Hoda, Rhea and Aziza!
The Gilded Serpent presents...
Friends Are
Where You Find Them

by Aziza!

Many people have made comments about the generally unfortunate character of the belly dance community, and most of them are pretty unflattering.  While acknowledging the all-too-frequent accuracy of these criticisms, I must add that I have found some very good friends among the dancers I have met.  Some of them were friends for the length of time we worked together or were in some kind of association together, but some of them have been my friends for twenty or thirty years. 

There were some dancers that I didn’t much like at first – or maybe we had some disagreement or whatever – and then I was surprised to realize, as the years went by, that we had become good friends! There are too many to list here, but you all know who you are and how I care for you. 

Mimi plays for Kattoura at the Bagdad
There was one woman with whom I was close for many years, who then passed out of my life in an odd fashion.  Her name is Ginny, though she was originally called Kattoura.  When I was teaching in Santa Rosa I started hearing about a belly dance teacher in Sebastopol, a neighboring town.  After a while we started to share a few students, and we had an acquaintance or two in common, such as Kadiya.  I started hearing stories about how she was bad-mouthing me or criticizing my teaching, and at first I was none too delighted with her – but then I started considering the sources from which I heard these stories, and started wondering if she was getting the same kind of stories about me.  She had recently opened a studio in Sebastopol, so I knew where to find her, and I went over one day to talk to her about all the garbage.  Well, I was right – she had been hearing the same kind of stories about me – we had a good idea of where it had started, though not why, and we decided right then that we weren’t going to let disagreeable gossip mean anything.  We started a friendship and association that lasted more than twenty years.

I eventually taught a weekly class in her studio, but one of the best things that happened was that my costume business was nurtured there.  In one room of the studio (which was in a remodeled Victorian cottage) she had a few things for sale – some scarves, used costume bits, fancies from India and so on.  I started putting in a few costumes that I made and then a few more.  She expanded her stock of scarves, etc., from India and eventually bought the importing business and became the wholesaler (and retailer) for most of the belly dance community.  Together, we brought in such guest teachers as Amina, Rhea, Hoda, Khadija al Nakhla and the Greek folk dancer Paulette Janetos.  Ginny put on a series of Middle Eastern Nights in which her students and then her troupe performed and in which I and my students/troupe sometimes participated.


One of the things that Ginny was involved in from its beginning was “an association of Middle Eastern Dance Artists” known as the Greater San Francisco Area Teachers’ Guild.  This was a group dedicated to such worthy ideas as encouraging co-operation and goodwill within the regional dance community, promoting competency in the dance form, and promoting ethical standards and communication within and without the Guild.  The original members included Ginny, Leea, Sylenia, Shahreena, TamraFarasha and Shukriya, but the final group included Mimi Spencer, Najia El Mouzayen, Malika, Mary Alice, Namora, Najwa, Sadira, Aneena, and me. 

I was invited several times to join this august body, but I have never been much of a joiner, and besides, I was pretty busy already.  Finally, in 1983, I said that I would try it for a while, but as it turned out, I remained a member.   One of the first things we did after I joined was to make a performance video, with the aim of selling it in Europe, where belly dancing was  really just coming into vogue.  All the Guild members at the time participated, and Bert Balladine joined us as Tamra’s dancing partner.  It was taped at Fadil Shahin’s restaurant, El Morocco.  We had live music - Fadil on oud, Mimi on kanoun (she also danced), Robaire Nakashian on dumbek, and Rashid on additional percussion.  It was called “The Art of Middle East Dancing Volume 1” – there were, perhaps, thoughts of making a series.  It is an interesting tape to watch – we all danced just fine, though there were one or two girls who had sort of that deer-in-the-headlights look, and one or two tried to fit absolutely every trick they could do into the short time we each had to dance.  Namora featured her “snap dance” technique, a style that no one else has perfected.  Well, it turned out that the video was really basically unsaleable.   The videographer was using equipment that was very much out of date – at that time there were videocams that would have done fine with ambient light, but he had big old lights shining on us that alternately washed us out or didn’t quite light us.  The editing is not the most sophisticated, and the sound is mediocre.  However, I am delighted that we each got a copy and I can watch all those dancers, many of whom have either moved away or have just stopped dancing.  It was an exciting thing to do!

Tamra & Bert
About four times a year the Guild would put on a “Workshop Spectacular and Debutante Showcase.”  The job of planning and hosting these all-day and evening events moved around among the members. 

This kind of all-day workshop with an assortment of teachers was still in its infancy, and people were excited to come.

  As a general rule, the teachers for the classes were members of the Guild, with an occasional guest teacher.  We had vendors all day and lunch was supplied.  In the evening there was always a big show, with performances by some of the members, but with the main emphasis on “Debs” – up-and-coming students, each presented by her teacher.  As often as possible, there was live music.  When Ginny, Farasha and I put on the events in the Santa Rosa area, we had them either at El Rancho Tropicana or at the Flamingo, and had Jazayer or Coral Rose play for the evening show.  Other members presented theirs at locales like the Scottish Rite Temple in Oakland,  Zorba’s Symposion in San Rafael, or Spenger's Restaurant in Berkeley.  Everyone looked forward to these well-done, classy events.

At one point, the Guild decided to do a troupe-like number, taught to us by Mimi Spencer – originating, I think, with Mahmoud Reda.  It was a candelabra dance, and we worked on it and worked on it.  We came up with elegant outfits - sleeveless dresses of black and gold knit, black highish-heeled sandals, long cuffs and belts of gold pailettes, with tidy headwraps.  We needed the headwraps because of the type of candelabrum we had to use.  We could neither find enough nor all afford the tall, Egyptian style of candelabrum, but, after a long search, we came up with a substitute from Cost Plus that was actually, I think, more like the Swedish Santa Lucia style candelabrum.  It was a flat ring with four(?) candle sockets on it, and we had to hold it on with an elastic strap that went under the hair in back.  We got “dripless” candles, but nonetheless, some of us (including yours truly) were decorated with hot wax in the course of our dance.  Jazayer played our music, and we got up on the temporary stage in front of a lot of people. 

During one of the early moves, my heel caught between sections of the stage (in spite of the thin carpet covering it) and I stumbled and almost went down (and never mind what I said!), but I recovered and we did the rest of the dance very well.  Whew!  Some of the members absolutely refused to ever do the dance again, let alone learn any more numbers – they felt that they were very bad in group dances – so that was the end of the Guild Troupe!  Never mind – I have that dance on tape and I think we looked good!

The Guild was in existence for several years.  We had our ups and downs, but things went fine until two things happened.  One was a dispute among the members over a casual remark by one of them, and the other was that one of our new members decided that the bylaw regarding confidentiality of our proceedings didn’t mean anything and started putting our business on the street and bringing back to us what non-members had to say about it.  Disputes and arguments became more common, and pretty soon we had to give up the effort as over.  It was too bad, because the Guild was a very good idea and we had laudable aims, but it proved unsustainable.

Aziza! and Ginny

Eventually, Ginny and I started taking our vending out of town and then out of state.  Her scarves and veils and fabrics complemented my bras and belts and skirts and so on very well (especially because I used them to make a lot of my stuff), and we would go someplace, vend, teach and perform.  It was a lovely few years.  Then she left her husband and moved to Reno, and it became a little more difficult to maintain the same relationship, especially after I left Milt and moved to Redding.  Ginny married my second brother and they moved to Montana, and it became even harder.  Finally she decided to get out of the business, but didn’t tell me about it – she was always secretive about her business – and the first I really knew about it was when I showed up at Rakkasah that year and she didn’t.  Many people then and since  have asked me what happened, and I have to tell them honestly that I don’t know.  Some people thought that we were partners, as we were so close, but that wasn’t the case, either. 

Ginny always has refused to talk to me about what happened, and after a little while, she and my brother split up and Ginny informed me that we were no longer friends.  

As I said earlier, I have many friends that I have cared about for many years, and some that were friends for a while and are no more.  I am lucky to have had so many good relationships with other dancers, and I am always delighted when I can see or talk with them.  Real friendship among us dancers may be rare, but it’s a wonderful thing!

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

Ready for More?
more by Aziza!
7-30-03 Zelzeleh, My Troupe Adventures
The first thing that I discovered was that I hated to design or perform choreography – it was like having my teeth pulled - and I wasn’t too hot at it, truth to tell.
6-22-03 Moving to Santa Rosa
So I married a Greek, and for a while it was okay with him that I continued to dance...
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.

9-5--03 Loving Remembrance & Requiem: the Best “School” That Ever Was, Part 2 by Morocco/ Carolina Varga Dinicu
So much great stuff; so little time to see and learn it all. So much of it disappears down the oasis daily.

8-28-03 Dance Journey to Nepal, Part 2 by Daleela
The music had suddenly changed pitch from regular speed to very fast speed.


 Gilded Serpent
 Cover page, Contents, Calendar Comics Bazaar About Us Letters to the Editor Ad Guidelines Submission Guidelines