Friday, November 23, 2012

The 1970s Bellydancer of Los Angeles look

Getting Started 1976-1977

1976 - 1977
I'm not thrilled about being old, but I do feel very fortunate to have experienced the exciting decades of the '60s, '70s & '80s. The California experience, if you were groovy enough, provided the opportunity to break with tradition & "do your own thing".  As a lonely little girl who lived & breathed pop music (in those fabulous days of 1960s LA radio), I knew I was looking for something to do when I grew up that would make a counter-culture statement. As a young adult in 1976, Bellydance was my logical choice - exotic, rebellious, exhibitionist, glamorous. I had spent my childhood dragged to ballet class. As a teen I embraced dance as my own & finally began to work hard in ballet, & made it into the local Ballet Company. I transitioned to jazz where I was fortunate enough to enjoy some of the country's top teachers (a shout out to Joe Bennett, who used real jazz music, where I learned to count complex time signatures & to interpret the music from the inside out).
 So the 1st time I saw a Bellydancer at Burger Continental, a local Armenian/Lebanese restaurant I was transfixed, & to be honest not by the dance, but by the diaphanous costume & the impact she had on all the cute college boys who patronized the place. I knew I had to learn it, & fast, because I wanted that attention & I figured it would be easy. My local Parks & Rec had a class, & for better or worse my first teacher was a very controversial character who I will name Candi. The class was American Cabaret all the way. We started with finger cymbals & veils, & working on back bends on the floor. For a snooty ballet/jazz dancer, I was humbled by my inability to get it right away.
 It wasn't long before I joined the class in some public performances in my newly hand made costume. I was horrible, I'm sure, but I didn't care. I was just happy to be in that flattering costume. What a fool! And the sad truth was, I had no respect for Bellydance. Ballet & Jazz were art, & Bellydance was...well I'm not sure what I thought it was. I would say it was only months later that Candi would get me my 1st Bellydance job at a local Lebanese restaurant/club called The Gypsy. 
What I was unaware of was that the Middle Eastern club/restaurant scene in Southern California was exploding. Many Lebanese were fleeing the civil war & taking their money with them, & many wealthy students from the Middle East were flooding So. Cal's excellent universities. That & other circumstances made it the perfect storm for Middle Eastern entertainment. 
So I had a paid audition on a Friday night to be The Gypsy's 2nd dancer. While waiting to go on in the dressing room, a musician came up to ask me my name. I said Kim, & he said, "well let's give you a different name - how about Kamala" & I thought yeah, whatever. Without a clue as to what I was doing, Candi pushed me out the door when the musicians started my music. I flailed around, did Ballet turns & Jazz fan kicks to a confused sea of Middle Eastern faces. My mouth was so dry from nerves, as I made the obligatory rounds of the tables I asked patrons if I could have a sip of their water - I couldn't breathe from excessive thirst. When I was done, the owner offered me a job - $25 for one show on Friday nights. I thought I'd hit pay dirt, since I was working full time as a music director at KIIS am & fm, & probably making under $5 an hour. 
I loved the idea of dancing, but I was out of my league & surprised that no Americans were in my audiences. I had had no prior interactions with Middle Eastern people, & I was disappointed that my audience didn't consist of hot, blond haired young hippie guys. Here were sophisticated couples in beautiful clothing & tables of Middle Eastern men who looked threatening to my naive young American self. I had a scary father of the dark swarthy variety, & so it wasn't my favorite type of man.
The job at the Gypsy ended up lasting years, until they finally closed their doors in 1984. More on that later. My Bellydance Career had started & it was 1977.  The only reason I remember that was because at the radio station I was promoting my favorite new album "Talking Heads '77". Funny the things you remember.

To come: the next phase -  making the transition to full time dancer & going on the road.