Aziza! and Ginny
Beata & Horacio with others perform
with a very large veil
a Vendor's Viewpoint
in a series - a history of bellydancing in (and out of) the San
Francisco area, as told by Aziza!
For many years the highlight of my vending year! A wonderful
idea that has gradually faded over time..
selling my costumes at Rakkasah Festival from the very
first time Shukriya put it on. It was an exciting
event at a small place in Richmond - Ginny and
I had a booth up on a balcony, which gave us a good view of the
performances. The most memorable that first year was Sharlyn,
who spun up and down the stairs of the musicians' platform as
she danced. A most Fred Astaire-like move! That first time,
in 1981, I cleared about $300 in sales (not bad for the time),
and I was
a happy woman!
in '91 after she switched to Persian dance
to join the vendors every year at Rakkasah, as it moved here and
there (including to the beautiful Scottish Rite Temple in
Oakland for several years) and finally settled in the Richmond
Civic Auditorium. It was always so interesting to see all
dancers and troupes and what they did for their performances at
one of the most important and scariest venues around. My troupe,
Zelzeleh, appeared one year, and once my dance partner,
Lara, and I put on our Ghawazi Suite,
but mostly I was a vendor and an onlooker. I always shared space
with Ginny (Kattoura) - until she quit the business.
By the time we moved to the Richmond location, Ginny was importing
scarves and such and selling them across the country as Evening
Star, so she always had a lot of inventory at shows!
A lot of inventory meant a big display, and she had built a very
large rack out of mostly PVC pipe - add to this my racks, and
we took up a number of spaces! Shukriya offered us a special
rate if we would be willing to use the space in the curve of the
wall in the auditorium, so we did that.
a couple of years the discount disappeared, and when we asked
about it (it was still the same space, after all), she said,
"Oh, did you think you'd get that forever?" Well, yes, since
nothing else had changed! But never mind - We noticed, too,
that our space was gradually eroded by other vendors' tables
that were just sort of fitted in at the end of our space - once
again, we just adjusted and lived with it, since when we asked
or objected, we were brushed off.
One of the
great attractions of Rakkasah has been the excitement of seeing
dancers from all over the world perform! Now that there is a
Rakkasah East, to serve the dancers of the eastern US, and similar
events on other continents, we don't get quite as many performers
from far away - but there have been some stellar performances!
One of my favorites in memory was when Beata and Horacio danced together and he wound her up in a many-yards-long white
veil and then spun her out of it again. Their theatrical shows
are always so individual and exciting. The first time I saw Katherine
Ferguson (from Arizona) dance was a high point for
me, too. Her artistic spirit and technical expertise were both
so evident. Some of the most entertaining performances over the
years have been given by Amina's
troupe, the Aswan Dancers. They have done ancient Egyptian
myth stories, modern Cairo street dances, and, most wonderful
of all, the story dance that included songs like "Leader of the
Pack" and "Going to the Chapel"! The combination of doo-wop music,
odd costumes and real belly dance moves was just irresistible! John
Compton and his tray dance were somehow involved
in that, too, if I remember correctly.
Kathy Ferguson performing
at the Scottish Rite Temple in Oakland
was always good about having security available, but that gradually
changed shape. The problems started in the year that Rakkasah
was at the San Rafael Civic Center, the year when a
new guy took over the security force. I heard from several
people that he had spent some time in prison, which didn't matter
to me except that he treated us vendors as though we were offenders
who were in there under his direction! Since then, the security
situation has been sort of iffy - I imagine they are good at
what they are doing, and some of the guys are very pleasant,
but some of them treat us quite disagreeably.
About that time, too, the management began to treat vendors
as though we were criminals, warning us to behave and saying
that we are the worst offenders in security - making it clear
that we were there on sufferance.
I know that rules are necessary, but I have never sold
at another show that made the vendors feel like really bad children!
thing that is small but irritating - at the beginning, each
vendor was given a free program, so that we could tell what
was going on. A few years ago, they started charging vendors
for a program - I pay $550 for my booth and I have to pay another
dollar for a program?! Shukriya said, when questioned, that
it was because vendors weren't careful, and sometimes took another
program to replace a lost one. I suggested that maybe we could
each be given one, as it started out, and then we could pay
for more or replacements, but that was not an acceptable suggestion.
This is symptomatic of our treatment.
a few more vendors are crammed into side halls and the upstairs
of the auditorium. I'm sure that the shoppers are delighted that
they have so much to choose from (though a few have said to me
that there are so many booths and so much to look at that they
reached "tilt" and couldn't buy anything!), but it has
been a bad deal for the vendors. There are only so many dollars
to go around, and the more ways there are to share those out,
the fewer there are for everyone. The small dealers have trouble
making enough to stay in business, and I'll bet that there are
more than I who persist in returning even though they don't make
money, just to keep their names in the public view.
Amina and the Aswan dancers perfroming in the San Rafael
Civic Center. Robaire is on the left with the big drum.
thing that has changed is either some rules themselves or their
enforcement. For instance, there was a rule against tall racks
in the booths that are not against the walls - that way, everyone
could see the stage. Well, that rule has obviously gone by
the wayside. Also, there was a rule that people couldn't sit
in the lower seats behind the booths, as a matter of security
- we store stuff back there, and we can't always keep an eye
on it. The doors to that area used to be locked or something,
so that people didn't just come in. Well, that is no longer
the case! We have had some problems with it for the last few
years, but last year was the worst! The family or group that
had the booth in the corridor outside the room decided that
they wanted to be able to watch the dancing, so they kept leaving
the door wide open! I wouldn't have objected if a vendor like
that wanted to slip in and sit in the back seats for a while
to watch, but with that door open, all kinds of people came
in, and we were constantly having to ask someone to leave!
We talked to the vendors about it several times, but they didn't
care what we said - they kept opening the doors! We finally
talked to security about it, and one man went and told them
about its being a rule, so the door stayed closed for a few
hours before it was once again propped open, but the next security
guy we talked to went back there and then returned and said
that there was nothing he could do about it. So, what? Security
only enforces some rules? Or are the rules all gone
except for the ones to control the other bad, bad behaviors
of the vendors?
been plenty of other little problems, mostly pinpricks - but
a lot of pinpricks can add up to a big jab! The final one was
this year when new people moved in next to us. We had had an
arrangement with Alia, who was our neighbor for a few years,
that we shared our dressing room with her and in exchange, the
dressing room straddled the booth lines. When I asked the new
people if they were up for that, they said, "Certainly not!",
and the next thing I knew, they had Shukriya over there with
a tape measure, and she was moving us in about six inches.
Well, while I realize and acknowledge that we should, indeed,
be within our booth space, it is difficult to tell, sometimes,
just what that line is - and besides, is there no courtesy nor
slack given to a vendor who has been faithful to Rakkasah from
madwoman and her son.
I guess not! The attitude with which it was done just
felt like an uncaring slap in the face.
So - combine
the pinpricks with an ever-rising cost and ever-falling income
- well, I'm afraid that I will no longer be vending at Rakkasah.
Also, while of course this isn't happening to you - I am growing
older, and even with all Adam's help it is growing progressively
harder and more tiring to set up my booth, man it, and break
it down. I know that there are people out there who will think
that I have died, if I am no longer there, but NO! I
am still very much alive! I will miss seeing my friends among
both vendors and customers, but Rakkasah has become no longer
monetarily nor emotionally viable for me. I am still making
my one-of-a-kind costumes as well as taking orders, so you can
contact me at email@example.com or call me at 530-622-7566.
And I hope to see you all at another show..
Festival happens this weekend at the Richmond Civic Auditorium
in Richmond, California.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Episodes in Aziza!'s series of columns-
1-17-05 The Traveling Costumer
customers! New horizons! Travel! That’s what we needed!
My Costuming Roots #21
however, it became obvious that I couldn’t do three shows
a night, on and on, with only one costume! And Yousef, owner of
the Bagdad, supported this realization by telling me that if I
didn’t get some more costumes, I was fired.
The Sunday Photos from Rakkasah West Fesitval 2004- Page
1, Page 2
to all the photographers and volunteers whol help make this happen.
We still need a few names to go with faces!
October 16-17, 2004,
photos and text by Amy Luna Manderino
Festival lived up to it's name, with two days of creative and
innovative dance that broke the mold and showed the versatility
of American Bellydance.
The Folk Tours Dance & Music Camp
Review by Piper (and baby pics too!) Photos by Carl Miller,
upon a time, in far away lands, I performed five shows a night,
seven nights a week to great live music. I don’t miss the
wily club owners, late nights, or cigarette smoke, but I do miss