Friday, March 27, 2009


As a professional dancer who tours constantly, I've basically been living out of a suitcase for the past decade and a half, but I've actually been on the road for nearly thirty years. Before I was a dancer, I was in an all-girl band and we spent most of the 1980's and 1990's on tour, and boy... the stories I could tell.... so, here's one now!

I think it was 1987, and my crazy, liquor-soaked, thrashin' all-girl "cowpunk” band The Screaming Sirens were on tour promoting our albums, "Fiesta" and "Voodoo". yep, that's me, second from the right in the photo- and yes, indeed I was a blonde cowgirl for most of the '80's! Anyway, The Screaming Sirens were gigging at a roadhouse called Rooster’s in Nashville, Tennessee when this entire chain of events occurred.

Living like full-on "Spinal Tap" style road-pigs, we were in the midst of a self-booked tour, playing every night and, if we were lucky, sleeping on stranger's floors. We traveled in an unheated old Winnebago-conversion van, whose ceiling was festooned with fishnet stockings, crepe paper streamers, bumper stickers, and our own lipstick graffiti. The windows on one side of the van were blocked off with torn-apart Tampax boxes, to block out the sun. This story unfolds on the eve of Sirens’ bassist Laura's birthday, on a chilly November night.

As twilight fell, I stepped outside the stage door of Rooster's, and as my eyes became accustomed to the dark, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing… a mossy Victorian-era gravestone, leaning up against the building in the weeds. There was new dirt and clumps of grass stuck to the bottom of the monument, and it looked to be freshly dug up. Even more amazing, the headstone was for a girl who had died at age twenty-four: the same age Laura was turning that very night. Not only that, the girl had died on Laura's birthday! Going inside to club to report my find, I asked if there was a graveyard anywhere in the nearby vicinity. Everyone I questioned assured me there was not.

Thinking that the headstone would make the ultimate birthday present, I borrowed a hand-truck from the club and cajoled some boys to help get the headstone to our dressing room, then blindfolded Laura and dragged her into the dressing room to see her present. Laura was a tough, hard-drinking, wisecracking punk chick, who, before joining the Sirens, had been in a band called Hard As Nails, Cheap As Dirt. She had a macabre sense of humor, and like the rest of us always appreciated a low-budget splatter flick, so the whole band assumed she’d be delighted with her present, especially since we were too broke to be able to afford anything else.

As her blindfold was removed, instead of the anticipated reaction of laughter, Laura turned white as a ghost (pun intended!) and whispered, her voice trembling audibly,

"Get that fucking thing out of here right now!"

Disappointed that our gift didn’t go over well, we scrambled to get the gravestone back outside, crashing into amps and drum-sets in the narrow hallway on the way outside.

The headstone seemed to put a curse on everything that happened after that.

Our gig that night was terrible- maybe the worst of the tour, plagued with more than our usual share of technical difficulties. The boys we were flirting with didn’t respond the way they usually did, the audience was a bunch of dullard cowboys, and we didn’t sell any merch.

As we loaded up the van in a dense fog, it began to drizzle. Laura's purse somehow disappeared from the parking lot. The whole band searched for ages both inside and outside the club (as well as in our van) but her purse had vanished without a trace. Then, dead tired and with no speed or even coffee, because it was so late even rural convenience marts and truck-stops weren’t open, Laura and I drove the van through pouring torrential rain for three and a half hours before discovering we'd gone in the wrong direction. Usually we chattered endlessly on our late-night drives, but tonight we were both quiet and grimly introspective. Practically crying, we finally figured out the right way to go.

Back on course, we were speeding through Kentucky at daybreak, desperately trying to get to St. Louis on time for our gig that night, and of course we got pulled over.

Laura was driving, and since her purse was missing, she had no license. We both looked completely terrifying- in our previous night’s sweat- caked stage make-up, remnants of glitter crusted around our eyes, we looked like carnival corpses from a cheap funhouse. Laura was wearing a decomposing vintage beaver fur coat over long-johns and I looked like a dead clown; orange hair with rags tied into it, a man's 1950’s pajama shirt, huge torn-up net petticoat, boxer shorts, striped stockings and turquoise Converse high-tops. Everyone else was passed out cold, and we were hoping the van wouldn't get searched, because if it did, we'd probably wind up on a rural chain gang!

The cop didn't even have to say, "Y' ain't from 'round heeere, are ya?"- You could see the diabolical in-bred glint in his eyes. But miraculously he didn’t seem to notice the scores of empty Budweiser cans that littered the floor, along with stray fishnet stockings, crumpled cigarette packs, No-Doz, rolling papers, battered cowboy boots and an empty bottle of Everclear.

He screwed us up pretty good, anyway: we not only got a seventy-five dollar ticket (an astronomical amount in those days, especially for us) he held us up for almost forty minutes as he made a huge deal of having his dispatcher call LA to make sure Laura didn't have any arrest warrants. The fact that it was confirmed to be her birthday held no sway with him, and even though we explained our predicament- her stolen purse, being late for a gig, and the fact that the road we were speeding on was completely deserted, he still almost gleefully wrote us the ticket.

Finally arriving in St. Louis, we sent our entire band-fund back to LA by money order. Our reasoning was that because of the way things had been going, we were scared to keep a big amount of cash with us, in case it got lost or stolen. Plus, our gig that night had the largest guarantee of the tour, so we’d be flush in a matter of hours.

When we got to the club, the booking agent who’d hired us had apparently been fired recently and the new manager was like, "Screaming WHO?"

We sat in the parking lot forlornly, with grim reality setting in. We had only sixty-odd dollars left to share between seven people- counting our personal monetary stashes- and no gig for three days. As it began to snow, we made repeated attempts to contact the promoter of the next show, in Kansas City, by pay phone, but no dice. Boy, were we bummed.

Pretty soon, the guys in the Top Forty house band showed up for their gig that night. Somehow, they found out that we were a stranded all-girl band from LA, and, interest piqued, they smuggled beer and popcorn out to us. We shared our last shreds of pot and told them our tale of woe.

They excitedly told us that Supertramp was playing the coliseum down the street and that the after-party was being held here at the club...LIKE WE CARED! Supertramp? You must be kidding! We were so “alternative” that we had no idea what Supertramp’s hits were, and didn’t give a shit anyway.

But those Top Forty guys were being nice to us, so we were nice right back, acting suitably, charmingly impressed with this “amazing” news.

We borrowed a couple of bucks from them, promising sincerely to send it back from our next gig, and went out to a dismal Italian birthday dinner at The Spaghetti Factory, all of us sharing plates of food, drinking communally from the decanter of hellish cheap red wine. Laura blew out her one candle and we split a stale chocolate cup cake as though it was manna from heaven. We barely had enough to pay the bill, and left someone’s keychain and a punk rock badge as a tip.

We drove back to the club's parking lot (where else were we gonna go, after all?) and figured since it was really starting to blizzard by now, and we didn’t want to risk driving or running out of gas, in a snow storm, that we’d spend the night there in our unheated van.

On cue, Top Forty guys came out again with more beer and we joked around. Even though they were "normal" and we were punk rock scum, we were still chicks, and chick musicians, no less… which really was a novelty in those days. They were intrigued with us, because even though we were broke and stranded, we were living out a rock 'n' roll dream, and besides, we were from HOLLYWOOD!

The guys went inside and convinced the manager to let us play a set on their equipment, and were insanely delighted when we emerged from the bathroom, looking all fresh and newly made-up with our garish Ronnettes-style eyeliner and Wet ‘N’ Wild ninety-nine cent lipstick. I have to say that we always cleaned up very well, even on tour, with hangovers and no showers. The Top Forty guys kept bringing us pitchers of beer before we went on, and while they played, they announced to the entire club that it was Laura's birthday, and told our whole sad, crazy whole story onstage.

Pretty soon the entire club was singing "Happy Birthday" to Laura. We played a wild set, with audience members sending trays of shots up onto the stage. Construction workers in plaid shirts were jumping right up onto the stage to shake our hands, steal a kiss or do a shot with us. The audience was going crazy, they'd apparently never seen five girls in torn-up lingerie and biker jackets jumping around, sweating, cursing and playing well!

Right when we finished, the guys from Supertramp started congratulating us, buying us rounds of cocktails and giving us tons of blow in the dressing room, yelling in English accents about how “FAKKING GREHT!” we were… then they played, and in between songs, took up a collection from the audience so we could have gas money. We’d played with a wild assortment of bands in our career, from The Ramones to Roseanne Cash, but never thought we’d ever open for Supertramp!

By the end of the night, our roadie had gotten in touch with the promoter in Kansas City and he arranged a place for us to stay that night, which turned out to be his mom's house (soft beds, home-cooked meals, cable television, yeee-haw!) so our luck had completely turned around.
It’s been over twenty years, but to this day, if you mention the word "birthday" to Laura, she winces and pain and changes the subject right away.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Call me "Grandma"!

I am back from my mini-tour of the UK and the shows and workshops in Scotland and England were nothing short of wonderful…but more on the trip later, because the BIG news is…I AM A “GRANDMOTHER”!

Three days before I returned to the US, my kitty Sphinxie had babies- I was actually on the phone trans-Atlantic with my boyfriend Dirty when she went into labor.

In Los Angeles, it was the afternoon, but in the UK, of course , it was nine hours later. I was with my sponsor Charlotte Desorgher of Hipsinc. We were preparing to go to bed, after a full day of workshops, travel and a gourmet meal (with plenty of wine!) cooked by Charlotte’s doll of a husband Paul.

I was in a total panic, and a flurry of intense phone calls ensued- my boyfriend called me after each kitten was born, and I was frantically calling in between each birth to make sure all was well. Both Mama and kittens are all fine and doing great!

Funny, I was trying to “will” Sphinxie to have three kittens… and when I was in London, my Bulgarian friend Irina read my cards on my birthday. She read regular playing cards ( not Tarot) the way her grandmother had taught her as a child. The reading was spookily accurate, and when Irina asked if there was anything else I wanted to know, I asked how many kittens Sphinxie would have. Irina shuffled the cards, then made me pick one. It was the Three Of Spades!

Sphinxie indeed had three babies- each a tabby tiger, and in every tabby-pattern imaginable! She had the litter right on my bed, on a leopard fleece blanket, too, so it’s a symphony of animal-print, almost an optical illusion with all the stripes and spots and dots!

One baby is swirly like Sphinxie, with big whorls on the side of the belly; one has mackerel-tabby stripes, but each stripe is dotted, like a Bengal; and one has stripes on the sides and legs, and a big tabby Kiss/gene Simmons star pattern over the eyes!

They are now four days old, fat, healthy and growing by the minute!

I’m soooo happy!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Spring has sprung here in LA. Though it’s still a bit cool, in my yard there are already honeysuckles and roses blooming, and our avocado and orange trees are already bearing fruit.

A new addition to my private Eden is Sphinxie, a beautiful, noble-looking feral kitty who has become semi-domesticated. She’s a teenager kitty who now sleeps in my house, and is very affectionate but still half-wild. She's capricious;sometimes she will be all lovey-dovey, other times she skitters away spooked. Sphinxie is long and skinny, Abyssinian-red with vibrant tabby swirls in a symmetrical pattern on each side, a ringed tail, a white ruff and white paws. She has a tiny, regal head, and used to be long and soooo skinny…but now she is pregnant! Every time I tried to get her crated up to take to the vet to get fixed, she had such a violent fit, it was impossible, so she is “with children”…and very close to her delivery date, from the looks of things. I am trying to psychically regulate her litter to be three kittens, but she’s massively pregnant.

I am about to go on a two-week tour of the UK, teaching and performing, and I am just hoping she can hold off on her special delivery until I get back. The last time I took in a stray kitty, she already had three kittens with her- but the time before that, I welcomed one into the house and she had SEVEN babies right in my belly dance costumes! I thought to myself, “Now here’s a cat who KNOWS me!”…and I still have one of her babies, he’s fifteen now. I also hope Sphinxie will choose my house over the yard, or, like, under a neighbor’s house or something. My boyfriend is a typical man in that I know he will be overwhelmed with nervousness if she gives birth before I return. Actually, I don’t blame him: not only is our yard full of creatures, I’m sure they’re all about to give birth as well!

In most major cities, wildlife is something to be seen in a zoo- unless you’re counting pigeons, rats, cockroaches. But in LA, the wealth of stubbornly wild flora and fauna is proof that that nature exists and prevails even in the most urban areas. In the densely populated Hollywood Hills, there are deer sightings, not to mention the mountain lion prowling through Griffith Park. Once I saw a hawk soaring with a snake held in its talons. And the flocks of feral parrots in Silver Lake? They’re not an urban legend- I’ve seen them twice, staring in disbelief at the riot of color in the sky. A neighbor once had a peaceful encounter with a bobcat. The abundance of creatures living among us gives new meaning to the term “urban jungle”. Sometimes we dismiss our urban animals as vermin ridden, disease-carrying pests who destroy gardens and knock over garbage cans. And it’s true; a good number of the “Lost Pet” flyers dotting the Los Angeles canyons can be attributed to coyotes coming down from the hills (often in packs) to prey on our domestic animals. Even though I’m a cat owner and highly aware of the coyotes’ predatory nature, it’s still thrilling to see them once in a while. Think about it: it’s actually us- not them- who are the intruders. They wouldn’t be scarfing our pets if we hadn’t displaced them from their habitat. For every person who disdains wildlife as a nuisance, there’s another who loves these citified communes with nature. I am one of them.

My boyfriend and I live in a Hollywood Hills canyon, mere blocks from Hollywood Boulevard in a Craftsman bungalow built in 1917, with a spectacularly over-grown courtyard. Our three cats Sphinxie, Tab, and Nini love their domain, sharing it with other stray and domestic cats from the ‘hood (including the feral black tomcat we call "The Bum" who I think is Sphinxie’s baby-daddy), two loveable rescue pit bulls Hambone and Petunia, a beagle named Harley and a rescue boxer/pit mix called Monster… as well as lizards, a family of insanely tame squirrels who eat right out of our hands, and three socialized (and HUGE) raccoons- Huey, Dewey and Norman, who will actually come up and bang on our door to get food. There are also opossums, squirrels, a family of skunks and many species of birds. “Our” skunks are so used to humans that they amble by casually while we’re sitting outside, and don’t even bother to raise their tails up in a warning display.

My neighbors and I are tickled that these critters all live here and use the yard as a nursery. We wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s an endlessly fascinating diversion to the stress of every day life. Opossums may not be endearing, but a mother with four fuzzy babies riding marsupial-style on her back observed from just a few feet away is.
A couple of years ago, a humming bird made a nest outside my door. The size of a shot-glass, it was marvelously constructed, but the branch housing it hung dangerously low directly in the middle of a well-traveled concrete path leading from the street to my house and the units in the back house.

Once we discovered the two light blue jelly-bean-sized eggs, our protective instincts kicked in. The landlord cringed at the makeshift barrier we constructed to protect the nest- a tower of dilapidated lawn chairs from Target topped by an upside down trashcan. Situated under the nest, it kept the cats at bay and ensured that no one walking by would bump into it. A sign was posted in pidgin Spanish for our gardeners: MAS PRECAUCION POR FAVOR- ARRIBA ES LA CASA DE LA CHUPAROSA…CON HUEVOS!!!

The dutiful mother hummingbird nested around the clock and it was all so tiny and perfect, it didn’t look real - more a fantasy scene in a sugar Easter Egg or like a decoration from China bought at a 99 Cent Store to hang from your rearview mirror. Mama didn’t budge when the wind tossed her nest around… when the nearby 1920’s era garage was torn down, or when everyone started photographing her with their cell-phones!

All the neighbors in the courtyard was jubilant when the eggs hatched…and like the neurotic grandparents we’d all become, we fretted over the fuzzy gray babies, small as insects. Days went by and the fledglings grew, down becoming feathers, their beaks lengthening. They were so fat and healthy they barely fit in the nest! After days of devotion, Mom vanished; we were beside ourselves with worry, fearing abandonment. My boyfriend wanted to feed the tiny infants himself. Desperate, I cruised the Project Wildlife website for info, finding out everything was going on schedule- the babies no longer needed Mom to regulate their body temperatures, and she was out meticulously gathering fruit flies to feed to them. We all heaved a collective sigh of relief. The gardener even said in broken English, "The babies...soon, they will go!"

Everyone watched in delight as the fledglings took their first tentative, Disney cartoon-like attempts at flight. After an hour, they’d gotten the hang of it. Then, they were gone. They didn’t return to the nest that day, or the next morning.
I phoned my boyfriend to tell him the great news- our babies had grown up, healthy against all odds, mission accomplished! There was silence on the other end of the line.
Finally, his voice breaking, he choked,

“They’re gone? That is… so… fucked up!”

I explained that nature took its course, and we should be happy.

“I know,” he said, “ It’s wonderful. But I’m still sad.”

As I dismantled the tower of lawn chairs and trashcans, I felt my own pangs of empty nest syndrome.

Kids, I thought, shaking my head, they grow up so fast!

Sunday, March 8, 2009


This year is already flying by, and the past month in particular, my calendar has been loaded with amazing dance events.

In addition to my up-coming dates in Scotland and England starting this week, (March 13-22, 2009—please check for dates, workshop and show info) I recently performed at Gothla USA and I taught, performed and judged competitions at The Belly Dancer of The Universe. I always love that event; it was one of the first events I ever attended as a “baby belly dancer”. Tonya and Atlantis always deliver- and this year were no exception. Judging the categories was VERY difficult, because there were so many amazing dancers from all over the globe- Russia, Korea, The Czech Republic, Puerto Rico, and all across the mainland US. The bar has really been raised- some of the contestants were so breathtaking that we judges were just stunned.

It was particularly tough to judge the kids! In “Little” category (the age five-to-twelve competition) not only were the small fry uniformly great technicians and performers, how the hell do you judge a category where some of the participants have had dance training longer than others have been alive? It was mind-blowing.

Exactly a week ago, I participated in Cheeky Girls Productions “By Dancers For Dancers” live show and DVD shoot. The weekend was intense- Cheeky Gal In Chief Michelle Joyce is not only a terrific dancer who teaches and performs world-wide (and a helluva gal off-stage) she is a visionary entrepreneur, event producer and DVD producer, with an extensive line of high-quality instructional and performance DVD’s. Her concept is full on DIY- tired of waiting to “be discovered” she took matters into her own hands and began both the “By Dancers For Dancers” performance series, as well as the line of instructional discs from the ground up.

Michelle attended to every minute detail of the entire weekend without once losing her cool. In fact, most of the time she was laughing and smiling-cool as a cucumber, that one. Last weekend she reserved Saturday for shooting the instructional DVD’s “Combination Nation Vol. 1 & 2” which will be out respectively in summer and fall of 2009. Sunday, we did a show at the Live Oak Theater in Berkeley, which will be released as “By Dancers For Dancers Vol. 4 ” probably later this spring.

The talent involved in both of the shoots was beyond impressive: world class dancers came from all over America to participate, including Aradia from Las Vegas, Lotus Niraja from Baltimore, Oreet from New York, Shoshanna from NoCal, Kristina Canizares, Sandra, Adriana, Nana and Zari from the Bay Area, and Bahaia from Texas, with make-up artist extraordinaire Jacknife Ruby in tow…. I know I’m forgetting some dancers, sorry!

It was exciting watching everyone teach and perform, all the gals’ individual styles are so diverse, and everyone is so talented…not to mention the fact that in spite of a super-intense schedule (and jet-lag for some of the East Coasters) everyone looked peachy keen and gorgeous. Onstage, Michelle was a vision in a hot Turkish costume of olive green and burgundy--which she'd better leave to me in her will if she wants to get to heaven; Lotus Niraja’s honey-kissed skin was complimented by a soignée pink Pucci print bedlah (made by her mom!) and thanks to Jacknife Ruby, Aradia looked like a belly dancing 1940’s era Veronica Lake, with a huge cluster of Daffodils in her hair. Photographer extraordinaire Michael Baxter was on hand to snap live pix, and the performances included raqs sharqi, Lebanese, Turkish and Egyptian style; Zafira’s sassy balady, sizzling drum solos, and Las Vegas –based blonde bombshell Tonya’s incredible fan dance.

There wasn’t much downtime, but since the hotel room shared by Bahaia, Jacknife Ruby and myself was functioning as the beauty parlor, I got to socialize from the comfort of my bed while dancers got their hair and make-up done! And, we discovered the best restaurant sign ever- “King Dong”…too bad it wasn’t open, that was a HUGE, so to speak, disappointment!

For more info on Michelle, By Dancers For Dancers, and the entire line of DVD’s, make sure to visit
Pix: Combination Nation DVD, Michelle "Champagne" Joyce, KING DONG! Bahaia and me backstage, "plearning"!


Last night I performed at GOTHLA, in Pomona, California, an all-Gothic belly dance event put on by Tempest (The "Goth Muthuh") and Sashi of Ascend Tribal. Not only are these two chicks sooo much fun to hang with, they always do a bang-up job of putting on a splendid weekend of Gothic belly dance, from workshops and vendors to the gala show. Raqs Gothique, for those not in the know, is a hybrid of belly dance (either fusion, cabaret or tribal) with a Gothic, Rock'n'Roll sensibility and feel.

I've now had the honor of performing at Gothla UK and the two yearly events here in California, and every time, the amount of creativity, talent and detail in the cast's performance was absolutely stunning, but last night took the cake! The diversity of styles under the "dark rainbow" was just stunning.The show was held in a gorgeous theater at cal Poly Pomona University, and it was crazy to see the mix of spooky beauties and regular "civillian" students wandering the grounds of the campus.

The show was nothing short of spectacular. Hilarious and gorgeous Raine of Atash Maya was the emcee and she had the audience in stitches with her ultra-risque patter. Atash Maya( Raine, Sabrina Fox and Steven Eggers) is one of my very favorite troupes. They are a stunning trio: all physically beautiful, insanely talented, amazingly costumed and so much fun backstage! Asharah, from Washington DC has become one of my favorite dancers to watch- I've seen her many times at Tribal Fest, and last night she was incredible. That gal can MOVE! It's crazy to imagine such power and presence coming from such a tiny chick, and her range of movement is incredible...she can go from slow 'n' slithery with attenuated stretches right into crazy robotic stuff in the blink of an eye. Lee Ali, another one of my faves ( both on and off stage) did a Moroccan trance dance. She always wows me with her power as well, and a presence which is both elegant and abandoned. then there was Marjhani, Callisto from Sweden, Anaar, and many more...

I did a reprise of my Opium Odalisque dance called "Pipe Dreams And Poppies", which was originally created for Leela's "Arabia Exotica" show. The performance is all about Shanghai in the 1920's, and an opium addict who has a vision (that'd be me) while she's in a drug-induced trance. Last night, my "addict" was played by my friend Devilla, an LA-based dancer and make-up artist extraordinaire who is a member of the troupe, The Saharan Sirens". Devilla was fully believable as a debauched Chinois empress lounging in an opium den, partaking of the pipe!

It was truly inspiring to be part of this creative, unusual evening...but I gotta say, the REAL show was, as usual, in the dressing room!
If you are interested in finding out more on this genre, please visit

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Her Royal Highness will be touring Scotland and England
starting next week: Here are the dates...

Princess Farhana in workshops & show

Princess Farhana in workshops & show
Christchurch Sports & Social Club
to benefit "Riders For Health"

March 21-22, LONDON, UK
Princess Farhana Workshops
(in Croydon Phoenix Center,Mollison Drive

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


I also have a major birthday coming up in a couple of weeks… so it’s causing me to reflect on everything. I have been a professional belly dancer for eighteen years, and since belly dance has literally been MY LIFE for almost two decades, it’s gotten me to thinking.
The world of belly dance has changed perhaps more in the past decade or so that it did in the many decades previous…. or maybe even the past few hundred years!
Nearly twenty years ago, when I began dancing “just for fun”, I had no idea that my entire life would screech into a 360-degree turn-around and become dominated by Oriental dance. If you had told me at that point that I would become a professional belly dance performer and instructor who traveled the world dancing and teaching, I would have laughed you right out of the dance studio!
Women that are beginning to dance today have no idea what it was like starting out a couple of decades ago. How times have changed!

(Here, the violins swell up and dominant the soundtrack…. Get out your hankies, girls!)


But seriously- even though time line-wise I am not even closely on par with the pioneers that were performing Oriental dance generations before me, when I started out, there was no Internet. Not only did that mean that research meant spending hours at the library, it sometimes meant relying upon hearing cultural info or dance advice via word-of-mouth.
Not only that, if you wanted to translate the lyrics to an Arabic song, you had to find a waiter at an Arabic club or restaurant who could understand the dialect, and if you were lucky, could tell you what the song meant. …Or somebody’s Syrian grandma at a wedding which song was playing!

Videotape footage of Egyptian stars like Nagwa Fouad, Mona El Said, Aza Sharif, and Fifi Abdou were few and far between. There was hardly any footage of American dancers, either! You would hear tell that Dahlena, Shareen El Safy, Fahtiem, Cassandra, Dalia Carella, Morocco, Ibrahim Farrah, etc. were great- but you couldn’t really see them unless they came to your town. That’s how far our technology has come. Hello, YouTube! And speaking of visiting dancers, the workshop circuit wasn’t what it is today, either. I remember the first time Raqia Hassan came to the States- droves of dancers came from all over to attend her few workshops, teachers and students alike.

Back in the early 1990’s, there were no CD’s of course, so you had to try your luck at what I used to call “ Arabic Cassette Roulette” and hope that the tape (with the picture of Sohair Zeki on the cover) that you bought at the Lebanese grocery store actually played, let alone had some “decent” danceable music on it; something that you could use for a show. And, I might add, there was no such thing as burning CD’s; you had to make tape recordings for shows. I remember when Arabic pop first came on the scene- we were all delighted that there was some up-beat, short songs- easy for playing sagat to- finally getting produced! The first Arabic pop song I ever heard was “Ei Yanni” by Amr Diab, who was a newcomer back then. I remember we were all marveling at how “modern” it sounded!

I live in Los Angeles, and even though that is a major metropolis, there was practically no Oriental dance scene. Well, there actually was, but networking was HARD, and small cliques existed. There were Arabic clubs of course, because LA has a huge Arabic, Armenian and Persian population, but the clubs were small and geared towards an ethnic audience- they didn’t ever advertise in American papers. To find them, I practically had to go on a treasure hunt! There were only a couple of yearly events occurring: MECDA’s Cairo Carnivale, and Tonya and Atlantis’ Belly Dance Of The Universe Competition.

We saved our tips all year long so we could attend these events and load up on pricey Madame Abla costumes, “rare” music and accessories; it was the only shopping opportunity available! The costumes then cost way more than they do now, and that’s just base price, not even counting inflation. These few and far between events were virtually the only place one could see multiple dancers, as well.

Showcases in Los Angeles were practically non-existent, except for Anaheed’s legendary Wednesday night ‘do at The Middle East Connection. This weekly event featured live music and sign-up dancing and nurtured beginning performers such as Veena and Neena Bidasha, Jillina, Rania, and myself- plus countless others- in our early forays into performing Oriental dance. A little after that, Hallah started a Tuesday night showcase at the now-legendary Arabic club Al Andalus. Both of these nights were like Bootcamp for aspiring belly dancers. they featured live music and were a way to see many dancers, hear amazing musicians, and lean your performance chops.

Egyptian style dance was present in LA, but only a couple of artists were teaching it then. Sahra Saeeda was still living and dancing in Egypt; Zahra Zuhair was working in clubs and not really focusing on teaching, she was holding pro-level classes that were tough and sweaty. It was pretty much only Aisha Ali who taught the Egyptian style and back then most people was dancing American cabaret or Turkish Style. There was no such thing as Tribal or Fusion styles- hard to believe now, but those genres didn’t even exist! Laura Crawford’s groundbreaking troupe, Flowers of The Desert, of which I was a member, was the first fusion troupe ever, and even that got its start in 1995!

Being a chick that comes from a rock and roll background, I owned plenty of vinyl miniskirts and fishnet stockings, but nothing conservative enough to wear to attend dance events. I actually had to borrow my mom’s clothes (yes, really!) to go see dancers at Arab clubs. There was no such thing as an alternative belly dance scene, so I traded in my motorcycle boots for nice heels, substituted pink acrylic nails for my chipped royal blue “manicure”, and cut off my dreads, dying my peroxide blonde and orange-striped hair back to its original dark brown in order to be hired as a dancer. Even in a city as urbane and sophisticated as Los Angles, I was the very first belly dancer to have a pierced nose!

Everyone told me I’d never be able to get a job with my nose-ring in… but I reasoned that Bedouins, Berbers and East Indian women wore them, and stubbornly flaunted mine, and miraculously, the club owners never said anything. I did have to keep my extensive arm and shoulder tattoos covered. I wore costumes that had sleeves attached, or would custom-make little shrugs to hide the “offensive” tattoos. Today, the general public considers them artful, and many dancers of both cabaret and Tribal persuasion proudly sport tattoos. Many dancers now also have neon colored hair, dreadlocks, facial and belly button piercings, too.

I used to joke about wanting to perform raks shamadan to the Doors song “Light My Fire” and people thought I was completely insane! I was roped into Samba choreography in Flowers Of The Desert cause I was the only performer who would even consider performing in a Samba costume…and show my fishnet-encased butt onstage. I was like, “Do I get to wear a headdress?!?!” Nobody would consider wearing anything to dance in other than a bedlah or beledy dress to dance in, though recently, Melodia bell-bottoms, hot pants, and any manner of outré apparel counts as stage wear. Nowadays, imaginative costumes and using non- traditional music, as a sound track to Middle Eastern dance- be it rock and roll, hip hop, industrial, Goth or whatever-is completely accepted! We now have Pirate Belly Dance, Raks Gothique, Steam Punk, Burlesque Fusion, etc etc etc. Nowadays, even Fatchancebellydance Tribal style looks “archaic”!

Having written all of this, I practically feel like a Grandma recounting ancient history…Yes, things have changed!