Dancing at Zorba's in the '70's

by Kalifa

Upon reading Rhea's account of the "Good Old Days in San Francisco in the 70's", I remembered the time Bert Balladine, my teacher, mentor and friend, called me up and said, "Kalifa, want to do a New Year's Eve Show with me at Zorba's in Sacramento?"  Of course, the answer was yes, as I was delighted to be spending New Year's Eve dancing with him.

He asked another dancer to join us but since neither Bert nor I can remember her name, she must remain nameless. When we arrived we were shown into the dressing room and we unpacked our costumes and prepared for the show. By show time it was a full house, since Zorba's had  "Reservations Only" that night. Once on stage, the two of us danced with Bert, incorporating some of the combinations that he had taught us in class. When it became time for him to do his fire-eating number, the other dancer and I played finger cymbals while Bert went into his act. I had never seen him do the fire eating before and after he had "swallowed" several torches, I suddenly became aware of smoke rising from his beard. I glanced nervously at the other girl, but she didn't seem to notice. As his beard burst into flames Bert was the consummate professional, and continued as if it were planned, even getting applause from the audience. He never seemed nervous or disturbed and I had to force myself not to rush to his aid, remembering that we were on stage entertaining an audience. While he skillfully put out the fire in his beard, the two of us danced around him and I caught his eye. I saw the twinkle and he wasn't in the least distressed, nor did his face look burned as we continued the show. Afterwards Bert confessed to me that he got carried away in his zest to entertain and we all had a good laugh. It was certainly a New Year's Eve party never to forget.

After that night, and with Bert's help, I was hired as the main dancer at Zorba's in Berkeley on the weekends and drove back and forth for 3 or 4 months. As Rhea pointed out, the dance movements we had learned didn't always translate well to Greek music. I was new to dancing in clubs in those days, but several months of working at Zorba's with the Greek musicians taught me to really enjoy and match my movements and shimmies to the rhythms. Between shows it was great fun to lead the Greek dancing with the diners and waiters. I remember one handsome waiter who could pick up a table by grasping the it in his teeth, with a woman seated in a chair on top. This really happened! I loved dancing at Zorba's and was sad when my gig ended. However, Bert found me another job in Great Falls, Montana, in the middle of winter, and well, that's another story.

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