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Gilded Serpent presents...
Amina's North Beach Memories, Chapter 7:
Yousef – Black Lights and Veils
by Amina Goodyear
Chapters 1-6 linked from Amina's page linked above

Although I was working 6 to 7 nights a weeks, 3 shows a night for several months, I was still quite excited about working as a dancer in a nightclub.

I must admit that my days with my 3 kids were spent daydreaming about the nights. The stage, the music, the lights, the anticipation of dressing up and being glamorous – that was all I thought of. During the day I was “Suzie Homemaker” complete with apron, but each night I became “Amina the Beautiful Dancer all the way from Upstairs”.  The newness was not wearing off because every night brought a new experience. Each dance was special and to me it didn’t even matter if there was an audience. Since I was the new dancer and I actually liked dancing first in order to change personalities from “mom” to Amina, I got to dance first very often to a house waiting for its first customer. But it didn’t matter to me, because for me it wasn’t about the customers; it was about the “high” I got when the music and I meshed.

But Yousef didn’t see it that way. He just wanted a show. He wanted acts. He wanted variety. So, what Yousef wanted, Yousef got. We used to hate him because he was always making us work on a specialty act. We always had to come up with a new gimmick to compete with the clubs next door. To remind you, this was the 1960’s and it was the era of Topless/Bottomless/Strip Tease acts and “more.”

It was kind of hard to compete with this kind of action when we kept our clothes on.

Yousef told me that I had to do a “Sultan Act”. I had seen Aisha Ghul the Turkish dancer’s “Sultan Act”, but she talked and told bawdy jokes. This was not for me. I was too shy to talk.  So I made a huge brocaded fancy pillow, covered a hat to look like a bejeweled turban and had some glittery material handy to use as a cape. All these I stashed at the side of the stage and at the end of my dance I would leave the stage with my veil and tie it around a poor unsuspecting man’s neck and drag him up onto the stage where my props were handily placed in the middle of the stage. When the “sultan” was un-noosed, seated on the pillow, draped with the fabric with the turban on his head, I would start my “act”. This was just me slithering around on the floor like a snake around the man with Yousef playing the violin singing a mawal to him (voice improvisation) “ya ragul ya agouz agouz ya nose, ya nose” (oh old man, oh old old oh nose oh nose). At some point I would tent my veil completely over the “sultan” and myself and feed him a piece of Turkish delight and leave the audience to their imagination.

Kind of a dumb act, but it was what Yousef liked.

He thought it was too much to have 3 dancers doing 3 shows each without giving the audience a break, so sometimes he would hire other types of acts. One of his favorites was a magic act. I got to help the magician who also doubled as our doorman. He, too, had a kind of corny act. It was with magic rings, fire and other bought tricks. But sometimes it was pretty exciting when he would buy a new trick and want to try it out. One was a trick box. I got to sit on the stage and he would put the box on my head, or, rather, my head would get inserted in a box.  Soon he would be thrusting swords through the box with the hilts in one end and the blades coming out of the other end as though the head was multiply pierced.  It was especially exciting for me since it was my head in the box. 

The swords didn’t always do their trick and I would often get poked.

Another variety act that Yousef hired was a snake dancer. She was a very nice pretty young dancer who was only experienced in dancing in strip clubs. Yousef thought her snake dance would help us compete with the other clubs on the street. Her first dance with her snake, a beautiful sleek shiny black snake, was very interesting, but her dance was a fake Middle Eastern dance. Yousef didn’t like it because while she was dancing with her snake she was slowly stripping her costume off and soon she was down to pasties and a g-string. When she was finished, Yousef came upstairs to the dressing room and started yelling that the g-string act had to go. She got a little upset, but then asked me to go to the all-night grocery across the street to buy some band-aids which I did.

When she did her next show, she did the same exact fake belly dance with snake and the same exact strip dance, but this time the g-string went too and when she was down to the band-aid, there was pandemonium on the stage as Yousef had turned off all the lights in the club and was scrambling for veils to cover the miscommunication. Poor dancer wanted the job, but she never got to come back to clarify the situation.

Another dancer that Yousef hired was a dark and handsome male dancer. He was going to do a Middle Eastern fantasy interpretive dance and promised to give our club a little class. I remember being upstairs in the dressing room changing when this man dressed in white just like an Aladdin fairy tale went on stage. Shortly after he started he dance, I heard Yousef yelling, “Veils, veils, hurry, bring me veils!” We rushed downstairs thinking the dancer needed veils for his act and discovered that the man had disrobed and was prancing around on stage wearing only a “diaper” and was threatening to remove it. With the only lights on stage being the black light it was all the more noticeable. We gave Yousef the veils and he scrambled up on stage and was desperately covering the man and dragging him off stage. After that night we never saw him again and I wondered if he had come from across the street. Across the street in those days was waaaaaaay far away from my world.

Across the street from the Bagdad was a club called Chi Chi’s. It wasn’t a topless/bottomless club. It was a real honest to goodness burlesque house. Even in the ‘60’s it was considered a little odd and out of date nestled between the topless/bottomless clubs on the street. It was owned by a little woman named Miss Keiko. She would open the show as a nude woman doing a silhouetted toe dance behind an opaque screen. When she came to take a bow we found that she was actually fully clothed in a black cat leotard costume. One standard act was the classic “lady-like” strip tease complete with feathers, fans, g-strings and pasties, big 50’s style bouffant hair-dos and eyelashes and very very high heels. Often the dancer would expertly manipulate the feathers and fans in an attempt to hide the stretch marks on her stomach rather than hide the other more forbidden parts of her anatomy.  There would also be a “French maid” or “Nurse” burlesque comedy act, which would be so hilarious that, the audience would be crying from stomach-ache-type laughing. Chi Chi’s also would include some sort of straight act such as a flamenco dancer, a regular singer crooning 50’s lounge songs and sometimes a vaudevillian type comedian who would make little dachshund type dogs out of balloons and give them to the audience. Sometimes the strippers would make their way across the street to the Bagdad and work as cocktail waitresses.

One of these cocktail waitresses was a very pretty, tiny woman named Marie. She had tried to work at Chi Chi’s as a stripper, but it didn’t quite work out for her, so she found a job waiting tables at the Bagdad instead. She would watch us dancing and in time auditioned for as a belly dancer; but it didn’t quite work out for her at the Bagdad either. She eventually left and was able to find work dancing at Miss Keiko’s other strip club in the Tenderloin.

She was able to dance there as a belly dancing stripper. She just wanted a job to be able to support herself and her children. She was my friend and a nice person who just needed to pay her bills.

Besides the girls from across the street, we had many other beautiful cocktail waitresses. They wore two types of uniforms depending on Yousef’s moods. Sometimes they were harem type outfits when he wanted the club to be foreign and exotic but then when he decided he wanted to compete with “the street”, he would make them wear very brief short hot pants and little tops. Arousiac, Yousef’s sister was the first to wear the hot pants outfits.  Other waitresses at that time were  Nitsa, the very beautiful, black haired, black eyed Greek with a temper, Liz, our Greek bass guitar player’s (Manny Petro) girlfriend, who was a commuting Las Vegas showgirl, and Carol. Carol was beautiful but different from the others. She was a single mother of, I believe 2 or 3 children and was struggling to support herself and them by waitressing. She was very good natured and quiet. After getting to know her, we found that she lived in a tent on Mount Tamalpais across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Yousef wanted his Bagdad club to be a family club, have lots of variety and be a good show. He didn’t just demand this of his employees; he also demanded it of himself. And he, himself was quite a showman. Besides being the owner of the Bagdad, he was also a musician. He played the violin and his violin was special. It was painted white and decorated with sparkling ruby, emerald and diamond jewels. He wore a tarboosh and sported a goatee and wore the little black elevator-type boots that were popular at the time. And when he played, he danced. He didn’t just move around and sway. He was Arabic. He was Turkish. And he was Armenian. He debke’d and he whirled and because he was Armenian, he also danced and squatted, jumped, and squatted and kicked his legs out as all good Russian/Armenian dancers seem to be capable of doing – all this while simultaneously singing and furiously playing the violin.

It was exciting to be part of this wonderful, cornball show business world and I wanted to please him and create something special for his show. Since I had recently learned how to spin in place (3-4 turns in place meant spinning to me), I was confident that I could do a very special dance using my new trick of spinning. I was going to become a whirling dervish! I was going to become the act on the street (that’s what we called Broadway) that everyone would clamor to see... Amina, The Whirling Dervish!!!

I did my homework. The dervish dancers were spiritual. I was spiritual when I communicated with the music and the musicians. The dervish dancers held one hand down to the earth and one stretched out to the heavens. I could do that! The dervish dancers wore white with cone shaped hats. I made myself a beautiful pure white costume. It included a white circular skirt and a white top. It looked like a one-piece flared dervish-type caftan. But my top was a rip-away top, and my skirt could open at the sides to show my legs up to the hips so that after I finished my spiritual dance I could get back to business and be a belly dancer.

My costume was completed with my blue metallic cone shaped hat. I looked like a wizard. I felt the power. I was going to enter the stage spinning to the left, arms in appropriate reverential position, slowly slowly whirling and revolving in a clockwise path. Everything was going to be perfect.

Amina on the floorThe musicians were cued and the black light was on for - Amina, The Whirling Dervish! Well, all was as planned and perfect. I entered whirling, spinning, revolving, creating spherical and concentric patterns on the stage and the musicians -- following my direction as I turned and whirled and turned some more for what seemed like forever -- stopped on cue. And then I stopped on their cue. But the room didn’t. It was still spinning and whirling as my bottom hit the floor. I had desperately tried to keep my balance and I couldn’t. No, I wouldn’t let anyone know I had fallen down.

It was just a perfect time to start my floor dance. And I really liked floor dancing better. After all, one can’t fall if one is already on the floor.

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