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  The Gilded Serpent presents...
The North Beach Memories of

Interviewed at Amina's house
in San Francisco, California
on September 17, 1999
by Lynette
Photos courtesy of Amina

Walid Shahin and Zahra Anise (Sharon Tannhauser)
Zahra was Jewish and a child ballet star in San Francisco and then became a belly dancer. She had two metal knee caps and no bellybutton.

Zahra Anise

Walid, Zahra and Fadil all went to S.F. State college Walid and Z became romantically involved. She wanted to get married. She changed her name legally and converted to Islam. Walid then left for Kuwait and married a girl picked out by his family. Zahra then married a Jew and had a mixed ceremony with both a sheikh and a rabbi and moved to Los Angeles.

How Amina got fired from the Bagdad
Amina danced in the Bagdad up to about 2 mos. before it closed when she got fired.

Walid Shahin
Tasha Banat and Noura were in the dressing room and one was saying she was turning down a job at the Pasha Restaurant because she preferred to work at the Bagdad. Amina was upset because Jad Elias refused to let the dancers know that the Bagdad was about to close. Amina never told the girl but yelled at Jad for not telling. He fired her. Jad told Amina if she ever came back he would call the police. She did come back in the last night they were open New Years Eve, George Elias, Jad's brother and the owner invited her in. George has since died. Two of his three daughters are now Amina's students. One daughter is dancing tonight at the Marrakech. Amina is worried for her as she is inexperienced dealing with club owners.

The End of Bagdad and the Man Murdered in the Fall of 1983
Kathy Trewin-Azhar was dancing on stage. Amina was in the dressing room, Stephanie (aka Stefania) was in the audience (who else? Jalil Khoury). the musicians on stage were- Fouad Marzouk, Jad Elias, George Dabai, and Jimmy

was the bartender .

Jimmy used to own the Jazz Workshop which was next door. He raised guppies and gave Amina 20 very fancy guppies. His wife ran a series of Chinese restaurants that failed. He wore a toupee, worked at the Holiday Inn in Chinatown during the day. The bartender at Casbah, was Goli's husband, an Arab from Tunisia ? not sure-(Goli is now a flamenco dancer).

3 guys came in to Bagdad from Puerto Rico, they really liked the music and stayed late on this weeknight.They tipped everyone. They bought Amina a drink, she talked with them in her limited Spanish. She left them when it was her turn to get ready to dance.

Fatma Akef

She heard from the dressing room the ZING,ZING ZING from Fouad's kanoun. She was worried that Fouad had had a heart attack- he had just had a heart operation. She looked downstairs to see one guy stabbing another guy who was trying to protect himself with a chair but was being restrained by the third guy, pushing him further into the club. They left the guy dead on the ground and took off. Who was the doorman? (Mike? The guy with the sword cane) The guys were not caught. Everyone at the Bagdad was in shock and all had to go to the police station to make a report. Joe (Jalil) Khoury (who later became one of the owners of Shaharazad Restaurant), who was thought by some to be occasionally a jerk, helped everyone that night keep it together. He calmed everyone down. He's actually an okay guy.


a restaurant now on O'farrel St in SF, See our Calendar section
Shaharazad was a restaurant in South SF that closed in ~'97?

Rumor on the street was that the murder was over a drug deal gone sour and it was a set-up. The Bagdad was picked because there wasn't many customers in there that night! Jad's lease was due for renewal and he chose not to renew. The club closed on New Year's a couple months after the murder. Nobody would talk about the incidents.

Casbah's Start
Amina was working at the Bagdad with
Fadil & Walid. Almost everyone hated Yousef as a boss because he made everyone work so hard. He was a perfectionist. He wanted everything to start on time, the dancers to be dressed just so, for there always to be an act going on on stage. Amina got to work late one night; she was rushing and the first employee there. Yousef was mad, "You're late again, you're fired."

Fadil & Walid wandered in about 15 min later. "You're late, you're fired." They had a lengthy discussion in Arabic. Yousef ended up crying, throwing ash trays, breaking everything. He fired everyone and said the place was closed. Fadil whispered, "I'll show him. I'll open a place next door and put him out of business!" After Yousef had calmed down, he hired everyone back and bought everyone a drink.

Fadil opened his place next door a few months later. He got Walid and Kamel and another brother from Washington DC to lend money and help open the Casbah. Mostly the audience went back and forth, but there also seemed to be a tendency for the Moslems to go to the Casbah and the Christians to the Bagdad. Nobody really liked Yousef. Everyone liked Fadil. Both clubs existed side by side for 15 yrs. Yousef eventually sold the place to George Elias who became his brother-in -law, marrying his sister- Arousa. Then Yousef became friends with Fadil again. Arousa now lives in Sacramento. George Elias and Fadil feuded over parking places, "your car hit my car". George had heart problems. He sold life insurance during the days, drank coffee all day and worked each night at the Bagdad. He sent for his brother in Detroit, Jad. Jad took over and George opened a liquor store on Mission Street and gave up the night life. You could visit him at his liquor store and he would say he didn't miss the club at all. He got into motorcycles and bodybuilding.

Fadil then created the El Morocco in Concord and sold the Casbah to people who were rumoured to be the North Beach Mafia. They own a lot of strip clubs there. It then became another strip club.They have since called Amina for dancers. Anke did a party there last year as a regular belly dancer, not a stripper. She was paid alot for 2 or 3 very short sets at $50 each. Jalal Takesh first played at the Bagdad as a drummer. Then at the Casbah. Jalal brought in a santour and began to play it. Fadil didn't like it-"take it back!" Then he came in with a kanoun. Jalal was living in a basement and going to school. Andy/Saida & Ahmed came to town after a show in Las Vegas. They began working at the Bagdad. Andy and Jalal began dating and married. He wouldn't let her dance anymore (ed-Saida disputes this) . Jamila used to be part owner of the Bagdad. Vince and Naji said she was just hired there. But Amina saw a sign on the window when they were changing the liquor license and it listed her as an owner along side Yousef Kouyoumjian. Yousef was Turkish and Armeninan from Bagdad, Iraq.

When Amina first went to the Bagdad, Jamila was dancing there. Stationary in the middle of the stage, big black dress on and playing zils. Ask Arousa in Sacramento, but it was rumored- Yousef and Jamila were engaged but then Salim Salimpour and Jamila ran off together and got married. Jamila and Yousef remained friends. Yousef now lives in Spain.

The Evening Show Schedule at Bagdad and Casbah
The musicians started the eve with 3-4 songs to warm up.At the Bagdad, if dancers weren't dancing they were on stage playing zils or tambourine or doing little dances in their "exotic dresses" (ethnic
looking, covered dresses). Amina learned from Fatma Akef by following her around on the stage trying to copy and look like choreography. If you weren't performing you were wearing your exotic dresses and looked available to have a drink bought for you. You sat with the customers if you were invited. Yousef was very careful that dancers never left with customers. He was very protective of them, or at least of Amina. Amina happened to leave one time when a customer she had been sitting with was leaving too. Yousef came out the door after her , yelling down the street-"make sure you go straight home to your husband!" At the Bagdad- if a disagreement developed between you and a custumer, both Yousef and George stood behind the dancer.

Back to schedule of show--- 1st dancer dances x ~45 min, one song between, then the next dancer, etc..The musicians never took a break except for one section of a dance to go to the restroom. It was like musical chairs. Yousef always wanted an act on stage.

Bettina, Amina's first teacher
and Salim (Ardeshir) Salimpour

The singing bellydancer-Najma Salim, Short, legally changed her name to her stage name., She started by singing "Ouloulee Asmaranee" and did a finger cymbal solo at the end instead of a drum solo. (no connection to Jamila) Amina was the first to play the mother goddess role for Jamila. The Bal Anat troupe was first started in response to Jamila being asked to do a lecture at the Milberry Union at UCSF. She wanted to do the whole chronology of the Mother Goddess thing. Amina was known for her bellyrolls so Jamilla asked her to do the birth dance. She wanted Amina to do it topless, but Amina refused. So she did it in a flesh colored leotard. Amina wasn't part of Jamila's group, just filled in for that part. After the Ren Faire, Amina remembers that Jamila would do "Moon Festivals" at the Casbah which were student nights.

Dancers at Bagdad and Casbah never had contracts. When Yousef sold the Bagdad to George, Yousef told George to keep Amina on. Amina worked longer than the others but was told by Yousef, if she didn't change her act regularly he would change the face (replace her). She did Whirling dervish, Salome's seven veils (never striped to naked!) using neon veils and a 7 panel skirt (that stayed on) that glowed in the black light. The dancers all bought the day-glo fabric at Dance Arts on Powell.

Yousef tried everything--
.After hours Breakfast shows with strippers (no strippers during the evening
.Sabu of the jungle- an Indian dancer in a diaper.
.The Snake Dancer
.Magic Shows (Amina once had her head in a box with the magician putting swords in it. He couldn't do the trick very well and kept jabbing her head.)

"Exotic Dress"

The Snake Dancer

Yousef hired a snake dancer and didn't know she was a stripper. When she stripped down to pasties and a g-string, he turned off the light and threw some veils at her and yelled - "This has got to go!" In the dressing room the woman said "what am I supposed to do? I guess I'll have to go across the street and buy bandaids!" She thought he wanted her to strip to naked! We straightened her out. She had beautiful snakes- black or dark green, skinny, they really danced!" George Elias hired a husband /wife team. The man was a Harry Belafonte type singer. They had a burlap sack with bottles that they broke. Wife did a Carribean type dance while he sang. She would get a glass from the audience and then break it and eat it, swallowing the broken glass. We asked her how she did it. She said-Meditation! We saw her go to the bathroom afterwards. We think she vomited the glass back up. Amina quit over that act. Amina went to work at the Casbah, when she quit the Bagdad. No one knows. (?) There was always something weird at the Bagdad.

Casbah had a more traditional Arabic show. No circus acts. Except one time a dancer danced almost topless (very lacey type filigree breast plates and nothing underneath). She said her teacher suggested the breastplates. Amina quit and then came back when said dancer put on a traditional dance bra. Casbah - Same schedule, Dancer x 45 min, song, another dancer. usually 3 dancers on weeknights and 4 on weekends.

Odds and ends to develop for future stories

  • All clubs had a cover charge and/or 2 drink minimum
  • Amina and her husband toured all the clubs during her nights off just to see what was happening in each one. They just let her in per "professional courtesy".
  • The Jazz Workshop was between the Casbah and the Bagdad but it later became a strip club.When it was raining outside and the club owners weren't there yet, the Bagdad and Casbah employees would wait inside the the strip club.
  • Did you become friends with any of the strippers in other clubs? There were a few strippers from Chi Chi's who were cocktail waitresses at the Bagdad.
  • How was Bert involved? He has told us about his "Psychedelic love act". Bert's act was down the street toward Columbus somewhere. I never saw it. I met his partner Patti at his dance class.
  • Any truth to the myth that dancers sabotaged each other costumes? Amina-No, everyone was pretty nice to each other other then the usual girly comments such as --Amina had one costume- Zahra many--"you know I envy you, you don't have to choose which costume to wear!" Jamila said that the dancers from the East Coast would sabotage.
  • Dahlena-ask her about Gigi's. It closed about the time Amina started dancing. Amina worked with dancers who came from Gigi's The dancer's at Gigi's had a union and contracts regarding work schedule, etc.
  • Dahlal-(Shadia our own Egyptian Princess)- famous for balancing a cane on her bosom and alternately bouncing it from one side to the other.
  • Video, Disco, and murders in China town caused the demise of the scene in North Beach


.Fatma Akef- Amina's teacher after Bettina Robbi
.Bettina had a place on Leavenworth called
Harems Unlimited
Mimi Spencer at Bagdad
Dalal (Shadia)
Susu in high school
Sultana-everyone loved her. Rumored that George sent her from San Diego to be Jad's girlfriend.
Naji Baba
Jodette hired as singer
Hoda taught BD at SF State
.There were 2
George Eliases (both are now gone)

.#1 Yousef's brother in law
.#2 oud player who caused problems

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

Ready for more?
5-3-01 Fouad Marzouk, Interview by Amina Goodyear
I remember at first feeling intimidated dancing to one of Soheir Zaki's musicians.

8-12-00 Dancing on the Edge by Amina
I learned from the first evening chasing Fatma around the stage that in order to have a serious dance company in the Egyptian style, I had to seriously play with the appearance of disorder.

More North Beach Memories
1-4-00 Latifa-The Rest of the San Francisco Dance Scene-(Powell St Station)
2-25-00 Bert Balladine-
at long last Bert begins his story
2-25-00 George Elias-
a tribute written by his daughter, Nadia Elias.
3-22-00 John Compton-
Finnochios, Bal Anat, to Hahbi'ru