Sunday, May 4, 2014

My Transition Years - Late 1980s Belly Dance

   The years after being a member of Arabesque Dance Co are a blur. For the first time my dance career took a back seat, & my social life blossomed outside of the insular belly dance world. I was working at LAX and was part of a very close knit threesome - a young male and a young female coworker became my best traveling buddies and our free airline passes afforded us the luxury of weekend trips abroad and all varieties of drunken antics in various exotic locales.

   My favorite dance job was a cozy place, close to home, called The Crossbow. I worked there several years, dancing to the beautiful music of John Belezikjian and various drummers. John's many fans would show up for all the shows & were appreciative & generous.

The Crossbow in South Pasadena. Fortunate to be dancing again to John Belezikjian's glorious music.

   I was back to jazz class on a regular basis, happy to find a teacher I liked who challenged me & made me remember why I loved jazz. Having some nights off allowed me to have a more vigorous social life. Rock and roll concerts & other American style activities brought me back to who I was, rather than the girl who had become absorbed by the Arab nightclub world, trying to please another culture & forfeiting my own identity.

   My dance jobs, besides dancing the party circuit, were Papadakis, a popular Greek restaurant in the port town of San Pedro, CA, & Burger Continental, a Lebanese/Armenian outdoor restaurant in Pasadena, CA. These two places were similar in certain respects. Both were owned by lecherous brothers, were very established & popular family businesses in the LA environs, & had daily belly dance shows. Papadakis was a crazy gig - you would sit with a fellow dancer in the dressing room for hours until the owner called you down in a panic. Waiters would be dancing and breaking glasses & the owner would suddenly blast some Arabic music & push us out the door to dance quickly around the audience, tip toeing around the shards of glass. The owner would lift my fellow dancer on to a table (lucky for me I was tall & not so easy to sling over a shoulder) & encourage a wild shimmy. Then boom, he would run into the kitchen & cut the music off after maybe three minutes & that was it. Three minutes of dance & a decent salary kept me there for something like 12 years.

   Burger Continental was the hangout joint where I had seen my first belly dance show, way back when in the '70s. They had just started live "Mediterranean" entertainment after a long hiatus, and the joint was jumpin'. The casual outdoor patio, the cheap food & of course the musicians & dancers made for a great ambience on a balmy evening. The place was so busy, there were about 3 turnovers in seating per night. There would be a line to get in, & a charming Jordanian Maitre-D' glided about, seating the wealthy & glamorous patrons first. The musicians were usually my dear friends John & George, who I first worked with at The Gypsy way back as a baby belly dancer. A very skillful tabla player, Faisal would show up to play for me, & an Egyptian friend would join him on tabla, not quite as skillfully. Between the Maitre-D' & the four musicians, we had a wonderful time laughing & talking politics. The tips were flowing at BC (as it's known all over LA). That place was a goldmine. I would do two shows just running around collecting money, then would end the show near the drummers for a proper drum solo. I also danced to recorded music in the afternoons to a large lunch crowd. We had patrons from the world over. Persian, Arab, Armenian, Latino, American, European, Russian, all happily joined in the fun, dancing in the aisles, calling out for songs from their homelands. This place managed to stay a hotspot for a long time. It took a good 15 years or so before various circumstances caused BC to take a downward spiral. I worked there from the late 1980s through 2013, when I finally resigned. Again, I had been fortunate to be dancing at the peak of its success, & left on good terms.

A busy night at BC 1995

                                                          Burger Continental 2011

  One of my favorite stories happened on a day I was working the ramp at Burbank Airport. I was in my workman attire, as my job required loading bags, driving stairs up to planes, bringing the planes in & pushing them out. With big head phones, steel toed boots, no makeup & a messy bun on my head, I was hardly the epitome of feminine glamor by any means. As I was waiting for a plane to disembark, standing on the ramp, a couple of young guys took one look at me & shouted "That's the belly dancer from Burger Continental!"  How they recognized me, I'll never know!

  So it was not much later, July 9, 1991 to be exact, when the most momentous moment of my life occurred. The birth of my daughter, as most births, was the most magical, defining thing to ever happen to me. I had a quick & relatively easy labor. My doctor said he wanted to prescribe belly dancing to all his patients. I performed until I hit about 5 1/2 months, & about 4 weeks after the birth. I could hardly wait to start dancing again, but now it all felt so different. I was not the girl I used to be. I was a mom now. And I made it my priority.

  One would think I would settle into a mundane existence, dance-wise, but no - the early '90s were coming & things were about to get anything but mundane! I was about to enter a novel, exciting & stimulating phase in my dance career. Who would have thought it?