The Gilded Serpent

GIlded Serpent presents...
I'd Like to Introduce myself.
by Najia

I'd like to introduce myself. My pen/stage name is Najia El-Mouzayen. For approximately seven or eight years of my career in Middle-eastern dance I used the name "Najia Marlyz". When I married Mr. El-Mouzayen, I took on that surname with my stage name and kept the real-life surname I already had. That should have been my first clue that the marriage was based firmly in fantasy and that the adventure had only just begun. My capacity for creative reasoning seems boundless. During the next eight years I learned more about the Middle-eastern culture than I really wanted to know, but along with the marriage came the opportunity to travel repeatedly to the Middle East. I found answers to questions I had not yet posed about the language, the customs, the music and the dance.

One would think that all this newly gained knowledge would enhance my dancing, and in some respects I can say that it did, but not in the way I would have wished if I had had my 'druthers. You see, I had begun my career and had done quite nicely for myself as Najia Marlyz. I created one of the first few dance studios in the East Bay Area of San Francisco in which I proudly featured one of the top two popular and initial teachers on the West Coast of the US, Bert Balladine. Occasionally, luminaries of whom you may have heard stepped in to teach a lesson such as: Mary Ellen Donald, Vince Delgato, Sabah Miller and Rhea Marsh (now in Greece for many years). Many well-known dancers of the time came in for workshops, events, and lessons and it was a time when what is now common place was all new and full of adventure.

After evening lessons, my more dedicated, and perhaps more foolhardy students and I crossed the bridge into San Francisco by about 10 o'clock at night, heading directly to Broadway where we sat, first at the Casbah Cabaret, and then the Baghdad Cabaret. Sometimes we added the Minerva Taverna, the Greek Taverna, and Plaka Taverna. We loved the Casbah and Baghdad because they did not serve food and each featured three dancers with live music every night. Often we were invited to the stage to dance in our street-clothes and learned to dance with live music in this fashion. The Greek places had louder live music and featured only one dancer but one could get away with out dinner by ordering a glass of retsina wine which was difficult to drink too quickly, thereby ruining our evening of cheap thrills. We learned to love the Middle Eastern music and food, ignoring the obvious impression our all-female presence presented to the Middle-Eastern families and single men we encountered in these places. Oh, my dear, do I have stories for you!

When I, silly me, married Mr. El-Mouzayen, I thought he was drawn to me by my excellent dancing, which he had profusely praised, and that he would continue to support me in my dance studio business. When I took him to an immigration attorney, he pointed at the receptionist and gazing at me with his beautiful gray-green eyes sincerely he said to me, "There is the respectable job I would wish for you!" I was annoyed. I was hurt. I was a University graduate with a Master's degree and I owned my own business. I held a teaching certificate from the University. I was a regular staff-writer for a dance publication. He wanted me to have a minimum-wage job working for a mob of downtown attorneys. I was "clueless in Berkeley".

After the dissolution of our marriage, I was free again to pursue my dance undaunted, but the onus of disrespect had so tainted the pursuit that it has been a long trip back to find what it was about Middle Eastern music and dance that so enchanted me. During the next few months, I would like to disclose some of my questionable adventures in Middle Eastern dance, and peripheral subjects at this location to give you a laugh-or possibly, something to think about.

Najia Marlyz El-Mouzayen,
A native Californian and great grand daughter of American pioneers, December 28, 1998


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