The Gilded Serpent presents...
Zaharr's Memoir-
Part 7: Putting it together
by Zaharr A. Hayatti

Zaharr 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.

I was seeing my teacher [Ed- this teacher has requested that her name not be revealed] more often and finally became a cautious friend of her snake. I tried not to think about what had happened to the mice, but one day, as we passed beside his warm cage, she showed me. “See that big lump in his middle? He swallows the mice whole, and then afterward he has to sleep for a long time while his ‘dinner ‘ is digested.” This was so much more information than I ever wanted to have, but part of my teacher‘s warmth and charm was her down-to-earthiness! It was one of the things that I grew to love about her.

We discussed my daily practice sessions, which were becoming around four hours or so with extra time for playing the finger cymbals, and she told me it was great that I had worked so hard. “Pretty soon you can become professional if you keep up this pace!” she said. That thought had never even crossed my mind! I was studying this art form simply because something inside of me compelled me to move forward into it.

It was also my impression that to become a professional dancer required years of study, and I had been at it less than a month. “Really Zaharr, I’m not kidding.” she said with a serious look on her face. “It is as if you are just ‘remembering’ the steps and the moves, and not doing them for the first time.”

I wasn’t quite certain that I had heard her correctly, and so I just continued complaining: “But I still cannot coordinate my feet with the rest of my body movements AND the finger cymbal rhythms.” I was feeling frustrated by this since it really had become easy to do the moves but not all of them at the same time. “ Well, I planned a little treat for you today,” she confided, “let’s see how this works.”

Intrigued, I watched her as she went over to her stereo and took out a recording I had not seen or heard before. Next, she slipped into the kitchen for a few moments, and returned with two glasses and a cool bottle of German wine, “liebefräumilch”. “ I can’t drink of course, but you’re old enough,” she laughed softly. She poured a little bit for herself, just a tiny sip, actually, and a pretty generous one for me. We shared a ritual toast to the success of my new career, and I drained my glass!

“Now we are going to position ourselves differently than we have been doing so far,” she told me. I had been dancing beside her and copying her movements. Now she wanted me to imagine that we were dancing in a large circle, on one of the lovely oriental rugs that were scattered around our practice room. I was to follow her and do the best that I could to imitate her moves. She refilled my glass, helped me to attach the little chain of coins around my hips, and then she put the music on. It was totally different than the music to which we had been dancing. She said that it was Turkish, and the other one had been much more sedate Arabic music.

The Turkish music was so different! It was a lot faster and the sound somewhat “brighter” with heavy rhythmic undertones. By the time she turned the record over, I was right there, behind her, doing every move! I was smiling, relaxed, flowing along right behind her, with my finger cymbals steady on the different rhythms.

We twirled together, we accented the beats with our hips, our toes, our shoulders, and coordinated the total with our finger cymbals. We had made it to that special place for which we had been searching, to bring the whole picture together!

We finished dancing to the second side of the album and collapsed together, giggling. She poured me another glass of wine, and we relaxed for a while in the soft afternoon sunshine, which flooded the room and dappled the soft, oriental rugs.

“You’ve got it now, Zaharr, this is how it is supposed to feel. You are learning how to dance from your heart, because the wine has helped you to forget just enough to let you relax! I predict that we will be working on your costumes soon, and you will be a paid professional before this month is out!” I was feeling awfully giddy and pretty silly by this time, and yet I still could not even imagine that what she was saying could possibly be true.

Two months from the day I first knocked on my teacher’s door, I was dancing to the live Greek Band at “The Café Minerva” on Eddy Street, Friday and Saturday nights. Within six months, I was dancing six nights a week at “The Bagdad” on Broadway, in North Beach, with my photograph in Yousef’s window, where it stayed for far too many years!

But first, there are a few more adventures to share with you about how my very own magic flying carpet got me there…

See Zaharr's "Bio-page" for previous chapters of her memoir

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