ad 4 Casbah Dance

ad 4 Fahtiem

ad 4

Amina & Yousef

"B girl" costume

Carla Lopez dances,
musicians- Manny Petro on Guitar, the violinist is Yousef Koyoumjian

Amina and Fatma

Amina and 1 year old Cathy
Gilded Serpent presents...
Chapter Five:
Listen to the Music

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"
Chapter 4 here- "Smokin'"

We always started at 8 pm whether there was an audience or not. The "Barker", dressed as "Aladdin" so we could be seen from the street through the rattling, beaded curtains, would pull the velvet curtains open. There was something enticing about being on the outside and almost being able to see the foreign-looking harem dancers on the inside.

Yousef wanted us to look exotic, like we were from the Middle East, so he made us stay downstairs, look available and wear sexy, skimpy pantaloon outfits or diaphanous caftans when we were not dancing.

We had to provide our own "B girl" costumes. Yousef told us to ask for mixed drinks and he would give us coke or 7-Up instead. Some of the dancers would get the bartender to give them real drinks, but they were always watered down. The waitresses also had to wear exotic clothing.

The musicians had to wear black pants, white shirts and fancy Middle Eastern embroidered vests. They didn't really have a break. They would play all night and only get off the stage for the bathroom. They smoked and drank onstage and held their cigarettes between their fingers while they played.

Our shows were back to back. As soon as one dancer was finished, the next one would be announced. We were like a "fortune cookie factory". Each of our shows was between 45-60 minutes long. We danced whether we were sick or not. We couldn't call in sick or we'd be fired. We had the flu? So what, "if you dance hard enough, you'll break the fever." Yousef said our dance costumes had to compete with the topless/bottomless clubs on the street.

We always had to "show more leg" and pad the bras. Carla Lopez/aka Saida (later she changed it to Nakhla) had so much padding in the bras that she had to use eyelash adhesive to glue herself decent.

There were three dancers during the week, sometimes four on the weekends, and always at 8 pm all the dancers were required to be downstairs and on the stage while the band warmed up and played mellow songs. On stage we wore our "Dream of Genie" costumes and danced, sometimes in unison, sometimes not. If Fatma was on stage we would follow her and sometimes even look like we had a choreography. We would dance and prance around on stage, with the curtains open to the street and hope that a customer or two would rustle through the beads and be enticed to come in. Sometimes one of us would have to sit on stage with the musicians and play the tambourine. When we had a couple of customers in the club, one dancer, usually me, would go upstairs to the dressing room and change for the first show.

I loved dancing and was learning so much by watching and imitating the other dancers. But, as I said before, I found it difficult to relate to and entertain the audience because I was really a mom and a housewife. Having a new name helped some. That way I was mom in the daytime and Amina at night.

But, I had a problem: I didn't know how to act "sexy" like the other dancers. I thought all the other dancers were so sexy, but I was just "Mom."

Katherine Dunham

So, I decided to look sophisticated and aloof. But really, I was just plain scared. "Stage Fright" should have been my dance name. Yes, I got lots of tips: probably more than most of the other dancers at that time. Yes, maybe because I was probably much younger and more available looking, (Yousef didn't like me wearing my wedding ring when I performed, so I didn't) but getting lots of tips still didn't make me less afraid of my audience. They were mostly men! Big bad wolf men wanting to take innocent young belly dancers home and do.well, you know - or foreign men speaking in a language I couldn't understand looking dark and scary. (Already the Persian drummer, Ali, was angry at me because I wouldn't go out with him. - Upstairs in the dressing room one of the dancers had told me that Ali wanted me to go out with him. I told her to tell him no because I was married and when she went down to tell him, I heard him yell from the front of the Bagdad, "Who does she think she is that she won't go out with me!")

What was I to do. I already heard rumors that the dancers were calling me "Stone Face" because I had no personality on stage. I had no one to really express my feelings to. All my friends were just housewives with babies and I couldn't really ask my husband about how to look entertaining for other men. I needed advice. Then I remembered! I had a friend who was a master showman. Anton Lavey was a magician and "psychic investigator" who lived in a black Victorian house on California Street with his wife, children and a pet lion in the back yard who was pursuing an "Addams Family" lifestyle. I was drawn to his Friday night lectures on the occult, voodoo and Katherine Dunham. I thought that I might gain an insight to Katherine Dunham's dancing, but that dance connection, as I remember, was never actually made. Over milk and cookies in Anton's kitchen, with the lion pushing his huge nose against the window outside, I asked Anton what I could do to get confidence and stage presence. While munching a cookie and interrupted by the roar of his lion, he advised trying "a little white magic." He basically said the customers (who at that time were 99.99% men) probably were uncomfortable because they were out of their element. True - the Arab customers at that time were pretty new to this country - and the "businessmen" were mostly actually tourists and most probably family men.

He said if I could relay sincerity and warmth and welcome them to my dancing on the stage, they, in turn, would put away their arrogant fronts and would sit back and just enjoy the dance for the dance that it was.

That very night I tried my "magic" and it actually worked! Instead of looked aloof and "sophisticated,"

I opened up and looked friendly and inviting. My eyes invited the audience to enjoy the music as I did. And it really worked!

Now I could look at the audience as real people.and with warmth. I could express my feelings with the audience and they understood.

Now, I needed to work on my dancing. Yousef and the other musicians were nice to me and extremely helpful. They knew I didn't have a teacher and they guided me through my dances. The best advice I got was from Fadil Shahin who was the singer, oud player, drummer and later, the owner of the Casbah. He said, "Listen to the music and it will tell you what to do." So I listened and sure enough the music talked to me and told me what to do. And when it didn't, Fadil, Yousef, and Walid (Fadil's brother) would stop the music and tell me to start again. (And this was during real time, in front of all the customers.) Soon, I was able to really hear the music and dance as the music said to dance. And soon also, I didn't need any more prompting; I really was connecting with the music. I turned when the music said "turn," I slowed down and actually felt as though I could interpret the words of the songs. Strange - I didn't understand what I was interpreting, but the Arabic customers thought I did. It was true. Listen and the music will direct. I listened. Sometimes so hard, I felt my ears were like magnets to the music. I danced and put all my problems aside because when I danced I had no problems. It was just me and the music and the audience. As if.

We were all in it together.

Have a comment? Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?
2-21-07 Veiled Visions: A Trip Down Memory Lane CD review by Amina Goodyear
The CD titled “Veiled Visions” is a re-release of music that was formerly produced on vinyl.

6-21-07 The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, Weekend Two, photos by Susie Poulelis
Afro-Cuban, Chinese, Peru, Korean, Appalachian, Bolivian, Mexico, Tajikistan, Cambodian, South Indian, Tahitian

6-19-07 My DVD Shoot Adventure, A Bellyqueen & Peko Collaboration by Elisheva
I thought I had left my bad luck mantra at the airport, but I soon found that it followed me right through the studio door.

6-15-07 Seeking Sol Bloom by Kharmine
Unbeknownst to Bloom, the troupe had a hired Algerian guide, “a giant Kablye,” who had lived in London and was able to chide Bloom sternly in an accent “normally heard in an English drawing room."

6-14-07 The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, Weekend One, photos by Lynette Harris
Chinese Dragon, Kathak, Flamenco, Philipines, Bali, Afro-Peru, Mexico, Tahitian, and Shabnam does "Belly Dance Fusion"

6-13-07 Belly Dancer of the Year Pageant 2007 Saturday Photos, Photos by Michael Baxter, Photo Prep by Michelle Joyce, May 26, 2007 Danville, California, Produced by Leea
Saturday's contest includes Troupes, Duo/Trios, Grand Dancer, and Preliminaries for Solo's, Sunday Finals Coming Soon

5-30-07 Photos of Gala Show for Raqia, photos by Carl Sermon, prep and layout by Michelle Joyce
On Saturday night there was a show at the Veteran's Hall. The Show was: Big on technique; sometimes a little too studied. The soloists were selected mostly for being Raqia's students.

5-18-07 A Report on the First International Bellydance Conference of Canada Part One- Lectures, Workshops, Panel Discussions by Diane Adams Photos by Lynette
April 18-22, 2007 Toronto, Ontario. Hosted by Yasmina Ramzy of Arabesque Academy in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, this International Bellydance Conference of Canada, the first ever on the Canadian dance scene, proved to be one of the top dance experiences in this reviewer’s 30-year career.


 Gilded Serpent
 Cover page, Contents, Calendar Comics Bazaar About Us Letters to the Editor Ad Guidelines Submission Guidelines