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Never on Sunday (1960)
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Release Date: January 4, 2000. You may still order this title. We will ship it to you as soon as possible
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Starring: Melina Mercouri, et al. Director: Jules Dassin

Charming idyll of intellectual boob coming to Greece, trying to make earthy prostitute Mercouri cultured. Grand entertainment, with Oscar-winning title song by Manos
Hadjidakis. Later a Broadway musical, Illya Darling.

Beat Voices : An Anthology of Beat Poetry
by David Kherdian (Editor), Allen Ginsberg (Contributor), Jack Kerouac (Contributor)
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Reading level: Young Adult
Zorba the Greek (1964)
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Rated: NR
Starring: Anthony Quinn, et al.
Director: Michael Cacoyannis
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The Gilded Serpent presents...

"The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things. Of shoes and ships and ceiling wax, of cabbages and kings, and why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings." (from Alice through the looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.) And so it transpired that, before the century comes to an end, in this last remaining period of fin de siecle, and fin de mille, I was seized by the urgent need to take pen in hand and relate for future generations some of the wondrous happenings to which that the first generation of American Belly Dancers bore witness.

The two extremes of America, the two coasts, East and West, have traditionally been the precursors of whatever trends the great middle heartland will follow, and Oriental dance has been no exception to this rule. In this instance, however, I believe that it was the West coast, and particularly San Francisco, that spawned the most energy and creativity, fashioning the forces that were to change the face of Belly Dance as it has evolved in America as we see it today, and that one of the main characters who was in the forefront of all this churning creativity was Jamila Salimpour
. She was both loved and hated, respected and feared, as are many prominent figures in history (think of Franklin Roosevelt) who seem larger than life to those near her. She inspired people to become dancers and dance teachers. The most germane component of her contribution to American belly dance, as I see it, is the fact that she was able to attract people to her who would not ordinarily have been in the slightest interested in becoming dancers, let alone Oriental dancers, and instill in them a passionate fervor to not only dance and teach, but to be missionaries for Oriental dance. In particular, she promoted and innovated "American Tribal Style" of Oriental dance. This happened during the period that I took lessons from her in Berkeley, California, in the beginning of 1968. Just as many artists have their "performance periods", (Picasso and his "blue period, for example), she later went on to create many venues that were copied by the next generation of dancers, and to eventually embrace Egyptian dance. During that period she was teaching the dance that she had evolved in her touring career as a professional Oriental dancer. I believe her dance appeared to have a very strong Turkish component.

It is certainly true, I believe, that Southern California had its share of dedicated proponents, and there were other colorful characters on the San Francisco scene; because, if the truth were to be known, the San Francisco scene was peppered with some pretty amazing personages who could easily have graced the pages of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road", or Ken Keysey's "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest."

We weren't the Beat Generation, we were the Belly Generation. All the boys seemed to have taken guitars in hand to become would-be Bob Dylans, or later would-be Beattles or the Rolling Stones, but the girls had other ideas.

It was the first time, with the emergence of the nascent feminist movement, that such numbers of women were galvanized in the service of such a cause. The present day focus on "Goddess" dancing has its roots in the 1960's. My own name, Rhea, given to me by Jamila (one didn't take just any old name in those days; one was given one's name by one's dance teacher). This name produced such a tremendous effect on me that I went out and became pregnant! Later, I went on to become the first performing pregnant belly dancer in our milieu dancing with my ex-husband's skiffle band, dancing at sit-ins, love-ins, and stop-the-war demonstrations. Yes, Virginia, I was a real hippie! However, hasn't it been widely accepted that the 90's are the sixties without the social turmoil that took place at that time? (One of my daughter's friends suggests that we call them the "Gaia Nineties".)

Those decades weren't about Arabic or Turkish or Egyptian or Oriental or even "Belly" dance! Those years were about women's desires for self-expression free of the constraints of a patriarchal social system ("I'm a stud; you're a nympho...) coupled with a woman's longing to be a star. Why should only the boys be prancing around all over the stage with their guitars? The young women of that time showed a willingness to support other women in the self-same endeavor. ("I'm a Goddess; you're a Goddess.")

Of course, it was not all sisterhood and light. As befitting the primal archetypal nature of most ancient Goddesses, there were rivalries. Rivalries? There were WARS! Belly Dancing suffered from that all-American penchant for the law suit. And it wasn't mere lucre they were after. It was the PRINCIPLE of the matter. Many a "student night" was produced to make a public statement obliquely directed at another teacher or another "camp." There were other displays of belly flexing including who would or would not be hired at a particular club.

I must have had an angel on my shoulder because I always worked the weekends and was fortunate enough to share in the student glut resulting from the now-raging Belly Dance fad. When I finally left for Greece to reside and work in 1977, seminars had begun in earnest. What had been more or less one teacher or dancer sponsoring another (Jamila brought the late Lebanese style dance instructor, Ibrahim Farrah. I brought Aischa Ali to San Fransico. Amina lovingly presented Fatima Akeef, (sister of Egyptian movie star and dancer Naima Akeef). These early presentations began to coagulate into a more dense body of activities. Bazaars and vendors were added and "workshops" began to emerge featuring more than one teacher or dancer.

Amina, director of the Aswan Dance Troupe and founder of the Giza Club, together with Hoda, sponsored a giant production called The Isis Convention and Show in 1975 at the U.C. Campus at San Francisco. The convention was attended by the entire Bay Area population of dancers because it was well known, and generally agreed upon, that Amina and Hoda were scrupulously fair in their choice of the teachers and performers. The specialties that each teacher was asked to teach were a true representation of part of that teacher's expertise. No one was left out. It was a prodigious effort and produced a whopper of a show generating the same excitement and attendance of any hit show on Broadway.

At the same time, Sula, (once a vital force in our area and publisher of one of the first Belly Dance periodicals titled "The Bellydancer"), who is now deceased, sponsored a seminar more widely attended by out-of-towners familiar with her magazine which was eagerly subscribed to by those far away from the thriving "scene."

They came thirsting for the "word" as it emanated from the greats and near greats abiding in that flaming, teeming, crescendo of belly dance culture, and were not disappointed.

Sula presented the first Belly Dance fashion show (I waltzed down the aisle with Daoud, the male dancer in my troupe of that time, Nara Nata.) Bert Balladine and his dance partner, Najia Marlyz danced with a back-up chorus line, and Patrick, caused a minor furror with his male solo version of belly dance. They were seen by many who had not even been in a cabaret.

I will never forget the events transpiring on the Saturday night following the first day of the seminar at the restaurant I danced in at that time. The Parthenon, now long gone, (Alas!), as are all the lovely playgrounds of our dancing youth. Many of the women who had attended my class at the seminar decided to see my show and arrived at The Parthenon in the very garb they had sported earlier for the dance lessons. The regular Saturday night crowd of Americans and some Greeks were out in force. A ship of Greek merchant marines had landed at a nearby port and came to hear real bouzookie music and the songs of their country. As Oriental dance very much resembles a folk dance in Greece called Tsif t'telli, when the seamen requested the band to play such musical numbers that were popular in Greece at that time and got up to dance their folk dance, the stage was flooded with exotically eccentrically garbed dancers much to the joy, nay, ecstasy of the Greek sailors. The sailors must have believed that "Never On Sunday", (the musical piece I have heard more times than any other song in the world except for "Zorba The Greek"), was about to be re-enacted before their very eyes! It was to them as if manna had been dropped from heaven. Being very quick on the uptake, and quite capable of believing their good fortune.

The Greeks in a thrice began to dip and twist and turn, falling to the floor and exhibiting all manner of tricks to impress the ladies in their storybook get-ups. The ladies thought, "Oh, my! Real people from the Middle East. I do hope my dancing will meet with their approval and even admiration."

Those ladies danced with all their hearts, bodies, and souls, shimmying, undulating, falling to the floor and performing what was known in those quaint old times before the dictates of Modern Egyptian Dance, as "floor work". A sea of at least fifty people undulated in an area meant for thirty as the amazed American patrons looked on. In those days, the dance scene seemed more spirited than it is today, but perhaps the old days were ever thus.

When I returned to my "regular" life here in Athens, I contemplated the round of seminars at which I had been sponsored, and the shows I saw and in which I participated in many different areas around the country during my latest seminar tour in America. One of the welcome things I saw was a partial return to the "old days"; people were constructing their own costumes again, rather than opting for a glamorous, but formula look which was purchased rather than lovingly dreamed over and shown off to friends who really cared. ("Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere one can buy friendship."--from 'The Little Prince' by Antoine De Saint Exupery) That is not to say that the latest creations of Madame Abla or Aziza are not scrumptious and yummy and to die for, or that dancers should not avail themselves of every labor saving device that mass production has to offer them. I guess I'm speaking of a sort of personal, homespun quality that used to prevail in all aspects of American life that seems to have been lost. This quality was a major factor in my decision to make Greece my home for these last twently-two years, not just because it had such hot clubs to dance in (Greece had those and more).

I was also surprised by the support of the community for those shows that are now taking place. Jason and Yasmina packed them in in a glamorous setting on the hotel's main floor. They and their troupe decorated the stage, professional lighting and sound equipment was brought in, and the crowd was really responsive. The entertainment consisted of their troupe and themselves both in solos and duets in a very relaxed, professional yet playful evening.

When the cassette for my sword number experienced a glitch, I took the microphone and regaled the audience with anecdotes and many came to me afterwards asking if I was a a professional stand-up comedienne turned dancer.

The show in Santa Cruz, which was presented by that seasoned and spiritual world traveler from England, Helene, was an inclusion of the very best performers of the area. She included Carolena of Fat Chance Belly Dance with all the troupe exquisitely and individually costumed. I was fortunate that evening in that I had the assistance of my younger daughter, Melinda, who had flown in from the University of Pennsylvania. Both my daughters (Piper is the elder) are professional dancers from a young age, as I followed the example set by Jamila who had Suhaila dance in Bal Anat at a very young age. I have also dragged them around the world with me, so they have performed in a number of different situations. The particular sensibilities of this crowd were for the enactment of the Goddess ritual and the importance of passing on the tradition from mother to daughter. In Austin, Texas, the Belly Dance community rallied around Bahaia, who remembered her adventures on a Greek Island with nostalgia, which had led her to ask Bert Balladine for my telephone number in Greece. She was able to turn this into the amazing support system in the community. Their Belly Dance association has a video lending library and she has produced a wonderful and pleasurable week-end, treating me like a goddess and queen. I was given three snake's vertebrae (my Chinese horoscope is the snake) and books on becoming a "galactic human" from some of the more alternative society people I've met outside the Berkeley-San Francisco or Montreal area. Ozell Gamel and Sidonia Om Dunia had traveled to Salt Lake City from Boise, Idaho, in the snow to attend my seminar there. They decided that Boise needed the input of my particular approach. Staying in the guest room at Ozell's house while some of the show's participants slept on a fold-out couch in her living room, all having coffee together in the morning, and laughing in the hot tub, reminded me of the old days! Those were the old days when Ma'Shuqa housed and fed people who had come from incredible distances to be together. It reminded me of shooting the breeze in the hot tub at Bob and Lynn Zalot's house (former owners, publishers and creators of Habibi Magazine before Lynn died of Multiple Sclerosis) and talking about the old days with Marliza Pons of Las Vegas.

Everywhere I went I saw a great deal of support, community, and freedom, plus tolerance and love. Many people were open to the spiritual approach I have taken with the dance. (Did you know that it's possible to be spiritual and still have fun? Just ask the ancient Minoans). We enjoyed the multi-faceted aspects of dancing our chakras and auras, moving around our chi, posing and re-posing as Greek statues, moving our bodies like snakes, and using our hands to distribute and re-distribute the energies of the earth and sky. If I can just balance my yin and yang a little more and heal the ridgity between my anima and my animus, I think I have it made. I hope to see you in Greece April 20th to 30th on the island of Methana for a spiritual dance seminar culminating with Greek Easter. Yasoo!

Ready for more?
4-8-04 A Period of Innovations
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. (more on the Isis Convention)

11-12-02 Flying Saucers
They tended to talk more than to act and, by this time, I was hooked on the street theater of it all.

9-18-02 My Belly Dance Baptism, or A Tale of Armpit Hairs
There was a rumor (that was the truth) that I didn’t shave under my arms.

11-03-01 Adventures by the Nile, Part 2, by Rhea
Return to a Changed Sudan

10-15-01 Rhea's Adventures by the Nile, part 1
I guess every belly dancer's dream is to dance in a five star hotel in the Middle East.

5-11-01 Rhea Recounts, Part II, Of Belly Dancers, Bullets & The Men in Blue,
or A Change of Scene: Rhea moves to Greece

Where the bullet went, or how close it came to hitting us, I'll never know...

5-19-00 An Interview of Rhea of Athens, Greece, by Phaedra Ameerah
(This interview has been edited and reprinted with permission.)

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