Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mid '80s - Greek, Armenian, Moroccan - becoming a B-list dancer

  My career hit a low patch during the mid eighties. The mega nightclubs had for the most part closed their doors. Only a few remained, and with more dancers now in the mix, I was out of the running for these 2 or 3 jobs. I found in a new niche in the Greek and Armenian clubs. Not my favorite because of the music. Dancing to Greek and Armenian musicians requires a whole different set of skills, mostly comprised of furiously racing around the floor to breakneck speed music.

  I danced regularly at a lovely little restaurant called Aegean Isles in Los Angeles. They treated me like royalty, and although the music was not really Belly Dance friendly, I felt comfortable in this lovely family owned taverna. On the other hand I worked at probably my least favorite club in my entire career. Port of Athens was one of several large Armenian/Greek nightclubs, situated in the armpit of the world - the San Fernando Valley. This was a hoodlum hangout, a den of unsavory characters. Cocky little singers with overblown egos, a particularly nasty owner, and women with no self respect made up the employee ranks. Shootings happened. Once a fellow dancer was almost grazed by a knife that went flying in front of her. The owner's wife was a former Belly Dancer who tried to be sympathetic to my need to get out of there before 2am and would often sneak me money. I would pretend I was just hanging out and would slowly make my way towards the door, grab my strategically placed suitcase & beat it out of that smoke pit. The owner started catching on that I was MIA at the end of the night and one night kept an eye on me. As I scooted out the door & hastily made my way to my car I heard him yelling for me to come back. I jumped in the car and started driving, and could see him running after me in the rear view mirror, obviously pissed off. I don't think I ever returned. Not even sure if I called to quit, though I probably did since I was very responsible. I felt badly that his wife probably got the brunt of his anger for being an accomplice.

At Dar Magreb. beautiful place, beautiful people, crappy food, low pay

  I had also been working at Dar Magreb, a beautiful Moroccan Palace of a restaurant in the heart of Hollywood on the Sunset Strip. This place was the good, the bad and the ugly. "Bad and ugly" because although the pay started out high with the dancer doing a few shows a night - it descended into a poorly payed all night gig, sometimes doing as many as 12 shows a night. We danced to tapes which was a low point after live music. The "good" was the fascinating assortment of celebrities that would grace the place each night, and the shenanigans that would take place. I danced for the likes of Baryshnikov and then partner Jessica Lange who looked in the midst of a lovers' quarrel, Yoko Ono, Rick James in his Superfreak heyday, an adorable & friendly Matt Dillon, Johnny Rotten who I feared would snarl at me but was polite and clapped accordingly. A then unheard of Claude Van Damme came up to me one evening and said "I can do the splits" and proceeded to do the splits right in the lobby. He was flirting and was so charming, giving me his phone number. I was married at the time, but I kept that piece of paper for the longest time - just in case! Now I see he's done a big stunt - doing the splits between two moving trucks - a real one trick pony! One night General Hospital's Luke (Anthony Geary) came in with some lovely friends and I ended up sitting with them. All us dancers on the road in the Guy Chookoorian days would watch the soaps in the daytime, since we were often stranded in podunk towns with nothing to do. I didn't let on that I knew who he was though. We all ended up in his Hollywood Hills home talking until late in the evening, and then I went home. A nice evening. One feature of Dar Magreb at the time was the liberal allowance of drugs on the premises. Hollywood types would line up their cocaine on the beautiful inlaid tables, and the smell of weed often wafted through. There was a private room where patrons could really be debaucherous. One night a party ended up naked and frolicking in the room. Someone urinated in a wine bottle and left it for the poor busboys to pick up. Eventually Dar Magreb spun downward and crowds were sparse. The food was less than stellar and it just wasn't the happening place anymore. It was the only restaurant gig I was ever let go from. The bitchy new host decided he didn't like me. I probably did have a bad attitude. I was tired of the poor work conditions.

Original Dar Magreb dancers Maria & Helena with Kamala

  Truth was I was tired of the whole thing. I was still getting used to being a married woman. I was working my first civilian job since I had started dancing - as a reservations agent at Delta Airlines. Dance just wasn't my passion anymore. Drab music, the occasional Belly-gram, the lonely evenings now that the restaurants only hired one dancer per night. I had joined the B-list - the hustlers who were always looking for dance jobs. It was depressing and degrading, and I felt like I was in the twilight of my career, even though in my late 20s, early 30s.

  But my assessment was premature. I got a call from an Orange County dancer named Latifa who was looking for good soloists to form a company. When she told me Sahra Saeeda was on board, I quickly agreed, even though it meant driving to Laguna Beach, a good 2 hours away, for rehearsals. So started a whole new phase in my career - the troupe era.