Gilded Serpent presents...
Memoir- Part 1 (&2)
by Zaharr A. Hayatti
shares her struggles and her triumphs as a dancer from 1966 to
the present. “For many of us, it was a hard road that led
to North Beach and beyond.” she writes. Return to read her
story as it unfolds here in the Gilded Serpent.
It was June,
1966. I lived in Potomac, Maryland, an elegant suburb of Washington
D.C, and had just graduated from high school. There was a party
thrown for me after the graduation ceremony by my sister and brother-in-law,
with whom I was living at the time.
waited at home with the punch, and the cake, and the music
ready to dance to, and no one showed up. Not one guest!
Since it was
the sixth high school I had attended in four years, I had not
really had time to make very many friends. It made me sad though
to have made the effort for this party. I had begged a new dress
and Courreges boots, and was ready to party in my new fashions.
on it, I suppose my sister and her husband must have felt sorry
for me, for later that afternoon there was a surprise visitor.
An old school chum of my Dan's, my brother-in-law, “Just
happened to be in the neighborhood”, and had stopped by
to say hello. He had also “heard” it was my Graduation
Day and had brought me little gift. It was a charm for a charm
bracelet in the design of the “Tree of Life”. It was
depicted as a tiny gold tree with different sorts of precious
stones like fruits in the branches.
said this was the beginning of my life now, and I could pick
any of the fruits I wanted from the tree. Then he pretended
he had just come up with an idea and told us to get ready
to go out for the evening as a “special treat”.
Washington, he regaled us with stories about his summer job in
college as a tour guide in the Middle East. He talked about adventures
in exotic places and cities in Egypt and North Africa that I had
never heard about. He had me enthralled by the time we arrived
at a lovely nightclub called the “Algiers” on Wisconsin
Avenue in D.C.
it is such an international city and has so many diplomats, there
seems to be no real drinking age for young people if they are
out with adults. So I was given my first taste of “Arak”
accompanied by the first mezze I had ever eaten. The pita bread
delighted me, with the way it just opened up by magic in the center!
The cheese, olives, grape leaves…everything was new to me,
but seemed so familiar and perfectly right for a special celebration!
a stage against one wall with about five or seven musicians seated
on it. They were playing instruments I had never seen, and music
I had never heard, but which held my complete attention. I felt
I had been transported to another world, but one which seemed
hauntingly familiar, though it could not be possible.
MC announced the first show. A woman entered draped in chiffon
veils and glittering beads. She had something in her fingers that
sounded like little bells, and I couldn't take my eyes off her.
a superb show, another dancer followed her and then another,
and another, until I had seen nine dancers and had spent hours
transported by the dreamy sounds of the music and the magic
of my very first glimpse of “La Danse du Ventre”.
At one point
in the evening, the MC announced that the dancers were giving
“Belly Dancing” lessons, and if anyone wanted to get
more information, they could talk to him. I got really excited,
and begged to be allowed to sign up. There was only silence from
night, when we returned home, I sat for a long time gazing at
the fish in our big aquarium, swimming silently in the eerie glow
of the aquarium lights. I watched their lovely fins and graceful
bodies and began thinking deep thoughts about my future. I wanted
to make the night very, very special, and so I vowed, from that
moment forward, I would do everything there was to do in life
that interested me, and nothing would stop me in obtaining my
goal. It was a vow I made seriously, and I have remembered it
ever since that night. As the fish glided through the water, I
saw the dancers again in my imagination, gliding gracefully across
the stage in their lovely costumes.
At the time
of my graduation, I was planning to go to the University of Maryland.
They had a respected drama department, and I was planning to study
acting and theater. Though my father had been a Shakespearean
actor, and my mother a big band jazz singer, they would not agree
to this. My mother wanted me to do one thing, my father another,
and my sister and brother-in-law, something else yet again. After
the night when I had seen the exquisite dancers though, I made
up my mind that that was what I REALLY wanted to do!
dance like that, graceful and flowing, to the hauntingly beautiful
music, seemed to be the most wonderful thing I could imagine.
did not sit well with anyone in my family! Everyone had reasons
why it was unsuitable for me, and my father was especially vocal
in his objections. I still remember him howling: “MY DAUGHTER!
A Hoochie-Koochie Dancer? NEVER! Over my dead body!” he
roared. What a pity, for he never did see me perform before he
weeks afterward, getting nowhere with my plans to talk my
family into letting me begin dance lessons, I decided that
the vow I had made to myself on graduation night was the most
important thing to me now. One night, as my family lay asleep,
I left my home with only the clothes I was wearing and a lovely
pair of earrings from Syria that I had been given by my mother.
My high school
friend had arranged to pick me up several blocks away from our
house, and we roared off into D.C. on the back of his motorcycle.
We had a few friends with places of their own in the city, and
one of them arranged to let me stay until I could get a job and
my own place.
With no money
for the Belly Dance classes at the fancy nightclub, I set out
to find some kind of work that could get me what I needed. It
could not be too far away from what I ultimately wanted to do,
which was to dance like the girls I had seen, to the music I had
fallen in love with.
And that is
how I came to learn thirty-six variations of the “Cha-cha-cha”!
My very first job was as a dance instructor, training provided,
at an Arthur Murray Dance studio!
York to Berkeley
by Zaharr A, Hayatti
Life as a
dance instructor for Arthur Murray soon paled. I was asked to
extract information from my students regarding their financial
well-being, and try to convince them to book more and more lessons
with higher prices and advanced teachers. It seemed cruel to extract
money from unsuspecting partners, and soon I asked to be released
from my contract to teach.
The job had
not lasted long enough to get much money ahead, and my roommate
was sending broad hints that maybe I should find my own place,
were some friends of mine preparing to go to New York City for
the weekend, and I had so little luggage, they were happy to take
me along. We drove along the East Coast Corridor from Washington,
D.C. to New York City, and I contacted a friend of mine from high
school who was working as a model there. I got involved in her
world for awhile, and put aside my dreams to dance temporarily.
morning, in the middle of winter, I looked out the window of the
apartment I shared with a photographer and couldn’t believe
the snow! It was so deep that there was no traffic on the streets,
and even some of the subways, which had elevated lines, were temporarily
out of service.
looked at each other and he said: “You know, I have
this brother who lives in California…”
more to pack this time, and three days later, as the traffic once
again began to move, we got into a cab and headed for the airport.
As I turned to say good bye to my lovely apartment, I listened
one last time to Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band playing an old Cajun
tune: “Parlez Nous Aboire.” I hummed it on the way
to the airport, thinking how nice and warm it must be in California.
friend’s brother met us in San Francisco Airport, and drove
us to Berkeley. On the way, he told us that the house where he
was living was full of artists and musicians, and we were really
going to love it. I had been studying photography as a way to
get out of the modeling rat-race and so I was looking forward
to meeting some like-minded spirits. I had toured for a while,
when I was really very young, as a folk singer/guitarist. It was
in the days when folk music was replacing the energy of the Beat
Generation with a more positive kind of message. I still loved
playing and singing, and hoped to meet some earthier kinds of
people than had been in the art scene in New York.
on a quiet street with big, leafy trees, and walked toward this
huge, three storey house. The neighborhood was really peaceful
and lovely, and there were flowers growing everywhere in everyone’s
front yards. I was thrilled to be out of the snow and into the
warmth of California.
are a few musicians on the top floor who play in the ‘Cleanliness
and Godliness Skiffle Band’”, remarked my host.
“Some of them are also in “Dr. Humbead’s
New Tranquillity String Band and Medicine Show.” I really
thought he was pulling my leg!
up the steps to the second floor and I heard the sounds of a button
accordion coming from inside. “Who’s that playing?”
I asked cautiously, “Oh that’s John Paul. He plays
with the band “The Golden Toad”. Before I had a chance
to recover from laughing at all the wonderfully fantastic names,
I had stepped through the door and had my very first “only
in Berkeley” experience.
in the very center of the living room with his back to us,
sat this man playing an Old Cajun tune: “Parlez Nous
home”, I thought. “This is absolutely where I am supposed
to be.” and I started laughing again…
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