A New Dancer Emerges
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
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.
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.
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 promo photo 2—Antoinette, Shuckr, Lou Shelby (Roxxanne’s dad), unknown guy in fez,
Najeeb on oud.
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.
This is at
This is also from the movie Alexander the Great.
Left:The Fez had a very Middle Eastern decor. The leather covered seats are gold in color. There was also a tented ceiling.
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.
Ready for more?
- 12-16-11 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
- 8-17-11 Arabian Nights at 12 Adler Place, North Beach Memories, Part 1:1961
Leona had introduced me to her friend Josephine, whom she described as a lovely Sicilian American woman who had recently taken the stage name of Jamila.
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I was very desperate and determined to get back to my old self.
- 3-22-00 The Beginning
When she came out to dance in the audience, I thought to myself, "She better not get too near to my husband!"
It was stimulating to talk about a wide range of topics, Egyptian politics and societal issues included, such as the continuing trend for Muslim women and girls to wear scarves – many, if not most, to make a fashion statement, others because of family, husband, or peer pressure, and some to make a political statement.
The ten o’clock dinner show featured music, three dancers, and one singer. The real show started at midnight. In the audience were mostly Arabs, dressed in the most expensive designer clothes with diamond watches and jewelry flashing in the stage light. There was a scent of expensive perfume mixed with cigarette smoke. The tables were covered with flower arrangements and lavish silver platters of fruit.
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Belly dancing in any public venue, like a nightclub or a restaurant, for compensation is a privilege.
- 1-10-12 Gigbag Check #32- Emma of Japan at the BDUC 2011
She shares with use her favorite music to help her calm down before the contest. She also shows us her favorite costume that she bought in Cairo.
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Baladi is an Arabic word that literally means “my country” or “of the country”. However, it has come to mean, refer to, and imply, many different things, depending on the context in which it is used. Below we discuss the most common uses of the word…
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We caught Susu, Terrianne and Amina between gigs at their house in Petaluma. Susu had just gotten out of the shower. They demonstrated the tomtom, bendir, and darbukah for us in their beautiful studio. Rocky and the other dog, Mochi, were there to help. Sorry about cutting the heads out of the shots. Are not the tom toms beautiful?
He kept reassuring me that everything was okay, and finally, the second time that I made for the exit, he pinned me against the wall in the darkened hallway and gave me a long, luscious kiss that made my head spin!
- 12-28-11 Ask Yasmina #17: Practice and Rehearsal
The key point to solo study and practice is to remember that if you are enjoying yourself, you are most likely not growing or progressing!
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