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North and South
by Aziza!

As I write this next installment of my dance adventures, I am paying the price for my career.  Two days ago I had knee surgery to repair the damage done to my right knee over the long course of the dancing years - damage which began one night at the Bagdad Cabaret probably 30 years ago, when I was doing my slow backbend most of the way to the floor, a backbend ended by a sudden drop to the knees-bent, back-flat position ready for floorwork. 

I felt something bad happen inside my knee, but it was early in the evening and there was only one other dancer, so Yousef insisted that I finish out the rest of my shows

.  Adrenaline and "the show must go on" carried me through that night, but the next day I visited a doctor and was off for a while with a wrecked ligament.  At another, later date, I did more or less the same thing to the other knee, and, after it felt better, went right back to the same moves as always - that damn drop, followed by a fairly long and athletic floorwork.  At that time we were, in general, less educated or less concerned with the health of our backs and joints than many dancers are today.  We did no warm-up exercises, no cool-down stretches - we just jumped right into the dance!  I am here to say that warm-ups and cool-downs are a really good idea, ladies!  Though my surgery proved to be remarkably non-traumatic to my quaking psyche, and the result should be just excellent, it would have been better not to have had to have it!

So - when last you saw me, I was heading home from Calgary, Alberta, after an extended gig there working in The Egyptian Gardens, downstairs from Al's Steak House.  The success of my working there was shown by the fact that one of the hotels in town, The Empress, noticing all Al's new business, decided that they, too, needed a belly dance show.  They hired Guy Chookoorian (you have heard of him before - I worked with him a lot) and his band and two dancers.  Just after I left, the Chookoorian contract was up, and he was going to move on to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, for the group's next appearance.  However, he had been having trouble with his dancers - one in particular was stirring up a lot of problems and being very difficult to work with.  When Guy learned that I was free again, he fired both of the other dancers and hired me and Anna Maria Mavros, the singer, so back I went immediately to Canada!  This time I took my son Adam, who was four at the time, with me.  (I remember that I read Stuart Little to him on the plane.)  I met Guy and the guys in Calgary, and we drove to Saskatoon, a beautiful trip.  It was still early in the year, and quite cool.  We appeared at the Hotel Bessborough, one of the Canadian National chain of hotels that was linked by the railroad.  The Bess was a huge and classy old beauty.  As part of our pay we got comped rooms and meals, which was just lovely!  Adam was very well-behaved and loved staying in the hotel, having bran muffins for breakfast, and watching the evening shows, which were fairly early.† It worked out well to have him there with us, though one time it was a little problem.  I had made an appointment to have my hair washed and my hairpieces reset in the hotel beauty shop, at a time when he usually was taking a long nap.  That day, however, he woke up early and called the hotel operator, asking "Where's my Mommy?"  Lots of excitement throughout the hotel!  Last time I tried that!  When we left Saskatoon, we drove home with Guy through gorgeous Banff National Park - my disappointment was that we didn't have time to make a side trip to see Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan - the name has always fascinated me!  We did, however, stop at a shop in Calgary where I bought a gorgeous moosehide jacket, all fringed, beaded and lined, which I wore and loved until the night that someone broke into my car while I was at work and stole it (along with a bunch of other things I loved).  Once more I had been the first bellydancer to appear in a Canadian province - this time, Saskatchewan!

At the opposite end of the spectrum, both in weather and in type of venue, was working at the Seventh Veil in Hollywood.  Zenouba had recommended me to the owner, so I had no trouble getting a job there.  Zenouba had also offered me her hospitality while I was in Southern California though she, herself, would be out of town, so I stayed for a while at her apartment with her 16-year-old daughter.  It was a very different life from what I was used to - I had never eaten so many frozen dinners, nor had I ever had a pool available before - and it seemed to me to be very pleasant.  The daughter, however, was not a happy girl.  She was so bored and blase that it hurt!  I can never, even now, imagine feeling that way!  She let me try on some costumes that Zenouba had brought from Egypt, and they were different from anything I had seen.  The skirt was attached to the belt, and down the front of each one was a skirt-length panel that hung from the belt, slightly wider at the hem, matching the bra and belt.  My favorite was covered with cowry shells and such - it was really beautiful, but the weight of the shells on that panel made it hard to wear and probably impossible to dance in!  After I had been there for a couple of weeks, Zenouba thought that it was long enough, and she told me I should move on out.  The club drummer, Jamil, helped me find a small apartment off Barham Avenue, where I spent the rest of my time. 

Working at the Seventh Veil almost made me quit dancing forever!  It was not a good place to work!  It belonged to a former dancer who had been known as Leila

She had been in a car wreck that scarred her so badly that she could no longer dance, and her disappointment at this seemed to come out in hatred of the dancers who worked for her.

  We had no dressing room, but had to change in the office, which also contained the water heater, a circumstance that, as it was summer, made it pretty unbearable.  Also, we were not allowed to lock the office door, since it was possible that someone would need to use the office at any time - and that person seemed to always be Leila's brother, who always seemed to need the office just when we were changing!  My, my.... The other dancer who was there while I was was a very tall, dark-haired woman named Barbara, who wore eyelashes that had a strip of blue rhinestones along their base - it was a rather startling effect!  This was another club that had, like the Bagdad, a small raised stage.  It was a restaurant, too, but we were not allowed to eat anything - a very unusual practice at a time when restaurants pretty routinely gave at least one meal to the entertainers.  As time went on, however, I was glad that we couldn't eat anything, as I saw food from returned plates reused on new plates!  Yuk!  The musicians I worked with while I was there included Jean Kassapian on guitar, Jamil on drum, and the late Adel Sirhan (brother of the infamous Sirhan Sirhan) on oud.  Things were always tense around there for one reason and another. 

One of my reasons was that there was a very handy little escort service being run out of the place, and I was being pressured to participate, something that I was steadfastly refusing. 

One night the dislike between Jean Kassapian and Barbara flared up, he played something inappropriate and just plain wrong, †and she flounced off the stage just after she had begun her dance.  Leila laid into her and they had a huge screaming fight, after which Leila told me to get dressed and get up on the stage to dance.  I had just changed out of my costume and I was tired (also like the Bagdad, the shows ran about 45 minutes) and I said that I couldn't do that right then.  Well, then Leila went after me, the fight had a second installment, and it ended with the quitting of both Barbara and me!  It was most unpleasant, and to this day I can't smell Chantilly, Leila's perfume, without feeling very unhappy.  Though Lou Shelby at the Fez had offered me a job, I felt that I wanted to return to my own house and family in Northern California and lick my wounds for a while before I moved on to my next adventure.† Somehow, working in Hollywood just wasnít all itís cracked up to be!

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More by Aziza!
12-15-02 At the Egyptian Gardens
“You insult me in the street and apologize in a corner.”
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!
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...

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That was not the first time I had nearly starved to death “on the road with Bert”.

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