Hips and Hippies:
The "Good Old Days" in San Francisco
Since there has been
a resurgence of interest in the "good old days" surrounding
our goings on circa 1968 - 1977 on Broadway
in North Beach in San Francisco, I thought it only fitting and proper
to add my own two drachmas worth. The first club I danced at was the Bagdad
on Broadway, as Jamila
Salimpour, my teacher, used to have student nights there, having been
the previous owner and a very well reported and renowned dancer there.
Actually, the first belly dancing I ever saw was at the Bagdad.
You see, we
(my second husband, our friends and I) were what was known as then
as "hippies" and didn't usually frequent bars, but went
to coffee houses and the prevailing outdoor demonstration or be-in,
love-in, etc. And we usually didn't partake of alcoholic beverages,
choosing instead to ingest mind-altering substances of another nature.
So our days were usually spent in parks, communing with nature and
such spirits that were conjured up with the ingesting of said substances.
Nights were usually
spent in one another's houses, or "pads" as they were known
amongst ourselves. My then husband was in a rock and roll band, and when
we weren't going to see him perform in the Freight and Salvage coffee
house in Berkeley or the Filmore Auditorium or the Avalon Ballroom in
San Francisco, we were seeing our friends perform in these venues. I missed
seeing him perform at Woodstock because my daughter, Melinda, was born
August 1969 and pregnant women weren't allowed in airplanes in those days.
So I cooled my heels at home, forcing myself to be content with news of
all the goings-on when the famous rocker returned.
So it was in the Daily
Californian, the University of California's newspaper, that I read the
ad for belly dance lessons and decided to look into them. Once hooked
on both Jamila and the dance lessons, it wasn't long before I was in my
first nightclub seeing the dancers ply their trade. I actually danced
at one of Jamila's student nights pregnant -- I still have the photo --wearing
an Asiute dress borrowed from Jamila. Still, most of my performing experiences
were in my husband's rock group at stop-the-war demonstrations, where
we were the featured group, or at more prestigious demonstrations such
as the warm-up group for Joan Baez, or some other artist who had
associated themselves with the anti-Vietnam war effort. I used to come
out in a simple costume dancing to a rendition of the Coasters' "Little
Egypt" dancing barefoot and pregnant.
After sending me down
to Fresno, California, to fill in for an absent dancer (another good story
to be left for another time), Jamila suggested that I apply for the Tuesday
night job at the Taverna Athena in Jack London Square in Oakland,
across the bridge from San Francisco. This was the night that Anna
Efstathiou taught Greek folk dancing, and I used it as an opportunity
to learn some of the traditional dances. In those days, people used to
go out every night, not just Friday and Saturday, so there was usually
quite a crowd. Still, Jamila regarded the Greek clubs as not quite "real"
insofar as the music we danced to was concerned, and I will have to say
that the steps and moves we had learned from her didn't translate so well
to Greek music. (When I was dancing at the Parthenon Restaurant
in Walnut Creek some years later, Jamila came out to critique me and said
"It looks like you are in a race with the musicians and the musicians
are winning"). Besides, the clubs on Broadway were more well thought
of and there was a bigger opportunity to develop your dance, as the musicians
usually helped you with criticism and suggestions, whereas in contrast
the Greek musicians usually just yelled "OPA!" if they liked
you whether you could dance well or not.
So it was arranged
that Jamila twisted Yousef
Kouyoumjian's arm (the then owner of the Bagdad) and I ended up dancing
Friday and Saturday nights for $5.00 a night and half the tips. The Greek
Taverna on Columbus and Broadway paid more money in base salary but
kept half the tips, while the Taverna Athena let you keep all your tips.
Still, I was a "serious" belly dancer, and I listened to my
teacher insofar as my dance development was concerned. Besides, as a hippie,
I wasn't in it for the money, anyway, but for the experience and the "vibes."
Innocents that we were at the time, we were unaware that we would become
near icons at some later time. That certainly wasn't what we were in it
for at the time. Belly dancing still wasn't "accepted" in America
and people used to ask me "what is a nice girl like you doing in
a place like this?" I was a natural born rebel and being a belly
dancer was still looked upon as a non-mainstream activity.
II --Of Belly Dancers, Bullets & The Men in Blue, or A Change
Rhea moves to Greece