Letter from the Editor:
Hopefully, this Holiday Season finds you safe and warm with those you love and who love you. It’s at this time of year we remind ourselves that “Peace on Earth” is a lofty and worthy goal for mankind, not just some “passe” or “snowflaky” idea as some today might want to portray it. We’ve come a long way since a generation of people really took a hard look at trying to achieve this “state” and some days it seems as if those times never happened.
Being of some Middle Eastern heritage I have seen the conflicts in that region from several different angles at different times and different stages of my life. I come from a very old family with many branches and even relatives from all three major faiths.
My niece through a half sister, recently received an “Olive Wood Cross” from the Holy Land from her Dad and my neighbor’s sister recently asked me to design a necklace using one and she also gave me a cross that included a carved dove motif as a gift. I remember that it seemed odd to my neighbors that “Palestinians” made the crosses-that “Palestinians” who are “Christians” actually come from the first “Christians” in the area. The complexity of each religion jockeying for a fair shake in that society is no less than a headache at the least and a terrible tragedy at it’s worst, and of course in the end we can’t deny that of the “Three Main Faiths” the religion of the Hebrews ,”Judaism,” is the oldest of all.
While my Middle Eastern heritage has been an incredible journey filled with song and dance and socializing, some of the deepest beliefs in my soul come from my “Native American” or “First People’s” heritage through my mother. One saying, “You have to walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins,” coupled with a deep seated belief that no one can really “own the land” only God does and we are merely “stewards” of his creation seem to be more of a “bellwether” for my beliefs and conclusions. Therefore, I hope the people of the Middle East will take a look at each sides hardships and disappointments and find a way to share the land and prosper as equal citizens. In other words “Share the Moccasins and the Land.”
Josie and her Jewelry
by Aziza Al-Tawil
Josie Homonai is once again our cover model. In photos taken by her art teacher she models the “olive wood” cross from the Holy Land which was a gift from her father and also wears a selection of jewelry from India and Jordan. No matter what she is wearing Josie is a “charmer.”
Dance Dabke with Confidence
Vintage Russian Christmas and New Year’s Cards
By Aziza Al-Tawil
Well maybe it’s a bizarre time to show these, since we’re unsure if our “election hack” and “collusion” problem with Russia will ever be brought to justice, but these gorgeous and amusing Christmas and New Year’s cards from Russia’s yesteryear are certainly worth a look. There was a time when “Dr. Zhivago” was my favorite epic and that snowy landscape only spelled “romance” for me. Today I would rather be in a bikini in Clearwater but – oh well – you understand! It’s interesting to note the art work in some of the cards being related to their “space exploration” as these cards were from that era. Some of the other cards are much older.
Jamila Salimpour: Some Thoughts on the Passing of a Belly Dance Legend
By Aziza Al-Tawil
Every now and then some individuals enter our realm bearing everything we need to accompany our journeys of self discovery. The time seems “ripe” for what they will impart and by doing so forever sketch themselves into a collective memory. When I heard Jamila Salimpour passed away a few weeks ago I was struck by several things. My immediate thoughts went to her daughter Suhaila-complete empathy-having been the daughter of a very dynamic and pioneering mother in the belly dance world also, whose death left me not only in grief but in a state of shock. “Larger than life” people are just like that: “Larger than life” so in my heart I knew that I could understand more than some what Suhaila was going through. She not only lost a mother but a dance teacher, a mentor, a friend on an intriguing journey through world cultures and the history of man. We became the women we are today because of our mothers. I know others in our realm have felt the same way including Serena’s son Scott Wilson. What fabulous “world’s” we grew up in! (In Scott’s case he was fortunate to have a very supportive father, Rip Wilson, who was as enthused over belly dancing as Serena, so it just seemed natural that Scott would become a musician also. By contrast, Suhaila’s father was against his wife and daughter dancing).
I will never forget the first time I laid eyes on Jamila Salimpour. It was in the late 1970’s and my mother got a flyer from her longtime friend Ibrahim “Bobby” Farrah-there was a seminar somewhere, I believe it was at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas & Morocco was on the bill also – and I saw a dramatic close-up profile of Jamila with a stunning hairdo. My mother Johanna went back quite a ways with Bobby. When she first met him he was waiting tables in Washington, DC while attending college in P.A. He had wanted his love of his Arabic dance and Lebanese dance to be taken to another level but had been frustrated up until then with the business because NYC’s famed Greektown (8th Ave. and 29th St.) at that time did not take male dancers. He told my mother Johanna that the exhibit of photos at the University of Pennsylvania of her dance company “Johanna’s Oasis Ballet” had encouraged him to not give up – that her husband Turhan’s important role in the company proved to Bobby once and for all that “A man could make it in this business!” After having a few dance partnerships with lovelies like Dahlena and Nadina in other cities Bobby Farrah found the key to success in NYC through his magical meeting with and artistic sponsorship by the famed tobacco heiress Doris Duke in 1971. Bobby Farrah could do what he dreamed which included a dance company (“Johanna’s Oasis Ballet” had disbanded in 1966 with the break-up of her marriage to Turhan and NYC was ripe for more of this sort of thing), a magazine “Arabesque,” and presentation of workshops and seminars across the country that furthered our wonderful art form of Middle Eastern Dance.
Also, even though “Dance Magazine” had devoted some energy to the world of “ethnic dance” in general (Johanna was the first belly dancer from Greek Town NYC to appear in that publication, shortly thereafter Morocco, when she was in “I Had a Ball” with Richard Kiley and Buddy Hackett) Bobby Farrah took things a step further with “Arabesque” – bridging a divide that existed between the two coasts-East and West-so some of us were now becoming familiar with people we might never heard of before. Now, as the ethnic venues were dying out, the classes and seminars came to the forefront. Also, the West Coast seemed to get a boost for belly dancing through their “Renaissance Fair” circuit. Jamila Salimpour, a child of Sicilian parents with a father who was stationed in North Africa took to the outdoor festival scene with much aplomb – in fact, it did not hurt that she had been inspired as a young lady to literally “run off with the circus” – “Ringling Bros.” no less – and that had to prepare her for creating the spectacle she did with “Bal Anat” the dance company she founded in 1969.
In the 2000’s, when surfing the net became popular, I once more became aware of this fascinating woman.
I began to realize through a lot of reading what some of the cultural differences were between the East and West Coasts. California and it’s warmth seemed to draw more of the “Hippie” type to the world of ethnic music presentation while even though Jamila had started herself in a nighclub scene, as things went along and the “North Beach” scene like many areas in the country was going “Topless” – Middle Eastern dancers and it’s proponents learned to take this thing to the “country” – to the “Fair.” In NYC we did have some block parties but not as many opportunities as the West Coast dancers were now seeing in the 1970’s. Another talented free spirit from that coast, Dianne Webber, was not only a belly dancer but had actually been a model for Russ Meyer and nudist colony literature.
New York City to me had seemed more like a 1950’s cocktail lounge type crowd – a tad more conservative for a much longer period of time. (I mentioned “Topless” dancing as a blow to the “Belly Dance Scene” but I should mention that the first serious threat came when “Go Go Dancing” came in to vogue – but I will never forget how shocked I was as a child to see that the “Britania” in Greektown, NYC had gone “topless.”)
Not being too outdoorsy myself, my free spirited mother Johanna, like Jamila I guess, could damn well dance anywhere and feel at home. One time a thunderstorm broke out over the rooftop terrace of the Henry Hudson Hotel where we practiced and taught classes 24 stories high. Everyone one else ran inside. My mother stayed out there a bit, like a Greek Goddess commanding the clouds themselves, then she finally came in, soaking wet. When I danced outside one time in Charleston, WV, I guess I did well, but inside my head I was so terribly uptight it makes me feel silly now to look back at it. I was a teenager and actually for a while was embarrassed to be seen by other teens while in my oriental garb, and even more “mortified” when my Mom wore her black Spanish hat around town. However, I have such fond memories of being in import shops with Johanna and her wanting to try all the ethnic instruments and bells and clappers- just all the exotic things and their tones. So, as I read more about Jamila and Suhaila, I could definitely feel a “sympatico.”
I, like Suhaila, was blessed to be the child of a dynamic and artistic woman. The impact they had on us could never be under-estimated I’m sure. I learned I also shared a similar “entree” into the world of belly dance. Suhaila, like me, was not indoctrinated into the world of Oriental Dance through classes. As toddlers, Suhaila and I just simply saw our mother’s performing and just got out there and showed off what we knew. Basically we just said, “Ta Da!” Of course, later I’m sure there was some coaching but to start with nothing but our own drive to “join the party.” I thought of Jamila and Johanna as a bit of “kindred spirits” – the difference being with my mother, though she raised me primarily in NYC, never really wanted to plant down roots or establish a “territory” so therefore was not much in to teaching. When she retired from dancing “pro” she was just that “retired.” (I have oft wondered what my life would have been like if we had less of the “Gypsy” in us and I just don’t know).
So, while a Swami from India set up shop leading “Hare Krishna Chants” in Tompkins Square Park in the Village and founding a movement meant to help America’s addicted and unhappy youth, through spirituality and free “Gulab Jamun” – a world away, on another shore, a woman arrived that inspired a generation of women searching for their own personal connection to the “divine.” Jamila Salimpour was beloved by her students, and of course what she instilled in her daughter and grand daughter will never fade away. My advice to Suhaila is to not think of her mother as really gone, just passed to another form, the electricity of her spirit still charged in the ether. I’m sure we will all be together one day in that hafli in heaven and oh, how the bells will ring!
Pulp Fiction: Some Fascinating Images of Belly Dancing from Days Past
By Aziza Al-Tawil
Well, I sure would like to read these books!
Egyptian Chick Magazine is published by
Aziza Al-Tawil “Editor in Chief”
Billy Jack Watkins, “Research Assistant to the Editor”
Josephine Homonai, “Fashion Consultant and Model”