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I’m Back in the U-S-S-A!

Queen of Denial: Chapter 13

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by Rebaba
posted May 6, 2013

I hadn’t been to school since the early 1970s when I was a drama major at San Francisco State University fresh from high school.  The high intensity of competition within the drama department scared me to death, and my always-present fear of failure convinced me that I would never succeed as an actor.  So, as soon as an opportunity presented itself, I dropped out of drama school, returning to belly dance.  Once again, I discovered that the world of belly dancing was where I fit in and always felt safe and in control. 

Dancing in Paris

Caption for this and top photo: First stop on my way back to the states was Paris, France. While I waited to see if I would be accepted to business school, I took a job dancing back at Le Palmyr where I work briefly in 1979, before starting work at Le Beyrouth (see chapter 4).

home in SF

Once I received word from my mom that I was in fact accepted to Cal-Poly Pomona for the next winter quarter, I flew directly home to San Francisco. There I celebrated my first Halloween in quite a few years. Pictured with my "Naughty Nuns" with me in the foreground as the good fairly (no angel was I).

Friends

Celebrating my return home, a group of my dear and longtime girlfriends with a couple of their boyfriends in there for good measure!

After performing for several months, it didn’t look like I was going to return to school anytime soon and that prompted my mom to suggest I travel to Europe and visit my relatives.  Early in my travels, I had decided that I wanted to live in Europe and learn to speak my family’s native language–Swiss French. I talked my mother and my great aunt into helping me realize my dream of living and studying in Geneva, Switzerland, where my grandfather was born. I planned to attend an intensive language school that would prepare me to pass the difficult French test required to study at the University of Geneva. I ended up belly dancing in Paris instead. I stayed on, dancing another year and then returned home and went back to school at San Francisco State once again. This time, I enrolled as a French major, believing it would be a quick and easy way to graduate and get my dad off my back. I endured about a year before leaving to belly dance in Canada, Hawaii, Hollywood, and in 1979, finally back to Europe and onward. (See chapters 2 through 12.) I never thought about my university education (or lack of it) again until 1983. I was living my dream of dancing professionally, traveling the globe, speaking French almost every day, and proving to my mom (and more importantly to myself) that my schooling in Switzerland hadn’t been for nothing!

It was dancing for three months in an active war zone in Baghdad, Iraq, (See chapters 9 through 12.) that convinced me it might be time to move back home and try my hand at university life one more time.  When I started considering my options, what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to do it, that Los Angeles (circa 1983) offered up many belly dance venues and a university that offered the degree I was interested in pursuing.

After visiting my hometown of San Francisco, I packed my belongings and moved down to the southland; anxious to start my brand new life as a student.  I had been accepted to Cal-Poly Pomona’s School of Business and registered to begin classes in a few weeks time. Through the recommendation of good friends, I found a place to live in a cute little house owned by a belly dancer! After settling into my new digs, I was quickly hired to dance at Ali Baba’s on Sunset Boulevard, Ko Ko’s International at Hollywood and Vine, and The Cascades in Irvine, California. I was lucky to be the new face in town, as well as recently returned from performing in the Middle East.

My first quarter at Cal-Poly wasn’t nearly as easy for me as finding work belly dancing. I had no idea what I was getting myself into academically when I registered as a business major.

Dancing in LA

Dancing at the Cascades in Anaheim, California.

Dancing in LA

Dancing at Ali Babas in Hollywood, California. (next photo also at Ali Babas)

I had required courses like: statistics, economics, accounting and finance. I thought I was going to learn how to run hotels–not work at a bank!  Honestly, I thought that running a hotel was mainly public relations, and I knew I was good at that–like most of us in the entertainment business. In spite of my shock at the curriculum, I discovered (much to my own surprise) that I was pretty good at mathematics. I also realized that my nightclub jobs could be perfectly suited for studying between shows as long as I didn’t socialize instead and stayed in the dressing room with my books. I was driving close to a 100 miles a day to school, work, and then home, so I needed all the extra time I could find to study. Truly, I wanted to succeed, and for the first year, I maintained a work and study schedule that kept me out of trouble. I only had time for my homework, getting to and taking my classes in Pomona, and finally, going to work each night. My serious perseverance led to academic success; too bad that eventually my school books took a backseat to love!

All too frequently, my volatile self-image propelled me towards self-destructive men just like myself with whom I fell madly in love. As soon as I developed feelings for a man, I would put my personal aspirations on the back burner in the hopes of finding love.

My boyfriends tended to be handsome and seemingly savvy, charming, very astute liars and many of them also had terrible tempers. Eventually all my long term relationships were based upon a mutual penchant for “partying” (better known as substance-abuse in the real world). In short: my recipe for love was big trouble. The combination of my desperate need for affection coupled with too much alcohol and drugs insured that my relationships were doomed to fail. Although performing gave me brief respites from my fear of being unloved, and the stage provided a constant source of admirers, I never could find the love about which I was constantly looking and dreaming. 

Today, I know that it’s impossible to find love, the good kind, if you don’t love yourself first. My deep seeded feelings of inadequacy constantly resulted in my attracting men with similar problems which in time always lead to disaster. I was incapable of distinguishing between love and sex, so time and time again, I would fall in love as soon as I became intimate with a man. My neurosis also frequently left me vulnerable to men who needed to control me because of their own fears. In short, I loved what was typically known as the “bad boy”, because deep down, I knew that I was bad too. Many years and therapists later, I learned that this need for love (which is an accepted type of addiction nowadays) allows me easily to project my emotions to my audiences. However, off stage, it doesn’t necessarily work in my favor.

I remember my father’s favorite admonishments during my childhood years as a dance student was the familiar: “A dancer’s career is very short-lived.” He frequently reminded me that I was capable of much more and should focus on academic pursuits instead of physical ones. Dad never let me forget how much he hated the fact that I became a professional belly dancer and how much I let him down, choosing dance over higher education and a “real” career. When my dad finally came to see my show, over a decade after I began dancing professionally, it was just after I started school at Cal-Poly Pomona. I’ve always assumed that he relented and came to my show because he believed I was on my way to a respectable career. With this in mind, he could finally relax his vigilant opposition to my chosen belly dance profession, and see for himself what it was I actually did on stage. After watching my show, he hugged me and told me how proud of me he was. The sound of that compliment had me glowing with pride! Unfortunately, he wasn’t finished and followed-up the rarely given compliment by a much more typical statement.

My father told me he was so relieved that I hadn’t embarrassed him while on stage! I had grown up, trying to inspire love and affection from a father who was incapable of loving me back in a way I could understand. So now, many years later,  I know in my heart he was proud of me and just afraid to say so.

In 1983, my first year back from touring, dancing in Hollywood was a joyful experience, and I managed to stay very happy on and off stage. As a result, my drug use was almost nil which in turn, kept my drinking in check because without using cocaine, alcohol held no attraction for me. In fact, I didn’t drink much at all except to counteract the effects of using too much cocaine.  I had a healthy obsession that was succeeding in school and, for a while, that kept me on a sober path and emotionally fulfilled. I was also experiencing great success in the L.A. cabarets and supper clubs where I was performing, definitely contributing to my ability to stay focused on my academic pursuits. 

The public was still going out to find entertainment in the early 1980s, and the restaurants were busy 6 to 7 nights a week. I was working with smaller bands (compared to the large orchestras I had performed with overseas); however, the musicians I worked with in Hollywood were talented old friends from my time at Khayam’s in the 1970s.

The mutual respect and affection we held for each other was dramatically reflected in our shows together. Our audiences went wild whenever we performed as the combination of beautiful music and dance transported them to their beloved homelands.

The feeling of love I received from these happy audiences was incredible and gave me the momentum to give back as much of myself as possible. My obsessive personality worked in my favor allowing me to freely bare my soul to my enthusiastic audiences. In turn, I received their unconditional love and adoration for that brief moment in time–making both our worlds perfect.

Dancing in LA

Rebaba in France

Posing in front of the impressive entrance to the restaurant I worked in over the summer of 1983, in Cannes, France.

That first year in L.A. included a trip back to France during my summer break to perform in Cannes on the Cote d’Azur.  It wasn’t as great as it sounds, believe-you-me… The manager of the restaurant located in a beautiful Rococo style mansion one block from the beach was a small and highly nervous man. Evidently, he was trying to save money, competing with a much larger and more established Middle Eastern supperclub a few blocks away. The ground floor supperclub was beautifully appointed but very small and employed only a four-piece band on the weekends. There was no way my employer could compete with live Middle Eastern entertainment, seven nights a week–available within blocks of our location.

During the two months I danced there, things went from okay to much worse. Business was terrible from the start; as a result, our weekend band was almost immediately let go, and we had to perform to taped music.

I was working with another American dancer, and we both lived upstairs in the “villa” that was unfurnished except for single beds, mattresses, and a variety of broken dressers. Closets (armoires) in which to hang our clothes and costumes were promised when we first arrived, but were quickly forgotten along with many other creature comforts that were supposed to appear during our time in the villa. We ended up putting all the mattresses on the floor and laying our costumes, clothes, shoes, and makeup on every surface apart from our beds. It felt like we were camping in an abandoned building with an incredible view of the Mediterranean! We laughed at our circumstances and enjoyed our daytime hours at the beach and strolling around the picturesque town of Cannes. Our shows were easy, although predictable and uninspiring, now that we had to dance to taped music every night. However, in spite of the lousy work environment created by a lack of business and an unhappy manager, (and dancing for the staff more often than not) we really couldn’t complain. The two month engagement was a paid vacation on the Cote d’Azur, one block from the beach…

At the end of my contract, I happily returned to Los Angeles, school, and my dancing jobs. I had  had the good fortune to, not only sublet my room while in France, but was also able to sublet my dancing jobs to my BFF/belly dancer who was visiting L.A. for the summer from San Francisco. It all worked out perfectly with my Hollywood employers happy for a new, gorgeous dancer for the summer, and my rent paid while I was in Cannes! My life seemed to be right on track with my dance jobs resecured, my room in the lovely little house in Glendale, school starting soon, and I hadn’t thought about “partying” (using drugs) in months. 

Unfortunately, my personal demons nevered stayed at bay for long, and soon after my return to L.A., I would be lead astray in the arms of a gorgeous green-eyed man.

Chapter 14 Teaser: Love is the drug.

Looking out at the beautiful Mediterranean on the Esplanade in Cannes, France.

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