Gilded Serpent presents...
Bert Balladine and Najia Marlyz
at the Dancing Girl Studio in Albany, CA
Lace and My Muses:
Part Four (of
by Najia Marlyz
from Part 3)
1973 or '74, I had become dance partners with my instructor, Bert
Balladine, who was then, and still is, absolutely
an exceptional individual! Stardust and glitter sparkled from
all aspects of my dance career even though (I reminded myself
often) Bert was like a salty sailor with a dancing girl in every
port.that is: Bert managed to scour up a dance partner in every
city, burg, and one-horse watering-hole in which he taught. That
did not deter my sense of wonder and accomplishment however, because,
in addition to my duets here and there with Bert, we also became
partners in teaching Belly dance in my own Albany dance studio
that I opened that same year, 1973. People tell me now that
I looked about 18 then, but I was significantly over thirty
that incredible year.
attended all of Bert's classes to troubleshoot for him, and
to collect student fees on his behalf. Bert was very thoughtful
towards me, and he suggested that in order to create some sense
of teaching authority for my career, I should audit his lessons
and not participate in the actual dance lesson itself. After
lessons were over, we would sometimes rehearse our dance duet
and plot our next dance career moves. He gave me many pieces
of his hard-won stage and show business wisdom during those
sessions! As I sat through his lesson one evening, preening
my feathers and feeling as if I were living a life touched by
magic, one of his students said to me in a haughty and excessively
don't you sweep the floor instead of just sitting there? My
feet are getting dirty!"
Her acidic question
certainly tarnished the stardust that had been falling all around
me. Definitely, it burst my shining bubble of self-importance,
and I realized that to honor and become an asset to my muses and
to Bert, I had to be more than just Bert's groupie, class monitor,
and dance partner if I wanted to make my own artistic statement
out of a career in Belly dance! I
had begun to gather a number of ethnic oddities, aging textiles,
and Assiut cloths (also called Mummy Lace as discussed in
Part One of
this series) and had learned how to repair and care for them from
my dear friends, Kaethe and Jules Kliot of Berkeley,
who had set me on the road to my career in dance. By the time I
had opened my dance studio then, they had become a significant part
of my daily world. They were my muses and mentors, being resource
points for all kinds of antiquities, including items for costuming
such as the Assiut cloths and other, even more exotic fabrics.
At the time,
Jules created costume jewelry of brass wire; the pieces were remarkably
lacy looking works of polished brass made for his Berkeley shop,
"Some Place." (Later, the shop became merged with "Lacis"
as it is today.) At Lacis, Kaethe specialized in the collection
and sales of antique laces and the pursuit of the skills to recreate
hand-made lace in many techniques. Jules designed for me a couple
of Belly dancing belts, upper-arm bracelets, a hair ornament for
dance, and other jewelry of these lace-like structures with which
he was experimenting. I backed his metal pieces with velvet-covered
felt and finished them with chains holding interesting foreign coins
purchased from the San Francisco Coin Exchange.
Jules' Brass Hair Ornament and Stage Makeup
A collar bra and rhinestone belt
most of the costuming that I (and other dancers) used during those
years had a decidedly Turkish harem or Orientalist fantasy about
it because we fashioned many things from our memories of Orientalist
paintings of the turn of the century. Much of that artistic era
mixed together elements from very divergent countries.
did not occur to us dancers that we ought to have all articles
of a dance costume match each other in style, color, pattern,
or place of origin (an concept still in question for me).
In my fantasy-derived
dance works, I utilized things that I purchased at the flea market,
re-cutting them and sewing together the materials that were not
available to be purchased new. A few examples of this are: gold
mirror edging, antique laces, tapestries, hand cross-stitched silk
fabric, crocheted edgings and the like. Overall,
one might even see some logic in our eclecticism, since there was
quite a bit of movement from culture to culture by our dance form
in its early days when the Middle Eastern countries commonly took
slaves from their conquests in Europe and Turkey
and other places.
Orientalist Slave Market Painting
Giulo Rosati's "Picking Favorite" (detail)
Examples of the Hand of Fatima
dancers should never forget that some of the early Oriental
dancers were concubines and slaves from the wars of the old
times, and many beautiful young dancers were simply women who
were victims of a nasty and unromantic capture.
They were subsequently
enslaved and made to perform dance --among other things. There
is not much romance or fantasy in that, I think!
husband, Eugene, a physical scientist by profession
and Renaissance man at heart, figured out how to make beautiful
finger cymbals for me that were hammered with a ball-peen hammer,
tempered of half-hard brass, polished by tumbling with peach pits,
and incised with my stage name and several decorative rings.
He dabbled in photography and took some pensive and demure shots
of me in an authentic ethnic antique headpiece I purchased at
the Alameda Flea Market one Sunday safari with my friends.
ways, my husband managed to support my interest in dance even
though he admitted that he did not much care for Middle Eastern
music and hated the idea of dance and show business for his wife
(that special arm-piece from the 1960s, --me).
having purchased this authentic Middle Eastern head ornamentation
that is shown in the photo from a very exotic vendor whom I
met at the Alameda Flea Market and who instructed a large belly
dance troupe in San Francisco. She was the incredibly resourceful
and creative Masha Archer who was one of the very first
troupe teachers who created an entire troupe in the style of
dance has now evolved into "Tribal" dance in America. Tribal
style began to take shape as an actual style of dance that she
taught along with more traditional style Belly dance. Masha
(pronounced "Mah'-shah") certainly gave me fresh insight into
the local politics of the Belly dance along with her pithy,
dry humor and her irresistibly strange persona, though I never
took a single class with her. She treated me with a great deal
of respect, and because of that, I saw her as a role model of
how to remain aloof though surrounded by dance politics, yet
friendly and involved with dance at the same time. She sold
a large variety of silver hands-of-Fatima, many in sterling
silver, German silver, brass and many with blue stones in the
center and sprouting other pendants dangling from the fingertips.
I bought several prize examples that I have and wear even today.
The hands are supposed to protect one from the harm of the Evil
Eye who has the power to maim, steal, and kill.
At the flea
markets, and in the used clothing boutiques around the San
Francisco Bay Area, I searched relentlessly for flapper dresses
from the 1920s with Kaethe and Jules and their children. I
learned about theater designers such as the famous Erte` who
designed and influenced the western sense of flamboyant stage
costuming used throughout the world even today in places such
as Las Vegas, Hollywood, Broadway and community theaters everywhere.
Posing in Ethnic jewelry, photo by Eugene
Erte' Oriental Costume
Najia dancing in a skirt made from a 1920's Flapper dress. The event was the
Sci-Fi convention in 1979 held at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco
loved antique clothing from all eras, and she called to my attention
the unique and interesting beaded designs that were reminiscent
of the Oriental style. Of course, we made a way to re-use them
for my dance !
we found were usually silk and beaded in lovely patterns that were
somewhat reminiscent of the style of stage wear that the designer
Erte` created. The dresses converted easily into straight, sheer
and sequined dance skirts. They usually transformed into an unusual,
one-of-a-kind costume theme that I would then complete with a co-coordinated
(not usually matching) veil of some sort.
one photo shoot in Berkeley, Kaethe asked me to pose with
large, black, handmade lace veil she had then recently acquired.
The veil's shape was square, and because I loved posing
with it, I began to rethink all that I believed constituted
a proper dance veil along with my routine utilizing it. I
began to re-envision "outside the box" many of the movements
that I had seen on stage, and specifically, re-envisioned
using special stage props and pieces of costuming.
began to think by dance concepts rather than direct instruction,
and that one change in direction led to some momentous restructuring
of my entire dance performances.
out how to make my dance truly memorable for audiences by trying
to conceptualize instead of simply copying whatever was being
taught at the time. We dancers created our home-grown costuming
for dance in the '60s and '70s reclaiming, recycling, transforming,
and making old things new again, including antique laces, vintage
clothing and jewelry. In turn, the accoutrements influenced how
we danced, how we thought about ourselves as dancers, and how
we thought of ourselves in relationship to the dancers of the
Posing with Kaethe's lace veil
during the early1980s, I inadvertently derailed much of my
creativity because of the ease of purchasing ready-made bedlahs
from Egypt rather than creating my embroidered, sequined skirts
and lace dance veils from antique sources as I had before.
Rather than investing generous amounts of love, time, and
effort on my costumes, as I had previously, I began to devote
more of my energy to my dance studio in my home in El Cerrito,
California, and my actual dance gigs. Much of my dance began
to evolve into what resembled current Raks Sharqi. The change
was not necessarily a good development in my dance or my life
though it may have been a necessary step in the evolution
of my awareness and understanding of both.
In my quest
to gain credibility with the Arabs and the star dancers of the
'80s, I can now look back and understand that I had lost the real
spark of creative dance along with the adventure of my hunt for
items of antiquity (or exceptional oddity) needing rescue. Frankly,
now I needed to be rescued! Not until very recent times, could
I admit, even to myself, that I had lost a large part of my creative
thrust along with many of my treasured friendships because I had
perceived wrongly that I needed to become more like the Egyptian
and Lebanese dancers of the day.
Some of those
losses affected me so personally that I now feel urged to look
carefully into the past for clues that are leading me back to my
original path of fusion, creative style, and the legacy of my very
real human muses.
of those beautiful memories, special times, and extraordinary
people have been woven forever into my thoughts and again
live within my dance.
In Part 5
of "Lace and My Muses: Treasures of the Past" I will present a photo
gallery containing more photos of my costumes that I conjured up
from my "found treasures" and flea market odds and ends as well
as how it was done.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Raven of the Night: Dancer’s
Allegory for New Year’s Eve 2005
Raven of the Night was the name by which he thought of
her–but feathers? Raven had none! She was the castle’s
Dancer of Dreams and aspired to become Jester of the Court...
Lace and My Muses: In Search
of A Personal Style Part Three
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.
8-3-04 Lace and My Muses: Everything
Old Becomes New Again Section 1, Part Two
it was the ancient, exotic art of Belly dancing and my fantasies
of the bizarre life of a Belly dancer that smoked incense into
Lace and My Muses Part
1: Egyptian Mummy Lace or “Assiute Cloth”
around my hips a white Assuite cloth encrusted with gold knots
throughout, forming pictographs of falcons, pyramids, crosses,
and diamond shaped designs.