Saturday, July 27, 2013

We Love the 80s

  Memories are funny things, and especially for those of us who grew up without video cameras, social media & cell phones. We just lived, we didn't document. The problem is the memories become fuzzy dreamlike visions in our cobwebbed brains. I strain to remember names & details, but the feelings of the experiences remain. And so I recount those dreamy thoughts in the recesses of the brain, that if not retold or photographed or videoed stay just dreams. Which might be the only reason I feel compelled to tell my stories, like an elder in the village who passes on cautionary tales & legends to the village youth.

 So I last wrote about Ali Babas. That Hollywood den of iniquity. I stayed until the day it closed its doors. For some reason I was good about keeping my jobs until a place folded. Ali Babas continued to produce incredible music, and many new dancers were showing up. One noteworthy nutcase was a fabulous creature named Lorena. Lorena was working the London clubs, and came to Hollywood with a few musicians and a few kick ass new songs. She had hair to the floor, and it was the first time I saw a dancer throw on a thobe and do a Khaleegy number during her set. I loved it & I was taking notes.

   The most significant dancer who showed up was Nabila. Nabila's reputation preceded her - she was the dancer's dancer, the musician's dancer - the girl who really connected to the feeling, the music and the culture. Surprised I was to see she was a nondescript, soft spoken young girl with straight hair and little makeup. She was a departure from the tarted up dancers who usually graced the stages. Her movement was so understated you strained to watch every nuance - and everyone was captivated. It was like watching music, she just embodied it. Her dancing looked the way a violinist plays. Serious & transcendental. In my mind I vividly remember one of the many shows of Nabila's I watched. She danced to a new song I had never heard, and it was damned good. I was secretly hoping she would get stumped by its many rhythm changes, but no... she nailed it. It was the first time I heard the now popular "Mashaal" which we first knew as "Al Aroussa". I couldn't have done what she did. She was great, and I was average. She was the artist and I was the imposter.

   I think I didn't even know how to dance the way I really wanted to. I didn't have the training, and to be honest I didn't have the desire. I was happy to be making money with little effort, and to train seemed ridiculous when I was already successful.

  During this time period I also worked on some TV shows. I was still operating in my confidence mode, knowing I was young & had the look - I would go to auditions knowing they would want me. It was always fun being on the set. As Guy Chookoorian said, it didn't matter who the star was, when the Belly Dancer came in she was the center of attention.

                                                    Kamala in the mini-series "Casablanca"

  Ali Baba's wasn't the only place I was working. I managed to work 6 nights a week, rotating between Arabic nightclubs, Greek tavernas and Armenian restaurants. Things were good, but there was one dance job I really wanted. I wanted to dance in London, since I was a punk, ska, new wave enthusiast who went to London every chance I could for its music & fashion scene. The thought of dancing at night to great music, and spending the day roaming King's Road was just the ticket I was looking for, and I had to nab one of those tough to get British work permits. I had many offers to dance in the Middle East from a fast talking agent, but none of them panned out since they were all 6 month minimum contracts. I was not one who enjoyed being holed up in a fancy hotel for months at a time. The boredom and loneliness was debilitating. I liked the dual life of Middle East by night, western world by day.

  So I had the good fortune one night at Ali Baba's to meet someone who knew a nightclub owner in London. The owner regularly brought dancers over from other countries since there were not many native British Belly Dancers at the time. We talked, negotiated and I filled out forms. And soon I was back on a plane headed for London, but this time I was going to dance.

Next: London Calling