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Najia and BertGilded Serpent presents…
The Magnificent Fundraiser
By Najia Marlyz
January 4, 2006

Memoirs written by numerous aging dancers of the ‘60s and ‘70s,  who are about to retire from their careers as performers and teachers, are now beginning to trickle into magazines and books. As I read about their careers, I am both delighted and amazed how similar their experiences were to some of my own and how some of them became disillusioned while others would not have traded the adventure of it all for any other. However, I'm beginning to think that it's odd how much emphasis many of them have placed on some mysterious, self-perceived value of having been the first one to do something or other.  I don't mean to diminish the value of innovation in any field of endeavor; in fact, I believe that an innovative person is a treasure.

However, sometimes our so-called inventions and great ideas are quite embarrassingly laughable in their infancy when they analyzed through the eyes of experience. The memoirists hardly ever tell their stories about a “first” that went awry!

 The story I'm about to tell you is about just such a bumbling infant: top-heavy, slightly unbalanced, naïve, but full of great potential…and it was a first, of sorts, at least in our part of the west coast. 

This story began in 1973, shortly after I first opened my dance studio in Albany, California.  My own instructor's classes had burgeoned and so had all of my own; my Belly dance class at the YMCA in Albany had 85 enrolled and had to be moved to the gymnasium.  I reopened a store front that had formerly been a bookkeeping office, cleared out a ton of papers, built a dressing room, painted and mirrored the walls, and confidently opened for business.  In the first year, all the scheduled classes, (including Women's Exercise, Tap dancing, Ballet, Yoga and Children's Creative Dance) continued to grow.  Especially, the belly dance classes grew to a point that I couldn't manage alone.  I decided to go out on a limb and risk rebuff by offering to rent Bert Balladine prime class time in my studio.  I was delighted and honored when he took me up on the offer without hesitationNajia.

It was then that we began the first of many career planning sessions over lunch or coffee in which we brainstormed how to get the most out of our efforts.  Power lunches in the ‘70s!

One of the first subjects with which we grappled was advertising, and at the time, it seemed quite a bold and daring move to advertise the dance studio (and the fact that we had Belly dance lessons on our schedule) in the Yellow Pages of all the local phone books.  We were located centrally in the San Francisco East Bay, and we needed presence in all of the area’s books because our counties are close together and highly populated.  At the time, this meant advertising in approximately 8 books. (Nowadays, it would be more -- except that Yellow Pages ads are rapidly becoming a thing of the past due to the influence of the Internet.)   

The first year we were open, I simply ordered a commercial phone line and a short listing in all eight books since there were no other East Bay Belly dance classes listed anywhere in any of regional books at that time.  It may seem so ridiculously elemental to all of us right now, but at the time, it was a big deal, and a "first" to decide that we should purchase a display ad that covered all the activities of our dance studio.Ad design by Jules Kliot

Bert and I were hoping to make the studio a center for dance that would unite the various factions In Belly dance that had already begun to denigrate each other.

 Jules Kliot, of Lacis in Berkeley, who was my business mentor, photographer, and friend (and the photographer who produced all of the artistic photographs of this event) was kind enough to design several potential display ads of the size that we had chosen to submit to our Yellow Pages representative, and here is the image that he created for us on which we settled:

Now it is 30 years later; I have begun to specialize in coaching dancers for special events and occasions, and I still use an updated version of this same display ad as one of my business card designs.  You will see it appear in its updated version as my display ad here, in the pages of the Gilded Serpent site.

To my dismay, I found out that placing our new display ad in all eight Yellow Pages books would cost me approximately $2000!  That was an incredible of money in 1975! 

Oh! What to do? What to do?

Ted Sofios and NajiaOver brain-storming lunch, Bert and I came up with what we considered a workable, sensible, innovative yet logical plan: we would organize and stage a big Yellow Pages  catered dinner and dance show fundraiser to finance our expenditure! Logical?  Practical?  Fun? Well, one out of three isn't bad; is it?

At that time, I was working as a House dancer on a regular basis for the Sofios brothers in the Taverna O Aitos in Berkeley.  Ted Sofios was an extraordinary dance instructor who had fashioned his Greek restaurant around his love for teaching the Greek dance and other similar world folk dances.  That included the Belly dance, which he confided in me (later) that he had hated, because it had been introduced to Greece during the time that Greece was under the suppression and control of the Turks. 

Disregarding his dislike, Ted had the foresight to include a Belly dance instructor among his offerings of ethnic dance, and feature professional Belly dancers at lunchtime, daily, and on weekend evenings.  Towards that end, he had engaged Bert Balladine for a weekly class in which I had begun taking my first lessons.  He was impressed and delighted with the beauty of the movements that Bert was teaching even though Bert was teaching us Turkish style Belly dance and playing the “dreadful” Turkish music.  Ted saw me just as I was then: a gaunt, hippie wanna be who transformed over a period of six to eight months under Bert's inspiration and tutelage.John Sofios

I invited Ted Sofios and his brother, John Sofios, to be part of our fundraiser, and they not only agreed, but volunteered his entire troupe and the assistance of the weekly band called The Mereklithes.  The Mereklithes Band was connected to the Rekus brothers through John Rekus who played violin in the band, and Ike Rekus, who had just opened a new club called the Helmet Club down in the Berkeley Marina.  How serendipitous for me, it appeared!  Ike Rekas & NickThe facility had been some kind of social hall with a kitchen, an auditorium, a lobby, and a room with a bar, and Ike Rekus recognized it as an opportunity to create a Greek community hall for occasion rentals.  Unfortunately for Ike, my dance studio fundraiser was to be the first, and I regret to admit, the last event to be held at the Helmet Club in Berkeley!

The ensuing events would have been laudable, if laughable, if only we Belly dancers and our guests had not cost a man (Ike) his dream…  How naïve we all were when Belly dancing was relatively new in the San Francisco Bay region! We had no inkling of what was about to happen, surrounding our show, nor that our unanticipated wild success would also prove a downfall for Ike’s Greek social club dream.

In Part Two of “The Magnificent Fundraiser” I will continue the story of how very different things can turn out when you least expect.


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