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A New Dancer Emerges

Antoinette in her first costume
This is my first costume. The skirt was given to me by Kanza Omar

A Dancer’s Destiny, Part 2:

by Antoinette Awayshak
Original photos, author’s archives,
restoration by Gilded Serpent
posted January 17, 2012

See part 1 here.

I was both excited and nervous at the same time; I had no costume! The costumes I had worn in Delal’s group belonged to her, and I didn’t even know where to find one. Then, I remembered the skirt Kanza had given me! It was black and it had a gold border, so quickly, I ran out and bought a black bra, some gold sequins and gold braid, and I constructed a bra and belt to match Kanza’s skirt.

My first costume

Lou Shelby had told me to begin that Friday night. (The Fez only had entertainment on the weekends at that time.)   An Egyptian dancer, Maya, and a Las Vegas dancer, Cozette, were working there; so I was the third dancer on the program.  I came in early for a rehearsal; Lou’s idea was to have a real Hollywood-like production: I was to emerge in a flood of colored lights amidst smoke from a smoke machine and open his show.  

He announced me as the casting director’s dream, but I remember dancing for about five minutes, ending my dance and running off the stage, crying from embarrassment.  Thus, my first night as a solo professional dancer began.

Star Duet

Star Duet

Cozette is on the right. This photo was taken at the Fez in 1963.
She was a ballet and Las Vegas dancer who injured her back and then
became an Arabic dancer.I loved her legs!

I was in awe of Maya Medwar, because she had the same air about her that Kanza had had. Her costumes were beautiful, and she oozed self-confidence when she danced. She was temperamental and demanding.  She danced like the dancers I had seen in the Arabic movies, and she also sang as part of her act.  I couldn’t believe I was dancing in the same show with her!  On the other hand, Cozette was a very friendly girl from Oklahoma who used to dance in Vegas until she hurt her back; she had a ballet background and was very fluent and smooth in her movements.  Cozette was a great help to me: she introduced me to a man who was the designer for the “Jewel Box Review” (a transvestite show in Hollywood), and he helped make my next costume.

Each weekend, dancing became more and more easy for me, and I was actually starting to enjoy myself.  Lou Shelby often said to me, “Move your hips more!” and I’d go out there and move my hips (with my arms remaining at a stand-still). Then, he would tell me to move my arms more and I would become all arms. However, finally, I was able to put the two together. Khamis

Within my first two months as a dancer, all of us were invited to be part of a television show. It was highly exciting! As part of the plot, Cozette and I had to attack a certain woman in a dank, smoky nightclub.  An Egyptian oud player, Khamis El Fino, who also worked at the Fez, always wore an Egyptian costume no matter where he was. We had a scene in which all of us had to run down the stairs and everybody kept tripping over his “dress”. At the time, it was hilariously funny…

The musicians (to whose music I danced) were: Lou Shelby (one of the owners) on the violin, Adel Sirhan on the oud, Dick Barham on the drums and Lemi Pasha on the Kanoon. Others came in and out of the band such as Toufic Barham on the oud, and Yousef Kyoumjian on the violin. It was wonderful to be able to dance to live musicians.

When I first started dancing, I neither used a veil nor played finger cymbals. I was too focused on just dancing. We only had weekend shows, and I think I was making five dollars a night. I longed for the day that I could make twenty dollars a night like Maya Medwar!

 Then, Lou decided to open an upstairs room and called it “Sinbad’s Cave”.  During the week, I would dance upstairs between the tables and the cushions on the floor. Adel Sirhan took over the upstairs and Toufic Barham played downstairs, and soon, both place were open six days a week, and we danced both upstairs and down. The Fez became a popular and famous place. Many actors and actresses came, lining up outside to get in to see our show. It was a thrilling time for us!

Club photo

Club promo photo 2—Antoinette, Shuckr, Lou Shelby (Roxxanne’s dad), unknown guy in fez,
Najeeb on oud.

San Francisco

It was in Sinbad’s Cave that I met Jamila Salimpour, and Leona Woods; they were doing some group dancing, and along with them was a young girl named Aisha Ali. Jamila was complimentary to me, and soon after that, Yousef and Jamila went to San Francisco and opened a small club they called 12 Adler Place, located right in the middle of North Beach. They asked me if I would like to dance there (The amount they offered was too good to resist.) and they also invited Adel Sirhan to play the oud. So, both of us went to San Francisco. Jamila put me up in the New Rex Hotel. (I think it was above the club.)

In San Francisco, I started dancing with a veil and also began using finger cymbals.  My dancing improved immensely. During the taxim portion of my set, they played the chiftetelli beat instead of 1 ½ and it suited me perfectly! Vince Delgado was the drummer and Yousef played the violin, Adel knew the classical pieces I loved, and adding cymbals and a veil also enhanced my dancing.

Yousef wasn’t the slave-driver I surmise that he became later. He was very respectful towards me, and Jamila was wonderful. They never required me to leave the stage for tips or do floor-work because it was against my perception of the Arabic dance.  I had to overcome the stigma of being a dancer in the beginning, and I didn’t allow people to call me a Belly dancer; I was a “Beladi” dancer, and wanted to keep my image intact.

At the time, North Beach had strippers: Carol Doda was a stripper (who boasted the biggest breasts in San Francisco) and she was working at the corner. There were Jazz clubs, Finocchio’s (a club featuring female impersonation shows) and other various clubs. I didn’t want the audience to think I was a stripper! I remember Tahia, who was like a caged animal on stage; she had a dagger in her belt, and she would stare at the customers and pick her toes. I wondered where her style originated? (I came across her some years ago, and she was a quiet, little homemaker) . Tabora Najim was an east coast dancer who would jump in the air and land on her back. I hadn’t seen dancing like this in the Arab world and wondered if I were in the right place. It turned out that I was one that was different!

I enjoyed my time in San Francisco but was anxious to get back to Hollywood and show off my new dance acquisitions.       

AndresAntwain
Left: Andre‘s dad, Najeeb, is on the oud. We are performing at Shaker’s in Hollywood.
Right: Antoinette in a beledi dress, in Las Vegas with Jalal Takesh and Fadil. This is at one of Marlisa Pon‘s festivals.

c1

This is at
Shaker’s in Hollywood. Najeeb is behind the post. Sakour, is a Persian accordion player

c2

Toukic Barhan on oud. This is at an Arabic convention for the Arab community in Hollywood somewhere.
Antoinette photos session 1963 or 64
reclining pose1
reclining pose !

This is a photo of me in my second costume reclining at the Fez. Because I didn’t yet know how to make a circle skirt, this one ballooned out when I turned. I had made it straight up and down with gathers at the waist. This beaded and sequined bra was made by the man that worked at the Jewel Box review. I thought it was beautiful. The belt was just a wide band of sequins. Being one of the first dancers in Hollywood it was hard to find someone to emulate.

Antoinette
Left:This photo is from the movie Alexander the Great. It has a real old fashion Hollywood mood. I used to wear three pairs of false eyelashes.
Right:I also worked with this photographer doing advertising photos for Maidenform bras and cigarette ads.
You can’t see it but my arms are chained to the wall.

Antoinette

This is also from the movie Alexander the Great.

Antoinette

Left:The Fez had a very Middle Eastern decor. The leather covered seats are gold in color. There was also a tented ceiling.
Right: I made this one too and put the dots on the skirt. 1961 or 2 (My beaded costumes are my early ones: I used coins later)

Antoinette

This is one of my favorite pictures. This is another beledi dress that I had made. I always wore pantaloons under my skirts. I wore this kind of outfit between shows. Though, I have danced in this too. The 3rd show of the night when only 3 people are there, I did a lot of stange things. Each show was about an hour. Sometimes I took my scarves and tied them into a halter top. By the third show I was so tired of dancing. This was 6 nights a week, 3 shows a night. I only had Mondays off.

 

 

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Ready for more?

  • Inspiration and a Push from the Stars, A Dancer’s Destiny, Part 1
    Around this time, my mother was singing at Mahrajan’s when they held Arabic functions and there was a dancer by the name of Kanza Omar, who was my idol
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  • Chapter 1: One Ad Changed My Life
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   |       |    1 Comment

  1. No Gravatar
    Shirin

    May 20, 2012 - 08:05:08

    Hi Antoinette!  Remember me?  Jacqline and I fought over your bouquet at your wedding . . . I won (I think) I’ve been married 5 times (oh, gee. . .Maybe I lost). Anyway, seeing your post here was quit a blast from the past.  I’m writing a novel based on my days in Hollywood (the Fez, Aheanian Gardens, Ali Baba’s, Greek Village, Koko’s, etc). Currently, I’m editor/owner of a weekly newspaper and and economic development journal in Arizona.  What are you doing these days?  Would love to hear from you!  
    Shirin 

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