Aziza! at The 4 Sale Co
The Gilded Serpent presents...
Moving to Santa Rosa
by Aziza!

So I married a Greek, and for a while it was okay with him that I continued to dance at the Bagdad, the Taverna Athena and so on. Club dates were fine, too. But gradually it became not quite as okay as it had been – certainly I couldn’t go out of town any more to dance. Then, after a couple of years, I became pregnant and the point was moot. About the time my second son, Josh, was born, there was a horrific news story. Not far from where we were living in Oakland a young newspaper delivery boy, just about the same age as my older son, Adam, was beaten almost to death, for no more reason than his collection money. That was the last straw on the load that living there was becoming, and we moved north to Santa Rosa, where Milt had been offered a job. For about a year or so I was mostly a mom, performing for only a couple of gigs. (See my column titled “Club Dates and Casuals” for the story of one of them.)

Lara Naseef

Eventually I decided that I would teach belly dancing. I had almost ten years of professional dancing experience by then, and though I no longer needed nor expected to support myself and Adam by dancing, I still loved it and wanted to dance and be involved in that world. So I put an ad in the local paper and was soon teaching a couple of classes a week, which was all that I wanted. Although I have never liked to teach a regular, ongoing class (one-shots, like seminars and workshops, are fine with me), I did it for eight years or so. I thought it would be good for my character, but then I figured that after that long, my character was as improved as it was going to get. I taught at home, I taught in the Senior Center, at the Santa Rosa City Rec Center, at the Sebastopol Community Center, at the high school – you name it, I taught there. For a long time, there was no other belly dance teacher in Santa Rosa, though there was one in neighboring Sebastopol. (More on her in a future column.)

Although I didn’t like the regimen of the weekly classes, I did like to see how my students developed and changed and how the dance and all surrounding it brought out their beauty and their personalities.

After a while, we took field trips to San Francisco to see the dancers in the clubs, and when my girls got good enough, we had student nights on stage at the Bagdad or Casbah. I was very proud of them!


Two more of my students became professionals. (The first two to do so were, of course, Badawia and Badiia.) One, Lara Naseef, worked at the Casbah for quite a long time. She could really burn up the stage! She danced in several places in San Francisco, including an extended gig at El Sultan, as well as restaurants in the Sonoma County area. Knee problems ended her career, too. The other who went professional was Asfura, physically as small and delicate as the bird she was named for, but in personality a tigress! She danced in California for a while and then she moved back to Missouri to continue her college career all the way to her Doctorate in Mythology. While she was there she danced and taught dancing, taking the Jamila style to the Midwest. Eventually, she married my oldest brother, Jim, and has lived with him for years in that cabin out in the wilds of Alaska, from which she still ventures forth to teach the dance under the aegis of the University of Alaska. Asfura had two costume items that I coveted – one was a bra and belt that she made that was beaded in a pattern of lotus flowers, and the other was an assiut dress that had gold-colored metal instead of silver – I have never seen another like that!

While Asfura was still in Sonoma County she arranged dancing gigs at a number of venues. One of the best was at a restaurant in Petaluma called The Eggery, where she ran the entertainment for quite a while. I danced there a lot, and we also had a lot of dancers from San Francisco who came up to play with us, such as Hoda (I saw her Isis dance, with the wings, there first, and was enthralled) and Tuta, a very frisky dancer and person, as well as an assortment of other excellent performers. There was always live music – sometimes Jazayer, or Vince Delgado with other people, sometimes the Hafasghanistan Rhythm Band, sometimes just a bunch of musicians who could do Middle Eastern music together, like Jim and Diane Hershey and Scott and Nina Gerber. It was an adventure! I have worn glasses since the sixth grade, and I have very poor vision, but for a short while I wore contacts, and it was at The Eggery that I first danced with contacts in.

Hoda, Aziza!, Sage
at The Eggery

Yow! What a shocking sight! I had never really been able to see the audience, except as a bunch of pinkish balloons above some kind of clothes, but all of a sudden, I could see faces! People smiling! Eeeks!

I hadn’t realized how much I had leaned on the lack of “people” in front of me as I danced and how that lack helped me not be shy! Well, that was the first and last time I wore contacts to perform!

With Asfura I also danced at places ranging from the funky Inn of the Beginning through the pizza place West of the Laguna to the elegant Belvedere, where we appeared several times, accompanied by Jazayer. She taught a non-dancing class at Sonoma State University about the culture and history of the belly dance, and invited me more than once to be a guest speaker. (See “Club Dates and Casuals’ again.) When she left for Missouri, it left a big hole in our dance scene!

 One of the friends I made in Santa Rosa was Cathy Andrade, known as Kadiya. Her husband, Ron Ransford, was a good dumbek player, and she was becoming more and more involved in the dancing going on in the area. It was through her that I met Trish St.John, now known as Hanan, but then called Saba, with whom I am still good friends. Kadiya wasn’t much taller nor bigger than Trish, and they used to do modern Ghawazi duets together. I had never seen Ghawazi before, and I was fascinated! I took some lessons from Trish, and later, Lara and I had our own Ghawazi Suite to perform. Kadiya also had a troupe called Ma’Moul, which is a Middle Eastern pastry – as Kadiya said, “fruit-filled tarts” - and my troupe and I did some shows with hers. She set up an ongoing gig at a place called the For Sale Co., and I danced there a lot. It was there that I met a gang of unregenerate hippie dancers from the Russian River area, known as the Rainbow Trance.

Coral with snake

One of them, Coral, used to dance with a snake which she wore like a crown on her head. One night, after dancing with the snake, she passed it to Cathy to hold, and, as we all sat around by the musicians when we were not dancing, all the customers got a really clear view when the irritated snake bit Cathy very efficiently, right in the chin, and blood spurted and ran all over everything! Wow! You don’t get a show like that every night!

Some of you may remember Korla Pandit, a youngish man from the subcontinent who used to play the organ weekly on tv. He always wore a turban and the kind of fancy Nehru jacket outfits associated with rajahs, and he just ravished the lady viewers when he turned those big brown eyes sincerely on theirs! My grandmother thought he was pretty wonderful! Anyway, he used to come in sometimes to the For Sale Co., and I thought that was pretty cool. One night he was there, sitting at the bar and eating a big sausage with his beer, and I was dancing around him, thinking I was pretty cool. And then I went in the dressing room and was very embarrassed – I had gotten in the habit of putting dancing underpants on over my regular bikinis to perform – I wanted to wear black or skintone unders, but it seemed silly to take off my regular psychedelic-print ones, so I just covered them up – lazy girl! Well, that bright and wild bikini had chosen that night to puff out above my girdle in the back, into a big old psychedelic balloony thing! Oh, dear! Once again, lesson learned, but oops! Too late!

Tuta, Fatma Akef, Amina
at the Bagdad

While I lived in Santa Rosa and, later, Sebastopol, I was still able to dance as much as I could weasel Milt into letting me do. There were all the various venues that were developed as regular gigs, as well as shows and showcases put on by the increasing number of dance teachers and ambitious performers in the area. I also did solo stuff like dancing for baby showers (I always gave a little talk about the history and so on of the dance) and service clubs, such as the Moose, Lions, etc. One of my favorite appearances was when I was invited to be one of the keynote speakers for Women’s Week at the Santa Rosa JC in 1976.

There were some protests by women’s groups about having such an awful, non-feminist thing as belly dancing featured in the program, but the room was full anyway.

I addressed the sexist concerns and explained how misplaced and incorrect they were, and finished off my speech by doing a short performance. The speech and dance were well-received and made the newspapers, and there was no more conversation about how inappropriate they were!

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Ready for More?
more by Aziza!
5-2-03 The Taverna Athena
I didn’t see just how it happened, but evidently a couple of brothers from Cyprus were hired to put the Taverna out of business.

3-19-03 Zorba’s in Walnut Creek
...and I could tell that the Greeks wanted to see more of that, so the job was in the bag!

2-5-03 North and South
Also, we were not allowed to lock the office door...

6-16-03 The 30th Annual Belly Dancer of the Year Pageant photos by Susie
Abrupt musical transitions were rampant throughout the pageant. The competition was fierce in the Duet / Trio category...

6-16-03 Breaking News from the Ahlan wa Sahlan 2003 in Cairo reported by Shira
The flavor of the instruction and dancing are very different from that offered by the U.S. festivals, and it offers an exciting opportunity for immersion in the Egyptian dance arts.

6-16-03 Rainy Night in London Town by Justine Merrill
That’s how after a day at the Tower of London, I found myself navigating the Edgware district after dark, in the fog and light rain, looking for dinner. Christina trailed behind me, feet dragging, whiney and hungry, but hanging on after a full day or of walking.


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