In the entrance to the Britania, in New York, was a 6 foot picture “not this one” of this Prima Ballerina Marlena from Brazil that I would later meet and work with in Chicago and later continue our friendship here in Houston. She died here in Houston in a car accident in the late 70’s. I will always remember her finale. She would go into a fast spin, lift one foot up to her knee and finish the last 5 to 6 spins, spinning on one foot, then gently curtsy. Damn!
Stage name Saida, real name Athena and she’s Greek, Go figure? Looking back over the years I have to tell you that there was nothing like having the the power of Athena’s “Arse” 3 feet in front of your face. She still reminds me of a wild black stallion.
Now don’t get full of questions on me. I know a stallion is a male horse. No, she was not gay. She came with her famous husband “The left handed Bouzouki player” John Palaologou.
It was her AURA, that wildness and power of a stallion that she emanated along with the attitude. Was she one of the Super Stars? You better believe it! She was also the first dancer that let me know just what the hell floor work really was. Did she have the “glamor” hell ya.
I remember that first night Sabah taking the drum from me (God Bless her). I thought it was just for Athena’s drum solo-ya right. Athena took off her “heels” and started in with a 9/8, SHE FLEW. Did we become friends, yes. Just a few years back on her birthday I presented her with a beautiful lithograph of a black stallion. Her response—–just a chuckle. Another power house, another style to ponder and again the more I learned the more I knew I didn’t know. GEEZZZZZZZZZ
1965-Now working at the Britania making $30 a night
Sitting on stage all night was not easy. We only got off to change and dance. 6 nights a week with dancers 3 feet in front of you was a hell of a school.
The real first “power house” I worked with was Sabah. Most dancers that knew how, played drum with the band and for the other dancers just to have something to do. But Sabah was mind blowing. This girl had beat not only on that drum but in her dancing. Until today no one can compare to this woman’s sense of rhythm. Even after she quit dancing she continued drumming with the best groups of musicians in New York. She taught me and guided me but I never touched her talent.
Some years back Neenah and I went to New York and Sabah joined us. I asked her please to get up and play. 6/8, 9/8 and even 7/8 rhythm, which is an Armenian rhythm called “Laz” Mind you, she was already 70 years old. She sat in with the band like it was yesterday. I would recognize her hands any where. Artistic and magical, she choked up my heart.
About 5 or 6 months into working the “Club Istanbul” on a night off, I ventured down to the other end of Greek Town to the Grecian Gardens where I was promptly offered a job for $5.00 more. One of the 3 owners, said he saw me dance at the Istanbul and wanted to hire me. I was making big bucks for the time period ($20 a night_Secretaries at the time were paid $45.00 a week!)
In New York on the Avenue at that time, there were 8 clubs in a two block strip. Each club had 3 belly dancers and a live band. The belly dancers came and went. The owners sometimes kept a dancer just to fill the stage but only the best stayed. At this point in my belly dancing career, I had no idea if I was a stage fill or what. I was clueless.
Filling the stage! Now that is more trivia. We all had to sit on stage because of the “Cabaret Law” We had to have a Cabaret License to work in New York City. You know the license Billy Holiday had revoked because of felony charges. Watch the movie “Lady sings the Blues.” During that time, there was NO talking or fraternizing with customers and NO going around for tips. You could have your license pulled along with the owner, fined or both.
Years later “The Rat Pack” Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop were directly instrumental in getting the “Cabaret Law/License” thrown out.
Grecian Gardens was the second club I worked. I left very soon after because of reasons I will not disclose, but as much as I loved belly dancing, the harassment and unethical behavior that existed at that place was unbearable.
As I was walking down the Avenue “jobless” carrying my pitiful costumes and in a funk, I see three men, standing in front of the Britania. They were the Britania owner “Backus,” the musician “Eddy Kojak” (know as “Eddy “The Sheik” Kojak”) and a customer that was always around the clubs, “Kazar.”
I said “hello” and they said “hello.” I told them I was looking for work as a belly dancer, and I was hired. Wow! I was so “Blown Away.” I felt like I just graduated from something. Backus, Eddie Kojak and Kazar became so instrumental in my belly dancing career.
1964 New York City Supper Club
Ozel Turkbas was the first Belly Dancer I ever saw and she blew me away. She was beautiful, feminine, her nails were manicured and polished, and she was a Belly Dancer from Turkey! WOW! Her costumes were dazzling and absolutely gorgeous. I had never seen this before, but she took men on the stage and taught them to shake a little and the crowd went hysterical with laughter.
Hell, I was from Minnesota, what did I know? My start: I had been a customer at the Istanbul in New York on 8th Ave., getting up learning the Greek dances when the singer approached me and said that I should try and belly dance and she would make me a costume.
So now, back to 8th Ave. Greek Town U.S.A. The Istanbul Club: Dancing about two months, thinking I was hot shit. I wanted costumes like Ozel Turkbas, but I was clueless and none of the belly dancers brought men up on the stage. I would not have dared anyway. I thought to myself, it is time to check out all these other clubs and see what the other belly dancers were doing. After checking out all the other clubs and other belly dancers, I realized when the light bulb flashed that I knew crap about the art.
In the 60’s, there was not anything such as a belly dance school, so every night I had off, I lived in the other clubs, studying the moves of the other belly dancers and listening, really listening to the music and how and what they did and where. The more I learned the more I knew I didn’t know. However, thank God I had a natural ear and love for music. I understood the beats of music and I could hear and feel it. Big Thing for my start in the Belly Dancing World!
Love You, I will tell you more in my next BLOG. Zeyna!!