  Tasha, what did you do to her.”  I said “I didn’t do anything to Rooshana. What are you talking about?” His reply shocked me. “She just left with a broken rib.  She said she must have gotten it during your class.”

I assumed that, during one of her back bends with the sword on her head, she coughed and broke a rib. 

So did many other dancers.  I couldn’t believe it and it was not funny at all.  It taught me a very valuable lesson about health and pushing oneself beyond the body’s ability to handle certain situations, no matter how professional we think we are.  It wasn’t until much later that I found out that she actually heard a pop and felt her rib break while she was putting on her makeup.  At the time I really felt responsible for her injury.

 The only ironic part was that I knew Rooshanna had wanted to take a vacation for awhile but was afraid of losing her position on our belly dance roster.  The Khyber Pass paid very well, including tips and was not an easy club to get into.  However, now she had her excuse, but she often said, jokingly of course; “Tasha, if you needed to dance more nights, you could have just asked.” 

MINI MORAL:  I guess that’s why they only say “BREAK A LEG” in our business.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida:

I was scheduled to audition in a Greek club which later became Kim’s Cabin on the 17th street Causeway.  I know what my students and friends are saying as they read this.  Tasha doesn’t usually dance in GREEK clubs.  Now they, and you, will find out why – a previous secret now revealed here in the Gilded Serpent

The stage in this particular club was typical for Greek establishments.  The band sat on a high, two level stage while the dancer performed on a pull-out lower stage, that when slid back under the band’s stage, left a dance floor for customers.

My audition was scheduled in the early afternoon, so thankfully there were no customers in the house, to witness this fiasco.  The audition was going very well.  I managed to shimmy through the band’s race track version of an Arabic song leading up to the dramatic slow part. Instead of a veil, I pulled out my sword, a new prop for belly dancers and obviously a never before experience for this Bouzouki player.

There I was, dancing with my old rusty, trusty, not too sharp anymore cavalry sword; I was totally oblivious to the fact that the Bouzouki player had come onto the lower stage just as I went into my (now less than famous) dramatic spin. 

I am not sure what happened next, but I felt the sword slipping so I grabbed it with one hand and continued my spin towards my finale ending.

The next thing I knew was I heard a ping – ping – ping – plunk as Mother of Pearl flew everywhere.  The music and I stopped at the same time as I stared at a stunned Bouzouki player who was looking shocked at his sliced Bouzouki.  Ooh – Tasha –I thought –This is very bad.

Needless to say, I was faced with a mad Greek owner and band who was yelling at me in Greek and English that I was a stupid girl who will pay dearly for this.  And I was screaming that he should have not come onto my stage; especially not knowing what I was going to do with the sword.

Somewhere in the shouting I heard “She will pay for my ruined Bouzouki and I will guarantee that she will never dance in this city again – and on and on and on and on…

So, as I turned on my heel and stamped into the dressing room being followed by the Greek Mafia, I said “Listen to me:  I am going to change into my regular clothes if you don’t mind.  Then I will put my costumes into the car.  Then and only then we can sit down like adults and discuss this.”   And I slammed the dressing room door in their faces.

Now, I know that I am basically an honest person and have a great deal of that Arab pride (that sometimes gets into the way of logic).  I have even been known to be extremely stubborn when it comes to defending a situation I know I am right about.  However I also believe that I cannot go into a Lion’s Den if I am a lamb, so I put my things into the car and I took off.  Yes, I left the scene of the crime and never returned to that or any other Greek establishment for many, many years.

MORAL:  He’s lucky it was only his Bouzoukis that he lost

 

Update:  I believe it was around 2002 in Miami, Florida.  I was at a show when suddenly a voice from my past said “Excuse me, but you do not remember me, do you?”  It was the Bouzouki player!  I turned around slowly to explain that I was sorry for what I did, expecting to see an angry person, but instead he was smiling ear to ear.

He then laughed and said that it was actually very smart of me to leave.  And for a long time the band and the owner made fun of him every time he pulled out his Bouzouki; but after awhile, as the lead singer told the story of his Bouzouki over and over again, he would get so much money thrown on the band, that it more than made up for the damaged Bouzouki.  He also said in a much lower voice that underneath it all, he knew he was wrong to go onto the lower stage and in my situation,  he probably would have done the same thing.  Of course, I finally offered to pay for the Bouzouki and he said he couldn’t take money after all these years and it was a cheap Bouzouki anyway.

I guess we both learned the same lesson during that last exchange. 

FINAL MORAL:  LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP!

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   |       |    2 Comments

  1. No Gravatar
    Meg Patenaude

    Jan 19, 2011 - 03:01:32

    Tasha I enjoyed those stories, and knowing Rooshana , I can say I can well imagine she broke from just coughing, she is that teeny.
    That said, I would like to add a story I witnessed.You take a big big sword and a drunken dancer?What do you get?A drummer that almost got castrated, and remembers to this day the feeling of horror when the sword slid off the chick’s head and right down to the floor between his legs.People were already moving back from the dance floor as she kept dropping it , and kept picking it up again and going on with the “show”..The drummer was trapped behind his large doumbek and penned in by the keyboard and the wall..Poor guy!

  2. No Gravatar
    Rita Ractliffe

    Jul 20, 2012 - 11:07:35

    I may be a bit late with this, but brings back memories of when I was teaching sabre classes in the 70’s and 80’s.  Had been teaching at a show in San Diego, California, at the El Cortes Hotel with Morocco as the lead performer/teacher. Had spent hour drilling into the minds of the students that there was a particular move you had to do to insure safety while swinging a sword.  That was that you always put your greatest power of the swing on the downstroke, never on the upstroke.  This would send an escaping down into the ground, not up in the air to go flying out into the audience.

    That night at the formal show, I had the worst thing possible happen, i.e., losing the sword.  I was revving up into the wildly fast spins I was known for (I danced with two swords, my trademark), and suddenly one of the handles snapped off!  Terror, right?  Not so much… Because it happened on the downstroke, the blade flew down about three feet and landed on the edge of the stage, quivering.  Everyone was in shock, and then they all realized they had just seen the ultimate example of my teaching.  The sword harmed no one!  It took me a moment, then I played it, looking at my now swordless right hand and mugging.  Shrugging, I just kept going, but it was, of course, terribly off balance.  But finished the routine…to a thunderous standing ovation.  I like teaching aids, but hope to never do one like that again!

    Had other malaprops over the years, including broken bra straps (ever swing a sword while keeping your arms firmlyclenched under the bra so no exposure?  More fun than I can say.  (In Phoenix in 1978, with Kishma and Aziz). No one ever knew except a couple of dancers who intimately knew my style, and realized something had happened.

    So much fun! Maybe someday should do a book on malaprops, you think?    
      

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