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Gilded Serpent presents...
Have Belly Will Travel by Tanya Lemani
book review by Birute

This book could be subtitled “the reluctant bellydancer.”  Plucked from her ballet class at the age of 16, Tanya gets her first job at the Flamingo in Las Vegas.  But it’s not the ballet dancing she thought she was heading to but a gig with the Nymphs of the Nile.  She uses the opportunity to make contacts that help her pursue her dream of being a movie star.  She tries to free herself from typecasting as “the bellydancer,”  but the belly dance is her way into show business and helps her repeatedly land decent small parts on Star Trek, with Elvis and a variety of other movies and TV shows. 

The process of getting booked on these shows and her relationships with other artists, both famous and unknown, who help her on her way is the most interesting part of the book. 

Tanya’s Star Trek appearance has most enabled her to capitalize on her career.  Supported by devoted Trek-ees and ubiquitous Star Trek conventions, those with a claim to the franchise and talent can prolong their name recognition and earning ability.  When you add in her attraction and brief relationship to star, Bill Shatner (Captain Kirk), this portion of her memoirs offers a lot of insider views to both the actor and the action revolving around the production of the first Star Trek series.

Another interesting encounter involves an ambiguous date with actor Omar Sharif (on my own list of “to-die-for” men).  I’ve pondered on what actually occurred: paranoia or self preservation?  And we can’t ignore Elvis.   When Tanya is invited to dance on one of his shows, she finds that Elvis was a kind and caring person. 

It made me think more highly of the “King,” a man who could have used his status to exert power over women but still remained the Southern gentleman.

Between and among her TV and movie opportunities, Tanya continued to dance in Los Angeles’ clubs like Ciro’s.   Starting with only an ethnic Russian connection, she managed to find a series of honest talent agents who had been in the business for years.  Even if the agents may have been past their prime, the industry ‘s respect, affection and trust for them, opened many doors for Tanya.   The older talent agents also exhibited a paternal attitude, which was protective.  Her story strongly delivers the importance of that first impression in the world of acting.  The opportunity for a few, precious minutes of interview or “face time” with the decision makers, can make or break a career.

Unfortunately, some entertainment industry power brokers know they can milk that desperation for a few precious minutes to gain sexual favors (i.e. sexual predators).  Over and over again, she deals with a situation recognizable to any bellydancer who’s ever worked in a club: men who make the hiring decisions and expect that buying your artistry means free access to your body.  Tanya describes the many come-ons that would sometimes blindside her, and her ability to extricate herself from unpleasant situations, even if meant losing jobs.  This is a sweet book.  Nothing new on the world of belly dance but an interesting look at one woman’s fight to build a career

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