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Tahya of Fort Collins
Gilded Serpent presents...
The Traveling Costumer
by Aziza!

#22 in a series - a history of bellydancing in (and out of) the San Francisco area, as told by Aziza!

More customers!  New horizons!  Travel!  That's what we needed!  Sales of costumes and accessories at Ginny's dance studio in Sebastopol were okay.  The costumes I made and the scarves and such that she had to sell had found an interested market - just not a very big one.  We also sold an acceptable amount at the local functions, such as the Rakkasah Festival, that we attended with our wares.  Then one day in 1983 we got a flyer in the mail - a woman in Fort Collins, Colorado, named Tahya was putting on a dance event that would draw from several western states. 

We started thinking about the possibility of packing up our goods and actually traveling somewhere to sell!  We got in touch with Tahya, reserved some space in her marketplace, and we were set to go!

Since Ginny had the larger car - a little yellow Honda "woody" wagon - we decided to go in that.  We packed it so full we could hardly breathe, and we still had to tie the biggest racks on the top.  It must have looked pretty funny!  The Beverly Hillbillies meet the Glitter Queens!  Off we went to Colorado - a trip that was an adventure in itself.

We had a great time at the event, selling a lot of our inventory, meeting new people who became friends (that's where I first met Suzanna del Vecchio) and seeing interesting sights.  The dancing in Colorado was a little different from what we were used to on the West Coast (a little more enthusiastic, a little more naļve, a little less progressive), and that was interesting, too.  We stayed in a dorm room on campus, and we both had trouble sleeping, as we were overwhelmed with sadness in that room.  We later learned that its last tenant had been a girl who committed suicide - an unsettling but explanatory story.

Aziza! posing with Jason in '85

On our way home from Colorado, we stopped in Salt Lake City at Yasamina's dance studio.  She had heard of me from somewhere and had called me at home before our trip, at which time we had made arrangements for our visit.  Yas turned out to be a charming woman, and her students were delighted with our wares, so it was a good stop all around.  Also at that time we met Jason Roque, who was later to become Yas's husband - though he didn't know it yet!  They invited us to vend and dance at their Belly Dance Festival in August - it would be their second annual - and we accepted with alacrity.

And so began my annual trips to Utah!  I have been selling costumes at the Festival every year since 1983, and it is like a second family for me there - people have been warm and friendly and I just love to visit!  Our first trip or two was not, however, without incident.  The Festival has always been held outside, generally in a public park, though the first few were in a different park from the one that has become home to the event.  The first year we set up under the trees - lots of racks and goods piled on tables - it took quite a while to display it all. 

It came down much more quickly, however, when there was a sudden wind/dust storm!  Ginny was on stage, dancing, and she said later that she could see the wind coming across the park almost like a solid wall of dust and trash! 

People leaped into action to try to preserve all the vendors' goods - every booth had a dozen people helping to get stuff under cover - in our case, jammed into that little Honda!  In a short time the storm passed and we were able to set up the booth again - but what excitement! 

I think the person most excited was the girl who was trying on a costume in our portable dressing room when it blew over..

The second year we went, there was thunder, lightning and rain - a standard occurrence at the Festival.  The show went on, however, as it usually does in spite of whatever the weather comes up with.  The musicians were under shelter and most of the stage was pretty dry.  When I danced, I did manage to find a slick, wet spot on the stage, and my feet flew out from under me, dumping me unceremoniously on my rear!  Well, I was full of adrenaline and I had on several skirts, which sort of cushioned my landing, so I just got up, said to the horrified musicians, "That was the latest San Francisco style Turkish Drop," and continued to do the rest of my show.  Ginny had borrowed Lara's Ghawazi costume and learned our routines, so we were able to give Salt Lake City its first exposure to Ghawazi dancing.  As we also taught classes every year at the Festival (they have always presented a lineup of teachers), I was able to teach some of it that year, too.

Aziza! & Adam at the Salt Lake City Festival in 1990

The Festival continued to grow and thrive.  After a while, Ginny and I stopped dancing while we were there, as it was too hard to run the booth and be ready to dance well.  We did, however, continue to teach classes during the show, and eventually we made an extra trip to Utah every year a month or two before the Festival - we would teach some classes and sell costumes so people could have something new to wear to perform at the Big Do.   Then Ginny moved to Reno, so it wasn't so easy to go together - she started taking her daughter Kelly with her, and I took my son Adam.  It is a bonus having Adam there, as he provides excellent booth security, and he is so tall that he could reach the upper frame of the tent without a ladder to put up the lights for the evening hours.  (The Roques had long since realized the advantages of including the price of a tent in the booth fee to protect the vendors from the yearly rains and all.)   Some years ago Ginny quit going (as she quit her business) and now just Adam and I travel to Utah every year.  The most exciting thing, I think, was once when lightning struck a big tree just across the parking lot from us!  It made the air sizzle and it was the loudest sound I have ever heard!

For the twentieth anniversary of the Festival, Yas and Jason moved it up into the mountains just outside of Salt Lake City, to the Snowbird resort.  It felt like the event had grown up!  It was a gorgeous setting and certainly much cooler than down in town!  My favorite thing that happened while we were there was that the first evening there was a concert somewhere outside on the grounds.  They were playing the "1812 Overture", and when the time came at the end for the "cannons" to fire, thunder broke out in the mountains and really made it exciting!  Away from the middle of Salt Lake we didn't have to worry about the park people - pilferage had been a problem down in the park - but it also meant that there was a lower attendance. 

The very high  altitude was a problem for some dancers, especially those from the sea level San Francisco Bay Area, for instance.  There was always an ambulance with oxygen standing by.

Stage at Snowbird in 1998
There were problems dealing with the management of Snowbird, but the Roques persevered for three years there.  We vendors had other problems, too.  Though we didn't have to worry so about shoplifting, we did have to spend a lot more to stay on the premises (or make the long drive from town) and for food on site.  Transporting our setups and wares from the parking lot to the booths was long and a pain in the neck.  Because the attendance was lower, so were our sales.  Due to the configuration of the site, all the booths couldn't fit in the same place, so people had to hike around from one area to another.  This caused unrest, as some of the vendors wanted to be in an area where they were not.  It was in some ways a relief to hear that the Snowbird era was over! 

Unfortunately, it meant the end of the Festival - for a year, anyway.  After one year's hiatus, the event was presented at the Community Cultural Center (as it turned out, a bad idea) - but now it is back once again in Liberty Park!

When we first watched the dancing in Utah, we were struck both by how much behind the trends on the West Coast the dancing was and by the enthusiasm and fresh spirit that was a characteristic of the performances. 

Over the years, Yas has brought in some of the most well-known and interesting teachers in the country to give the dance community there the benefit of their knowledge, and they are now as up to date as anywhere.  We have watched the growth and development of their community, and it has been interesting.

It has also been interesting to watch, in microcosm in Utah, the dynamics that go on in the greater belly dance "world".  There have been feuds with other teachers in the area, as well as battling festivals.  One of the dancers in the area was mad at Yas and Jason, and so decided to set up her own dance festival - always the weekend before theirs!  She kept at it for several years, but it was never a great success, and I think that she has stopped trying.   Local ethnomusicologist Lloyd Miller attacked the Roques and the festival repeatedly for years (why? who knows?), but finally realized that he appeared just ridiculous after his last try, so maybe he has given up now.  There have been internal upheavals in their troupe, Kismet, but they keep on going, trying to present belly dancing to a large audience and to educate people about its beauty, its history and its delight.  It has been some job!

Well - I got a little sidetracked there!  Once I got started, for years I took my costumes in my car hither and yon to belly dance events, science fiction/fantasy conventions, etc.  The farthest I went was to Chicago, to the World Science Fiction Convention.  That was certainly an adventure!  I went to two different events in Texas (San Antonio is great!  El Paso, not so much) and to a lot of conventions in Oregon and Washington.  These days, except for Salt Lake City, I pretty much stick to events in California.  One of the main reasons for this is adventures like having a transmission that blew in Texas on my way home and then, replaced, blew again a few hours later in the middle of the New Mexico desert, causing a "rest" of eight hours by the side of the freeway. (There's another whole story there!)  I'm just not interested in that kind of adventure any longer!  As more and more people set up to sell (mostly imported) costumes, the globalization of the dance continues, while the horizons for the small, do-it-oneself costumer have drawn in further and further.  What will come next?  I don't know, but I look forward to it with great anticipation!

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Ready for more?
Previous Episodes in Aziza!'s series of columns-
9-4-04 My Costuming Roots
Soon, however, it became obvious that I couldn’t do three shows a night, on and on, with only one costume! And Yousef, owner of the Bagdad, supported this realization by telling me that if I didn’t get some more costumes, I was fired.

5-27-04 Belly Dancer of the Year Pageant
The contestants were limited to ten, and all danced to the same music, though they were permitted any props they wanted.

1-16-05 Photos from The Luna Gitana Festival, Santa Cruz, California photos by Monica Berini
Event produced by Vashti on November 13, 2004

1-13-05 The Grand International Bellydance Tour or How We Fled India at Midnight, Eluding Our Captors and Evading our Go-Go-Dance Responsibilities. or What Would Fifi Do? by Michelle and Sandra
It may not have been such a problem for us had the prostitutes not been posing as bellydancers!

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