One Ad Changed My Life
by Amina Goodyear

It was July 1965, and I had just had a baby. I felt old and out of shape. I was the mother of three kids aged 3 days, 1year and 2 years. I was 23 and I had just left the hospital wearing baggy clothes. After my other two children were born, I left the hospital wearing normal clothes - pre-pregnancy clothes - and could zip them up. This time, although I had only gained 24 pounds, I could not zip my skirt.

I was very desperate and determined to get back to my old self.

"It is gym time", I thought. "But I don't like the gym - I like to dance." It didn't matter; I was determined to lose weight. I was already on a severe diet, and the baby was only three days old. I looked in the classified section of the newspaper and God had sent me a message! There was a listing advertising "Lose your Belly - Take Belly Dance Lessons. Call Harems Unlimited." Belly Dance lessons? I didn't know what belly dance was, but I sure did want to lose my belly!  So I made the call. The woman who answered told me I could take classes or private lessons. I couldn't afford the private lessons, so I asked about the class schedule. She said she had none yet, but if I could get together five people, we could make a class. I called friends and relatives, and finally got my mother, my aunt, a friend of my mother's and a neighbor to agree to go with me.



The teacher's name was Bettina Robbi and she lived in a flat near Chinatown. She was trying to start a center for belly dance - a dance school and a rooming house for travelling belly dancers. My family and I were her first, and, I think, her only students, and she had one tenant - a dancer named Salima. We met once a week in her empty dining room. It adjoined her living room with large sliding pocket doors. We didn't dance much in the living room because she reserved that for the "audience". Occasionally in class she would serve wine and invite her Greek boyfriends over to be the audience. We came to class in leotards and she lent us veils to use on our hips.

We did not learn how to dance with a veil, but sometimes she would paste wax the hardwood floors and she would tell us to put the veils under us and buff the floors with our butts and our bodies. We learned to slither like snakes and her boyfriends got free shows.

She also taught us step hip, how to roll our stomachs (Moroccan style), to do karsilama (Turkish and Greek style), and how to play the finger cymbals. She wanted us to practice, and told us where to go to get supplies. There was one record store in the Tenderloin that carried folk dance music. If you rang a bell, the owner (a very old man) would check you out, and if you looked OK he would let you in. I went and bought the only Middle Eastern record he had. It was very old style Turkish with lots of chifte telli and karsilama rhythms. Then I went to a Greek import store, also in the Tenderloin, and bought a set of finger cymbals from Syria. I was set!  We studied weekly with Bettina for about 6 months and then she left us. She went on the road, dancing in a succession of different places.

(Bettina was a flamenco dancer who had gone to Spain to study more flamenco and eventually landed a job dancing in Morocco. It was there that she learned to belly dance.)

Learning this new dance style was the most exciting thing in my life. I think I obsessed. It gave me a new reason for living. I loved my family but I needed more in life.

I wanted to do something creative. Every day I looked forward to the three little ones' nap times so I could practice. I especially enjoyed practicing to a dance program on TV that featured singers like James Brown. (I could not relate to the Turkish record - it was too weird.  I also had a record that I had bought previous to my last pregnancy. It was "The African Arab" by Mohamed El Bakkar. At the time I bought it, I thought it was an African dance record - I had taken many years of African dance lessons pre-children - I remember being disappointed that it didn't have African drumming on it, so I didn't like it either.) I really liked practicing to James Brown and even Paul Revere and the Raiders was better than that Turkish stuff. On weekends we would go to North Beach and go to the clubs on upper Grant Ave. I bragged to my friends that I was learning this new type of dance. At some of the clubs they would dare me to jump up on stage and "belly dance" with the bands.

I usually would do the dare. And I usually would get 86ed.

With three kids in a rented two bedroom home, we felt it was time to move. We had some savings and bought a larger home, but we were a family with one income, and it wasn't enough. How could we make our payments? I said I would go back to work on the condition that I work at night when the kids were asleep. I really wanted to be with them in the daytime.

My husband told me to get a job belly dancing in North Beach. Yikes!

I really didn't even know what a belly dance looked like. I had only taken lessons to lose weight and tone up. We had never done a dance routine in class. I'd never even seen my teacher, Bettina, dance and now she was gone - on the road! What was I to do? Well, I decided to be brave and I put my leotard and a scarf in my purse and went to the Bagdad (the only club in town) to ask for an audition. Just like in the movies!
More to come!
Amina contiunues- "I'd Rather Stay Home with my Kids" Chapter 2

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Ready for more?
More by Amina-
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8-31-01 Make a Giza Club!
...She was to become our first Wacky Woman Traveler...

1-14-04 Understanding Middle Eastern Rhythm by Frank Lazzaro
The rhythms of the tabla inspire the dance, so to understand these rhythms is to fully blossom as a dancer.

1-7-04 Luna Gitana 2003 photos and layout by Susie Poulelis
Featuring Kamaal and Shoshanna Presented by Vashti, A Bellydance Odyssey Production, Santa Cruz, CA November 15, 2003

1-3-04 Khairiyya Mazin Struggles to Preserve Authentic Ghawazi Dance Tradition by Edwina Nearing
But when Khairiyya Mazin retires, one of the most distinctive traditions of Ghawazi dance may come to an end.

12-29-03 The 11th Annual North Valley Belly Dance Competition photos and layout by Susie Poulelis
Feather Falls Casino Orovile, CA, November 8, 2003




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