The Photography of Ken Keep

Ken Keep has been photographing Oriental Dance on and off for over 30 years. He recently relocated from Pacifica to San Francisco, California and has generously shared with us a few of his favorite photos. He also took the time to tell us why these photos and the dance have meant so much to him.

Click on each photo to enlarge.

"This is Suhaila at age 3 or 4 at the Northern California Renaissance Faire. Here was this group of exotically dressed women traveling together from stage to stage. They were pushing a little cart in which she was riding. They were wearing very covered up robes and head wraps in something of a tribal manner, and even before I saw them dance I was fascinated. Later I would learn that dancers always wear a coverup of some sort, so as not to show themselves in costume until they perform. Imagine my reaction when I saw them on stage later that day; even little Suhaila turned out to bean accomplished dancer. This was in about 1969 or ‘70.

I was in my mid 20's with the hormones raging. (I was also terminally shy at the time. Not a very happy combination.) They lit me up! It was a life-changing event. I had just decided to become a professional photographer. I showed them my prints the next week. They were very excited (dancers are always looking for good pictures) and, after a while, Jamila put me on the pass list at the gate to get in free. I began taking pictures every weekend.

How was it life-changing? In my generation it was not appropriate to socialize with your clients, so though I really really wanted to, I never asked any of these ladies out. I think that because I never hit on them they felt safe and after a long while let me into their circle. Through this experience I learned how to be friends with women. I’m not sure that I would ever have learned this otherwise. Some of those friendships are still with me, after all these years. I am a very different man today than I would have been without these wonderful experiences."

"This shot was taken somewhere between 1975 and 80, at a show of Asia's in Stockton. She was a student of Asia's".

Asia has this to add: "What a treat to see this beautiful photo. This is Leila Feinstein, a member of Chimera Dance Troupe. (circa 1976) The costume is North African."


"This photo is of Sharifa at a concert at Basta Pasta in Walnut Creek."

Sharifa has this to add:
"This is a photo of me dancing with Muhara, one of my first snakes.
The show lineup included my troupe, Troupe Tangiers, Sadira and her troupe, and Asia and her troupe. I can't remember who else danced, but I hired Paul Ohanesian and Robaire Bozeman to accompany the solo dancers. Ken may have photos to show who else was there. I'm thinking it was 1981 or 82. We have some other photos from the event. It was a great show with my favorite troupes at the time."

Ken adds more, "Among Sharifa’s dancers for that performance were identical red-headed twins Karen and Sharon in their world debut. They later started their own troupe, among other belly dance accomplishments".

"Ma'shar at one of Leea's Belly Dancer of the Year contests."
(Unknown year)

"June danced at the second Rakkasah Festival in Piedmont in 1981. This woman projected such an exuberance for life. I am very proud of this photo, as I was able to show this wonderful spirit. She died not long after".


Ready for more?
On the Costumer’s Bookshelf
by Dawn 'Davina' Devine Brown,
The Splendor of Ethnic Jewelry. For the reader or researcher interested in ethnic jewelry, this sumptuous coffee table book is worth every penny of its rather steep price. This is the first in a regular series by Davina!

Yousef Mustafa, Master of Percussion by Jawahare
When the musicians came from Egypt we promoted this type of music for the shows here too. So, now it has become more popular.