GIlded Serpent presents...
Dancing on
Broadway in the ‘70s

by Kalifa

During the early 1970s, I danced occasionally at the Bagdad when Amina was the main dancer.  She was always very nice and helpful to new and beginning dancers, giving us tips and suggestions along our road to success.

Broadway was starting to change and topless dancing, a euphemism for squirming around on stage with bare breasts, was coming into vogue.  It brought more tourists in than the belly dancing clubs, as we were all clothed there. 

One of my strangest experiences on Broadway involved getting a small part in Carol Doda’s movie, entitled The Rise and Fall of the Whole World as Seen from a Sexual Position.  I knew an actress who was in the film, and she told me about an audition for a dancer - I applied, and it turned out that I was the only one to audition for the belly-dancing role.  The director, whose name escapes me now, wanted a belly dancer to dance with a boa constrictor around her neck.

I’d never danced with a snake before, but I told him of course I could do it, and yes, I had experience dancing with a boa.  In reality I was a little frightened of snakes, and had never even been close to a garden snake, let alone a boa constrictor.  Those were the days of the flower children and acid in the Koolaid punch at the Fillmore Auditorium, so I was a bit more adventurous then.

I decided I wanted to be in this movie, plus I got paid 25 dollars for every 8 hours of work.  The film was being shot in the basement of Carol Doda’s club, right on Broadway. We filmed from about three in the afternoon until late into the night, with Carol taking breaks from shooting to go upstairs and do her act on stage in the club.  Then she’d be back for another scene. 

The scene I was in was in the parlor of a brothel, and I was supposed to dance through half-clad bodies with a snake hanging off my shoulders.  The film crew brought in a large, ten-foot long boa constrictor named Carlotta, and introduced me.  Carlotta was a lovely color of sea green with circles and spots of gray and beige around her body. The handler showed me how to hold her and instructed me to just move slowly and Carlotta would enjoy the experience. I was thinking, That’s just fine for Carlotta, but what about me? Am I going to get along with this snake?  Would we be compatible?  I stood very still as he put her around my neck and along my arm, placing my hand a foot from her head. 

She slid around my neck, caressing my skin with her suppleness.  At first she felt heavy, but very soon  I got used to her weight.The fog from the dry ice drifted up from the floor, creating an eerie visual effect.  My feet were invisible and all you could see was my filmy skirt flowing in and out of the patches of mist, my bare midriff, and a veil draped expertly to cover my chest. I was supposed to move slowly and sensually through the mist, but I was worried that the veil, falling down my back, might interfere with Carlotta’s movements.  However, she avoided the veil, instead sliding across my shoulders and moving lazily down my arm.  Her skin was smooth and moist and pleasant on my skin.  Once, the boa crawled down my arm and flicked her head down into the fog, brushing the body of one of the actors.  He screamed, jumping up and flailing his arms through the mist, shaking us all up, including Carlotta.

Even though boas cannot hear, Carlotta must have reacted to the vibrations. The animal handler came over and calmed her down.  I was getting used to her by then and actually liked the experience of dancing with her.  When she returned to her placid state, he placed her back around my neck and shoulders.  I tried a twirl, but very slowly.  She seemed to like it. The director was yelling for me to move in a certain direction, and so I did. Then he would yell, “Cut” and we would do it all over again, sometimes changing the direction of my dance through the mist.  During a break, Carlotta’s handler came and took her from me.  One of the actors came over. It turned out he was the one that was frightened by Carlotta.  “Man, how can you let that snake slink all over your body?" "I’m actually enjoying the experience, even though I used to be afraid of snakes,”  I told him.

“Huh? You were afraid of snakes?” I nodded, my finger to my lips.  “Don’t say anything.  I said I was experienced with boas.” The actor shivered.  “I don’t think I could do what you’re doing.  Not for any amount of money.” I found the experience very satisfying, and although I never saw Carlotta in the flesh again, I was grateful to have made her acquaintance. A year later I was invited to the first showing of the film at the Savoy Tivoli Theater in North Beach.  I didn’t end up on the cutting room floor, as I had feared, and Carlotta was as seductive on film as she was in real life.

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