The Gilded Serpent



The Gilded Serpent presents...
Back in the Bay Area

by Aziza!

Between my road tours and out-of-town gigs, I danced at a lot of different places in the San Francisco area besides the Bagdad!

As I have mentioned before, for a while Amina and I danced on Monday evenings at the Casa Madrid on Broadway in San Francisco.  The Casa Madrid was a cabaret owned by the great flamenco dancer, Cruz Luna.  He performed there nightly (except Mondays) with two beautiful and talented female dancers, who always wore big spitcurls, high combs and big red roses in their hair and danced in their flounces like proud goddesses.

At a restaurant in Alameda that was called The Casbah, though with no relation to Fadil’s club, I worked with a dancer named Khadijah (Katherine Rabanne) who was known for her many elaborate tattoos.  I even saw her featured in a tattoo magazine once!  She had a multi-colored eagle all across her upper back, and so many tattoos on her upper body that it looked like she was wearing a short-sleeved blouse!  If I remember correctly, her husband or boyfriend was a tattoo artist.

I danced for some time at a club in Hayward that was called the Raven.  It was not a Middle Eastern club, but they wanted to feature bellydancing and called to offer me a job, so what the heck…. They had a trio of piano, bass and guitar, and it was lucky that I had had to find the musical scores for a casual I did for Hal Morris, as I had them available for these guys to play.  For several months I danced to Hava Nagila, Caravan, and Song of India. I guess it was a good experience –it certainly made me stretch to find freshness and excitement in that same music over and over! 

For short periods I worked in several places that I don’t even remember the names of, such as Greek restaurants on the peninsula and near the San Francisco airport.  Actually, at the latter, there were a couple of memorable occurrences.  One evening I was doing the folkdance tsiftitelli between sets with a Greek named George when, during a particularly athletic move, he split his pants in the back from inseam to waist.  Did it faze him?  Not a bit!  He tucked a napkin into the back waist of his pants and continued to dance, with the napkin flapping like a little skirt behind him.  The other thing that happened was considerably different.  I was dancing in the audience during a performance when the instep of my right foot landed on a still-burning cigarette butt that some cool character had discarded on the floor instead of in an ashtray.  Yow!  As it was, dancing barefoot in Greek clubs tended to be hazardous because of the Greek custom (since outlawed, I understand) of throwing plates to break on the floor, as an expression of exuberance and general yeehaw –but the cigarette burn was just too much!  At that time dancing sandals were not yet easily available, so I wore high-heeled sandals from then on when I danced in a Greek place!  Oh, and there was where I had my first magyeritsa, the Greek Easter soup.  I am sure that it was most entertaining to give an unsuspecting girl soup made of entrails! 

At one point, Naji Baba opened a club on Broadway called Francisco’s (where the Garden of Eden is now).  It was a long, narrow place, and we danced on a long, skinny ramp that jutted out into the room.  Naji played dumbek and George Elias the Jerk played the oud for us there.  At that time I had been going out with a friend of his, so he temporarily approved of me –one night one of my zils flew off into the audience, and George stopped playing, went down into the audience, and retrieved my zil for me.  Was I embarrassed!  The dressing room was all windows across the back and there were no curtains –guys used to sit on the fire escapes on the wall across the way and watch us dress –it was, as you can imagine, quite uncomfortable.  I worked at Francisco’s with a dancer named Aida (pre Aida al-Adawi), a slender, petite woman with immensely long, straight black hair.  She told us she used to be a stripper and enter with her hair all up under a big hat –

A couple of blocks from the Bagdad, around the corner on Columbus, some Greek brothers opened the Greek Taverna and hired me as their first belly dancer.  There was live music, with Greek folk-dancing between my shows.  The brothers liked lots of excitement, so one of the things they wanted me to do was to dance standing on the chairs or tables –but they were pedestal tables, and after a few wobbly and scary episodes, I didn’t go any higher than the occasional chair!  After a few weeks there, I became aware that there was a hole in the dressing room wall and I was sometimes watched as I changed clothes.  I didn’t want to make a big fuss (at that time, one didn’t), so I brought in a bunch of pictures that my young son had drawn and taped them over that hole and anyplace else that seemed vulnerable.  The Greek Taverna was the first Greek club I worked in, and I was surprised by how much faster the music was –I had never been a very fast dancer, but I had to change my ways in a hurry!

In 1971 I was the first dancer in a place called the 1001 Nights, in the Tenderloin near the Minerva.  I was saving every penny for an upcoming trip to Greece, and I spoke to the musicians, led by Issa Deeb, and to the owners about the possibility of not splitting my tips for the couple of months I would be working there.  They were very gracious about it, and all was fine til Issa Deeb left and Shukry Ayyad came to work there.  He would not agree to the tips thing, and told the owner that I had to go or he would quit!  Well, dancers were and are much more expendable than oudists, so bye-bye 1001 Nights!  I went to Greece anyway.


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