ad 4 MaryEllen


ad 4 Artemis

ad 4 Adira Costumes

ad 4 Dhy & Karen

-In memory of my fascinating muse,
Kaethe Kliot, "Lacis", Berkeley
Gilded Serpent Presents..
Lace and My Muses:
Everything Old Becomes New Again

Section 1, Part Two

by Najia Marlyz
July 5, 2004

Antique laces, with their delicate, fine, creamy twisted threads, and the heavier tea-tinted Victorian versions, were among the irresistible and compelling temptations set before me by my earthly muses.  They renewed my faith in the childhood belief that I could become anything I dreamed I could be. As a young girl, I had dreamed of becoming a dancer, not the Kindergarten teacher I had become as a pragmatic young woman. 

Now it was the ancient, exotic art of Belly dancing and my fantasies of the bizarre life of a Belly dancer that smoked incense into my heart.  All of the fantasy and romance that dance held out to me was made attainable and encouraged by my close Berkeley friends, Kaethe and Jules Kliot and their children. None of us had any notion the year we all met that I, a fairly colorless young woman of 27, due to their influence, would recreate my life into the colorful adventure that has become my unlikely career in dance.

The Kliots fostered my admiration for reclaimed antique laces and other types of handwork through their own fascination and obsession with it. They motivated and inspired me to explore artistic expression and some of the performance arts.  I hoped only that I might become flamboyant enough to actually wear a particularly glamorous bias-cut, black, form-clinging dress that had found its way into my closet from one of my Sunday group forays to a large nearby "Flea Market" with the Family Kliot. The 1930s spaghetti strap dress had no lace on it, but it was studded with tiny, tiny, rhinestones throughout. It was unlike anything I had ever worn before.

I cannot imagine what prompted me to haggle for it at the flea market, except that a Hollywood starlet had worn the Carole Lombard-style dress.  I was irresistibly drawn to it and bought it on a whim because my mother's older sister had been a starlet in the silent movies, and she had traveled the world wearing her glamorous clothing. 

I secretly identified with my aunt and her lifestyle, which, of course, our family considered wild.  Unforgivably wild!  Perhaps they only disapproved because my aunt had graced her life with five consecutive husbands and a stable full of winning Arabian racehorses.

However, the force that drew me back to my interest in the arts, and ultimately, forward into the art of dance and other fantasy adventures, was not my aunt!  Instead, Kaethe and her husband became my natural and very human muses, entering into my life as two intertwined parts, like the yin and yang symbol many of us wore in the '60s. Meeting them seemed to me to have been foreordained because their friendship and mentoring became a pivotal point for radical change in my life.  The time I spent with them provided me a lifelong inspiration for exploring unusual things and has prompted my quest to become noticeably unique in whatever activity I take on: not just including dance, but especially dance.

I am indebted to them, and now believe that I can only attempt to repay them by channeling my dance students into private searches of their own similar to mine for: artistry, uniqueness, unrelenting resourcefulness, and the ruthless belief that you can attain whatever you can dream with clear vision and extraordinary focus.

At the time we met them, my husband and I had purchased a piece of residential property overgrown with Poison Oak on the upper west rim of Wildcat Canyon next to Berkeley.  The property was about ten minutes away from the politically tumultuous campus of the University of California at Berkeley, where I had studied art and design as an undergraduate student just a scant five years before. I had returned, seeking my Master's degree, and I was hoping to find a new direction for my life.

I did not simply find my new direction, but formed it for myself deliberately out of Silly Putty, a little talent, and my own very palpable daydreams.  I definitely did not find it in the sciences at the University!

My husband and I searched for an innovative architect for our proposed home on the canyon's edge.  After one false beginning, we found Jules Kliot for our architect, and we were convinced that we had found exactly the right person: a particularly free spirited artist/photographer/architect.  He had taken up creating both new and found art by combining many inter-related arts, crafts, and skills. The Kliots, Kaethe and Jules, made and sold objects that they had, in one way or another, repaired, recycled, reclaimed, and/or refurbished.  They were a vivacious couple, inquisitive, daring and extremely capable craftwork experts (or if they weren't, they quickly became so through research, and occasionally, even trial and error).   It was a time of sparkling Kismet and self-discovery for me!

I enrolled in a couple of Kaethe's handwork instructional workshops, such as tapestry weaving for neophytes, and quickly came to regard handcrafted objects as significant forms of art, similar to the graphic arts, simply because they both regarded it as such. Eventually, they taught me how to recognize and appreciate fine handwork from various parts of the world, but moreover, for both of them, everything became an artistic opportunity!  One of the first skills Kaethe taught me was how to build what she called "a decent sand castle" on the beach. that is, after she had pierced my ears and complained repeatedly that I did not know how to dress myself for personality or any sense of style. 

The two of them seemed almost magical to me, and over an extended period of years, their influence instigated a radical transformation of my life. They were often my sources of inspiration to reach new heights in ideas and skills I had previously thought unattainable and/or frivolous.

In the sense that they became my mentors and my encouragement for creative endeavors, they became my human muses for the arts. They pushed me headlong into the world of dance through my longing to actually utilize some of the beautiful handcrafts that we had found together.

Often, I was invited to tag along with their family and participate in quixotic adventures, finding examples of the recycled, skillfully handmade objects of lace, art, and other collectables in estate sales, auctions, flea markets, and even dumpster diving and beach gleaning, too. Whatever we found and brought home was usually complex and intricate handwork that had been discarded decades before the modernism that comprised the usually tacky '60s world of tie-dyed Berkeley.

From time to time, when Kaethe complained that I didn't know how to dress myself correctly, I hated to admit it, but I knew that she was right.  I actually feared doing much of anything that I considered flamboyant!

The two of them dared me and both scoffed at my hesitancy to wear some of the beautiful, sexy, glamorous vintage dresses and other vintage garments that we found and purchased on some of our daytrips.  Eventually, I relented; I did wear them.  I even wore them to Safeway.

In a Benicia antique store on the Delta of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers, I found a cream-colored, fine wool opera cape with real handmade bobbin lace panels, rows of little handcrafted tassels and two over-sized decorative tassels on the chest!  I purchased and wore the exotic cape everywhere! The proprietor of the antique store who sold me the ornate garment told me that it had belonged to the wife of a captain of a Sacramento River paddle-wheeled steamboat who wore the fancy cape to the San Francisco opera.  I wore it less often after a woman stopped me while I shopped at Safeway grocery store and inquired politely,

 "Oh, Miss! Just what is that costume that you are wearing supposed to be?"

Included among our finds were: dresses, blouses, nightgowns and other intimate apparel of silk, cotton, or linen from a time long since past.  Commonly, they had bits of fine lace incorporated and were soft, airy and free of spandex and elastic. (Usually there were little mother of pearl buttons and finely braided ribbon drawstrings where we now employ elastics, Velcro fasteners, snaps, and plastic buttons.) 

Kaethe, with her large pale blue eyes and photogenic high cheekbones, had come to America from Cologne, Germany.

One of the landmark thrills of my dance career happened when I was able to send Kaethe a couple of picture postcards from her birth city, Cologne (Koln).  I had emulated Kaethe in some respects, and I hoped that she would be pleased that I had taken my dance to her hometown.

As far away as I was, still I felt close to her in the late '80s when I went to Koln and to Berlin to teach dance workshops and master-classes during a three or four-year period, sponsored by German dance teachers. 

Kaethe shared with me, and others who were interested in handmade and vintage items, some of her European gained knowledge of how to care for delicate, aging fabrics to restore them to life. (Please see Part One of this article where I have discussed the care of Assiut cloth that is used in dance.)  Together, we all attended art museums and galleries, and in the museum pieces we viewed, Kaethe pointed out to me how old hand work of gold fabric had been laid out thread-by-thread and "couched" with fine red threads to create its design. I learned how to recognize the difference between hand-worked lace and machined lace and also hand embroidery from machined embroidery.

Jules taught me how to design and make artistic and one-of-a-kind carpets for my new home using shards and remnants from the carpet mills, new backing, and pounds of liquid latex. The walls of my newly constructed home were starkly white and they seemed to beg me for collections of interesting things like a ravenous art gallery.  I, too, was a stark white wall and more than ready for almost any life adventure to begin.

My first adventure arose as a dared opportunity for me to teach a women's exercise class at the Berkeley YMCA as a stand-in for the original instructor who went to live in Israel for a year.  My two earthbound muses encouraged me to take on the challenge, make of it something unique and individual, and stamp it with my personality.  So, I did, even if I did drag my feet at first, because I had thought of myself as a teacher for children only.  I had decided that exercises should be choreographed and set to music rather than counting out the repetitions, as was the practice of the time.  I re-named it "Dancercise" a name and format that has been shared by many exercise teachers since then.  A year later, in 1969, Kaethe and Jules were both present the day I opened my new class for women that was all my own at the Albany YMCA.

One teaching venue led to another, until I had amassed a whole phalanx of parks and recreation departments where I taught my exercise regime, twelve or more hours per week.  That was a lot of exercise!  I challenged my "exercise ladies" to become and look like exotic women: to work out in colorful leotards, to wear, and even make, handcrafted jewelry. (It was still the '60s and the word "ladies" was not considered a pejorative term then.)   So I made and wore it myself to my workout classes.   I made every attempt to interest my clientele in concocting a fabulously daring, colorful, and ethnic personal appearance -just as Kaethe urged and prodded me to do for my image. 

These were meager beginnings, I know, and perhaps they will not seem extraordinary to anyone now, but I had set my feet on a path toward an enduring love of handcrafted articles that influenced my early Belly dance costuming and translated it into dancing my fingers in a new way. The era was a time of growth, learning and expansion for me, and all of us became inextricably embroiled in the ideas generated by the resurgence of handcrafts, design, and reclamation of handwork produced and nearly forgotten in earlier decades -in some cases, earlier centuries! I was awakening to finely made handcrafts rather late in life; after all, I was already twenty-seven years old and I could not wear my Carole-Lombard dress to exercise lessons.  I needed something more!

In Part Three of Lace and My Muses I will show you photos of some of the ways in which we dancers created our home-grown costuming for dance in the '60s and '70s reclaiming, recycling, and quite literally, making everything old new again.

(I consider this article another picture postcard that I'm sending out to honor my mentor and muse, Kaethe, who died two years ago, August of 2002; this time, it is she who is far away, yet close at the same time, an integrated part of my life. -Najia Marlyz) 

Have a comment? Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?
6-15-04 Lace and My Muses Part 1: Egyptian Mummy Lace or “Assiute Cloth”

I fastened around my hips a white Assuite cloth encrusted with gold knots throughout, forming pictographs of falcons, pyramids, crosses, and diamond shaped designs.
4-9-04 Who Died and Made You Queen of Dance? by Najia Marlyz
This lack of background basic performing experience would be unheard of and un-tolerated in any other dance form.

12-24-03 Dancing Inside Out by Najia Marlyz
The state of Oriental Dance in America, as it is most often seen today in festivals and restaurants, is at a crossroads of change from which there will be no way to return.

8-2-04 A Whole Latte' Shaking Going On, Belly Dance Comics by Alexandria
"Ok, I think we can stop now!"

7-27-04 Belly Dance Superstars at DNA Lounge page 2, photos by Lynette
More eye candy! Performing in one of the most trendy clubs in San Francisco!

7-21-04 Leila, An American Dancer in Cairo by Catherine Barros,
She would walk into these huge ballrooms filled with thousands of people with a huge stage in the middle of the room while television cameras on cranes are taking note of everything.


ad 4 Neon


ad 4 Fahtiem

ad 4 Casbah Dance

ad 4 oasis dance company

ad 4

  ad 4

 Gilded Serpent
 Cover page, Contents, Calendar Comics Bazaar About Us Letters to the Editor Ad Guidelines Submission Guidelines