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Amina on stage at the Bagdad

Gilded Serpent presents...
Chapter Four:

by Amina Goodyear

Chapter 1 here- One Ad Changed My Life
Chapter 2 here- "I'd Rather Stay Home with my Kids"
Chapter 3 here "A Marriage Made in North Beach"

Now that I was legitimately part of the Bagdad family and on the payroll, Yousef told me that

all the dancers had to split their tips 50/50 with the band. This meant that I was making less money than when I wasn't getting paid at all.

Yousef on violinThis really meant that I had just received a pay cut - what Yousef was paying me certainly did not equal the 50% of my tips that I now handed over to the band. In fact, since Yousef was also a band member, he could use his share of the tips to pay me and still come out ahead. The more I thought about it, I was in, fact, actually paying myself to work. I no longer had to ask Yousef when to show up for work because I was officially getting paid and working 6 nights a week like the other "real" dancers.

Every Saturday after the club closed, I could sit with the rest of the gang, sign my "contract labor" receipt and get paid. Getting paid meant that the other dancers accepted me and I was included in the afterlife of the Bagdad. On weekdays I usually would go straight home from work, but on Saturdays when "I just got paid" meant that I was invited to go out for breakfast with everyone.

There were a few restaurants and cafes that stayed open after 2 a.m but I think I liked Enrico's on Broadway best.

Enrico's, only half a block away, was an outdoor café with some indoor seating and was great for people watching while having coffee and desserts.

When we didn't go to Enrico's we would go to a little café probably between where the Palladium or the Lusty Lady sits today. It was just around the corner on Kearny St. and they served great pancakes and French toast.

After work or after breakfast I would go home and stay up the rest of the night (usually until 6 a.m.) sewing costumes. I only had one costume and beading took time. months! As a result I would just drag around the house during the day, clean house, shop for either groceries or fabric for more costumes, cook, make dinner for the family and then go to work. Going to work was like going on vacation.

Lusty Lady

Sometimes I would drive my new friend Najma Saline home. She lived off upper Grant in a little alley. She told me that before working at the Bagdad she had worked at a club on Broadway called Gigi's Port Said. Gigi's was the club owned by Aisha Ghul's boyfriend, but it no longer employed belly dancers. It was now just a topless-bottomless club like most of the other nightclubs on the strip. Najma said that Gigi's once had real shows, paid dancers more and used contracts. The club existed no longer; when Gigi's closed, Najma moved her act across the street to the Bagdad.

Najma's act was quite an act. She was tiny in size. probably the smallest dancer around. She had long dark hair.

(At that time we all had long dark brown hair or we'd "better buy a long dark hair wig so we could look Arabic and keep our job.") She would energetically dance/run up to the stage (there were about 4 steps up to the 8' half round "piano bar" style stage) and whirling her chiffon circular skirt (we all wore chiffon circular skirts - 1/2 circle panel in the front, lots of "leg" showing and a full circle in the back.) she took a microphone and she sang and danced her first song which was either "Oolooli Asmarani" or "Al Asfuria." The size of her voice made one forget how small she was.

During Najma's floor dance with a musician playing an oud solo, she danced on her knees. She made hip circles that included rising up to a kneeling position then descending to a position of sitting on her heels and featuring her hands and arms. This portion became faster and faster, up and down, up and down, and up and down; circling, circling, circling with her hips. (She liked doing this because she believed that gave her strong thighs.) Soon I was doing it too in my floor dance. (She was sooo right; it really made my thigh muscles burn!)

Five-part routines and playing finger cymbals for all the fast sections (entrance, veil, middle fast, floor and a finale that included collecting tips and drum solo) were a requirement then.

Her finale was my favorite part of her routine. She completed her drum solo and then the drummer stopped drumming, and she played complicated rhythms on her finger cymbals and her dancing hips would follow her own cymbal playing. It was really quite a dynamic show and it was even more stunning because she was so tiny!

Najma and I became friends because we had much in common, as she was a single mother of two pre-school girls and I had three pre-school children. We often hung out together in the daytime after my husband went to work. I would pick her up and with our five, (yes five) babies, all under four years of age, we would go to places like Home Yardage on Geary St. or Dance Art on Powell St. and scour the stores for fabrics to make our costumes. Although Home Yardage was larger and less expensive and had lots of satin blanket binding for the bottoms of our skirts, we were more fond of Dance Art because of their large variety of chiffons and trims. Dance Art also provided a black-light room where we could test our glow-in-the-dark fabrics.

It was quite an ordeal trying to control five screaming babies crawling and wandering and getting lost in the aisles of bolt after bolt of fabric. In those days there were no "store-bought" costumes; there were only costumes we made ourselves!

Amina in Bagdad dressing roomAt night Najma and I took a break from reality. At work there were no babies, no responsibilities and no money worries; but it was hard to make our changeover, and transform ourselves into happy, sexy entertainers with no apparent problems. We wanted to look relaxed and happy in order to please the customers and fulfill our role as professional dancers.

Every night I would have rush to work after making dinner for my husband and my children and I barely had time to put on make-up and not reveal myself as the mother or the housewife that I was. Luckily Yousef had told me about a secret parking place! It was behind the Gallo Salami Factory. There was a very narrow little alley between two buildings a couple of doors from the Bagdad on Broadway. The alley led to a small loading dock behind the salami factory, which later would become the infamous Mabuhay Gardens. At night it was isolated, dark, scary and smelled of salami, but it was only two doors away from the Bagdad. Parking in North Beach has always been a nightmare - even then!

When I danced my first set, I felt that I was still "Mom" and imagined that I smelled of salami, diapers and baby bottles; so I always asked to dance first - usually before any customers arrived - so I could decompress and make my transition into an exotic Belly dancer. This was okay with the other dancers because no customers meant that there would be no tips!

I think that Najma had a problem similar to, or worse than mine in "making her transformation." She often arrived at work stoned.

She commented that she could not leave the house or even walk down to Broadway without the help of a few tokes. Then it would be hit of pot (or more) before each show and, of course, smoke more pot before leaving to go home. I smoked only cigarettes, but lots of them - I used to be a 3-pack-a-day smoker; as a result, the dressing room was thick with stale perfume, cigarettes and other mysterious unidentifiable odors.

No smoke alarms were required in those times. There were no windows either. When only Najma and I were in the dressing room alone, it became my job to spray Lysol or similar air fresheners down the long stairway from the dressing room so Yousef could not smell the smoking going on upstairs. As you might imagine, all that smoke initiated a lot of giggling and laughing in the crowded dressing room! Our haven from having to sit with customers was up one flight of stairs and was long, low and very narrow. One side was used for hanging all the costumes. We just claimed our own territories and left our costumes hanging. I didn't have to stake too much of a claim then as I only had my one costume. The only time we took our costumes home was when we were fired or when we quit. The other side had four chairs facing a long black Formica counter with ashtrays on top and four drawers below. Above the counter was a long narrow mirror surrounded by lots of light bulbs.

Each "regular" dancer had a drawer in which to keep cymbals, makeup, nail polish, perfume, safety pins, hairbrushes, sewing supplies, jewelry, candy, snacks, matches and cigarettes. We made all our own costumes. We tried to stay upstairs long enough to sew a little, but we were supposed to spend our time downstairs sitting with the customers.

Sitting at the counter, putting on makeup, applying nail polish, beading costumes and stalling from having to go downstairs, Najma sometimes told me stories of how (in another life). she had come from Atlantis.


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