R to L- Vince, Mimi& Susu?
The Gilded Serpent presents...
Club Dates and Casuals
by Aziza!

In between regular jobs and on my off nights from them, I often did what we called "club dates", though they usually weren't in clubs. I did a variety of bachelor parties - I always took someone with me, but I never had any kind of problem. I danced for a number of fraternal organizations - the Shriners, Lions, Elks, etc.

One of my favorites was when a guy in a gorilla suit came in at the end and carried off the other girl I was working with, to her surprise and everyone else's great entertainment!

I did a show in Lodi, CA, where part of my payment was in fresh, ripe cherries! I danced for a big game rally at UC Berkeley, my Alma Mater. It was really a rush - up on stage at night in the open-air Greek Theater, lit by bonfires and cheered on by thousands of screaming, overheated fans! It was at a job for a social group in Berkeley that my mother finally saw me dance and was pleased and relieved by it. I danced for a group in Rossmoor (a retirement community in Walnut Creek, CA) just a couple of months after my second son was born, and while I was dancing I thought about my sweet little Josh, and my milk suddenly came down - that was quite a mess! I did dance for some baby showers, which seemed very fitting to me, considering the background of our dance - and I always talked to the women about it, too. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I danced for a Eugene McCarthy rally and for my older son's kindergarten class.

Sabah (Jamie Miller) and I had been friends since I was first dancing. She had started some time earlier than I, and was married to Jack, a theatrical agent, when I met her. She remained close to her stepdaughters with him (and their children) til the day she died. When I married my second husband, the Greek, Sabah came to our wedding wearing a fairly extreme pink minidress. My mother felt that it was so short that it was probably really a shirt, for which she had forgotten the skirt, and always thereafter referred to her not as Sabah, but as "the girl in the shirt." Sabah was a delightful woman, who definitely walked her own path. I remember running into her once in the grocery store, and her telling me very loudly and in some detail about the abortion she had recently had. This was not yet a common topic, and there was a part of me, I must admit, that was cringing and looking over my shoulder to see if other people were listening. Anyway, she put on a benefit at a church in Berkeley and asked me to be in it. Of course, I was happy to join her. One of the other performers was a girl who was a very good dancer, but when she auditioned at the Bagdad, Yousef wouldn't hire her because he thought she looked "too masculine." She used to do part of her show holding long streamers of sequins in her hands. At this show, with Vince Delgado on drum and Ishmael on kanoun, was a young Mimi Spencer, just starting her impressive career as a musician, playing the tambourine and watching the dancing closely.

One of the gigs I remember best was in Los Angeles in 1969. Guy Chookoorian had hired me to dance for a private party at a mansion somewhere down there, where we performed outside around the pool. There were several tv sets located here and there in the pool area, and we all stopped dancing, playing, talking and everything to gather around the sets and watch the footage of the first man walking on the moon! It was a thrilling sight!

I did a few shows for Hal Morris, an agent to whom Sabah recommended me. The first time I met him, I had to go to his office to be checked out. He said that he could use me because my fingernails and my shoes looked good, but that he thought I should get something to make the small space between my front teeth go away - "something like that model wears in her pictures." Surprisingly, he didn't press that point. The first show I did for him had a lot of other performers of various talents in it. We had live music, and I had to find some sheet music for some thing exotic for them to play for me. The best I could do was "Caravan," "Song of India," and "Hava Nagila." One of the other acts (who, unfortunately, immediately preceded me) was a stripper, who did "The Dance of the Seven Veils"! The last time I got a call for a job from Hal was pretty much last-minute. Sabah, who had had the job, was taken ill, so he wanted me, and he wanted me to do a Sultan Act. At that time, it was not possible to buy a record with a routine already set up on it. There were a few more records than there were at first, but even that was not an extensive choice. Also, there were no such things as cassettes and players - just reel-to-reel recorders. In the very few routines I had cobbled together for myself (always striving as much as possible to keep the parts in the same maqam), I had none that were really a good length or arrangement for a Sultan. (By the way, for those of you who don't know what a Sultan Act is, here's an explanation: There are [or were] several variations of it. Some were as simple as getting a guy up on stage, having him sit on the floor or a pillow, while you danced around him and made him feel a little silly.

There were variations on this, such as Amina's having a candy or piece of fruit hidden in her bra, which she then fed to her surprised Sultan.

There was the standing-up Sultan, on which there were also variations. The most common was to get one or several guys up on stage and stand in front and make them try to follow your moves. The version I usually did was to teach him [or them] to "Make Turkish Coffee." First we would look for the beans [head slide], then shake the tree [bust shimmy], then grind the beans [large hip circle], then pour the ground beans into the pot [undulation], and then boil those beans [hip shimmy, which could be helped by grabbing the back waistband of the Sultan's pants and shaking it back and forth]. The guys enjoyed it and the audience loved it. It wasn't humiliating - just fun. Other dancers I saw, however, went a little farther down that path, rolling up shirts to expose bellies and pulling up pantlegs. The worst was "Princess Nadijah, the Turkish Bombshell" [actually a Jewish girl from Germany, who had been raised in New York by a Catholic family]. She took off her Sultan's shoe, pretended to sniff it and then made a face and a big deal about how stinky it was. So -the Sultan Act.) I had barely enough time to make a new tape. but the needle of our record player had mysteriously disappeared, and so that was impossible. I decided I would just have to do the best I could, got dressed, and off I went. I met Hal and the other girl who was, once again, a stripper, and we set off for Stockton or someplace like that down the Central Valley. We were dancing for one of the fraternal organizations, and things were already well under way when we got there. We had to dress in a freezing public restroom, and then wait almost an hour til we were on. Hal had promised that he would run my tape back some while I got a Sultan out of the audience, but he did not do much of a job of it, and I got only about a minute or two extra. Oh, well - I did the best I could.

After I had changed from my show, Hal and I were watching the stripper, and he told me that I should smile more on stage, because, since all I did was dance and not take off my clothes, my smile was all I had going for me.

When we left, my tape was all in disarray and the box, with all the tape's information on it, was left behind, but Hal was in a big hurry to go. He was also, by this time, quite drunk, and we went flying up the freeway at a great, if unsteady, pace. It was scary! However, more was yet to come. Hal stopped at a gas station to relieve himself, and there were a lot of creepy-looking guys hanging around.

"Don't worry, honey, " said the stripper, "I've got a gun!" and she pulled a big old hogleg out of her purse and started waving it around! Yikes!

After that I was busy when Hal called me. And to think that I gave up my chance to ride on BART's opening day with the Cub Scouts for that!

Nothing else was quite as exciting as the Hal Morris jobs, but I also made guest dancing appearances at places like El Sultan in San Francisco, Zorba's Symposium, ditto, and the Minerva, a Greek place where I did several casuals. We tried and tried to get Mr.Glimidakis, the owner of the Minerva, to add belly dancing regularly to his entertainment, but he resisted all our blandishments. It was in the Tenderloin district, so it would probably have had its hazards as a regular gig, but it was such a cool place that we
didn't care.

I was a featured speaker (and dancer) at the Santa Rosa JC Women's Week festivities in 1976 - a far cry from the late 1960s and early '70s, when the members of Women's Lib had been so upset about belly dancing, and how it was just another exploitation of women by men! (Demonstrations! Rhetoric! Oooh, they were rabid!) I also was a guest lecturer on the belly dance for a dance history class at Sonoma State University, CA. One evening I was drawn into an argument about underarm shaving by one of the students. Her name was Crystal, and she lived by the Russian River, where there have always been enclaves of unregenerate hippies, and she felt that hairy armpits were traditional and beautiful, and that no one should object to them. I pointed out to her that, on the contrary, the tradition in the Middle East was to pluck all the hair from the body, and that owners of places where she wanted to dance also had every right to insist that her underarms be either shaved or covered, as that is more acceptable to most patrons. Well, the debate raged on for some time (we each had our supporters), before I finally regained control of the class, leaving her with her hairy pits and her self-righteousness. A couple of months later, I saw her waiting tables in a restaurant, quite clean-shaven. I managed not to say anything, but it amused me!

Club dates and guest shots could be interesting, but I always preferred a regular gig.


Ready for more?
More by Aziza-
12-11-01 Out of Town in Oregon
One of the things that the owner insisted on was fancy hair - he considered straight, hanging hair to be "hippie hair".

10-5-01 DANCING IN YEMEN by Jalilah Part 2 - EL AROUS
I had been to many Middle Eastern weddings before, but none were as visually
impressive as the ones I attended in Sanaa, Yemen.

10-28-01 "Faddah" (Silver) by Hossam Ramzy, A Review and Commentary by Najia El-Mouzayen
Dancers who have enjoyed many of Hossam Ramzy's 16 other CDs will doubtlessly be thrilled by this
beautifully produced collection of new music.

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