Monday, July 28, 2014

The Flowers of the Desert - the bloom comes off the rose

"Ishtar" evening performance for the "Cairo Carnival Festival" 2000

"Drum Chant" Jindra, Laura & Kamala at IAMED's "Rock the Casbah"

For the remainder of the 1990s and into 2000, the Flowers of the Desert were busy creating theater productions. Another Fusion and Fantasy show in 1999 was artistically satisfying & well received. There was a mix of western and Arab audiences & no horror over fusing bellydance, no talk of cultural appropriation. It was fun entertainment. Neena & Veena had officially become the "BellyTwins" with a career of their own, so they left the Flowers. It seemed like a huge hole to fill, but we were blessed with the addition of an accomplished Ballet/Belly dancer named Jindra,  & a full time commitment from Kim Murphy - an all around fabulous dancer/contortionist/actress. We had an audition & added a new dancer named Layla, who unfortunately didn't jive with a few of the other dancers, so she was cut pretty quickly. She ended up starting her own company on which I will not comment. Another extraordinary dancer named Lorinda joined, as did a very young & adorable Jayna. Both Jayna & Lorinda went on to be "Bellydance Superstars".

                                Fusion and Fantasy 1999 at Highways Theater, Santa Monica, CA

Ali Baba Samba from Fusion & Fantasy 1999 backstage at Highways Theater, Santa Monica, CA
Kamala, Kim Murphy, Princess Farhana, Angell Estrada & Marci Johnson (Selena)

We were accustomed to accomplished Bellydancers enthusiastically joining the group, but there was one dancer who politely declined. Jillina was becoming the soloist of choice in the clubs. An extremely ambitious business woman, with all the assets needed for becoming a star, she wisely put her energies into building her own empire. She had a whole different business model, one that is the standard for professional dance companies to this day. Whereas the Flowers were a bit of a ragtag group in the sense that no one matched physically, & our work was quirky & artsy, Jillina assembled a sleek & glamorous  troupe. With the professionalism of a Vegas show - she was the star, supported by young back up girls of a similar look. It was commercial to the max - & they exploded on the club/party scene. Middle Eastern audiences now wanted Jillina's Sahlala Dancers, & only Jillina's Sahlala Dancers. The Flowers had our fare share of glamorous young dancers as well, & one by one they jumped ship & signed on with Jillina. No one could blame them, & I had always been told that a company director (I was assistant director at this point) should never get too attached to a dancer, because they (we) are gypsies after all, floating away on whatever fair wind that blows - Zay el Hawa.

Bellydance a Go Go with Kamala, Jayna, Kim Murphy & Miriam

The Flowers perform on the "Roseanne Barr Show"

After 9/11 it was a grim time for the Middle Eastern community & the dancers. Restaurants stopped their entertainment & places changed their names to say "Mediterranean" rather than Middle Eastern. The Flowers had already produced a lot of charity events, & we presented "Bellydance for Peace". Much of the proceeds from our shows were donated to different worthy causes.

Backstage at Bellydance For Peace
Laura Crawford, Kamala, Dana, Jayna, Princess Farhana, Laura Kali, Lorinda & Miriam 2001

We still had a few regular gigs & some parties, but truth was we were just too eclectic to make it commercially. We tried our damnedest to choreograph fluffy commercial pieces, but they never rang true, like our eccentric stuff did. We did last in some form or another for several more years, & slowly the cast changed & all the old members were gone, mostly replaced by some of my wonderful students - at the time I happened to have some young beauties we could recruit. But it was never the same. The original Flowers of the Desert had a certain alchemy, a magical energy for that fleeting moment in time. Since those days there have been countless copies, & at this point not many even know who we were, & how different it was. Fusion has taken off in a huge way & creativity is thriving. My writing this story is an attempt to educate lovers of fusion Bellydance on what contribution we made. I look back with pride on this troupe. It's interesting to me how many of the original members never mention the Flowers on their resumes - dancers are a fickle lot I suppose, & perhaps to many of them it was just a blip on their roads to success. For me it was more than a blip. It was a saving grace, an opportunity to dance one more time, to be accepted. I had now been in the business for over 20 years & I was beginning to swallow the bitter pill of dancer old age & unattractiveness. Thankfully I had a growing student base & a fun children's dance company to pour my efforts into. And I was a mom - a very active, basically stay at home mom. That's what got me through this transition, as my identity for so long was shifting & fading.