Gilded Serpent presents...
by Najia Marlyz
November 9, 1999
I started belly dancing about 1973. In late fall of 1973, I was
in the audience at the Aitos Folkdance Taverna in Berkeley
and saw Najia Marlyz dance.
That did it; I started lessons at Najia's Dancing Girl Studio
(located on Solano Avenue in Albany, California)! By the fall of
1974, I was a working dancer at the Casablanca Restaurant
in Berkeley. Before that, I had only danced in Najia's student nights
at the Casbah Cabaret
and the Bagdad.
I had learned to drum and I would sit in on musical sets at the
Next, I danced
at the Plaka Taverna. It was
just off Broadway in North beach. Plaka was a place that was popular
with tourists and the Greek sailors. The waiters there cheated on
the bills; they even tried it on me once! I made a lot in tips but
only $10 in actual pay. When the Greek ships were in port, I made
especially good tips. I danced two shows per night and made about
$50 to $100, which I considered good money at that time. The Greek
sailors were respectful to me; of course, that was because their
Greek captain was there too! As a group, Greeks treated me very
well as if I were their sister. (Unfortunately, I would have to
admit that the Arabs did not really treat me that same way.) However,
I arrived at the Plaka one night, and it had a sign, saying "Closed".
They hadn't even bothered to call me!
So, next, I started to work at the Greek
Taverna, but the owner was dishonest to me. I grabbed him
by his collar and told him that if he ever did that again, he would
have a "lot of trouble". Of course, I meant it in the
psychic mode; I don't know how he thought I meant it though. I can
look quite scary at times! I was dancing at the Greek Taverna when
it closed down also.
at the Bagdad only as a substitute dancer, but I did dance as a
regular at the Casbah Cabaret. I do not remember how long my run
was there. The musicians always played beautiful music for me because
they knew that I had trained as a musician so that we could communicate.
I got a dance job from a guest of the Bagdad. He was an Armenian,
and his party was for an Armenian New Year's Eve party in Reno,
Nevada. First, he flew me to Reno to check out the gig; then, he
sent Najia (my duena) and me airline tickets to Reno with all of
our expenses paid. I remember that I only danced one set with taped
music and everybody was happy.
to my dancing job at the Casbah.
Fadil Shahin was
always fair and kind to me. Other dancers were good to me, too,
although we didn't have much in common. The Casbah bartender, Haroun,
was always kind, generous, and safe! When he found gigs for me,
he always arranged for the taxicabs, and we shared the fees. Haroun
never misguided me, and since there were many seedy parties at that
time, that is saying something! The Doorman was George.
He had a reputation that he was able to procure all sorts of things
for people for a price, like limos and whatever. However, I felt
that I could not trust him. A really nice girl and beautiful dancer,
Sim Sim, worked at the Baghdad at that same time
and was friendly to Najia and me. She taught us beading and how
to construct a sturdy dance bra and belt set. She was what we called
then "economical in her dance" and her costumes set the
highest standard at that time. Don't forget, though, that whole
Jamila and Bal
Anat camp in black Assiute cloth and tattoos was going on at
I remember Khadija and her extensive tattoos.
She did and incredible water thing with her fingers! At the Casbah,
had the best spins; She could spin around the edge of the entire
stage with high energy and never made a misstep. Prince
M. [editor's note: Prince M., a Saudi, is deceased now.]
always sat at the first barstool. If anyone accidentally sat there,
that person was politely asked to move. Both clubs were near each
other and were pretty.. umm.well, it was Broadway and a rough district.
It was a sleazy area: it featured topless dance, and topless massage.
It was seedy in general. All of the Greek clubs had moved away by
then. Sometimes the Arabs (from I don't know which Arabic country)
would have too much to drink because they were not used to controlling
alcoholic beverages. Once, I left the stage and hid out because
one fellow was threatening. The regulars who came there were well
was paying only $10 or $15 to his dancers by then. I heard it
had started out to be $65 per night.
Dancers would get desperate and push the dollars into their underwear.
I learned to pick up paper money with my toes! Everyone saw me do
it; it was no secret. I made my hand go like a snake and my toes would
hand the money to my fingers. Dancers were on the so-called "honor
system" with their required sharing of tips. Sometimes sleazy
American tourists would wave a $100 bill in the air and say, "You
can have it if you come back later!".However, they would switch
it surreptitiously to a one-dollar bill.
Oh, I remember that at the Bagdad the dancers were required to
go onstage between sets because they usually only had two musicians.
was dancing at the Casbah about the same time I was. She was a graphic
artist and painted some wonderful illustrations of dancers for my
column in "The Bellydancer Magazine". Didn't she also
do an oil painting bust of you, Najia, with the cat, Bast, as an
illustration for an edition of Cleopatra? [Yes, she did, it had
evil green eyes, instead of brown like my own.-Najia] From Najia
who was her teacher, Mara had learned how to turn six quarters individually
into patterns using only her abdominal muscles. She was quite famous
for that-along with her sensual dancing. Do you remember, Najia;
was it quarters or silver dollars? [Hers were quarters. I turned
only five silver Egyptian coins, which were larger and fit my muscle
configuration as my special contribution to the fine art of dance-
though that hardly made our presentations "authentic."-Najia]
As a dancer,
I was Taka, but nobody knew I was also the mysterious Princess
Astra who wrote an astrological column for belly dancers
in "The Bellydancer Magazine". Do you remember it? We
had a publicity photo of me reclining, wearing real Persian chardor
along with high-heeled shoes! You can use that photo if you can
find it. All you could see in the photo was my general shape. Nobody
knew who Princess Astra was, and nobody had ever seen her dance.
Also, Princess Astra never appeared in public. We had a formula
for writing the column: tips on costume design and dance style based
on each month's astrological charts. I was designing and selling
beaded costumes at the time.
At that same
time, (about the mid-1970s) I corresponded with a prisoner who was
in a penitentiary in Ohio or somewhere in the mid-west of the U.S.
We were "pen-pals". He sent me poems he had written and
observations about his life for a couple of years. No, he wasn't
on death row; it was just something minor! He was writing to "Princess
Astra" who seemed to him to embody all things beautiful and
Now that I
am thinking about it again, I am just so thankful that I came through
those times relatively unscathed, considering the drugs and alcohol
that were happening back then. I received good treatment from most
people. Nonetheless, I looked out for myself; I carried a pair of
flat shoes for leaving the clubs at night so that I could run quickly
if I needed to get off the dark streets.
dressing rooms in the clubs:
They were usually very small and all three dancers would be in there
at once, dressing and applying their make-up. Well, the women's
restroom was even worse.
had many student nights and always asked visitor dancers on stage
to dance to the live music for five minutes. He always knew everything
that went on in his club. He had elaborate head and eye gestures
with the bartender to communicate from stage.
was a Persian bar where I danced in the Persian style. It was a
small neighborhood bar on a street off Lombard. It wasn't in business
long, but they had a Persian santur musician there.
I worked for Mike at the Pasha
but only at Christmas time and I had to dance to taped music. I
got large tips there and had to dance in shoes because of the beads
in the carpet. Mike rarely worried about vacuuming the carpet. I
was working over in the East Bay at that time and seldom danced
in San Francisco or North Beach again.
extraordinary thing about these clubs, and their absolute magnetism
was the live music.
artists of Middle
Eastern music visited (who happened to be there for fifteen minutes).
Conversely, my worst memory was walking into the club just as the
doors opened to the stench of stale smoke, alcohol, body odors,
and stale perfumes and colognes. We all had to wear strong perfume
to lessen the impact of that stale air! It was attractive and repulsive
at the same time.
did art with a capital "A" to justify being in the whole
environment, to explore the "dark side" of entertainment,
and the shady dealings in the Arabic and Greek communities.
There was an
association; you risked your reputation by being a part of the clubs.
Many girls were in denial about what they were doing there. Broadway
and environs was a "sex boulevard" with cultural ethnic-based
clubs set right in the middle!
a comment? Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
or Art? by Najia Marlyz
It is possible to be an artiste in a non-art form in the sense that
one may be skilled, professional and artistic at the business of
The North Beach Project
by Najia Marlyz
I took leave before I was invited to leave.
Dance Emotion, Part 1 by
"The place of dance is within the heart."
The Greek Scene
There were the usual politics at the Taverna, of course,
and if management felt that a dancer was holding back on her tips,
she rarely made another appearance.
The Taverna Athena
#15 by Aziza!
I didn’t see just how it happened, but evidently a couple
of brothers from Cyprus were hired to put the Taverna out of business.