advertise on Gilded Serpent

Aziza! at the Egyptian Gardens
At the Egyptian Gardens
by Aziza!

In 1968, while I was once again working in San Francisco, I got a call from a Calgary, Alberta, restaurant owner named Al.  He wanted me to fly to Calgary to help him open a Middle Eastern cabaret in the basement of his restaurant, Al’s Steak House.  I think that Zenouba had recommended me, though it wasn’t very clear.

Al had no local resources for the decorations, etc., for his new club, so I had to get stuff together and take it up with me.  Jamila helped me find quite a few travel posters for the walls, and I don’t remember what all else.  I also had to put together a number of dance routines (on my reel-to-reel) from the few Middle Eastern records I had.  Some, I must admit, were more successful than others –one of my favorites was made of selections from “Hard Rock From the Middle East”by The Devil’s Anvil.

I just flew to Calgary, cold, with very little information about anything –I think now that I was either very brave or really foolhardy!  I had to change to a smaller plane somewhere and almost missed the connection –I can remember running, burdened with all that stuff, across a runway and stumbling up the steps to another plane.  Al, bearing my Canadian work permit, picked me up at the airport in Calgary –and, he told me later, almost sent me right back to California.  I was tired and disheveled and I had forgotten my false eyelashes, so there was a distinct lack of glamour about my arrival! 

Al had arranged for me to stay at the house of an Arab woman he knew, where I paid room and board.   A waitress at his restaurant, a friendly redhead named Susan, was also staying there. We didn’t live there long, however, as the woman was not very nice and, in addition, never fed us anything.  It was true that we got one meal a day at the restaurant (fantastic steaks and baked potatoes!), but we worked hard and needed more than one meal –not to speak of the fact that we were paying for the non-existent meals! 

I can remember the two of us, standing in our landlady’s vegetable patch when she was not home, eating peas right off the vine and radishes barely rinsed off because we were so hungry!   After a short time, Susan and I found an apartment together –and filled the refrigerator!

So –the cabaret…. It was called the Egyptian Gardens, and it became very popular.  Al blew up photos of me into posters and put them in the front windows upstairs and all around town.  I was in several tv ads –I danced about and there were close-ups of my “mysterious and exotic”eyes –well eye-lashed!  Al and  I had chosen a striped canvas which was made into a tent-like structure in the wide end of the room.   It was flanked by potted palms and such, and inside it I got dressed and operated the sound system.  It worked fine, and I enjoyed my job.  I was the first bellydancer in the Province of Alberta, and people came from all over to see the shows.  Food, brought down from the restaurant upstairs,  was served in the Egyptian Gardens, but people had to bring their own alcohol. 

Eventually, Al decided that he wanted a second dancer, so he asked if I could recommend someone.   There was a girl named Badiia who had taken lessons from me and then worked with me at the Bagdad and took my place at the Greek Taverna when I left for Calgary –she danced like me, but without expending any energy.  This was not apparent because as soon as she got under the lights she started to sweat, so everyone thought she was working so hard!  Badiia came to Calgary and settled in –boy, did she settle in!  Before I knew it, she was sitting on Al’s lap and being his little sweet kittenish honey, getting all the perks, etc., etc.  I had always kept things on a businesslike, though friendly, basis, but that was not Badiia’s style!

The next thing we knew, Al decided that he wanted live music, so he left his brother in charge at the restaurant, took Badiia with him, and they went back east to round up some musicians.  No sooner had they left than a lot of nasty rumors began, the main one being that Badiia was pregnant by Al and was going to get a (still uncommon and rather scandalous) abortion on their trip.  I didn’t contribute to the gossip, though I must admit to being entertained!  When the pair, musicians in tow, returned to Calgary, they heard everything the first day.  My introduction to the musicians came when I was ordered to the restaurant and accused, in front of them, of starting all the gossip and trying to “ruin”Badiia!  I denied it honestly, of course, and cried so hard I lost those damn eyelashes!  Later, Al asked his brother about my involvement, and, when he heard I was innocent of any gossip, he apologized quietly and privately to me in the kitchen.  I saw an illustration of the Arabic proverb: “You insult me in the street and apologize in a corner.”  Well, as you can imagine, the luster was off that job, and I soon gave my notice and went home.  And I never called Badiia to do another job!

Have a comment? Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for More?
More by Aziza!
11-10-02 Back in the Bay Area zils flew off into the audience, and George stopped playing, went down into the audience...Was I embarrassed!
9-20-02 On the Road
She was the fiery “Bedouin”who argued with the band in apparent Arabic and seemed so real and dramatic.
10-11-02 Review of "Style File, A Visual Vocabulary of Middle Eastern Dance Costume" , book review by Aziza!
Dawn Brown has created a handy reference guide to the main costuming trends...

12-01-02 Review of Dalia Carella's "Transparancy" by Susie
While I have seen a few outstanding belly dance shows in the San Francisco Bay Area...

Buy the Belly Dance Reader