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Gilded Serpent Presents..
Lace and My Muses:
In Search of A Personal Style

Part Three

by Najia Marlyz
Oct 17, 2004

(Continued from Part 2)
With the inspiration of Kaethe and Jules Kliot, I built my dance image under the name "Najia."  Moreover, along with my adventures in dance, a new life-style began to evolve for me that included many things retro.  Over a decade, my mentors became my muses, encouraging, inspiring, and enabling me to do more than follow current trends, but instead, to instigate new styles through renewed uses, and imagination in all I undertook.

I learned that there is true beauty in honoring works from the past by incorporating them into current day uses rather than invalidating them by discarding or setting them aside labeled: "unfashionable".

Perhaps you wonder how this idea pertains to the field of dance, but I have been a part of the dance scene long enough now to have seen the dance itself (and costuming for it) change in subtle, but sometimes, radical ways due to influence from whatever competing performance arts exist at the time.  Therefore, I would suggest to those of you who are now performing to look more closely at that which has been and why it is now undergoing change, sometimes for the better, but more often (in my opinion) for the worse.  If we dancers want to compete for entertainment dollars from the public, then we cannot do it by altering our dance to be similar to all other dancing.  I suggest that "elevating Belly dance" to the standards of western dance would be counter-productive in the long-term rather than a valid goal for us to desire.  It is, must be, and must remain, different!  Vive la difference!

Whatever crosses one's life path can become a canvas for artistic insight.  My husband ) taught me during the '60s and '70s, (before our tidy little dissolution of our twenty-year marriage), not to fear changes in technology.  On the other hand, my muses taught me to create by renewing and re-using the old forms of almost anything: dance, art, lace, tapestry weaving, or cooking.  Kaethe Kliot's  homemaking tips proved to be as useful as they were homespun and funny such as: one should not clean house before entertaining, but should, instead, quickly simulate order, then do a thorough cleaning after guests leave, reinforcing the notion that one's family deserves your best efforts rather than one's guests!  I applied this idea to my dance career by doing major cleaning and repairing of each dance costume, show tape, or choreography immediately after each use rather than just before performing or just before planning to sell it at a dancers' flea market.  I don't have any photos of Kaethe or me cleaning anything, but here is one of her teaching me how to build a better sandcastle her style on the beach at Fort Chronkite, CA.

My budding knowledge about handcraft skills, accompanied by a heightened awareness of artistry, age and history of artistic objects, caused me to become a collector.  "A collector of what?" one might ask.  You name it; if some (probably long-deceased) person had made it by hand, and I could afford it, then I collected it!  In the future, I envision a personal Internet art gallery, in which I hope to share with you some of my odd little collections of antique laces, Assiut cloths, coins, beaded bags, hand embroidered fringe shawls, paintings, etchings, lithographs, and sculptures. 

Fortunately, many of the items comprising my collections have usually needed some repair.  Generally, their state of disrepair was why they were affordable in the first place. 

One has to be mindful about making repairs or changes to collectables, however.  Collectors should not alter many their finds willy-nilly, because the repair that is meant to elongate the life of the objects may lessen their perceived value to other collectors.

 For the most part, Kaethe was the person who taught me how to repair and maintain many different types of objects.  Some of them I managed quite well, and some not so well, but always, after assessing whether making a repair to the object would enhance it visually and decrease its value, or conversely, elongate its life and prolong its value to a collector.  For instance, if you find a rare coin that would be of interest to numismatists, you should never clean it, but just preserve it from further degradation.  I knowingly sacrificed and risked loss of many valuable coins on my dancer's coin belt and on my body jewelry, but I cannot say that I regret having made those sacrifices!

As I first began to study Belly dance, I read that when the ethnic dancers of the old times in Egypt performed, they purchased and collected gold coins, wrist and ankle bracelets, and rings with the money they earned while dancing in entertainment troupes.  When I first began to dance professionally, I wanted to emulate them in my own way, and so, with the currency that I had received as "tips" from audiences, I habitually purchased gold coins to add to my dance costumes.  At the time, purchasing gold coins with one's tips was not a feat as incredible as it would be today because the price of gold then was only thirty-two dollars per ounce and sometimes even less.  Nowadays, it would require a lot of dancing just to purchase one mediocre large gold coin.

I fastened my gold coins into special holders rather than drill holes in them.  It proved difficult, and sometimes impossible, to find one that fit some foreign coins, but since so many foreign coins were odd sizes, commercially made holders to fit them were not available generally.  At least I knew enough about coin collecting, not to ruin them with a drill if I wanted them to retain any of their numismatic value.  I purchased commercial holders and altered them to fit the foreign coin sizes, and Jules designed and made holders for a few of them that were odd sizes.  As a result, I never lost any of my coins and still have all of them, safe and sound in my safety deposit box at the bank.

I replaced the lining of beaded antique purses that contained nothing but shredded silk and repaired other parts of them.  It was necessary to re-bead some that had been damaged by removing and utilizing small sections of their own beaded fringes, thereby gaining enough antique beads of the right size and color to complete the project.  Kaethe taught me how to repair items, not just beaded purses, by a process of minor alterations, reworking their beaded fringes and tassels so that nothing appeared to be missing from the original design, and to restring necklaces and bracelets made of semiprecious stones that only appeared to be on their last legs when I purchased them.  I soldered, jump-ringed, braided, and then, eventually, danced in some of our newly revamped creations.  It would have been an extremely satisfying hobby even without the pleasure of wearing them for dance! 


When I first expressed an interest in learning Belly dance, my mentors gave me the phone number of a mysterious Berkeley woman always dressed in black, who was known to haunt the local antique stores as well as the Kliot's shop, "Some Place," searching for Assiut cloth and other ethnic tidbits to sell to her dance students.

However, the year I phoned the lady in black, inquiring about taking lessons with her, she took a fatal, and nearly instantaneous, dislike to me!  She hung up the phone rather than except me as her student, without offering any politically correct excuses as to why she would not accept me in her classes.

 Later on, I figured out the reason for her rude behavior for myself.  (It was elemental, my dear Watson.)

 "What do you do with your time now?" she had asked. 

"I teach twelve classes per week in women's exercise at the YMCAs and Parks and Recreation Departments," I had answered.

 .  Click! 

Yup, I would have definitely become a problem to her!

The teacher with the hair trigger did not consider inviting me into her camp even for a Berkeley moment.  Instead, her rapid and firm receiver click sent me to Bert Balladine (but almost a year later) when the Berkeley Gazette published an article about his new Berkeley class opening enrollment at the O Aitos Greek Taverna.  Unannounced to even my mentors and muses, I began attending late afternoon Belly dancing classes at O Aitos (Greek meaning "The Eagle"). 

After three years of Bert's delightfully funny and insightful instruction, and a couple more years performing, then teaching Belly dance finally, I also became a dancing partner with my instructor, Bert Balladine.  When we danced together the first time, we were on stage at a 1975 convention, sponsored by Sula in Walnut Creek, California.  I costumed for that occasion in white silk harem pants and a white silk long-sleeved blouse tied into a bra with a white silk veil fastened into my hair with a beaded belt from a 1920s dress.  Around my hips, I wore a half circle variegated lavender silk shawl with long fringe that I untied during the dance, and did circular, sculptural movements with it (that I imagined Loie Fuller might have used) after having danced with the light weight, rectangular, white veil of fluttering silk for contrast.  It was pure fantasy costuming.  Had both of us not been so feverish with influenza, we would have enjoyed the moment for the pure magic that it was. 

For me, everything in life contains its own sort of magic, but occasionally the Universe sometimes laughs and throws us a curve ball, and sometimes, even a spit ball, just to remind us of who we are, .or aren't.  (to be continued in part 4 of Lace and My Muses: Stardust)

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Ready for more?
8-3-04 Lace and My Muses: Everything Old Becomes New Again Section 1, Part Two
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.
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.

10-31-04 Dancers Belly Up to Beat Bush, by Grace, Photos by James Dudek & Victoria Seidman
Even in the politically minded Bay Area, the dance community rarely seems to take an activist stance.

10-30-04 Fill-'Er Up! by Alyson
"I'm so glad you came to help me Theify!", Alexandria's Belly Dance Comics tm

10-25-04 The First (and definately not the last!) Tribal Cafe! by Tempest
It was the first all tribal belly dance event sponsored by MECDA IE and took place on August 21st, 2004 in Montclair, California.






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