The Gilded Serpent

The Gilded Serpent presents...
Out of Town in
by Aziza

As it happened, the first two times I went to dance out of town were both in Oregon. The first was a one-night show at the University of Oregon., in November of 1966. I flew up with Yousef, owner of the Bagdad, "George Elias the Jerk", Gilli-Gilli and Fatma Akef, so we had a violin, an oud, a drum and two dancers. We were put up in the dorms and did a big, well-publicized show. George was very frightened and sort of sick in the plane on the way up (and back), and that really tickled Fatma's funny bone. Since then, every time I have seen her, she talks about how scared he was and laughs a lot. That was the first time I had been interviewed by a paper about my dancing, and it is when I learned how careful one has to be about one says, as things can be mangled even in good will.

The second trip to Oregon came about because Jamila told me that I had to stop hanging around the Bay Area, just dancing and going to antique shops and so on, and start making some trips elsewhere, to get some more experience. So for the first and last time (except for some club dates), I used an agent to get a job. After that time, club and restaurant owners would approach me with job offers, or I would be referred by another dancer. Anyway, I was hired by the Athens West restaurant in Portland, Oregon, owned by a Greek, George Voreas, for a two-week gig.

I flew up to Portland - only the second time in a plane for me, and the first by myself. I was feeling a little uncomfortable because, although mini skirts were in, pantyhose hadn't yet become available, so I was having to use a lot of energy trying to keep hidden my stocking tops and garters under the skirt of my hot fuchsia suit. Oooh. It had been suggested that I stay at the Hoyt Hotel, a littlie way down the street from the restaurant. I took a room, got ready, and went to work.

The other girl who was dancing at the Athens West was a short, cute, half-Greek girl named Zainah. From the very first she was nothing but sweet to me, which was and is not always the case in an established dancer's treatment of a newer one. She immediately had me change my room to one on the top floor of the hotel, which was much cheaper, as it was smaller and had a shared bath. On that top floor also lived the singers and dancers who were appearing in the stage show at the theater attached to the hotel.

Zainah was a wild thing - she would wear shorts and a little midriff top and do handstands and other acrobatics in the lobby of the hotel, cheered on by a bunch of caged mynah birds there. She flirted a lot with the owner of the hotel, which got her a reduced rent. She tried to explain it to me so that I could get mine reduced, too, but I have somehow never been able to achieve that kind of thing.

We dressed in the basement of the restaurant, crossed one end of the kitchen, and climbed the stairs to the restaurant proper, where there was a small raised stage for the musicians and us. Over to one side of the room was a long bar, and behind it was a regular, largish fishbowl - and in that fishbowl was a very small, topless girl, swimming and flirting! I was amazed, but I later found out that there was a little platform up close to the ceiling in another part of the basement, where the real girl would lie and pretend to swim, and have her image transported by an ingenious arrangement of mirrors into the fishbowl! The owner wanted me to do it, but I wasn't interested.

One of the things that the owner insisted on was fancy hair - he considered straight, hanging hair to be "hippie hair". Zainah wore three hairpieces every night. When I wrote to Jamila about this, she wrote back, advising me that it wasn't surprising, as "Greeks like their women to look like Christmas trees."

Yes. We had some trouble after I had been there a few days because my costumes got dirty (well, I had a pink crepe skirt that got black on the front). I had had my costumes cleaned before I left, so I told George that they had gotten dirty from his stage - guys would get up in their street shoes and dance, and the dirty floor was never cleaned - just waxed over. He said that Zainah's costumes never got dirty, but she said that of course they did, but they were chiffon, so you couldn't see it! Anyway, I had a skirt cleaned for the first and last time by a hotel cleaner. They shrank it in spots and made it longer in spots - it was a disaster, and was ruined. We also had to be sure to wear slippers to cross the floor of the kitchen, as it was so greasy and dirty that our feet would look terrible on stage if we didn't! To add to all this cleanliness (hah!), in that dressing room was the first time I ever saw a cockroach! It was on the wall behind my head, and made Zainah shriek, but I found it interesting. Another first for me at the Athens West was lobster - when the cook learned I hadn't ever tasted it, he made me one, and when he saw how much I loved it, he made me several more over my time there.

At that time I had only a few costumes. I had a black crepe skirt with trim, a blue chiffon Turkish run-through, the pink skirt that was ruined (and it fluoresced!), and a pair of pantaloons made of some loose gold mesh that kept catching my toes, with a heavy gold jersey veil. I had my original silver coin bra and belt, and a set made with gold coins and red jewels that I had bought from Najma Saline. She was much smaller than I was, and I had enlarged the belt with the cuffs that came with it, but I lengthened the bra straps with chain, which worked fine.

It worked fine, that is, until the night I bowed to the band at the end of my dance and the chain parted and the bra fell right off onto the stage! Ooooh! I was pretty embarrassed, but it was also pretty funny, as I picked up my (luckily) heavy veil to bring myself a little modesty, I was laughing, the band was laughing, and such of the customers as had seen what happened were laughing. The owner, however, thought that I had done it on purpose, and he was not laughing! In fact, he didn't speak to me for a week!

He got over it, however, and, when the two weeks of my contract were up, he said he wanted to keep me for two more weeks, but at a lower salary. I told him I would like to stay, but I wasn't too sure about a salary cut. I immediately wrote to the agent to ask her what I should do. It took several days to get a letter back from her, and she said that I should accept the pay cut, but in the meantime I had decided that I wanted to keep getting the same amount of money, told the owner, and been accepted. So much for the agent's advice!

The musicians were all Greek, and included Elias Fotosides, Mimis Daskalos and Lolos, who was a real showman and played the Farfisa electric keyboard. I worked with Lolos later, at other clubs, too. Elias used to call me the Sergeant, for my broad shoulders and straight posture.

Portland, as a port city, hosted a lot of sailors of all nations, and we got a lot of the Greeks in the Athens West, of course. They were great tippers - a $20 bill was nothing to them, so we all did well. One night a convention of florists came in. They brought a lot of bouquets to put on the tables and a lot of loose flowers for the entertainers. Pretty soon the musicians were all decorated with anthuriums and carnations, and we dancers had flowers stuck in our costumes and scattered over us on the stage as we did floor work. One bromeliad that came my way had a $100 bill wrapped around the stem. It was fun!

In those more innocent and safer days, Zainah liked to cruise the docks, looking for Greek sailors to pick up for conversation and flirtation. Several times I went with her in Lolos' convertible, and we were often joined by one of the gay dancers from the hotel's stage show.

We would drive along with Zainah calling out in Greek slang to any Greek we happened to see, and soon the car was loaded with guys looking for fun and a break from the ship. Far too often, after I had gone to bed at night, Zainah would come knocking at my door to wake me up, with a couple or more guys in tow, saying to come on down to the coffee shop for a while.

I finally started sleeping in my makeup so that I was ready for these wee-hour excursions, and I have had my makeup on 24 hours a day ever since. I'm just talking eyes and cheeks here. Even when I went to Alaska to stay with my brother there, helped him build his cabin and clean a moose he had shot, I had on my lashes, eyeliner, shadow and blush. Jamila loved this story and told it to all her classes. Of course, at that time, in the late '60s and early '70s, the doe-eyed look was in and women wore a lot of makeup, so it didn't really look out of place - just exotic. Well, maybe out in the wilds of Alaska...

Just as I was leaving, a dancer named Zenouba arrived to take my place. She told me that I should go to work in Fresno, at the Arabian Nights restaurant, and, if I remember correctly, she called the owner about me. Zenouba was an older woman from Egypt. More of her later.

Zainah later came down to San Francisco to work at the Bagdad. She did her acrobatic stuff there and captivated George Elias the Nice. They were married for a while.

My first out-of-town job was enjoyable and a little scary, and I was ready for my next adventure.


Ready for more?

More by Aziza!
11-13-01 Out of Town in Fresno
You can't wear that vest on stage - we're not running a Sunday school here!

11-29-01 Nomads of the Spirit by Sierra Suraci
Know what are you contributing - either to their dilution as a people or the strengthening of their true image.

11-25-01 The IAMED Fifth Annual Awards of Belly Dance!
Photos from the awards ceremony performances and list of winners.


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