Serpent presents... Jodette:
Undeniably Authentic by Sausan
Jodette, a self-made highly spirited woman
whose mother was from Palestine and father from the South of
greeted me warmly, as she usually does, into her sunny Sacramento
home. How long had it been, I wondered, since I stood in front
of her on my first day of class many years ago in her El Camino
Real studio. Was it 35 years, now? How remarkable that we had
stayed in touch all of these years! Standing less than five feet
tall, Jodette appears larger than her actual stature. She was
quick to usher me inside where
at the front part of her house, a large room -- once her dance
studio -- was now filled with blankets, shoes, clothing and other
items. At the back of her house, a computer is set up along
with a sewing area, and living space. Her dog -- a Pug -- and
cat were also there to greet me. “Can I make you some Arabic
couscous?” “Of course,” I answered. “What about something to
drink?” she asked.
My father had been in North Africa during the war, and some
LPs he had brought back had intrigued me. These were record albums
that depicted exotically dressed women displayed on their front
covers. So, by the time I was old enough to take a deeper interest
in these photos, I found my subconscious quest would lead me
to find out more about the dance these beautiful women were dressed
for. – what I was told it was called “Belly dance” back then.
In 1974, after researching the dance for more than two years,
I picked up the Yellow Pages and turned to the dance section,
and there I saw Jodette’s ad. I didn’t know back then how lucky
I was to have happened specifically upon her ad and not some
other ad. For all I knew, she was a Belly dancer that matched
the ones on my father's LPs; she was Middle Eastern from the
Middle East, and if anyone would know how to teach the dance,
it would be Jodette.
Jodette sat next to me and, true to her persona, began
speaking excitedly and enthusiastically about her life. “I
have over 400 students! Twenty-six of them are professional
dancers. And, I have fourteen
restaurants in my hand.”
I looked at her in awe. Such a triumph
and show of success, I thought, for someone who, at a very young
age, immigrated to the United States in the late 1950s without
any knowledge or command of the English language and without
any familiarity of the American culture or way of life.
do students go against their own teacher,” Jodette continued
, “and spread ugly rumors?” I looked at her
a shook my head. It's a lament that I, too, have experienced
from time to time as teacher of this dance.
Jodette is somewhat of an enigma
to the Western culture. When she was six months old, her father
kidnapped her from her mother in Jordan and took her with him
to Egypt. She was soon found and returned to her mother, but
was kidnapped again by her father when she was seven years old.
For the next three years, she lived with the Ghawazi learning
their dance and their customs and celebrating life along with
them before returning again to her mother. These three years
would make such an imprint on Jodette that, when she became of
age, she took off for Cairo to make a name for herself as Camillia in
the newly established Egyptian film industry.
While in Cairo, she met Badiya Al Masabni,
owner of a nightclub, who would later produce such dancers as Taheyia Karioka, Samia
Gamal, and Na’eema Akef, and also helped
to launch the careers of many now famous Egyptian musicians such
as Fareed Al Atrash. While Badiya Al Masabni
refused to put Jodette on the dance stage because of her youthful
age, she nonetheless welcomed her in her visits to sit next to
her for a short while; and later, under her protection, ordered
her driver, Mahmoud, to take Jodette home.
But Jodette would hear nothing of walking away from fame and
fortune in the film industry. While in Cairo, Jodette went on
to appear in over 400 hundred movies as an extra and in over
100 movies with small speaking parts, often with Fareed
Al Atrash, Mohamed Abd El Wahab, Katie, Samia and other
now famous actors and dancers. Such movies include “Kariat
Al Osha” (Village of the Lovers), Benat Fil Patinag (Girls
in the Skating Rink), Arba’a Binat fil Ginena
el Haywanat (Four Girls in the Zoo), “Fi Sihatak”
(To Your Health), “La Anam” (I Don’t Sleep), and “Du
el Mazahaa” (Beat the Drum). While in Cairo, when she was
not on the set, she would head for the district of Zamalek to
find out where the weddings were being held, and then go to the
weddings and dance along side Taheyia Karioka and Samia Gamal
among others, getting to know them personally at these events.
Jodette, at that time, made anywhere from 10 to 30 jinneh for
one wedding (approximately $50 to $150).
Hussein of Jordan;
a personally signed picture of him, by him, to her.
Jodette recalls one time in her life when she was only 16 years
old: “I was dancing at the Andalus Cabaret in Iraq. King
Faisil was then ruler, and he would go to the nightclub
to watch the dancers. King Faisil liked me very much and the
owner of the cabaret was very jealous of his attention towards
me. She was so jealous that she wanted to kill me! Her big brother
secretly approached me one night and told me that I had better
get out of the building, or I would die that night.” Jodette
left that evening and never returned.
In a prearranged marriage, Jodette was slated to marry the first
movie director, Mohamed El Tougi, a man who
was also certified by Hollywood, but she ran away from that marriage.
“He had a lot of money, but he was old and ugly.” She said chuckling
under her breath.
In the late 1950s, Jodette left Cairo and went back to Aman,
Jordan, where she was often invited to dance for King
Hussein. At that time, she was the only female in the
Kingdom of Jordan who sang and danced, and King Hussein enjoyed
her performances. With a far away look of nostalgia, Jodette
reminisced of her time in Aman and of King Hussein. “His Majesty,
King Hussein, would travel to Ramahla to make a speech. I would
be escorted by many soldiers to entertain him. It was very
often travel to Beirut, Lebanon, (as did many of her dance
colleagues) to dance in the nightclubs
in Beirut, Jodette met the love of her life, then Prince
Mubarak of Kuwait. "I
met the prince in a birthday party.
prince was coming from London, and he had no time to change
into his traditional
thought he was the driver for another prince who was there. After
I sang and danced, he asked if he could give me a ride to my
pension. I said to him, ‘Maybe you will get in trouble
if you give me a ride.’ He knew that I was thinking he
was a driver, so he told me, 'No, I will take permission from
my master.' He took me to my pension. The next night,
I was supposed to dance and sing at Tanio's in Beirut
in the nightclub. After I finished my number, the owner
of the club asked me to come with him to introduce me to the
Prince of Kuwait whose father was the ruler of the country at
that time. I went with him, and when I saw the prince,
I was shocked! The same man that I saw one night before! He
asked me to sit down with him and his guests. Since that
night, we became very good friends. We both loved each
other very much, but because I couldn't marry him, I left the
Middle East for America."
click for larger image
A "love" letter from Prince Mubarak to Jodette.
Note: Judith and Jodette are derivatives of the same
a letter and showed it to me. It was
a letter from the prince. "He also couldn't marry
me. The tradition was that he had to marry his cousin,
but we kept writing till he died. I kept all of his letters." Jodette
and the prince met twice before his death; once in France and
the last time in London, "exactly where we used to meet
when we were young." Jodette gazed at the letter and
then placed it back into its envelope. "That's the
only man I ever loved in my life besides my teen love; he died
one year before my husband, and I will always think about him
as long as I live. I remember when he saved my life...but
this is another story."
In 1959, Jodette became weary of her hectic life. “I was sick of the stress,
and I was so much in love with the prince [Prince Mubarak] that I wanted to get
away.” Jodette met her husband, Carl Johnson, in Beirut, Lebanon,
where they married and moved to the United States.
1965, Jodette taught her very first class at the University
of Davis. She was called by the University to
teach dance and culture to 50 eager students. She later taught
at the YWCA and at a location in Sutter Street in San Francisco.
“I would take my reel-to-reel tape recorder with me and teach
dancing with that thing!”
1962, Jodette became the first in the country to teach authentic
Belly dance as
she had learned
it and danced it in her native land. Her first real studio was
in her home where she now housed the many blankets and clothing
items I had walked past earlier that day. She later moved her
studio to a new location on El Camino Real in Sacramento. It
was at this location where I first met her. She eventually
closed that studio to opened one at 23rd and K Streets.
A location at Arden Way in Sacramento soon found her much success,
and the studio on at 23rd and K Street soon moved
to 22nd and K Street where she enjoys teaching classes
also quite the advocate for the homeless! “Whatever made you
want to help the homeless?” I asked. Jodette
her story: “We were diving back home to Sacramento from Hollywood
to sell our home. I had just signed a contract with Essa
Mohamed to dance in his nightclub, The Egyptian
Garden, located on Sunset Boulevard. On the way to Sacramento,
I was involved in a terrible accident. I ended up in the hospital
with almost every bone in my body broken. The doctors did
not have much hope for me being able to walk again. Everyday,
I would wake up to find myself lying in my bed unable to move.
My neighbors would come to help me everyday . I would talk to
God and say that if I could walk again, that if I had a piece
of bread, I would give half of that piece of bread to someone
who needed it.
serving food to the homeless
“There was one day that my neighbors said they would not be
able to come because they had to go to church. So, they invited
me to go with them so that I would not have to stay in bed by
myself all day long. They got me into a wheelchair and drove
me to the church. Of course, I did not know what they were saying
as they were all speaking in Spanish.
Then the priest came up to me and started praying.
He kept praying and then told me to take his hand. I did
not want to. I did not think I could walk, but he kept telling
me to take his hand, and so, I did. I put one foot in front
and then the other.” Within two years, Jodette was walking
and dancing again.
Jodette’s husband died suddenly in
the 1989, and for four years she stopped teaching, grieving for
the loss of her husband. During this time, she relied heavily
on her students to run the studio. She also opened Café Morocco on
Alhambra Boulevard, which was the first Arabic restaurant in
Sacramento. She has since sold the restaurant, concentrating
more on teaching dance.
tireless commitment and devotion to the homeless has not gone
unnoticed. True to her promise to
her God, she wakes
up early in the mornings and drives to Sam’s Club, Lawn and Fishes,
Smart & Final, and the Food Bank where she received bags
and boxes of donations in the form of clothing, food, blankets
and other items which that she stores in the front end of her
home in her first dance studio. Then every night, before heading
to her dance studio, she drives these items to the over 800 homeless
who are camped out beneath bridges or under the overpasses or
at the river’s edge and gives these much need items to them.
She is known in Sacramento as the Belly Dancer with a Heart of
Gold and has been written up in the Sacramento Bee as
well the Land Park News. She was recently featured on
KCRA television regarding her helping the homeless [see vid clip
May she holds a benefit for the homeless and gives the proceeds
to alleviate their plight.
Jodette is a first for many things:
She is the first Middle Easterner to teach
authentic Belly dance in the United States.
She is the first authentic Belly dancer to
dance at the Cal Expo World’s Fair. Although Little Egypt was
the first Middle Easterner to dance at the 1893 World's Fair,
Jodette was the first Middle Eastern Dancer in the Twentieth
Century to dance in the 1974 World’s Fair in Spokane Washington
for three months.
She was the very first to teach at the YWCA
and at two colleges,
The first to open an authentic Belly dance
studio in the United States, and
The first to produce an “Arabian Night” show
that featured a story about Cleopatra and Mark Anthony in the
Sacramento State Fair.
She was the first in the U.S. to dance with
introduced "Beladi" dance
before any other dancer in the United States.
She was the first to put on a Belly dance
festival in Sacramento in 1973.
was recently featured on KCRA television regarding her
helping the homeless
Both of these dances, shamadan and Beladi, she did at the Casbah,
then located on Broadway Street in San Francisco, owned by Fadil
Shahin. She was also a periodic dancer and
once an honored guest during a birthday party given in her honor
at the Bagdad, also
located then on Broadway Street, owned by Yussef and Elias.
Jodette has also danced for many dignitaries including former
presidents Ronald Reagan, Billy Carter, Richard Nixon, and Anwar
Sadat. She also danced for the Gamal Abd
El Nasser Group for the Freedom Day as well as numerous
times for King Hussain and King Faisil.
She has danced all over the world in the most famous of nightclubs,
including The Fez and the Egyptian
Hollywood. For 18 years, Jodette sold costumes without competition.
I feel extremely fortunate to have studied first with Jodette.
Because of her affiliation both professional and friendly with
the dancers of the Golden Age of Egypt, she introduced me not
only to the most perfect dance in the whole world, but to the
world of Taheyia Karioka, Samia Gamal, Katie, Mohamed
Abdel Wahab, Fareed Al Atrash, Om Kalsoum,
and Abd El Halim Hafez as well as numerous well-known
Egyptian actors with whom she spent many hours talking and enjoying
their company while living in Cairo. Because of the authenticity
of her dance, I have gone on to discover and describe the Egyptian
Dance Code-- the specific element
that makes her dance look authentic when compared to that of
reign as a Belly dance teacher, she encountered several legal
oppositions from some of the
rival Belly dance
teachers. However, in the end, she always won her cases. One
such opposition was an accusation that she had taken the name "Bal
Anat" from a rival teacher and used it for her own troupe. "I
never took that name. I don't even know what it means." Jodette
says, "I named my troupe Binti Balady which
means Daughter of my Country." Binti Balady, the name
she chose, was taken from a song written by her very good friend Fareed
Al Atrash. The song was featured in a movie sung
by Fareed himself and another good friend, Taheyia Karioka, danced
to it. Another opposition she encountered included a finger
the proof of Jodette's poster being the most authentic and
not just a copy of one that was already
in print, as evidenced by a similar poster she had brought back
with her from the Middle East, Jodette, won her case in court,
and, again, placed her mark on the Belly dance walk of fame as
being the real thing and the most authentic. How could anyone
all, Jodette was and is a prodigy of her country in which
the dance originated and she learned
it from the women of that country. How authentic and
real can one become?
fiercely entrenched in loyalty and principal, two aspects of
her native culture out of which she
she expects nothing less from her students. Because of
this ethos, she has engaged with and maintains strong connections
to the owners of the local Middle Eastern restaurants that promote
Belly dance entertainment to their dining guests, sending only
her most loyal and best dancers to dance in them.
negotiations are strictly between her and the people involved,
and all perform and act according
stipulations contractually and in an agreeable manner. The
dancers have the opportunity to dance in restaurants and
nightclubs, and the owners feature her best.
the dancers outside Jodette’s studio, this mode of operation
may not seem favorable,
times, Jodette has become the brunt of slander and denigration
because of this. However, for a Middle Eastern immigrant
with little to no knowledge of the goings-on of the Western culture,
Jodette has proven to be a formidable adversary with whom to
deal with. Just as she expects loyalty from her students,
she maintains it with the people with whom she does business
with simply because they understand each other, having come from
the same culture and from the same part of the globe. Character
assassinations by dancers not affiliated with Jodette's studio
only strengthens Jodette's resolve to keep control over what
she has worked for these many years. There is much more
than just the dance one can learn from Jodette!
order form and ad that appeared in Cosomopolitan magazine
for her records
by three sons, three grand daughters, one grand son, and four
great grand daughters, Jodette enjoys
the fruits of
her teaching labors watching her own grand daughters dance. One
of them is one of the 26 professional dancers that contracts
out to perform in several of the fourteen restaurants under Jodette's
Says Jodette after almost 45 years in the business of teaching
Belly dancing, “Many hundreds went out of business because they
brought jazz into the dance. I’m still in business because I
am the only authentic dancer and dance teacher around.” Who can
deny that? She is from over there, and the people from over there
taught her. She is the real thing. When I asked her what she
would say to the up-and-coming generation of dancers, she had
this to say:
“Be humble. Be yourself. Don’t get jealous of other
people. Clean your mind before you dance. Smile, smile, smile!
Stay clean and clear, and if you have a piece of extra bread,
divide it between you and a hungry person. Don’t wish for
money, wish for health!”
for more? 3-8-07 Nakish-
An inteview with "The Lady with the Eyes" by Sausan I
worked hardest for the dancers in San Francisco to wipe out the
discrimination factor and to make sure that all cultures were
included in the performance of this dance.
BDSS Experience and Miles Copeland; Doing What He Does
Best by Sausan Even though Miles Copeland’s vision is similar
to that of mine and the majority of belly dancers I have canvassed
in my lifetime, he and I differ in our mission approach to elevating
the dance, and this is where the discussion became a heated debate.
in North Beach by Sausan On the occasions when the door was still locked, I
was often invited to drink coffee next door, where young girls
made their money stripping.
12-12-99 AT LONG LAST-HERE IT IS!North Beach Memories! Please join us as we travel
back in time to the North Beach district of San Francisco between
the years 1957 through 1985. We'll read about a vibrant
period of Middle Eastern Dance and Music Performance as presented
in our interviews with musicians, dancers, and club owners who created
this exciting history. Amina, Saida
Asmar, Aziza, Dahlena, Fadil, Najia, Shamira, Taka, Vince
into Womanhood by Elizabeth Artemis Mourat Our
mission, as women, is to encourage others to joyfully anticipate
all the decades of their lives. Those who have gone before us have
always and will always help us on our paths.
Dancing in Estonia by Ines Karu As
in the rest of the world, the Egyptian style of belly dance is
the most popular one in Estonia. Most of the instructors and dancers
are specialized in that style. The American Tribal Style Belly
Dance is also becoming more known each day. The general impression
of belly dance in Estonia is glamorous, feminine, luxurious, modern
and elegant. It’s a time where Estonian dancers can truly say that
they can be proud to be a Middle Eastern dance artist in Estonia.
Fest 2008, Saturday May,17 2008, Sebastopol, CA photos
and video by Lynette Event
Produced by BlackSheep BellyDance and held in the Sebastolpol Community
Center, photos and performance clips of Hahbi’Ru, Unmata,
Sexy Scallywags, Romka, Tempest, Clandestine, Titanya, RockRose,
Complete Performance Bag by Anna The
performance bag is that ONE practical and necessary accessory that
aids in the creation of that ideal performance environment.