That's Entertainment! (1974)
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Starring: Fred Astaire, et al.
Director: Jack Haley
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Saida Asmar and Ahmed Jarjour

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

Interviewed at the Pasha Restaurant
in San Francisco, California
on November 6, 1999
by Lynette

I, Saida Asmar, (my stage name) arrived in San Francisco in 1969. I grew up in Berlin, Germany and then Montreal, Canada. My mother was involved in ballet internationally, so I grew up taking ballet also. I received my degree in accounting and foreign exchange. I have danced in Berlin, Montreal and New York, starting as most ballet dancers do, as a child in the Nutcracker Suite. I danced in many musical shows, and did a lot of cattle calls and auditions. I knew Russel from Montreal he was Lebanese and a dancer also. We worked together in a show in Las Vegas and then teamed up together. We were to work together for only 3 months and then I had the show, Hee Haw in Las Vegas to do. In belly dance there was more money and jobs. Russel's stage name was Ahmed Jarjour. I chose the full name, Saida Asmar.

Russel was friends with Yousef Kouyoumjian. Yousef needed help and arranged for us to work at the Bagdad for two weeks. It would be a good place to work on our routine. (except for the 2 x 3 foot stage!). We had a contract to work on a variety TV show in Mexico City. It was a regular show scheduled every Sunday. After appearing in Mexico, Ahmed and I went back and forth between a Greek Club in Oregon and an Armenian club in Fresno a couple times. Then we returned to San Francisco to visit Bahia whom we met when we came to the city the first time.

Jalaleddin Takesh 

I was very tired of Ahmed's constant party scene which involved me in an almost caretaker status. He left to return to New York to take care of some health problems. He was a friend of Bobby Farah too, who took care of him in New York. I felt burned out! While back in San Francisco, I met Jalaleddin Takesh and became romantically involved with him. I did not enjoy working in North Beach. Shows did not seem to be run professionally. Club owners and musicians expected the dancer to dance to anything that the audience requested. These particular folks had no respect for their own culture from my point of view. It was very hard to be a classically trained dancer and to work in a place that just wanted a woman on stage in a costume. It didn't seem much different from the strip clubs next door. I thought that they had no sense of performance.

Nejla Ates
While I was in New York, I had worked many clubs where they presented a "real show", places such as the "Round Table" on 50th Street. These were classed as large supper clubs. Morocco danced there also. All the performers in New York did other kinds of performance too. They would rotate around in different venues as their contract required. Nejla Atesh was another performer in New York who worked in the show "Kismet". The Gole Gole Sisters opened the "Round Table" long before I came to New York.

I quit dancing in 1970. I had been working for Fadil Shahin for two months, when I had a particularly distasteful experience. I never went around the cocktail tables for tips, but on one particular evening an old man approached me on stage with a dollar to tuck into my dance belt. When I turned around to let him tuck it in, he shoved it down to the nether regions, an action which he knew was off-limits and insulting. I was very disturbed by this transgression. I packed all my costumes and belongings. On my way out, a brother of the owner, taunted me, "Who do you think you are?" adding, "You're nothing but a belly dancer!"

Samia Nasser
I stayed with Samia Nasser while here and then got stuck there because Samia needed help with the rent. I sent Bahia to Fresno for the job there. I thought that Samia was a nag! She was messy and was a real pain! Samia was from Iraq. I wanted to go back to Santa Barbara. After meeting Jalal, I finally went back to Santa Barbara. He commuted every Monday to visit me. I took a job at Robinson's department store and was soon promoted to manager of designer sportswear. Thank God, my parents stressed education! Can you believe it; I eventually burned all my belly dance mementos. The reminders sat about for a while and one day I decided that they just didn't have any meaning for me anymore because they were not fond memories. After Jalal and I were married, I didn't want anything more to do with show business. Jalal promised he would only play music until he had finished his engineering degree. So I stayed in Santa Barbara. Jalal decided that he could not live without the music, and he quit school. I moved to San Francisco when I was four or five months pregnant with our son, Amir. After we bought our house and had the children (daughter Sophie was next), we held parties at our house almost every Monday, with constant music and socializing.

When we bought the Pasha Restaurant in 1986, hosting all the parties stopped. We were just too tired. Before purchasing the Pasha Restaurant on Broadway in San Francisco, Jalal was in Hawaii for one year and played at the Pasha the year before that. Contrary to the memories of others, we did not take any partners because nobody really had any money to put up! We didn't want a partner, anyway! Jalal had approached Michael "Mike" a couple years before about purchasing the Pasha. The Pasha Restaurant did not have entertainment at first. Habib was Michael's uncle and silent partner. They opened Pasha together.

Other comments and memories

Regarding "The Jamila People"
They were very interesting to me! They seemed almost fairy tale like. They created something very uniquely San Francisco or Haight street. They were always in costume and in character 24 hours a day, even when they weren't working. It didn't seem professional, more cult-like. Like the hippie movement, they were barefoot in black with silver stuff hanging off them, like a 1920 magazine advertisment or something from the National Geographic. This would never happen in New York!

They apparently despised me because I was a trained dancer. They broke down steps and gave them names like "triple vibration with something or other". I thought to myself, "What are you talking about?" They also had schools. This is the first time I had seen that.

I know Morocco had students, but I didn't know how she taught. Ahmed Jarjour taught by putting on the music and having his students follow him as he danced. He would occasionally stop to explain something.

I remember meeting Jamila Salimpour in Las Vegas and in Fresno. She always had her little daughter sleeping under the table on the floor. Jamila used to work in the circus on the backs of elephants! I heard this through a co-worker at Robinson's who was a neighbor of Jamila's.

Bert "Roman" Balladine
Bert was the Andy Warhol of the scene. He had the wildest parties with all kinds of dancers, including topless. I remember being introduced to him once in those days.

Yes, Yousef had dancers that worked only for cab fare!

Nazir Latouf and Yousef Mustapha join us at the end of our interview-
Nazir arrived in March 1979 and played at the Casbah. He remembers a punk place next door with the kids all wearing chains. It was an ugly, unsafe district down there.
Yousef Mustapha (not Bagdad Yousef) arrived around September 1979, but then went to Los Angeles. Magana Baptiste, Jamila Salimpour and Amina Goodyear and all the other major teachers were always at war with each other.

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Ready for more?
10-27-03 Dancing on Broadway in the ‘70s by Kalifa
One of my strangest experiences on Broadway involved getting a small part in Carol Doda’s movie...

10-17-03 The Greek Scene by Elaine
There were the usual politics at the Taverna, of course, and if management felt that a dancer was holding back on her tips, she rarely made another appearance.

9-5--03 Loving Remembrance & Requiem: the Best “School” That Ever Was, Part 2 by Morocco/ Carolina Varga Dinicu
So much great stuff; so little time to see and learn it all. So much of it disappears down the oasis daily.

















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