Aziza!'s Troupe Banat Zelzeleh
The Gilded Serpent presents...
A Period of

by Aziza!
Isis brochure
Click here to see the full orignal program with all the participant's interesting bios

In the late 1970s, there were two events produced for the belly dance community that were different from things that had happened before - events that began and paved the way for so many that were to happen later.

The First - in 1976 - was called Isis.
  It was a convention for dancers that included many classes during the day and a great show in the evening.  This event was put on by Amina and Hoda, and it was really a big deal!  Classes were given by the likes of Jamila, NakishBert Balladine, Magana Baptiste, Aida, Zahra Anise, Rhea, Hoda, Vince Delgado and Zoraida, teaching such things as karsilama, showmanship, belly work, dumbek, drops, East Indian  hand and arm movements, professionalism, shimmies, etc., etc.  

There were also lectures, like "Theatrical Stage Craft for Belly Dancers", "Four Millennia of Egyptian Jewelry", "Pharaonic Costuming" and "Musical Differences Between Countries of the Middle East."  Then, in the evening, tired and happy, we gathered for a show that included people and dancing that we had perhaps heard of, but hadn't seen before.  It was the first display of Amina's troupe performing their classical Egyptian story dances (several of them).  I saw my first male dancer there - Aziz, from Utah, who danced with a (disappointingly small) snake.  There were folk dances, musical interludes, solos by performers such as Zahra Anise,Talisma and Najia, and an exhibition by Bal Anat.  It was quite a show!

Panel discussion with Aziza! and Hoda among others
More pictures of this panel here

The Second was in 1979.
  It was a symposium and panel discussion, followed by a show including the members of the panel.  The purpose of the symposium/discussion was "to discuss and respond to various questions and issues presented by the belly dance community at large; audience participation welcome."  The members of the panel were all either dancers with at least ten years' experience or other people who were involved in the dance community in some way.  They included: Amina, Aziza!, Hoda, Mimi Delgado (Spencer), Najia, Naji Baba (musician), Bob Zalot (editor of Habibi), Sabah, Ilyana , Charlotte Bocage (treasurer of MECDA), another musician and a club owner (if I remember correctly, it was Fadil Shahin).  We had invited Jamila, but she chose not to participate.  It was on a Sunday in February at the Unitarian Church on Franklin in San Francisco, and the place was packed.  The discussion was animated, but pleasant, and everyone seemed pleased and interested.



The evening show included all the above dancers, as well as Rhea and Farma.  The musicians for the show included Fadil, Vince Delgado, Ron Ransford and some others.  It was well-received, though there was one performance that certainly had everyone talking!  Ilyana chose to present a dance that represented a birthing, moving from orgasmic sex through the appearance of the baby from between her heaving thighs!  Yow!  No one had expected it, so it was certainly the highlight(?) of the evening!

There was a long and winding road that led to this event (no, not the "birth"!). 

Rhea and I had been talking about how good it would be to get everyone together to discuss the various issues and such that were of current concern to the community, and trying to figure out what would be the best way to do it.  Neither of us had any experience at this, but we were trying! 

We finally hooked up with Ilyana, a dancer and teacher from Marin County who put on a lot of small shows, so she knew what she was doing.  She said that she would be glad to set things up and be the hostess for the event, as long as it was produced under the aegis of BAMEDA, the Bay Area Mid-Eastern Dance Arts Association.  Well, once we had arranged for that, things sped along much more quickly!  She was able to produce a much more professional flyer than we had come up with - it included a  questionnaire so that attendees could let us know ahead of time what issues they would like to see discussed. 

I must admit that she made us a little crazy with her frequently high-handed style, but everything was done most efficiently and legally.  As BAMEDA was a non-profit organization, all the participants received a share of the profits after expenses - not a lot, but nice!  Our Symposium paved the way for many more to come over the years.As we moved into the 1980s, belly dancing shows and events proliferated.  Jamila put on a series of Great Eastern Faires in the early '80s.  I danced in the one in 1983, both as a solo and as half of a duet - the Banat Zelzeleh.  My troupe, Zelzeleh, performed one year, also.  These Faires were held in the Bellevue Hotel in San Francisco, a very cramped venue - but everyone had a very good time!

Mary Ellen Donald also put on a series of evening shows  (after day-long workshops known as the Summer Seminars), called Arabian SplendorNakish and Ma'shuqa were her perennial stars, and they did spectacular things!  In 1981, Nakish's entrance was striking - as the curtains opened, she was standing with her back to the audience, holding out her veil,  on the top of a pyramidal flight of stairs, which she proceeded to dance down.  ( I seem to remember that she was wearing brown, but

surely that is wrong!)   Unfortunately, there was a problem with the curtain and they had to start over, but it certainly was a spectacular start to her performance!  That year Ma'shuqa came out and was doing her dance (very nicely), and when it came time for her taqsim, the stage lights dimmed and we discovered that she had running lights around the top of her belt and on her bra!  Wow!

The next year, 1982, Nakish made what seemed to be a magical entrance from the center of a gang of backup dancers - she hadn't been there a minute before!  That was good, but Ma'shuqa had had a flashier idea:  she was carried onstage by a strongman named Ken - both of them wearing blue feather masks!  After a little, she took off her mask and danced, and we were almost blinded by her skirt, which was something shiny silver, and looked like vertical blinds!  When the lights hit that sucker, we needed our dark glasses for sure!

Other performers who were featured in Mary Ellen's shows included Bert Balladine, Aisha Ali and her troupe, Issa Deeb and the great Flamenco artist Cruz Luna,  sometimes accompanied by Reyna, who used to belly dance with us at the Bagdad, but later turned to Flamenco.

I will mention one more series of shows that came out of this fecund era, which was the Choreographers' Showcases, presented in the South Bay area in a beautiful theater.  There was also a show that joins them in my mind, though I think that it was actually a separate entity.  It was called Strictly Cabaret, and was (another) workshop and concert, presented by Habibi (Bob Zalot).  The music was by Jalal and Salah Takesh, with Sulieman and Armando.  Singers were Alireza, Khalil Aboud and Maha.  The dancers were pretty spectacular:  Rhea, Sultana, Feiruz Aram, Nakish and Marliza Pons.  I have heard that the dressing room was in a cloud of marijuana smoke - but it didn't slow anyone down!  I can remember standing in line for the show for a long time - I had on a snake necklace that kept pinching my neck - what a thing to remember!

We had a lot of excellent workshops and shows in the old days - we danced all day and then watched other dancers all evening - it couldn't be topped!
1976 Isis Convention Program
1979 Panel Discussion Photos

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