Queen of Denial, Chapter 14
posted October 31, 2013
I will tell you a story about a young, talented dancer who was a pretty good entertainer and extremely popular in her particular world of professional belly dancing. On stage she was a princess, a sensual and sweet Marilyn Monroe-like STAR. The strong, happy woman she portrayed on stage combined a grace, a sensual vulnerability and an elegant persona that had everyone fooled. In her world off stage, she was a frightened little girl, emotionally stunted, insecure, who felt lonely and unloved most of the time. She longe for true love like the kind she saw in the movies. She wanted this “true love” to be all consuming and passionate, lasting a lifetime, through thick and thin, and much more. That “no matter what life throws at you we’ll be together Baby” kind of love she swooned over in her perfectly romantic dreams and exactly the kind of romance promised to us via books, magazines and of course the media. All we needed was the right chemistry and this Hollywood-style type of love would magically appear with a man in tow and we would both instantly know it was perfect and we were meant for each other. Our young belly dancer believed she viewed this romantic notion of love from the audience as a spectator, seemingly close but never close enough to grab and hold on to for her own. Fortunately for her, she was able to capture an illusion of love another way, while on stage where it was given to her unconditionally by her audience. However, the problem was she believed she only deserved this love as long as she was portraying “Rebaba”. Therefore, that fleeting onslaught of unconditional love she experienced nightly on stage wasn’t enough to sustain her for very long. Off stage, as she changed back into her jeans and t-shirt, she also transformed back into a “regular person”, and the power given to her by her audience quickly dissipated leaving her scared and lonely once more.
Every so often a knight in shining armor would appear for this maladjusted princess of the belly dance world. Her knights usually came into her life courtesy of the venues where she performed. This circumstance alone should have been a very good reason to steer clear, shining armor or not. However, this princess didn’t really believe she was special and therefore she had no will power to refuse a knight in shining armor’s attentions!
I lived as that imaginary princess on stage for many years during my young adult life. She was the “best of me” persona I could imagine and I loved her dearly as she really kept me sane and happy whenever I was performing in her skin. Too bad I couldn’t have learned a few things from my characterization that might have helped me during my early quest for romantic love. I know now after many years of mistakes, heart breaks and more life-lessons than I can count that the love I received while performing was enabled by my imagined self-awareness and confidence as Rebaba. However, off stage, my self-image was completely lacking in confidence, extremely insecure and totally incapable of recognizing and accepting romantic love. Thank goodness I was able to experience the love my audiences so willingly gave me during the many years of my professional career. Had I not experienced this love (along with the love of my family and friends to be sure, but, who were far away for much of the time I was dancing professionally), I’m afraid I might have ventured into the bottomless pit of drug dependency much sooner than I did.
My complete drug dependency didn’t begin until I stopped dancing professionally and moved back to my hometown to begin a second career after graduating from university. As I’m not yet there in my story, I’d rather continue with a joyful moment while dancing professionally in Los Angeles. To me, the funny and usually one of a kind shows stand up to time far longer than most others. Therefore, I’d like to recount one of the funniest along with being possibly the best entrance dance I performed at Ali Baba’s in Hollywood.
It was a Saturday night, standing room only in this rather small and low-ceilinged nightclub built to look like Ali Baba’s cave. Ali Baba’s was one of those incredibly successful Middle Eastern supper clubs that dotted the Los Angeles area during the 60s, 70s, and into the mid-1980s. I worked the weekends and a couple weeknights which were equally busy at this time. The band members were all good friends of mine and excellent musicians who played like angels for me during every show regardless of the number of people in attendance.
However, the truly magical shows happened with lots of help from a loving, generous and ecstatic audience that fueled our individual talents and inspired us to higher levels of performance as a group.
This particular Saturday night housed just such an audience. I entered to my favorite Egyptian “entrance” music and to an already cheering audience who also loved this music as well as my dancing. It was hot, smoky and there was a constant din of talking and yelling, glasses clinking and breaking, loud laughter and enthusiastic clapping that blended together to become part of the music and my show. I danced with all my heart and soul supported by the flow of energy that felt like warm light and love being projected by the standing room only audience. The musicians played like mighty lions giving off their own roar of delight behind me so that I was enveloped by this wondrous energy of happiness and love. It doesn’t happen all that often that every musical note, beat of the drum and physical movement seem to merge together to become one. When it happens a magical and unforgettable show is created; and this particular performance was definitely beginning to feel like one of those special shows. As the music came to a whirling crescendo I spun myself around the stage ending dead center in a perfectly timed and executed bow. As the music ended with a thunderous drum beat, the lights went out as I threw my upper body forward and down towards the floor in a simultaneous bow. My head went speeding downward to touch my knees when something else slammed into my face that wasn’t me. Yikes, I realized with dread that what had just banged me on the nose was my bra!
I was wearing one of my favorite Egyptian costumes that was heavily encrusted with beading. The combination of my extremely fast and furious bow and the weight of the bra obviously unhooked it at the center of my back. Thank goodness the bra also hooked at the back of my neck as that was the only thing holding it to my body. As the lights came up I slowly rose and the beautiful melody of a violin solo fill the room. I realized that I was the only one in the club who knew my bra was unhooked because it all took place in the blackout. I couldn’t help but giggle at the thought as I began to move to the music and also position myself in front of the oud player who was strumming his instrument happily and completely lost in his own world. I smiled and called out his name keeping my back to him as I repeatedly asked him to “ re-hook my bra please”. With cabarets open all over the Los Angeles basin featuring live music and dancers every night, this type of costume malfunction happened every so often and most musicians can tell you quite a few funny stories involving missing and broken pieces of a belly dancer’s costume. So, I knew if I could get my musician’s attention he would know what to do…I finally did and he began trying to re-hook my bra and finally blurted out that there wasn’t a hook only a loop. Well, by this time the audience was starting to get curious and was realizing something was going on beyond the obvious music and dance. Therefore, being the ham that I am, I quickly spun around doing a little dance and showing the audience exactly what was wrong.
They loved it, clapping, laughing and encouraging me to keep dancing that way!
I let the audience know that I’d be right back, bowed to my band as I asked them to keep playing and then I ran down the stairs and off the stage towards the dressing room. I was followed by my good friends: the other dancer and singer who were both yelling at me and asking what happened to my costume? Breathless in the dressing room I immediately turned around and asked the dancer to fasten my bra. She repeated what I was told on stage that there wasn’t a hook on the bra. By throwing my upper body into the bow with such force I evidently exploded the hook off the strap, so now on to safety pins. Trying to get a safety pin, no matter how big, through thick beading while I was hyperventilating and laughing at my situation was impossible. Just as I was insisting that the singer must go on stage and start his number, another friend squeezed into the dressing room. It was the waitress this time, and she had something in her hand that she lifted towards me asking if it was mine. She said she took it from the middle of the stage floor as she thought it was a piece of pita bread. Well, it wasn’t a piece of pita bread at all, it was the foam rubber push-up padding from the inside of my bra which must have fallen to the stage floor when I executed that perfect bow!
Dancing at Sahara where my second show was a pseudo folkloric number.
Pseudo in that I tried to keep my costume more cabaret than traditional then added something to balance and danced to great Egyptian folkloric music.
Ready for more?
- 10-1-08 North Beach Memories- Casbah Cabaret, Part I Circa 1973
We performed what I have dubbed “conveyer belt dancing”, that is three dancers doing three shows each, starting promptly at 8:30 p.m. without stopping until 2:00 a.m., whether we had an audience or not.
- 5-6-10 Queen of Denial, A Tale about Life and Belly Dancing, Part 1: The Safety of the Stage
For many years, the most secure and safe place for me was on stage–dancing and acting. Performing gave me the security and love for which I yearned (both with and without drugs).
- 9-6-12 My Perfect Hiding Place, Queen of Denial, Chapter 11
Funny as it sounds, the incredible amounts of money we were earning nightly eventually became a burden.
- 1-29-13 Have I Left Yet? Queen of Denial, Chapter 12
Baghdad was the first place I had worked in where a complete communication blackout was ordered (no post, no newspapers, no telegrams, and no telephone access to the general public), and a mere two weeks after my arrival. For the very first time since I started traveling and dancing abroad, I was unable to call my parents (and vice versa) to assure them that I was fine regardless of what they were reading in the local newspapers.
- 5-6-13 I’m Back in the U-S-S-A! Queen of Denial, Chapter 13
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.
- 10-20-13 Entering the Sufi Spiritual World of North Africa, Sufi Brotherhoods and Trance Ceremonies in the Maghreb
…the Maghreb consists of many Sufi-brotherhoods, often recognized and set through their Zawiyas and initiations. Sufis have always worked toward reform through advice and education of the individual and internal purification through providing a model and example of tolerance, solidarity, brotherhood and selflessness removed from anything that would give a bad image of Islam.
- 10-17-13 Our Rules: Beauty & Professionalism, Elena Ramazanova Speaks About the League of Bellydance Masters
We had the pleasure to meet with Elena Ramazanova, president of The League of Bellydance Masters in Russia, artistic director of “Ramiza Dance Group”, and a successful dancer and teacher at the open beach party of the Seventh International Belly Dance Festival titled “Expression of the East” in Berdyansk, Ukraine.
- 10-15-13 Defining Belly Dance Today, Definition by Presentation
For me, the bottom line is that there is no wrong way to present belly dance because what an individual loves in the dance is easy to find. Everything is so global today! The dance has morphed into so many forms that if you cannot find a belly dance teacher that makes you happy, perhaps you need to look for another dance..
- 10-12-13 Interviews with Saida and Yamil A Five Part Video Talk with Two Stars of Argentina, Part 5: The Dance Community of Argentina,
In this section they discuss how well the dance community gets along in Argentina. Hopefully this will help stimulate more talk in our larger worldwide community.
- 10-3-13 Desperately Seeking Shafiqa The Search for the Historical Shafiqa el Qibtiyya
Shafiqa el Qibtiyya (Shafiqa the Copt) is known to many practitioners and historians of Egyptian music and dance. She rose to fame as an entertainer in the salat (entertainment halls) of Cairo around the turn of the century. Popular dance lore posits that Shafiqa was an early pioneer (or perhaps the originator) of raqs shamadan, the candelabrum dance.