Early Days, Golden Years

Belly dance has probably been enjoyed in the USA for as long as widespread immigration has existed, indeed we have documented evidence of public performances since at least the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876 as well as at the Columbian Exposition of 1893 (where, incidentally, no dancer called Little Egypt was recorded as having performed, 35). However, despite several flurries of interest brought about by the activities of Orientalists such as Ruth St Dennis and La Meri (1), for most of the first half of the 20th century the dance has been largely confined to those ethnic groups to which it was indigenous.

LIttle Egypt picture

Little Egypt

These mostly centered on the large Greek & Turkish groups in most major cities of the USA and naturally their cafes and clubs featured old-country singing and belly dancing amongst their preferred entertainments. Marliza Pons, the doyenne of Las Vegas dancers from the mid 60s through to the late 90s, wrote of learning her first moves as a young girl through the windows of such an establishment in Chicago in 1948 (2).

Whilst some of them would come from the local community, there was also a long tradition of hiring singers and dancers directly from Turkey. The singers would be the stars and would be the best-paid entertainers. Such was the pecking order that they would often try to deny being able to dance to avoid the "shame" of being just a dancer (26).

It is possible that belly dance could have remained confined to such clubs indefinitely, largely unknown outside of its originating culture. (3). However, fortune changed when the Broadway show "Fanny" opened on November 4th 1954 (4). It featured the Turkish dancer, Necla Atesh, (other spellings include Nejla Ates or Najila Attash) who had been hired for the clubs from Turkey sometime between 1948 and 1952, and Egyptian pop singer Mohammed El Bakkar. The show was an instant smash hit with its oriental music and dancing causing a sensation. Soon mainstream clubs catering to the smart and fashionable were beginning to feature this 'new' entertainment (California - 5) (New York - 6).

This fashion began to spread more widely, especially with WWII veterans from the N African campaigns happy to relive the entertainments of their youth (7). This trend was helped by the occasional appearances at this time of Samia Gamal in films and in Las Vegas (27) or at Ciro's club in Hollywood (4). Tahia Cariocca also appeared in a Hollywood film in the late 50's, although she didn't enjoy the experience and returned to Cairo.

Lys and Lyn Gamal, who were identical twins, had been stars in Egyptian film industry and also came over to the US in the late 50s and immediately began a successful career in the clubs. They are always fondly remembered, especially for the fact that their parents chaperoned them to every one of their gigs, even after they married. Dahlena particularly remembers them as having been an influence on her dancing in the early years.

By the end of the 50s Middle Eastern clubs were opening all over the US. However the demand for dancers soon exceeded the supply, with many of the new establishments unable to afford to import or hire foreign dancers. They needed to employ locals to bridge the gap and, although in the 50s there were a few such as Adrianna Miller & Dahlena working in Boston and Jamila Salimpour and Antoinette Awayshak in LA, even by the early 60s there weren't anything like enough dancers to meet the soaring demand.

Morocco joked that back then "if Godzilla had a bedlah, she could have gotten a job", willingness rather than talent being the criterion for acceptance. She herself was a professional flamenco dancer and had never seen Middle Eastern dancing before she took a job because the pay was better.

Berts Baladi bellydance album
Bert Baladine album cover

In fact so desperate were the clubs for belly dancers in those days that Sabah Nissan had been immediately hired by the Port Said club in NYC the night she turned up to inquire whether they might have an opening. This was despite having no costume or training and ended up performing in the pink gingham dress she'd arrived in. She was told by the Turkish lead dancer to "do what I do"; although she conceded that it probably looked a bit different when she did it (6). Soon after that she moved to the West Coast where she subsequently studied the art with Bert Balladine (34).

Serena, another successful graduate of those early New York years, maintains that whilst willingness may have got you through the door, only talent took you to the top. That said, given the circumstances, some truly inept belly dancers managed regular employment in the more westernized clubs, being known in the trade as "Wonderful Walkers" (27).

On both the East and West coasts the main sources of dancers were still the Greek and Turkish clubs. These had become suddenly fashionable with the boho set following the release of the film "Never on a Sunday" in 1960. The film “Zorba the Greek” which followed in ‘64 maintained this popularity. Young students enjoyed them because they were lively and boisterous and there was a great thrill in spending hours on end belly dancing around the tables performing dabke and chiftitelli with anyone who happened to be around. From such unlikely beginnings many illustrious careers were forged.

On both coasts the belly dancers of this time were largely untutored, moves were taken, mixed and matched at random from the many traditions of the Middle East and further. So a dance style evolved that was a new form of "Middle Eastern" dance unknown in the Middle East, nowadays we call it "American Cabaret" belly dance, but at the time it was called Oriental or Nightclub (8). Of course the general public knew it then, as now, as belly dance.

Mostly Turkish and Lebanese, it could include just about any move that looked vaguely exotic or oriental. Nobody complained because nobody knew any better. Indeed many dancers of that era stress the level of ignorance that there was about the dance and its origins. Many that is, except those few who gradually developed their interest in the dance and who learnt "the real thing from the real people - the aunties, grannies, older musicians and other (Turkish) dancers" (29). Counted on the fingers of two hands, these dancers became the leaders of the profession who completely changed our view of the dance over the next 20 years.

Also they were belly dancing in response to performances by musicians from a mix of countries with varying traditions. The musicians in the ethnic areas would play together 6 - 7 nights a week and so came to knew each others' music well. Those who were there remain nostalgic for "that all night mix of real Turkish, Greek, Armenian & Arabic music and folk songs that one could hear in most of the clubs/restaurants on any given night, where entire families would come in and dance together (28)".

Away from these major areas belly dancers had to cope with largely western musicians whose knowledge of Middle Eastern music could be very limited indeed. This led to a sound that was a hybrid of Western and Middle Eastern and became known as "Amerabic". Most dancers now associate the term with Eddie Kochak who, by producing his own records, made the sounds of that era widely available.

This was truly a golden era of bellydance in the US. Jobs were plentiful, and very well paid with the belly dancers all in the first flush of excited youth. For example, Aisha Ali speaks of the headline belly dancer in one particularly prestigious club earning $50 a week for a twice-nightly 10 minute slot (5), although even at the top clubs in Las Vegas the average was $300 – $350, but if measured against the rental for an NYC apartment of $45 -80 a month it was still a staggering sum (29). Adam Lahm wrote that in 1960 in NYC the Turkish dancers could expect $200 a night although others consider this unlikely.

To balance that though the average wage was $30 - $35 a night was common (6), but it's worth remembering that this would be a steady 6 nights a week, 52 weeks a year income...in cash. And of course, belly dancers could do several gigs a night at weekends.

However it is worth noting that, according to Dahlena, most belly dancers were registered with the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA) (9) and that during the 60's there were just 300 throughout the whole of the United States; an exotic and rare breed. That said, the dancers in the ethnic clubs didn't have to register at all and there were probably over 50 employed in 8th Avenue, NYC alone (30). Serena has also indicated that there were at least 100 - 150 more in regular employment in New York State and its environs, few of which were AGVA registered. Morocco says that although she is an AGVA member she has never needed it for Oriental dance.

On the West coast Aziza writes (10) that the Baghdad club, the most prestigious club in San Francisco, preferred that their belly dancers weren't AGVA registered. Indeed Aisha Ali points out that due to the scarcity of dancers on the West Coast, AGVA membership wasn't often necessary in California, but adds that it was essential to gain access to the well-paid work available in Nevada (11). So there may be a certain under-reporting of the number of dancers working professionally during this decade, but this doesn't really conflict too strongly with Dahlena's estimate given that New York and San Francisco were exceptions rather than the rule. Most agree that the number of belly dancers at this time nearer to 500 than 1000.

Ibrahim Bobby Farrah
Ibrahim "Bobby" Farrah

Reading their rose-tinted reminiscences of this time, particularly on Gilded Serpent "North Beach memoirs" (12) the attitude seems typified by one of the songs from that period "Those were the days my friend, we thought they'd never end, we'd sing and dance, forever and a day, we'd live the life we choose, we'd fight and never lose, those were the days, oh yes those were the days".

However, various strands began to come together that brought these halcyon days of well-paid performance work to a gradual end.

One was that by the mid 60s the better clubs expected their dancers to know what they were doing from day one, inexperienced dancers were no longer being employed straight off the "street" to sink or swim. So, various teaching establishments opened to meet the demand. It is probable that they gradually became so successful that they caused a situation of over-supply.

Bert Balladine and Jamila Salimpour had, like Morocco in NYC, been training dancers informally since the beginning of the decade. However, Jamila retired from performing in 1965 and began teaching on a full time basis. Initially her classes were small; Aziza talks of 5 or 6 at a time (10), although by 1968 her classes were very large indeed.

Meanwhile in New York Serena took over the Joe Williams "Stairway to Stardom" dance studio in 1966 and also began training dancers in ME styles. Bobby Farrah began teaching Oriental Dance at the International School of Dance, Carnegie Hall, before moving to other studios to found his own dance school (13). Although all of these schools were happy to accept students who were merely curious about this dance form, they were principally aimed at taking experienced professional or near professional quality dancers from other disciplines and turning them into club performers. Not all would actually make a career of it, but these additions would have had an accumulative effect given the small number of dancers at the time.

Also, the late 60s was a time of considerable social upheaval in the Western world, particularly in New York and San Francisco. Things like belly dancing that had seemed racy and exotic at the beginning of the 60s simply began to appear old-fashioned and tired. Serena talks of the dancing in the early 60s as having been a "hot fad", a boom that inevitably led to a bust.

This particular trend was exacerbated when the Crystal Palace, a New York "go-go" joint, won a Supreme Court ruling against the laws governing the showing of bare breasts etc. The subsequent establishment of topless bars drew a significant audience away from dance clubs towards those venues that more effectively catered for their needs. However, few dancers lamented the passing of this particular clientele.

Aisha Ali has also suggested the outbreak of the 6-day war in 1967 between Arabs and Israelis as yet another reason (14). Public sentiment swung to the Israelis, leaving interest in things Arabic to fade away. However Morocco has dismissed this as having been a factor in the East, where work remained plentiful until the oil embargo of 73.

So it could have been over-supply of belly dancers, a falling out of fashion amongst the public or various other reasons, but wages and opportunities gradually began to diminish: The Golden Years were ending.

Developing in a New Era

By the beginning of the 70's, the two influential scenes of New York and San Francisco were beginning to diverge. Why this happened is open to debate, but it is worth stating that this period coincided with the first stirrings of feminism and the development of the hippie 'do-your-own-thing' quest for personal growth on the West Coast. (Dancers from Los Angeles have told me they wish to be specifically exempted from this generalization).

In San Francisco, Jamila Salimpour had been requested by Carol Le Fleur, who co-coordinated a local "Renaissance Faire" in Berkeley in Sept '68 (15) to organize her advanced class as a theatrical production on a proper stage. This was primarily to prevent them making a daylong nuisance of themselves basking at the event. Nevertheless it enabled Jamila to bring to fruition a set of ideas that she'd previously considered for a (cancelled) lecture (16) about presenting the many facets of the dance, particularly its originating folkloric aspects. Thus "Bal Anat" (trans: Dances of the Mother Goddess) was born, billed as presenting "Dances of many Tribes": This was the very first incarnation of Tribal Dance.

This began a major trend in the Bay area for groups of dancers to work together to create their own new realizations of ME dance as "Tribal" dancers, with Salimpour remaining at the vanguard of this movement.

Meanwhile in NYC Bobby Farrah founded the "Near East Dance company" with his protégé Phaedra in 1969. This dance company was intended to present (13) realizations of Arabic, mainly Egyptian, folk and cabaret styles in a theatrical setting to raise the profile and standing of Middle Eastern dancing with the general public. He had been inspired to do this after visiting the Lebanon and meeting the Arabic dancer, Nadia Gamal (17). Given the prevalence of Turkish styles at the time and the corresponding lack of much in-depth experience of Arabic dances in the USA at this time this was a new and exciting idea.

Except among specialists in Turkish dance, there had been a general trend amongst the better professionals towards Arabic styles as the general knowledge of the dance had improved. Arabic audiences were more appreciative of the differentiated forms dancers could demonstrate, preferring them to the "anything goes" styles common in the 60s. Thus Arabic, being a more schooled discipline was considered to be sophisticated and dignified whilst the "Nightclub" styles were increasingly considered to be low-class and even brazen. Sadly this attitude also had a disastrous and undeserved effect on the reputation of the Turkish dance styles on which they had been based (32).

vintage bellydance photo of Serena

Indeed Salimpour had coined the name "American Cabaret" around this time as a term of abuse for the style that had been prevalent in the clubs and to distance her "tribal" styles from this other dance form. However the term also found ready acceptance amongst those others who were promoting the Arabic styles.

This more sophisticated style arrived just in time. Serena Wilson's dance studio was featured in a major feature article in Life Magazine in 1971, which is considered to have started the first dance exercise craze. This sparked the new phenomenon of people coming to learn bellydance for fun and fitness rather than with a view to performing in the clubs. The era of hobby dancers had begun.

Initially as the boom took off teachers all over the US were isolated from each other and began to disseminate wild and fanciful ideas about the origins and meanings of the dance, much to the despair of those few who'd had some understanding of it.

Fortunately since the late 60s Serena had known and worked with Paul Monty, the Vice President of the Manhattan (18) chapter of the National Association of Dance Affiliate Artists (NADAA). Despite early criticism from within the Arts Establishment, Monty had quickly been persuaded of the art of the dance and he realized the extent to which it had been widely undervalued.

To counteract this Monty organized a NADAA seminar on March 5 1972 that featured Serena at the Statler Hilton hotel in NYC. It was rewarded with over 100 delegates when the normal attendance would have been 30 - 40. This was a sign of considerable hidden interest amongst a previously disdainful Arts community.

This acceptance bestowed credibility upon his project and he founded the International Dance Seminars company (13) with the intention of organizing lectures and conventions around the country with the premier teacher/dancers. The first of these was in June 1974 and led to a knowledge revolution through the 70s as dancers and dance ethnologists were identified and encouraged to share their research with the wider body of dancers. These initially included the 60's stars such as Dahlena, Serena, Bert Balladine, Morocco & Farrah (19).

Habibi magazine

The establishment of various magazines around the country that began to bring the communities together helped this process of increasing the general knowledge of belly dance. These worked in association with Paul Monty and others by publicizing and making possible national tours by prominent dancers and dance scholars.

Arabesque and Habibi were the first magazines to be national in scope. Farrah had used his own nationwide lecture tours of 1974/5 to solicit advanced subscriptions to fund his as his yet unpublished magazine. Habibi, originally the voice of the West Coast founded in Oct 74, had been quietly enlarging its reach so that it too was quickly established as a national magazine. What marked these magazines apart from the local magazines was their commissioning of learned articles that stressed not only the history and culture of the dance and the Middle East but whose principle objective was again to reach out to the wider arts community and encourage increasing respect for belly dancers and the dance.

By the end of the 70's there were so many students that it was economically feasible to sell out tours by such genuine Middle Eastern luminaries as Nadia Gamal and Mahmoud Reda. Also tour parties were visiting the Middle East to train with dancers over there. Morocco led the first, but many others have followed over the years.

Of course, as well as the true stars a few lesser Middle Eastern teachers came over as well, particularly from The Lebanon after the outbreak of civil war in 1975 had destroyed the lucrative Arabic tourist trade. They would promote themselves on the premise that because they were native to the region they had a deeper understanding of the music and culture. However the quality of these imports was variable, leading Arabesque to opine at this time that people should be aware that simply being from the Middle East did not a quality dancer/teacher make. (20)

However as the training of the hobby dancers continued, a number of them began to approach professional quality and began looking for jobs in the by now restricted number of venues. This was an era where fierce under-cutting and job poaching took place (33). Finally professional dancers began to join together into associations that served as both local information swap meets, but also as unions to codify local behaviors.

The first of these was probably WAMEDA who in 1977 were noted by Arabesque to have engaged a lawyer as part of their negotiations in their fight for fairer pay (21). However, the most influential was MECDA, which formed in Los Angeles in response to the low wages being offered by restaurants in Hollywood. Boycotts and strikes were organized; indeed so successful were they that Los Angeles even now supports many more top quality dancers than the locals deserve (not that I'm jealous or anything). It should be noted though that for various reasons, with the exceptions of the two afore-mentioned, these attempts at codifying etiquette and behavior within the communities failed.

Although this period started with the seeming collapse in the popularity of the dance, this setback had been turned around completely by the end of the decade. By encouraging a quest to understand more about belly dance in its myriad forms and to put it into the context of its originating cultures and music the place of dance in American culture had become stronger than ever. The hobby dancer boom had become the platform for the re-orientation of the profession from being performance-led to being instruction-led.

So successful indeed was this new generation of dancers that Readers Digest suggested in 1977 that there were 5,000 teachers, full and part time, working in the USA (22). By the early 80's Arabesque would quote the figure of 2,000 full time professional teacher/dancers (23). With the limited job market in the US, a few were keen to try their luck on the Middle Eastern and European circuits. A move which led to the cry by Egyptians that they were being displaced from their jobs by undercutting Americans (23), oh how times change!!

Tribal and Beyond

So while most of the country moved over to Arabic styles during the 70s and 80s, San Franciscan dancers continued to be inspired by the "tribal" ideas of Bal Anat, which had finally been wound up in 1976. Mixing authentic dance moves in entirely new contexts, many troupes began to create new and theatrically inspiring presentations.

FatChanceBellyDance tribal troupe
FatChanceBellyDance in "Belly Dance Spectacular"

One such was Masha Archer, whose committed feminism meant that she was particularly hostile to cabaret and only considered presenting her work in theatrical arenas. She eventually abandoned dancing completely in the late 70's, but one of her students, Carolena Nericchio, developed and refined her ideas and wrote them into a detailed manifesto for a dance form she called American Tribal Style (ATS). She created her own troupe, Fat Chance Belly Dance, with which to promote her ideas.

This was a radical step. If American Oriental had been a mongrel of styles that came together to create something with recognizable influences, ATS, like jazz in the field of music, became a uniquely American 'voice' where the whole was so much more than the sum of its influences. The fact that a written statement drove it also meant that if you bought into ATS you had to do it that way. The concepts of ATS became a recognizable and self-perpetuating style irrespective of who performed it.

Another important aspect of ATS was its concentration on woman-power and sisterhood, staying true to its roots in deep feminist convictions. Prior to this, success in belly dance had meant success in the cabaret form, where conforming to the young and thin body type mattered as much as ability.

Now a dance developed where only competence mattered; nobody judged a belly dancer on her looks. It also removed the more glamorous aspects of cabaret dancing by choosing clothing and adornment styles that deliberately avoided enticing display. The clothing is often many layered and lacking glitter with jewelry being ethnic rather than sparkly. The dancers evoke a strong and powerful femininity that is far removed from the allures of cabaret. By concentrating on group work it also prevented a single woman becoming the focus of attention. Indeed, the dancer's body ceased to be the focus at all, the group dynamic was what captured the eye.

These were truly revolutionary ideas for a society where women felt judged on their looks, and where the self-image of mature women was often damaged by a perceived failure to conform to a "norm" of female body shaping derived from a thinly disguised teenage perfection.

Kajira Djoumahna in
"Tribal Style Belly Dance"

It had the added advantage that, as a "folk-like" art form, it was acceptable at local fairs in a way that cabaret styles were not and so created performance opportunities where previously they hadn't existed. This appealed to the many women who wanted to express their art but were unwilling to perform solo cabaret in a club or who preferred the support available in a group context. Tribal style exploded over the North West, where it is still strong today, and began to slowly spread East over the next few years.

This was surely the first time a dance form had been created in the modern era for women by women alone. Indeed so strong were the underlying feminist principles that males were initially specifically excluded from ATS. Other tribal styles have been less exclusionist, Bal Anat had featured male dancers from 1974, but given the dominance of ATS in the dissemination of this style, even today the sisterhood emphasis remains a significant barrier to male involvement.

All styles evolve as other people add their own interpretations and male participation has gradually become more frequent. Nevertheless, the only women-only ME dance events one sees with any regularity in the USA are tribal. This is in comparison with the cabaret forms that have openly welcomed men since the 70s.

Otherwise the 1980s were a continuation of the 70s trends; the last of the old nightclubs shut their doors in 1985, bringing that entire era to an end. The most famous club, the Baghdad in San Francisco, which hosted every famous dancer in the US for over 20 years, is now a Chinese takeaway.

The adoption of the Arabic styles had been more or less completed in the East by the end of the 70's as the changeover there had been energetically driven by significant and influential teachers using the large number of dance seminars to propagate the new approach.

However, with the exception of Jamila Salimour, who had been forging her own distinctive path, no such influential figure existed in the west, nor had there been anything like the same number of teaching seminars with which to spread the word. Consequently, west of the Mississippi the widespread adoption of Arabic dance had taken much longer, most areas only beginning to adopt it during the late 80s. Even so, some areas knew nothing but American Cabaret belly dance until the early 90s.

Over the years ME dance has experienced several periods of where the popularity seems to advance and then retreat slightly. One such was the late 60s, another happened in the late 70s with the waning of the dancercise boom. The 80s were no different with Arabesque reporting falling class rolls across the majority of the country (24) by 1985. As most dancers earned their income from teaching this was problematic, but the time of the full time professional performer in the US was long gone. Despite the problems, the dance remained popular but seemed doomed to remain as a niche hobby.

Re-invention, the Second Golden Age

Interest in the dance experienced a new boost with the advent of the video revolution. In the late 80s and particularly into the 90's more and more dancers were bringing out teaching and performance videos, increasing the levels of interest generally. Concentrating on teaching through the 80s now paid dividends with the release of some extremely well thought out educational packages. And it wasn't just that great teachers were releasing good instructional videos, it was the wide variety of styles that enabled dancers to become inspired to expand their range. Egyptian, Lebanese, Turkish, Armenian, Rom, Persian, Kurdish, Moroccan and Algerian dance styles are all pursued in the US and world-class teachers are available for workshops in all of those forms.

Even so, by the early 90s, the majority of classes across the USA offered a predominantly Egyptian style still infused with many hangovers from American Cabaret. There was, and still is, a strong emphasis on zills (36) whilst floor work is a desirable part of performance repertoire (knees permitting). Also the dancing will commonly display a more energetic air than the more laid back performances found in Egypt.

However although not strictly "Egyptian" as you would see in Cairo, it was nevertheless quite heavily defined to prevent the encroachment of "American Fantasy" moves. This left the field open for the re-invention of American Cabaret simply because it allows dancers to combine all of the various styles in their own personal dance expression. It emerged as a more flamboyant alternative where jazz stylizations and other moves could be brought in to develop a very high energy performance concept that now shows signs of being the dance form that will "crossover" into mainstream attention.

Another aspect of the video boom was the creation of IAMED, the International Academy of Middle Eastern Dance. Their idea was that they should get the very best dancers from the USA and beyond together in a show to be video-taped to the highest quality which would then be made available to provide a gold-standard of performance. You can buy their performance or instruction videos absolutely sure in the knowledge that the performances and the presentation will portray the dance in its best light.

But if video had increased the interest in dance styles, it has been the Internet that has bound the USA together as a united dance community. The ability to quickly inform other dancers of developments has meant that year on year those of us on the sidelines can feel their self-confidence building.

And Finally...

Despite its size, the USA nowadays has the feel of a single confident community, united and excited by the sense of their own continuity and development. The days of being geographically divided into divergent factions of opposed interests are long gone.

Rather there is a strong sense that the US dance community now celebrates their diversity, rightly viewing it as strength. Each dancer has the opportunity to learn the key skills of a wide variety of styles if they choose and, via the Internet, seek out like-minded people from across the world. Their art is not replication it is re-invention.

When the dance was still thriving in its native lands, the fact that there are fabulous dancers in the US might have only been of academic interest. But all is not well anymore. We're all aware of the spread of fundamentalist Muslim repression of their own culture, the rejection of foreign dancers, that wealthy Islamic men are offering bribes to dancers to abandon their calling and take the veil. Add to that the fact that due to the political situation the tourist trade is dropping catastrophically, with knock-on effects on the opportunities for a career in dance and it all suggests that the dance is dying on its native soil. If this talibanisation continues soon all that might be left will be sanitized folk dances for tourists, a pale shadow of past glories.

If this trend continues, America may soon be passed the torch of ensuring that this dance form continues as a living, breathing art form. This narrative shows that the dance will be in safe hands; as in dervish symbolism, one palm raised to embrace the hopes and future of the art, one palm down rooted in respect for its roots and traditions.


In an interview recently the historian Simon Scharma said that "history is not authoritative, it is argument". What has been so fascinating about the research for this article is that often there is no definitive version of events or trends. Indeed the USA is so vast that what is true in one place can be patently untrue in the next city, let alone between the coasts. The task of trying to weave these strands into a single narrative thread has been "interesting" at times.

Exaggerations, mythologies and fakelore abound and I am indebted to Morocco, Serena, Anaheed, Zahra Zuhair and Carolynn Ruth amongst others for their patience in trying to ensure that I did not perpetuate certain of these misdirections. Despite their help, this will remain just "A History.." rather than "The History.." This is my version and as far as I know it is true, but it will remain forever one new fact away from complete revision. The Truth remains elusive.


1. Arabesque articles on the dancers Volume IV issues 1 & 4

2. Marliza Pons memory of learning in Chicago

3. Jamila Salimpour's memories of the late 40's early 50's

4. Leona Wood: "La Dance du ventre, A fresh appraisal" Arabesque Jan 80
Paul Monty also references this in his unpublished History of Bellydance 1876-1976.

5. Aisha Ali's history of 50's Californian dance Arabesque IX:2

6. Adam Lahm's history of 50's & 60's New York Arabesque IX:4

7. Michelle Forner "Transmission of Belly Dancing in US" MA thesis

8. Morocco : private correspondence with author

9. Aziza article about not being unionized

10. http://www.aisha-ali.com/resources/genreading.html# : Looking back

11. General address for north beach memoirs

12. Michelle Forner. Habibi article Vol 17 : 1

13. Aisha Ali : Arabesque Vol IX:3

14. Jamila Salimpour : Habibi Vol 17:3

15. The origins of Bal Anat

16. The origins of Bal Anat

17. Although of Lebanese descent, Farrah had been heavily influenced from the late 60s by the dancer, Nadia Gamal, whom he'd met and trained with during an extended visit to Lebanon.

She was of Sicilian/Grecian parentage, but had been born in Alexandria. Through her parents connections she had been encouraged from an early age by the legendary Badia Massabni (Arabesque Vol I) as well as by Samia Gamal and Tahia Cariocca.

Before the civil war, Beirut had been the playground of the Middle Eastern aristocracy and so this was where the most prestigious venues and lucrative contracts were available. Nadia began her career in the Lebanon at the age of 16, allegedly as a fill-in for a dancer who failed to turn up, and remained there despite not being a Lebanese national.

Therefore, Farrah's aspirations were towards promoting Arabic dance in honor of Gamal.

18. Paul Monty : Arabesque vol X!!:2

19. Morocco; Habibi Vol 14:2

20. Farrah : Arabesque vol 2:4

21. Editorial comment: Arabesque Vol III:1

22. Michelle Forner "Transmission of Belly Dancing in US" MA thesis P15

23. Editorial comment; Arabesque XII:

24. Editorial Comment; Arabesque Vol IX:2A

25. As most of us know, the term "belly dance" was coined by the huckster Sol Bloom to boost the attractions of the Middle Eastern dancers hired by him for the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893. Although obviously salacious, it is in fact a reasonable translation of the French Colonial term for one dance of the Ouled Nail of Algeria, wherein they rolled a silver belt (or gold) up & down their abdomens with their muscle control... (The French referred to other ME dances as Danse Orientale).

However the name has been seen as problematic due to its alleged associations with burlesque dancing and many dancers remain uncomfortable with the unwelcome baggage it carries. Many prefer to use other terms such as the original Arabic term Raqs Sharki; others include Raqs Orientale, Oriental Dance and Middle Eastern Dance.

It is worth reminding the reader that no term in any of the languages of the countries from which this dance comes calls it "belly-" anything.
Raks Sharki = Oriental (or Eastern) dance (Arabic)
Oryantal Tansi = Oriental dance (Turkish)
Raks-i-Shahane = Oriental (Eastern) dance
(Turkish) Raks-e-Arabi = Arabic dance (Farsi/Persian)
Raks Turkos = Turkish dance (Egyptian Arabic)
Raks Farrah = Happiness dance (Lebanese Arabic!)
Or, simply Raks = Dance!!!

However, throughout this essay the name belly dance will be used, not just because it is the only one that most people actually recognize, but, appropriately for an essay on American History, it is a term genuinely "Made in the USA"

26. Habibi; Vol 19:4

27. Morocco : Private correspondence

28. Morocco : Direct quote with permission

29. Morocco Habibi vol 19:4

30. Morocco : private correspondence

31. Morocco : Private correspondence

32. This is explored at length in Habibi Vol 19:4

33. Morocco's essay "If jobs are up, why are dancers getting less?"

34. Habibi vol 16: 1

35. Donna Carlton: Looking for Little Egypt

36. Note that this is the Turkish word rather than the Egyptian "sagat"

Helen Waldie
Support Specialist
News Resources

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Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries had its humble beginnings as an idea of a few artisans and craftsmen who enjoy performing with live steel fighting. As well as a patchwork quilt tent canvas. Most had prior military experience hence the name.


Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries.


Vendertainers that brought many things to a show and are know for helping out where ever they can.

As well as being a place where the older hand made items could be found made by them and enjoyed by all.

We expanded over the years to become well known at what we do. Now we represent over 100 artisans and craftsman that are well known in their venues and some just starting out. Some of their works have been premiered in TV, stage and movies on a regular basis.

Specializing in Medieval, Goth , Stage Film, BDFSM and Practitioner.

Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries a Dept of, Ask For IT was started by artists and former military veterans, and sword fighters, representing over 100 artisans, one who made his living traveling from fair to festival vending medieval wares. The majority of his customers are re-enactors, SCAdians and the like, looking to build their kit with period clothing, feast gear, adornments, etc.

Likewise, it is typical for these history-lovers to peruse the tent (aka mobile store front) and, upon finding something that pleases the eye, ask "Is this period?"

A deceitful query!! This is not a yes or no question. One must have a damn good understanding of European history (at least) from the fall of Rome to the mid-1600's to properly answer. Taking into account, also, the culture in which the querent is dressed is vitally important. You see, though it may be well within medieval period, it would be strange to see a Viking wearing a Caftan...or is it?

After a festival's time of answering weighty questions such as these, I'd sleep like a log! Only a mad man could possibly remember the place and time for each piece of kitchen ware, weaponry, cloth, and chain within a span of 1,000 years!! Surely there must be an easier way, a place where he could post all this knowledge...

Traveling Within The World is meant to be such a place. A place for all of these artists to keep in touch and directly interact with their fellow geeks and re-enactment hobbyists, their clientele.

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