Letter From the Editor
Was terribly disappointed to hear that politicians in Egypt are trying to keep their clock set back to “the Dark Ages” by pushing this whole “Virginity” test of women thing. Amazing that the humiliation and torture of women still seems to be the main agenda in so many countries in the Middle East. Apparently, no one cares about rape, or other issues that actually matter. We must uplift our sisters who are continually beat down by these societies and stand vigilant for their fair treatment. “Egyptian Chick Magazine” only promotes and condones the humane treatment of our fellow men, women, children, and animals. We are “Progressive” not “Regressive.”
In the Mid-Atlantic of the United States we are entering into the “Fall” season and the changing of the leaves will be the “big show” here soon. For those who enjoy the “Halloween” holiday and it’s “dress-up” and “fantasy aspects,” they will shortly be able to express themselves in full measure.
All of the ladies featured in our magazine this month are very creative indeed and also enjoy the fun at “Halloween.” They made interesting subjects indeed for the October issue. Just wish all women could have the kind of freedom we have.
Right now, “Egyptian Chick Magazine” is taking donations so we can upgrade the site to be more “monetized” and have higher quality visuals and editing tools. Expansion and a broader budget (we have virtually no budget now) will allow us more freedom in planning fashion shoots, location shoots and interviews, and give us more SEO planning tools. If you have enjoyed the magazine and you would like to help, the link is here:
Treska (Made in America!)Exotic Jewelry and Accessories:
“Girl of a Thousand Faces”
by Aziza Al-Tawil
15 Year old Elizabeth Tweel always knew she loved art, but then she saw a face painter during “Career Day” in the 5th Grade and she was hooked on “Stage and Special Effects” make-up. The Charleston, WV area teenager performs with her school’s theatre class and show choir and plans to go to an arts oriented college afterwards so she can one day turn her talent and hobby for make-up into something for the professional stage and screen.
Her father Brian shares her love of the “macabre” and often joins in the fun during seasons like “Halloween.” In fact, West Virginia has been known to be somewhat of a hub of paranormal activity. One event the Tweels enjoy is the “Mothman Festival” in Point Pleasant where visitors can join a host of informative activities relating to the famous “Mothman Prophecies” incident that foretold of the “Silver Bridge Collapse” in 1967. Other famous monsters in WV include the “Flatwoods Monster,” the “Grafton Monster,” “Bat Boy,” and good old “Sasquatch.” West Virginia is also no stranger to ghost tales and UFO sightings.
Elizabeth in natural make-up. This young lady is going places!
The Tawil and Tweel families honor the memory of their late cousin Danny Thomas, comedian, actor, humanitarian and founder of “Saint Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital” in Memphis. Please donate today.
“A Dancer’s Passions”: Desideria Masheed
by Aziza Al-Tawil
Desideria Masheed is known as “The Jessica Rabbit of Belly Dance,” but who really is this red headed, passionate, and talented lady? No less than a very highly trained dancer well versed in the technique of ballet, Flamenco, Latin, and of course Belly Dancing. Growing up in a show business family in NYC seemed to literally set the stage for her childhood entry into the world of dance. Her father was a famous magician and her mother was a dancer.
By her teens, Desideria was a performing artist herself, working as a dancer, percussionist, snake charmer, “Pin-Up Model” and costume designer. Her beauty, versatility, and fire got her work with many top bands from “Latin” to “Rock” including Carmen Carrasco, Raquel Lima, “The Afro Andes,” “Jon Astor Band,” and even punk legend “Joey Ramone and Cheetah Chrome.” These were exciting times that found her hanging out with the likes of Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, and La India and performing for celebrities like Bruce Willis and Demi Moore and Al B. Sure around the New York and New Jersey area.
Desideria has been a “diligent” dancer trained in ballet since age 3,and in Jazz, Afro Cuban, Samba, Flamenco, and then Arabic/ Oriental and Indian dance starting in the 90’s. Her first Middle Eastern Dance instructor was legendary Serena.
She says, “I am very into the cultural-but a rocker at heart. I also sing since my teens with bands. I am a second soprano singer and have sung all forms of jazz , blues and rock have been working on songs for my next music project.” She can also balance just about anything on her head.
To those that know her Desideria is also known for her tender heart. Living in Jersey City on “9/11” she volunteered for five days and rode one of the boats across the water to help other workers. In fact, she almost lost her brother-in-law in the incident but he escaped from the second building. Desideria wanted to help all she could but remembers “It was horrific.” She said “it was a very bad time for people volunteering” because they were so “distraught” and in “shock.” So much so, most coming back from the city were “unable to eat.” Desideria and other people from her building in Jersey City lost “co-workers, associates, and friends.” Desideria is haunted by the painful memories of that day but those who her know also know what a “resilient” lady she is.
An interest in ethnic culture is evident in Desideria-she speaks four languages, and is a European, Middle Eastern, and Indian gourmet cook having studied culinary arts for years. She is the first person to tell you that learning new things is one of the greatest things someone can do because it feeds the soul. In her career she has been fortunate to be able to perform in foreign countries including Morocco, Venezuela, and Copenhagen, Denmark with their answer to “David Bowie,” Ras Bolding. Her own ethnic background is very multi-cultural including, Italian, Russian, Gypsy, Spanish with a sprinkling of Kashmiri.
During this “Halloween” season I asked Desideria to reminisce about any black cats that have “tip toed” into her life over the years. She told me that she even had a family of five black cats in Connecticut for 8 years. After moving to Puerto Rico she worked for local rescue organization “Save a Gato” beginning in 2013. She says “All cats are joyful, loving, smart, and loyal creatures. Black cats are special indeed. Like mini panthers-so playfully observant and smart.”
She loves the beauty of Puerto Rico but Desideria is planning to return to the United States because the economy of the island took quite a hit when rumors of the “Zika Virus” began to deter some of the usual tourist trade.
Desideria performs traditional “Egyptian/Moroccan Belly Dance” as well as “Dark Theatrical Cabaret” where she performs her own creation “Raks Shocki” to “Goth” and “Metal” music. She has performed for weddings, festivals, fundraisers, and even hosted her own monthly belly dance show at Mehanata’s Bulgarian restaurant in NYC. She was also featured on the South American TV Show “Blanco TV.”
Desideria is also someone who knows the importance of “spirituality” for personal progress as well as healing. She is a natural health consultant, herbalist, and “Reiki” practitioner 1, 2 & 3 and as of 2010 she has been certified in the “Dolphina Method of Goddess Workout.” On Facebook she runs a boutique gift shop called “Dark Decadence Emporium.” Her first book of poetry was released in 2007. All the years I’ve known her she has been drawn to the “Magical” and “Mystical” of our universe, and with “All Hallows Eve” approaching I can think of no better cover girl for the October edition of our magazine.
Dark Beauty: How About some Basic Black for Fall?
By Aziza Al-Tawil
Egyptian Armenian Hungarian American model Josie Homonai wears the smoky eyes and pale frosted peachy lip look here with a black sweater and scarves.
African Black Soap:
by Aziza Al-Tawil
Letter from the Editor:
Well, here we are, in the last “throes” of Summer and there is so much to “say,” “do,” and “announce” that it’s hard to keep it all straight.
Let me start out by saying that I have even more exciting news about the legacy of my mother’s dear friend, the late Serena Wilson. After I mentioned in last month’s issue that her longtime West Side studio was closing on the West Side and starting a new “lease on life” at “Belly Dance America,” I was excited to learn that a new “Serena Belly Dance Museum” has opened in Chelsea at “Showplace Design Center,” 40 West 25th Street, Gallery 110, New York City, NY. The exhibit, which opened August 21st, will run until December 30, 2016. Serena’s son Scott Wilson and his wife Leni will be there Sundays 12-4:00 p.m. or by appt. For appointment contact firstname.lastname@example.org. This native “New Yorker” knows that what could be a better time to be in New York seeing the sights than the lovely Fall and Christmas season?
The exhibit also brings back some attention to the fact that so many in the “biz of belly dance” have had secret yearnings for a “Museum of Belly Dance” where “collections” could be housed “permanently.” America, once a real “potboiler” of activity in the art of “dance” in general has seen a decline. In a society that ditched music in the schools for more of a bent towards “science and technology” we’ve turned into somewhat of a “Protestant Work Ethic” culture wherein a giant finger wags over us as if to say, “Now, now! Get a REAL job and pay for your own useless hobbies!”
Following along this general theme this month’s issue will include an interesting story about legendary dancer La Meri ( Our “Cover Girl” this month) and a shawl she once owned.
La Meri’s Shawl
by Aziza Al-Tawil
In the 1950’s my mother and her husband and dance partner Bill decided to study Flamenco with the famous Juan Martinez and Antonita. Maestro Martinez was very beloved by his students. In the class with Johanna and Bill was La Meri’s sister Lillian Hughes Newcomer. La Meri was the Louisville, KY born “ethnic dance” pioneer who co-founded the “School of Natya” in NYC with the equally intriguing maverick Ruth St. Denis. By the late 1940’s La Meri’s book on the art of “Spanish Dancing” was in the personal library of Johanna and Bill. (One of their first Flamenco teachers was film legend Rita Hayworth’s uncle Paco Cansino). Lillian liked Johanna so when her sister La Meri had a sale of personal items, she arranged for Johanna to get a “special price” on the shawl.
For years, not much was spoken of about Juan Martinez and Antonita. He was born in 1896 and passed away in 1961. His personal papers (1932-1962), which are mostly in Spanish, were only donated to the “Jerome Robbins Dance Division” of the “Lincoln Center Branch” of the “New York Public Library” in the year 2005. Cataloging and compiling of them was not completed until the year 2014. According to these papers, Juan Martinez was born in Burgos, Spain and began performing and touring with his family as a child. He married Antonia Fernandez whom he formed an artistic partnership in 1938. Johanna seemed to remember that he had a first wife and dance partner who passed away from altitude sickness when they were in Mexico City to perform.
In a book called “El Maestro Juan Martinez Que Estaba Alli,” the author Manuel Chaves Nogales recounts meeting Martinez in Paris and hearing the hair raising experiences he and his first wife Sole encountered when they became trapped in the “Bolshevik” revolution while performing in Russia in 1917. “After a successful tour of the Central European cabarets, flamenco dancer Juan Martinez and his partner Sole were caught by surprise in Russia by the revolutionary events of February of 1917. Unable to leave the country, in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Kiev they suffered the fall-out of the October Revolution and the bloody civil war that followed. The great Spanish journalist Manuel Chaves Nogales met Martinez in Paris and, shocked by the stories he shared, decided to compile them. The result is this book which narrates the changes the protagonists were faced with and how they figured out a way to survive. Its pages include traveling artists, prodigal Russian dukes, German spies, Chekist assassins, and speculators of a different ilk.”
I viewed an interesting “Press Release” online which came from The Museum of Modern Art dated May of 1941. It declared that for the third in it’s “Coffee Concerts” series it was to “present an entire Spanish Program Wednesday May 14th at 9:00 p.m.” The show was to consist of Spanish folk songs sung by Sophia Novoa and her only accompaniment was to be “tambourine and castanets.” It also mentioned that “Martinez and Antonita” were to be featured. It continued: “The Gaiteros, a group of Spanish peasant musicians, will be headed by a bagpiper, Jose Belion—the only known Gaitero in Now York. The Spanish bagpipe is of Celtic origin but has a smaller bag and only one horn instead of three.”
It continues: “The accompaniment is made up of a bass drum (bombo), a trap drum (tambourine) and two dancers. Also appearing on the program is Jeronimo Villarino, the only known flamenco singer-guitarist in the United States. Oriental in character and suggesting Moorish influence, flamenco folk music is sung and played on the guitar mainly in the south of Spain.”
The concert program was as follows:
“1. Anda Jaleo, Jaleo (Andalucía); Si Quieres Que Te Quiera (Asturias) Jota (Navarra) Sofia Novoa and Jeronimo Villarino
2. Las Majas (Andalucía) Juan Martinez and Antonita
S. Medias Granadinas, Guitar Solo (Andalucía); Caranelos—Street Crier’s Song (Andalucía) Jeronimo Villarino
4. Malaguenas. … Juan Martinez and Antonita
5. Muinera (North Spain); Uyu, Yu, Yu—Swinging Song (Andalucía); Sal A Bailar (North Spain) Sofia Novoa with Tambourine
6. Zambra, Guitar Sole (Andalucía); Los Minerofi Del Fondon—Miner’s Song (North Spain) Jeronimo Villarino
7. Jota Aragonesa. Juan Martinez and Antonita
8. Group of Songs and dances from North of Spain, accompanied by Gaiteros (Bagpipes), Drum Tambourine, and Conchas de Santiago (Cockleshells) Gaiteros and Muinera Dance 9. Vivan Los Aires Morenos (Extramadura); Gamine Don Sancho—Old Ballad (North Spain)j Carretero es mi Amante (Castile); A La Valerosa (Castile); Fado (Portugal) Sofia Novoa
10. Holy Week in Seville 1. Saetas. . .Jeronimo Villarino accompanied by trumpets and drums. Cuadro Flamencos. . . Juan Martinez und Antonita and Anna Maria.”
It also said: “Tickets for single concerts are $1.50.”
Juan Martinez and Antonita were known as wonderful people and wonderful artists. Hopefully, in future, more documents will turn up to shed light on the careers of those in the arts so places like the “Jerome Robbins Division” can preserve the information for posterity.
Remembering Rameses: The Exhibit that Took America by Storm
by Aziza Al-Tawil
In the Spring of 1988 I was dating a neighbor of mine in Boston, MA. He was tall with medium brown hair and very pale blue eyes, and he worked in the banking industry. Originally from Texas, he claimed to be a cousin of our then President of the United States George H.W. Bush. There I was, in the middle of the “hippie folk revival” in Boston, buying protest buttons at “George’s Folly” in Allston, MA and there he was this “conservative” young man a few years my senior. The “whoosh” of my “India” skirts on the stairs must have intrigued him (or maybe it was the days I was wearing “leggings” like all the other 80’s chicks) because after doing laundry together a few times we started “seeing” each other socially. We went for pizza at “Bertuccis,” saw a couple of concerts, went to a Boston Red Sox game in the rain and got glared at by one of his jealous female co-workers. We were attracted to each other but there wasn’t too much of an “emotional connection” so really this was no great romance. Cordial goodbyes were made though when he transferred with the bank to another town a couple of months after we started going out. Though this was but a brief interlude in my romantic life, one thing we did together stands the test of time.
After “King Tut and his Treasures made a splash in this country in the late 1970’s, the “Egyptian Museum in Cairo” decided to go one better and bring a tour even more sensational to America about a decade later, making sure to go to a different set of cities than “Tut.” This Fall marks the 30th Anniversary of the “Ramesses the Great Tour” arrival in the United States. After it’s run in Denver, the exhibit made it’s way to the Boston Museum of Science. It was this showing in the Spring of 1988 that my “banker boyfriend” took me to (Well, at the time he was just a “teller!” He may be a “Bank President” by now!).
Just a few months ago I was in an antique store in Charleston, WV when I saw it. An official “souvenir” set of color slides from the showing at the Mint Museum in Charlotte. I had saved two brochures from the show in Boston but it was really cool to find the color slides. The images are quite stunning and brought back some interesting memories from a time when I was young and marveling at a world which was quite old.
Serena’s Mentor: Ruth St. Denis
Ruth St. Denis in Algouari Dance Drama, Photo trio by Nickolas Muray
Coming soon: “Belly Dancing with Aziza Al-Tawil Cifte Telli and Maksoum”
I remember so dearly the days where kids did not return to school until after “Labor Day” in September. Now it just seems crazy that kids are expected to return when the weather is still hot in August. The only thing that might really brighten up this prospect is to get some fun backpacks so I looked at some high quality designer ones from “StyleWe” that are functional as well as stylish.
Another thing I was known for was wearing dresses when everyone else was wearing jeans!
StyleWe has a blog and is on “Pinterest.”
Letter from the Editor:
Well, here we are to August! The Spring and Summer have been very interesting for me as I traverse the “ups and downs” of publishing a polished online magazine. In just a few months I have covered artists, belly dance history, archeology, social causes, “17 year Cicadas,” antiques, fashion, and took a wild ride with the Bernie Sanders campaign. Two of the most exciting things to happen to me in a while was meeting and hearing Bernie Sanders speak in person and performing for a WV flood survivors benefit. The movement Bernie set aflame was truly historic and the fact that it has ended on a bad note is actually tragic. Debbie Wasserman Schultz ended up resigning but it was “too little too late.” Also, leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouths are the incidences of apparent “voter fraud” in a few states-lost votes. Our democracy had not shown a “crack” in it’s veneer like this since the Al Gore “hanging chad” debacle. This is the reason that “moving on” is so difficult for Bernie’s followers.
Then the rains came, weaving a path of destruction through parts of the state of WV. It was extremely fulfilling to be allowed to help raise money for the survivors. To help your fellow man is a truly noble calling.
I’m sure Bernie would be proud.
“Falling Tides” : Lifting Spirits and Raising Money for WV Flood Survivors by Aziza Al-Tawil
Huntington and Charleston, WV area belly dancers Tiffani Ahdia and Susan Hughart decided to join an effort to ease the suffering of the many people displaced by the floods that battered parts of WV recently. On July 16th, I was honored to join them and some other wonderful entertainers to help raise money for “Elk River Backpack Blessings” an organization dedicated to gathering necessities for people displaced by the floods who may be in and out of temporary shelters.
The owners and management of the “La Belle Theatre” in South Charleston, WV were kind enough to donate their facility and equipment for the show. The line-up for the evening included Tiffani Ahdia, Susan Hughart and her daughter Sara Hughart, Jon Hawkins playing classical Spanish guitar, folk singers Drew Hussell and Russ Kennedy on acoustic guitar, Charity Hairston modern dancer, singer, and poet, “Samadhi” dance company with a vintage hula dance tribute, Gretchen Addison with jazz vocals, and myself, Aziza Al-Tawil with a song and dance tribute to the golden age of Greek tavernas and in particular, “The Sirocco,” owned by legendary guitar player Aris San and frequented by stars like Anthony Quinn and Telly Savalas. Throughout the evening we were also charmed by “magical” appearances of “Twinkle the Fairy”-AKA Cari Stone whose handle on classic mime and comedy charmed everyone.
If you missed the “Falling Tides” show you can still donate to “Elk River Blessings” at this link: WV Flood Relief.
Newsflash! Serena Studios is Relocating After 40 plus years! By Aziza Al-Tawil
After years and years of being located on 9th Ave. between 55th and 56th St. the legacy of the late great belly dance performer, teacher, and pioneer is now moving to a new location. You might ask “why after all these years?” The answer is very simple: The landlord raised the rent too high! If you are looking to take classes with the lovely protégé’s that still carry the torch of her knowledge into the new “millennia” you can do so at “Belly Dance America,” 265 West 37th St., second floor. Here is a link to Serena Studios website with updated class and location info: “Serena Studios Online”.
Funky Bottle Collecting: A Display featuring “Snake Charmer Shiraz” By Aziza Al-Tawil.
Billy Jack bought some roses the other day and he and I set out to make a display using one of them. McLaren Vale “Snake Charmer” Wine and a fake plastic skull really make this shot. Along with a charming ceramic frog in a top hat Billy’s mother made. The pot is one of a set of two my mother and I used to balance fire on our head in during “Laz.”
Here are some more “snake charmers” from the past!:
Online and by mail Middle Eastern Dance Instruction:
Letter from the Editor:
In this month’s issue I have the pleasure of getting a bit of perspective and history of “Nubian Dance” from the lovely Alia of Melbourne, Australia. She had the great fortune to study with many peoples of Egypt including the Nubians while belly dancing there in 1996 and ’97. Alia, a native of New Zealand, was also the only foreign dancer requested at the time to dance for then President Hosni Mubarak. (Our cover girls this month are Alia reclining with the Isis wings on the lower left and Johanna circa 1964 in the upper right).
My mother always said, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” In fact, I’d just about say it was her motto. That could not have been more true than when Johanna found that she had encountered through sheer co-incidence all the main players in the “Kennedy Saga” – one person in particular proved to be somewhat of a mystery and his identity will be revealed here in this issue. (The article also features several photos from “Ghost Town” at “Knott’s Berry Farm.” While preparing the article I did not realize this Summer is the “75 Anniversary” of “Knott’s Berry Farm” and all season special events are being celebrated at “Ghost Town.” Congratulations are in order).
A tidbit about “Tahitian Dance” and a memory of Danny Thomas are in this month’s issue. (Planning August’s issue will prove to be a challenge-with raising money for flood victims in WV to the controversial Democratic Convention in Philadelphia- it may be the most daunting yet! Stay tuned). Hope everyone has a happy and safe Fourth of July!
Exciting news from Aziza coming soon-be sure to subscribe to “Egyptian Chick” to get the latest info.
Onassis Lost Love: The Belly Dancer Who Might Have Changed the World
By Aziza Al-Tawil
I would tell you that this is another crazy “She slept with the Kennedys story” but that would not be the case. At the risk of disappointing you I will say it’s a story of unusual connections and happenstances that occurred over a decade or more in the life of my mother Johanna and her husband Bill.
My mother Johanna was a beautiful girl from Charleston, WV when she went into show business with her husband Bill, a “malaria survivor” right after World War II. From the mid 1940’s through the late 50’s they starred in ballet companies, studied Flamenco with film legend Rita Hayworth’s uncle “Paco” Cansino, and toured as a nightclub act doing “adagio.”
After moving to NYC, every few years when they could fit it in, Bill and Johanna would go home to visit relatives in Charleston. One such occasion happened to be when John F. Kennedy, Jackie, and his brother Robert were in the middle of their famous campaign stops in West Virginia. Lifelong Democrats, Bill and Johanna not only met John and Jackie in a receiving line but found themselves joined by Robert F. Kennedy in the choir loft of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Charleston. Johanna thought they seemed to be nice people, especially Robert, and both she and Bill voted for John that Fall.
By the late 1950’s/early 60’s the popularity of “Dance Teams/Duos” was on the decline. Flamenco, a part of the long running “Latin” craze in music and dance was also a bit in decline by the 1960’s. Johanna was thirty two years old and ready to retire when Flamenco teacher Lola Bravo begged her not to quit “dance.” At the same time, belly dancer “Morocco” strong armed Johanna into trying belly dance after Johanna’s first reaction to it in an agent’s office had been less than “positive.” The cigar chomping agent had, while trying to describe belly dance to Johanna, actually placed his hands on her belly. My mother was horrified and burst into tears and ran out of his office. The fact that “Morocco,” a fellow “Alexandros” rehearsal studio regular, talked her into it finally was a miracle.
“Greektown” in NYC was a district around 8th Ave. and 29th St. dense with nightclubs that literally sprang up even more after the Greek hit movie “Never On Sunday” exploded onto the American pop culture scene.
Hungry for all things “Greek,” fans packed the venues for their oriental music “fix.”
Some of the many famous patrons who were fans of Johanna included jazz musicians Dizzy Gillespie, Jane Fonda and her then husband Roger Vadim, and Aristotle Onassis and his young daughter Christina.
Johanna made a big splash in “Greektown” working all the clubs. She recognized belly dancing as a “folk dance” and soon her nickname was “Naraitha” or “Wood Nymph” in Greek. Also known as “Dryads” they are dancing faeries of the trees in Greek mythology.
It was at the “Egyptian Gardens” that Aristotle first fell in love with “Naraitha”- Johanna.
Ari, who always brought Christina with him, would leave his table to wait patiently at the side of the dance floor for Johanna to finish her act. Then, careful not to touch her skin inappropriately, he would place a large bill under her bra strap.
Aristotle began inquiring about Johanna, constantly seeking to arrange a meeting with her through “go-betweens,” but Johanna would have none of it. “I’m married!” she would exclaim in horror. The waiters would reply with equal horror, “But that’s Onassis!” Johanna really thought Ari was a nice man but her husband Bill was the love of her life. (At that time they did not hire male dancers to work in Greektown so when my mother started missing her husband as a dance partner that became the catalyst for founding “Johanna’s Oasis Ballet.” They had already been doing that for a few years when Ari started pursuing her).
One night another dancer showed Johanna a ruby eyed snake ring a friend from Italy had just given her. She asked Johanna what her favorite gem was. Johanna told her that she loved the ring and that rubies were indeed her favorite. It turned out the dancer was getting info on behalf of Aristotle who readied to ply her with jewelry, but before he could take it any further, for love of her husband, she made clear she wouldn’t budge.
Ari finally gave up his quest and for a while it seemed that would be all Johanna would hear about it.
In 1966, Bill suddenly got the notion to take Johanna on a cross country trip to California to see an old friend he’d worked with in the printing department of the New York Times. Al Rojas and his wife Rosemary lived in Fountain Valley, CA now with their small daughter.
Unbeknownst to Johanna, the reason for the trip was so Bill could get away from a young model named Barbara whom he was already having an affair with in NYC. The liaison with the twenty one year old began when the “Times” changed from “Linotype” to “Teletype” and their famous building in Mid-Town Manhattan was flooded with young female secretaries. Barbara was one of these women.
The trip West was for pleasure, Johanna thought. The pay for belly dancers in California was notoriously low so it had not entered her mind to make the vacation a “working” one. However, this did not stop Bill and Johanna from wanting to take in a show or two at local Middle Eastern Clubs and one encounter she had at one such place would turn out to be one of the most shocking and end up haunting and confusing her for years.
Johanna went to what she thought was the “Cleopatra Lounge” (although it could have been Lou Shelaby’s “The Fez”). A young oud player with a sweet disposition began talking to her and then started telling everyone that she was his wife. He went on and on about her being his wife even in front of her husband. Though he must have been joking it went on uncomfortably long. The oud player told her his name. It was “Sirhan” he said. Johanna’s impression of this young man was that he was very childlike and sweet.
Johanna did not care for the smog in Los Angeles at the time as it gave her bronchitis. (Johanna actually loved San Diego). Therefore, she expressed displeasure at Bill’s request they remain there and take up residence. Johanna’s refusing to move to Los Angeles sealed her fate as she was soon to find out when they returned to NYC. Bill, in full, “Mid-Life Crisis” mode, resumed his affair with Barbara. Johanna was horrified when she learned of the affair. Bill had been cheating on her all along-while she was turning down the romantic overtures of one of the richest men in the world!
Barbara called their apartment. Johanna told Barbara to leave her husband alone as he was going through some “issues” and was not “in his right mind.” Barbara growled into to the telephone sarcastically “You’ve had him for seventeen years! Now it’s my turn!”
After hanging up the phone, my mother picked up a finger nail file and headed downtown to the New York Times building. She approached Barbara there and stabbed the young woman in the stomach with the finger nail file enough to break the skin. Just then Bill had arrived and he and his boss broke up the “catfight.” He said to Johanna later that day, “If you had meant to kill her you’d have brought a knife.” Johanna said, “I was so upset at her attitude – I just picked up anything that was handy!”
Bill and Johanna “separated” but continued to live together in their apartment at 255 West 55th St. Interestingly enough, Bill and Barbara’s relationship turned sour apparently and he wanted to get back together with Johanna but he would not apologize. This was something Johanna felt she deserved. One night Bill said he was going down to the corner for the newspaper. He did not come back.
Johanna was beside herself but kept plugging along. To her astonishment, Bill’s boss at the New York Times actually came to the “Grecian Palace” where she was performing to try to talk her into getting back together with Bill. She said she wanted Bill to say he was sorry-not send “go-betweens” to smooth things out.
Bill told Johanna he wanted a divorce and since she was distraught he offered to go to Mexico himself to obtain it quickly. Things went downhill for Johanna after that. (Bill was not only walking out on Johanna but letting the entire company down of the “Johanna’s Oasis Ballet” which was booked solid, even asked to perform in Djakarta, Indonesia by the Sukarno government. The dance company was in existence about 2 1/2 years).
Despondent and alone she fell into the clutches of Samir Al-Tawil, the “black sheep” cousin of comedian Danny Thomas and the child star Anissa Jones. By this time, Ari Onassis had long given up his pursuit of Johanna and was at about this time about to become engaged to Jackie Kennedy. The ring’s gemstone? A ruby.
Samir, mostly remembered now for composing the Middle Eastern disco hit “Linda-Linda,” left Johanna penniless and pregnant after marrying her in a sham ceremony and stealing $5000 from her which was her entire savings. It was not long after that Johanna watched in horror the coverage of the Robert F. Kennedy assassination and the alleged perpetrator of the crime, Sirhan Sirhan. Could he have been that sweet young man she encountered in that nightclub in California? For many years she believed that was whom she had met. She believed him to be some sort of “Patsy” like Lee Harvey Oswald who could have easily been “hypnotized.”
Johanna engaged in a bitter paternity suit against Samir. Ironically, as all of this was going down, Aristotle Onassis finally married Jackie Kennedy on the Island of Skorpios. Aristotle had finally given up on Johanna. She felt like a fool.
When I was one year old , Johanna and I were performing at the “Parthenon” club in Houston and another Onassis “connection” was made.
This time it was the chef from the yacht “Christina,” who was now working in the kitchen of the Parthenon so his seriously ill daughter could receive treatment from heart surgery pioneer Dr. Michael DeBakey who was president of the nearby “Baylor College of Medicine.”
Johanna always says, “Well at least I got to eat the food prepared by the “Christina’s” chef. It was delicious!”
A few months after my mother Johanna’s death in 2012, I finally got a puzzle piece about the oud player that said his name was “Sirhan.” Some belly dancer friends in California told me that the oud player Johanna encountered was likely Adel Sirhan – Sirhan Sirhan’s brother. Adel played the oud on the Los Angeles and San Francisco circuit and was a beloved “sweetheart” to all who knew him. The Kennedy debacle was very hard for him. According to the dancers, they never knew Sirhan to have played the oud.
It’s only been in the last couple of years that I became aware of an article that actor Robert Vaughn wrote about the RFK assassination for the UK Daily Mail around 2009. In the article, Vaughn, a long time personal friend of Robert’s claims that the plot to kill Robert did not take shape until early 1968. He continues to claim that through meetings with a woman named Helene Gaillet she revealed to him that Aristotle Onassis had confessed to her his bankrolling the RFK assassination. Apparently, a grudge had been started early in Robert’s career over Greek shipping and Red China (Onassis ships were not involved but blocked anyway) and Ari developed a desire to get “even” with the Kennedys somehow.
Whether this is true or not, I can’t tell you. I can only provide a link to the Vaughn article and let folks decide for themselves. The only thing that strikes me so, all these years later is wondering that if the story is true, how could my mother’s acceptance of Ari as a suitor and perhaps husband have changed the course of history? It seemed that his mind was not on Lee Radziwell or her sister Jackie when he made a very passionate and public play for Johanna (although this went on in Greek Town and the general public has never had a clue until now with me telling about it). If Johanna had said “yes,” would Ari have had less social communion with the Kennedys and been too pre-occupied with her to continue a grudge? At least not in such a drastic manner?
As for Sirhan, many believe he was under hypnosis by those who knew how to “program” those who are “malleable” in that sense. In February, of this year, Sirhan came up for parole for the 15th time. Paul Schrade, a confidant of RFK who is 91 years old now and among the five people shot at the Ambassador Hotel that night testified that Sirhan should be released because “The evidence clearly shows you were not the gunman who shot Robert Kennedy.” RFK was shot from behind three times and three bullets entered his body from that direction. (Sirhan fired his gun in front of him). Audio also captures 13 shots being fired and Sirhan’s weapon held only eight.
Many sad years march on, after a while, we lose an ability to find the truth.
The only thing I really know to be true is that turning down Aristotle Onassis was considered by my mother to be the biggest mistake of her life. “You’d have been Greek!” She always told me. Another thing my mother used to add, “If I had life to live over again-I wouldn’t have be so nice! I was just too nice!”
As with any topic in the genre we label “Beledi” as a dance form, Nubian might be simplistic in it’s steps and movements, however, it’s incredibly complex in that it carries the full weight of it’s history and traditions, the feelings conveyed as well as being part of the current geo-political scenario. This is why I presented a workshop on Nubian Dance, I explain to the participants, it would be incredibly boring to spend 2 hours going over the one step, which is basically all that Nubian Dance consists of, and they would, perhaps, feel “ripped off” if that is all I presented as a choreography. It would have been also remiss of me to just teach a dance without delving into the reasons why Nubians dance the way they do and all the influences that have compounded onto that one step.
If I could just digress for a moment, I remember several years ago having a wonderful debate and in-depth discussion with Hossam Ramzy on the question of “Beledi”. Although it translates as a collective possessive noun meaning “village” [of my village] or anything that is referred to as folkloric, we came to the conclusion that a better interpretation of the word (and concept for western minds) would be to use the word “community”. That way we can think of it being more intangible, and as a concept, the cultural aspects becomes mentally and physically transportable, rather than in the western thinking of a traditional dance that is only defined by it’s geography. This is particularly true of Nubian Dance where its geographical location has been obliterated from the late 1960s to 1972 when Lake Nasser was formed due to the Aswan High Dam and the commencement of Egypt’s hydro-electric program.
For centuries, Nubia was a country situated between Egypt and Sudan, until The Nile River was dammed. The result was the diaspora of the Nubian people and relocation of an entire nation to either north and become automatically Egyptian citizens, or go south into Sudan. Everything that was tangible evidence of their culture has been lost for ever under what has become the largest man-made body of water on Earth. The only thing that these people could take with them were their traditions that were carried on through their language, songs and dance. And as so often in communities, it’s dance that is the “glue” that keeps people together and their customs alive.
However, Nubian culture has come to the point where the people have forgotten why they do certain customs, the reasons for them have been lost to time (and water). This too is a point I raised in the workshop, and although I teach the authentic steps and movements, as taught to me by the Nubians I met in Aswan, their dance is in danger of being lost, or perhaps fused and blended with the cultures of the countries that have taken them in. Their dance becomes a paler version of what it once was as a new generation of Nubians growing up in essentially a foreign land, and without their roots, their traditions are memorized parrot fashion, to be put on display for western tourists who just want to be entertained but not really immersed into someone’s culture. Or, their songs have changed to reflect the emotions of losing their home land and subsequent diaspora created from moving into these countries. They are not necessarily sad, such as the well know Belly Dance piece “Salaam Cairo Salaam”, from a Nubian song embracing a new life in the exciting city, but certainly don’t reflect the proud traditions of their ancient world.
To the Egyptians, Nubian dance, music and songs were interesting from around 2005 until 2010, but more as something that was useful for the tourism industry to show off Egypt’s cultural diversity. (This was until the “Arab Spring” and subsequent turmoil, and now any western research and further joint Egyptian archaeological exploration into any remains of what was Nubia in and around the Wadi Haifa region (on the boarder between Egypt and Northern Sudan) have been thwarted due to Islamist uprising or more pressing geo-political and financial issues. Coupled with the downturn in tourism, this has also meant a lack of interest within Egypt of Nubian culture).
But getting back to the point of Nubian people presenting their culture to western audiences. Like any Beledi dance, this genre is really participatory, for an entire community or of a family grouping of people ranging in ages/generations rather than a dance as a performance piece. So most of what is seen has been adapted to present on stage, as well as utilizing traditional dance movements to showcase elements of their culture, such as a traditional wedding, which can take anywhere from five to seven days, and subsequently shown to audiences as a “wedding dance” which encapsulates all the various elements of the entire wedding ceremony into five minutes.
All Nubian dances are performed as a group, either male dances which are usually portray fighting with the Tahkteib (large stick), that also doubles as part of the rhythmic structure of the music; female dances which show elements of the lead up to the wedding ceremony, or of daily life; or if men and women are dancing together, they dance in segregated lines. The women often coming into the performance space and weaving in and out through the men, in their own choreographed patterns, also utilizing rhythmic clapping, but they don’t play any instruments.
It’s interesting to note that both men and women use rhythmic clapping while standing in a line and alternating, one will clap above their head, the next down at the knee, then swapping. This is kept up through the song. Also when men and women dance together, the men often take a secondary role, or a background role to the women, and often lower their head height to below that of the women, or actually dance on their knees or in a crouching position when dancing near women.
Other elements, for both men and women, include the “arm swing”, where the arms are kept low, and elbows in at the waist (unlike any other kind of Middle Eastern dance form where the arms are always kept away from the body). The arms swing from out either side of the body, then swung inwards up to the chest, and outwards again. This is done in conjunction with what I call “The Nubian Step” – a shuffling gait with the left foot turned inwards with right foot placed slightly behind. The heel of the right foot is raised, and the movement is executed through the ball of the foot. This step is repeated throughout the dance, either stationery or used as a travelling step. The women usually have a shuffling step without the turned foot, or just a quick. short “running” step while maintaining a “gliding” gait.
It should also be noted that while the men show emotion and joy by smiling while dancing, traditionally the women do not, which was pointed out to me on numerous occasions by the Nubians. They do make a point of saying that this particularly sets them apart from the Egyptians, and they do get annoyed with the fact that when Egyptians presented Nubian dance in their cabaret shows in Cairo for the tourists, that the female performers were smiling.
The women NOT smiling while dancing is so ingrained in their culture, there is even a comic dance where the men utilise funny movements, or pull faces to try and make the women laugh and drop their demeanour. The women respond with expressions of cool detachment. This is not due to current religious sensibilities but because as a society, the Nubian culture is by tradition, very matriarchal. For centuries Nubia was ruled by a succession of Warrior Queens, known as the Kandake (pron. KAN-DAI-KAY), and later the Nubian word evolved to Kandasay or Kandayce (which, incidentally, is where we get the present day female name CANDACE or CANDICE). These ancient women were highly trained to use swords and other weaponry, and to this day, in a traditional Nubian wedding, the groom presenting his sword to the bride is the symbol of marriage. Even today, for Nubians living in Egypt, property inheritance is handed down the female line and not the male side. Another element that sets them apart in today’s Egyptian society.
This article is just a snapshot of a fascinating culture and dance, and can’t really be fully appreciated unless you have had the opportunity to experience it. I was lucky enough to have been taught by numerous Nubian people who were willing to impart to me their knowledge during my time in Egypt from 1996 – 1997, from which I made copious notes, managed to video as much as I could, and that they gave me permission to teach this dance form at any opportunity, in the hope that their culture doesn’t disappear.
Alia is a professional Belly Dancer, and has worked all over the world, especially in Egypt, where she earned her Performer’s License there (which is the highest qualification you can earn in the Middle Eastern Dance world). While in Egypt, she had the unique experience of being the only foreign dancer to have performed for President Mubarak.
She has had almost 30 years of dance and teaching experience and brings a wealth of information, and in Melbourne, AU, Alia performs at restaurants, weddings and functions, both in the cabaret and folkloric styles.
She is especially interested in teaching Belly Dance for women’s health, and has taught workshops extensively around Australia and overseas, to a large variety of women’s groups, including dance therapy classes for disabled women. Alia was also approached by several hospitals in the Melbourne area to write a paper for them on the health benefits of Belly Dance, particularly for Pre/Post Natal and dance exercise during pregnancy.
Alia has appeared in numerous dance shows, TV appearances and has taught workshops all over the world, as well as around Australia. She has also facilitated for some of the world’s most renowned experts in the field of Belly Dance and Music, most notably:
Laurel Victoria Grey
Hossam & Serena Ramzy
Omar Faruk Tekbilik
for further details contact:
Alia (Deborah Kananghinis)
0418-525-684 (for International drop the 0 and add +61)
(61 3) 9497-5727
FACEBOOK: Alia Bellydance
Flea Market Find: “The Dance of Tahiti”
In the 1970s we were still in love with the “exotic” and the preservation of ethnic cultures through dance and art. It is in that spirit that Jane Freeman Moulin wrote the book “The Dance of Tahiti” (1979) after much studying and graduating from schools like “The Institute of Ethno Musicology” in Los Angeles.
Her work on this book though comes from the very intimate experience of actually moving to French Polynesia and becoming a performer of these dances herself. I’ve only posted a few photos of the book and it really does not do it justice. There are scores of beautiful photos of dancers page by page and some in depth instructional illustrations. Even though, as a dancer myself, I know that the written page in general is not the best place to learn dancing, I still applaud the effort put forth in this book and it is something I feel anyone like me would be really excited to find in good condition in a thrift shop or flea market. It looks so interesting I can’t wait to read it!
Photo Memory: Danny Thomas in the 60s
The wonderful comedian, actor, and philanthropist Danny Thomas. He hired Johanna and Bill (“Turhan”) for his Danny Thomas Brotherhood Award Show in Miami, FL. This photo is either from that event in Miami or might be when they visited Las Vegas on their cross country trip in 1966. Danny was the founder of both the Saint Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and “ALSAC” – the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities.
“YOGA BURN” for info:
New exciting news from Aziza. Subscribe to or follow “Egyptian Chick” to get the update as soon as it hits the press! Thank You
Letter from the Editor :
Since we saw you last, our staff rested up from joining and covering the Bernie Sanders campaign in West Virginia, springtime pollen and the rainy season has dissipated, and we are on to new subjects to intrigue you for this June’s issue. (Don’t be surprised if by August there will be more about Mr. Sanders and what went down in July with his heroic struggle against the establishment to be the nominee). The 17 year cicadas are out in the region marking some new beginnings, there has been no news of Nefertiti’s chamber exploration yet, but we have heard that a dagger belonging to “King Tut” is made of iron from a “meteorite.” (Remember when there were rumors that the Ancient Egyptians were really from “outer space!”).
Sadly, after informing the public on the latest “Female Genital Mutilation” statistics in our April issue, the death of a girl in Egypt from that banned procedure done in a hospital has made worldwide news and shows us we need to keep vigilant in this subject.
This month’s highlight on art is an up close look at 19th century French “Orientalist” vases by Peccatte. There are also some shopping links and vintage dance images to inspire you. I’m the cover model for this month.
Thank you for reading, Aziza Al-Tawil “Editor in Chief”
“Nymph Stage” : Memories of the Cicadas of 1982
By Aziza Al-Tawil
I will never forget that Spring in 1982, when my grandmother was still living, and my mother and I moved to Charleston, WV to be near her. I was a young woman going through “puberty” who was leaving the life of a child performer in NYC to try and make a transition to regular kid for a while. The NYC school board had hounded us mercilessly over “home schooling” in a time that going to school was becoming more and more dangerous in the “Big Apple,” then my mother got sick with “Narcolepsy” from all the pressure, and finally we saw the proverbial “Handwriting on the wall.” We arrived on the “Amtrak” and my life would never be the same.
My dreams of Broadway stardom were dashed at this time but having the spirit of one who never says “die” I entered school and “The National Forensics and Drama League” at “Stonewall Jackson High School” with every intent of blossoming as an actress and a human being.
Grudgingly, I was going through several life passages and upheavals at once. I also wanted to once and for all kiss a boy the way they did in the “old movies.” I wanted our lips to engage tenderly, softly, moistly, for hours on end until, drunk on each other’s “nectar,” we lay collapsed in each other’s arms in the dark. (Alas, this fantasy would not come to be until I was sixteen!)
All of my longings were still churning within me and at this point had reached fever pitch. Therefore, it was interesting at this time for the whole world to become cacophonous with the sounds of a bug. A bug once told in a Greek folk tale to hop on the neck of a “Cithara” and take the place of a broken string thereby helping “Eunomos” (Mr. Goodtune) the player of the instrument to win a competition.
Socrates believed these bugs to actually have once been men. Men who were so mesmerized by the “Muses” and their “Music” they forgot to eat or drink and then withered away only to return free from the earth in a “resurrection” 17 years later. The Greeks also tended to think that the moist looking creature that first emerges and basically lives on the “dew” or “sap” represented man becoming free through an ability to “love.” The tearing up of our eyes when we see the object of our affection, our other juices flowing when feeling this kind of passion when we behold our beloved. Through this kind of physical experience we gain immortality.
The Ancient Chinese also had a fascination with cicadas – to them they represented such broad themes as “resurrection,” “fertility,” “longevity and eternal youth,” and they used the bugs in Chinese medicine formulas. The bugs were also popular and prominent in jewelry including renderings in jade, not as much as the “Scarab” in Ancient Egypt but quite a bit “widespread” nonetheless. Carved cicadas have been used as part of clothing “toggle closures” in Chinese clothing.
There are 2500 or so species of Cicadas (“Homoptera”). It is interesting to note that many times these bugs are confused with “locusts”- the difference being that locusts are “Grasshoppers” and “Cicadas” are more like a type of “fly.” Ironically, that February of 1982, what would become a bit of a “cult classic” horror film was released and “The Beast Within” was indeed a “17 year Cicada.” Why exactly a virtually harmless creature like a “cicada” was chosen to be “The Bad Guy” is somewhat puzzling. It calls to mind the confusion once more between “Cicada” and the more ravenous, potentially destructive “Locust.” The movie has a host of fine actors like Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch, Paul Clemens, and Don Gordon. It is rumored that some of the plot points were lost to the “cutting room floor.” Perhaps, therein, lies an explanation of the “Cicada” metamorphosis of the teenage boy-if not there than in the book which it is based on which I have not read.
In 1999, I was not near an “emergence” of the cicadas. So now that I am back in Charleston, WV for a while I find myself wanting to take note of this event and reminisce about 1982. This week, right before the magazine “went to press,” I went out to take a few pictures of our strange visitors.
As for me, if I have the good fortune to be alive in another 17 years, who knows where my “Gypsy” (not “Gypsy Moth!”) self will be. So for now, I will treat this year as something special which may not come again. In fact, living each day to the fullest is not a bad idea during any time or season of life.
Orientalist Art by V. Peccatte
by Aziza Al-Tawil
Two stunning vases by 19th Century French artist Peccatte. About 15 years ago, two larger vases with similar artwork of the the two women were auctioned off for sixty thousand dollars at “Christie’s.”
in “Egyptian Chick Magazine”:
Aristotle Onassis – an untold story.
Information on Aziza Al-Tawil’s new belly dance instructional video series subscription.
“Tayoun’s Mahrajan” – Photo Essay and Memories of 1966.
This magazine is funded by affiliate marketing through “Amazon” and other such companies. If you purchase something through a link within a timely fashion we will receive a small commission. We post the “Saint Jude’s” children’s hospital link as a service to the world community and will receive no remuneration for your charitable gift. To donate to “Saint Judes” Click here….
Egyptian Chick Magazine Staff:
Aziza Al-Tawil, founder, writer, and “Editor in Chief”
Billy Jack Watkins, writer, and field co-coordinator
Letter from the Editor:
Just when you think the latest dirty word might be “Millennials” – you know – the name for the generation after “X” – the ones so wrapped up in their cell phones you’re not sure they know you’re alive sometimes – something actually happens to bring out and indeed “underscore” their humanity.
As a member of the so-called “Generation X” that came after the “baby boomers” and has pre-dated the “Millennials” (Think Molly Ringwald, Winona Ryder, Leonardo Di Caprio etc.) I relished a chance to witness a major “demonstration” of “Millennials” in action. The Bernie Sanders rally in Huntington, WV in April was indeed that “chance.”
It was indeed an experience to watch a college generation and younger group shed “apathy” and rise up with “idealism” and “hope” once more. Bernie Sanders campaign is straight out of the 1960’s-the era that gives him his greatness. For if anyone lacks an apathetic bone in their body it is indeed Bernie Sanders. After years of rising tuition costs and student loan debt that could even cripple “Atlas,” the “Millennials” have been “re-charged” by Bernie, a man who speaks to their needs and indeed to the needs of all generations right now. This month’s issue will take you on the life changing journey I took replete with photos that will move you. This goes to press the night before the Indiana primary. “Egyptian Chick Magazine” plans to follow many of the upcoming results closely and is planning a fundraiser to go to the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia in July. (You can support the magazine by shopping our affiliate links at the end of our issue or make a direct PayPal donation to the following address: email@example.com).
In another article we will meet a 14 year old artist, wise beyond her years, whose depth and talent will move you and show you yet another “Millennial” in action. People like Josephine Homonai also give us hope for the arts since we’ve become a society that gives less and less support to those with these sorts of talents.
Besides some other changes that are afoot, perhaps people like Josephine can bring attention back to nurturing art and music in our schools once more. Read on! Thanks.
Aziza Al-Tawil, Editor in Chief
Brought to you in part by:
Budding Young Artist About to Bloom: The Enchanting World of Josephine Homonai
If you think it’s inspiring to come from an artistic background, or it might even end up in your “DNA,” you might be right. Especially, in the case of the young lady you are about to meet.
This young and talented Egyptian American woman is another in a long line of a very branched out tree that includes a grandfather, Samir Al-Tawil who wrote an international hit song called “Linda Linda,” a mother , Mary, who is a “hip hop” dancer and poet, a grandmother, Rawiya who was a famous Egyptian belly dancer, an Aunt, Azza Sherif who was also a famous Egyptian belly dancer and movie star, an Aunt, Aziza Al-Tawil who is a famous American belly dancer, singer, actress and artist, and yet another aunt, Vergine Al-Tawil who is a visual artist. And her uncle Garo sings!
In addition to Egyptian and Armenian heritage, 14 year old artist Josie Homonai has a touch of the “Magyar” in her, through Dad Scott who is no less than proud of his little girl’s accomplishments at a young age.
As a child, Josie was aware of art, and developed a love for it, but never dreamed she would be creating the way she does now. At one point, besides the “Abstract Expressionism and French Impressionism” of her Aunt Vergine Al-Tawil’s work, Josie found inspiration in Van Gogh. She discovered him on her own as she was not taught about him in school.
After doing some modeling and acting, about a year ago Josie Homonai “took the plunge” and decided to be an artist herself. Her friends were amazed at how quickly she could render a portrait of a friend and how well it turned out. With their encouragement she decided to continue down this path and now some of her work takes anywhere from fifty minutes to a couple of weeks to complete. She is also a regular fixture, along with Jeff Nicholas “The Amazing Jeffrey the Cartoonist,” on the “Wadsworth Channel” in suburban Cleveland (Josie was born in Las Vegas but moved to Ohio at age five). For Josie, art is a more “spiritual” venture though that literally takes her to “another world.”
While Josie enjoys showing her completed works on TV and dreams of having “a name” in the business, her goals and intentions are much loftier. She wants people to feel that through art there is “hope.” She has tutored other kids in literature and art in after school programs and also taught first and second graders art through a Salvation Army program. Josie says she knows how cruel the world can be at times, but despite a few instances of “bullying” towards her she has mostly managed to keep going. Her loving and supportive family have seen to it.
Josie was shown a little bit of belly dancing by her mother, and Josie says she might like to learn more one day. Being an artist is something she definitely plans to continue through college along with becoming a nurse. In fact, Josie has already started bringing her own brand of cheer to a local nursing home. Some of her works now grace the walls of various homes and she has started a Facebook page to sell her art. She is also writing a book called “Still Here.” Josie also loves animals.
I’m sure this is not the last we will hear about this fascinating young lady. For more information on her art and/or how to purchase pieces go to her art page on Facebook: Josephine_HomonaiArt
“Woman of Tears” by Josephine Homonai
Brought to you in part by:
“Volunteers of America”: Bernie Sanders Calls to Mind “Jefferson Airplane” in West Virginia
By Aziza Al-Tawil
After taking a wrong turn on the way to our insurance man’s office one day, I circled the block and saw it on the corner: The headquarters for the Bernie Sanders campaign. After becoming a devotee’ of his message months and months before this – now was the time to actually do something about it. So Billy Jack Watkins and I went in and joined in the “Grand Opening” of the Charleston, WV office. Whitney Roberts, a Catawba Indian American from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina greeted people with gleaming eyes and a lipstick red dress. The other office manager, Connor Ruby, was from Stowe, MA making the team an interesting cross-section of America. After breaking bread with these folks (or I should say pizza!) we officially became “Volunteers.”
By that weekend the news hit. Bernie Sanders was actually coming to West Virginia and would be in Huntington on Tuesday. I was already planning to write an article for the magazine, but this exceeded anything I could have dreamed of under such short notice. I told everyone it just seemed like some sort of “Providence.”
When I was a young girl, too young to vote but old enough to have strong feelings about the world, I attended the rally in Charleston, WV for Jimmy Carter’s former Vice President Walter Mondale, who was now running for President himself. The year was 1984 and my mother, a single parent, had been struggling for several years.
Not too long before this, some cockamamie “Reaganomics” law had given kickbacks to companies that “over hired” for jobs that didn’t exist. You could be hired and then have hours cut a few weeks later. The unemployment rate would look better for a while but you would be tortured into quitting so you couldn’t file for unemployment. This horrendous torture was inflicted on my mother and one story is a testament to her strength. Her hours kept getting cut like the others they were trying to get rid of before the next “hiring round” would start up again. They cut her hours. My mother showed up. They cut her hours again. She showed up. They cut her hours again. She showed up for work again. Finally, they cut her down to one single, solitary hour. My mother rode a bus to work to get in that one hour. The management was floored. They asked why she even showed up. She said, “I have a daughter.” They said something to the effect of, “OK. We can’t break you. We’re laying you off.”
“You can’t break me” is a phrase that has almost run through my psyche like an anthem. Besides a courageous mother, having a progressive, and tough Cherokee grandmother did not hurt me either. She wanted Jesse Jackson to be president and was a firm believer in “The Rainbow Coalition” until her death from a brain tumor.
That miserable rainy day, in 1984, three generations of strong women watched hopes for a Democratic presidency go down the drain, literally, for when we stepped out of the indoor rally into the street I spotted one of Mondale’s posters riding the waves of water down the gutter and into a sewer opening. I felt desolate. It was prophetic indeed. Within a couple of years I joined the musicians union and left town for Boston. There I played guitar, wrote songs, belly danced, and ran around in the Winter bundled up in a big coat with the theme of “Dr. Zhivago” running through my head. I joined the peace movement through a local synagogue. Ate Indian “take-out” with a young lover. I also entered the labor force in Boston as I was now old enough. Without getting too far off topic here let me just say that Bernie Sanders is the living embodiment of the term “You Can’t Break Me.” In other words if your Mama never had to ride the bus for one hour of work or be damned you may never fully understand what a guy like Bernie Sanders is about.
When our carpool arrived in Huntington we were dispatched to do our jobs. Along with our carpool hostess Malyka Knapp-Smith, we helped the Secret Service and “Big Sandy Superstore Arena” security with crowd control. The crowd was much larger than anticipated and room was made by opening up extra seating sections. (Bernie had already drawn crowds in the upwards of forty thousand. Why they did not expect to fill over 5,000 seats here is beyond me). The final estimate was 6,500 people.
Peter Marshall, the host of “Hollywood Squares” and a native of Huntington, WV once said “Stand on any street corner in West Virginia and the most beautiful women will walk by.”
What he said years ago has certainly not changed for the minute I got out there with my camera I saw “stars.”
One young woman I will call “The Blonde,” was as mesmerizing as Charlize Theron or any other Hollywood bombshell. She had the “Marilyn” factor “in spades!” A series of shots of her culminating in one from indoors when she was watching Bernie Sanders speak – it just spoke volumes of the love people have for this man. She is probably no more than about 20 years old but was looking at him with the adoration that a man of any age dreams of. Be reminded that while television pundits dismiss his charm as being like “Grandpa,” in reality and in person this is a man who should not be stripped of his youthful virility. In other words, Bernie may be an elderly man but he is not “frail.”
After everyone from the outside was seated inside, a lady in charge of the event screamed at us “VIP SECTION NOW!” (Malyka was pivotal in keeping our group together during the chaos and demanding that Bill and I not get lost in the shuffle. She saw to it that we made it to the VIP section with her as members of the press, etc.) In “VIP” we were joined by representatives of the dynamic and burgeoning “Progressive” wing of West Virginia’s Democratic Party including 19 year veteran of the West Virginia Senate and candidate for governor Jeff Kessler, and first term House of Delegates Michael Pushkin.
Kessler, an affable and likeable gentleman, is concerned about a litany of issues including drug addiction treatment for youth after the experience of going through it with his own son and he has also been brave enough to let the coal industry know that West Virginia has to branch out into some other areas, that coal is not “King” any more.
As for Pushkin, the charismatic President of Local 136 of the American Federation of Musicians, a descendent of Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe, and first term House of Delegates member, he is already shaping up to be a politician with a future. Also, a taxi driver by night, his campaigns feature intriguing signs with the unmistakable yellow and black checkerboard design.
Another passionate defender of people’s rights and “the little guy,” Michael Pushkin goes up against distasteful bills with the passion of David against Goliath. His recent speech on the West Virginia House floor about a religious freedom bill that was merely a thinly disguised attempt to legalize discrimination – case in point: a baker having to bake a cake for a homosexual wedding reception. Pushkin described how we already have laws that defend all our rights in our federal and state constitution. As for “HB 4012” he pointed out that many things in life that conflict with religion are mere “inconveniences” not necessarily “persecution.” At the end of his speech he said it all: “Baking a cake is not ‘persecution.’ Getting baked in an oven – is ‘persecuted!’.”
So there we were, the Democratic Party Delegation from Charleston, awaiting the speech of one of the most sensational politicians that have ever drawn a breath. What did it feel like? Take a guess, folks.
We were all breathless when we saw them let in a crew of photographers to take positions near his podium. We knew he would make his entrance soon.
Then the magic happened. Bernie had entered the room.
Bernie Sanders delivered a speech to West Virginia that resonated. He touched on all the issues that concern. At one point he brought tears to my eyes. It’s one thing to see something on “TV” and yet another to experience something “live.”
Amazingly, even though this was indeed a diverse crowd, the most thunderous response came to Bernie’s mention of seeking “racial equality.” While I don’t know the exact ratio of “White to Black” in the audience- it seemed like there were more “whites.” That’s why the almost “apocalyptic” sounding noise of approval from the audience really warmed your heart. It was touching to know that how we treat our fellow man as “equals” was an issue given more importance than our own personal economic woes – the love of our neighbor being worth more than gold. I was proud to be home in my mother’s home state of West Virginia and be experiencing this kind of spiritual journey.
As Bernie was leaving the stage the “Secret Service” accompanied him around the perimeter of the barriers so he could greet the public. When Bernie got to me he saw the big camera in my hands. I reached out and patted him on the side and said, “I’m from New York too. I just love you…” He smiled warmly and his bright blue eyes gleamed. He made his way past and smiled back at me once before continuing.
Bernie Sanders deserves to be our most high “public servant.” He will return us to the “New Deal” of FDR’s presidency. For those with short memories or no knowledge, we did not become “Communists” under FDR, we were actually “saved” from “becoming” Communists. Our country as a “Democracy” was allowed to continue and endure.
As May’s issue is being prepared and about to go to press, I’m posting a supplement with some news from the world of entertainment.
Within the last 48 hours we’ve lost two superstars to the “Great Beyond”-both too young to die-but alas-tis so.
“Chyna” was a belly dancer for a while in the early 1990’s before becoming “WWE” wrestling’s “Ninth Wonder of the World.” Multi-Lingual and brainy she was even a former “Peace Corps” member. However, “brains” could not stamp out her demons-a tough childhood and some tough times with the wrestling world.
Mayte Garcia was just a young teen when her mother sent pop superstar “Prince” a video of her dancing. He hired her for his “Diamonds and Pearls” tour. By the time she was 22 they had married but later drifted apart romantically after the death of two children.
Today we learn that Joanie Laurer, also known as “Chyna” has died at the age of 45 and “Prince” has left us at age 57 after a bout with the flu. Two pop icons of a generation, never to be forgotten, and two former members of the “family” of “belly dancing.”
Astrological “Stars” of Stars of Belly Dance and Belly Dance Music
by Hattie Jones
Nagwa Fouad – Capricorn (Jan 1st).
Soad Hosny – Aquarius (Jan 26th)
Nejla Ates – Pisces (March 7)
Mohamed Abdel Wahab – Pisces (March 13th)
Taheya Carioca – Pisces (February 22nd)
Dina – Aries (March 27th)
Esin Engin – Taurus (May 17th)
Fifi Abdo – Taurus (April 26th)
Samia Gamal – Gemini (May 27th)
Abdel Halim Hafez – Cancer (June 21st)
Sibel Can – Leo (August 1st)
Ozel Turkbas – Virgo (September 1st)
Omar Korshid – Libra (October 9th)
Naima Akef – Libra (October 7th)
Hind Rostum – Scorpio (Nov 12)
Hossam Ramzy – Sagittarius (December 15th)
Johanna – Sagittarius (December 16th)
“Egyptian Chick Magazine” is proud to announce it’s endorsement of Bernie Sanders for President of the United States as he is the candidate to deliver a true “difference” in America and indeed it’s dealings with the entire world. Our magazine promotes the concept of peace and of feeling free to speak your mind against the “status quo.” Bernie Sanders embodies all the qualities needed in a true leader.
“Female Genital Mutilation” – End the Torture Now!
By Hattie Jones
From her report of February 23, 2016, CNN’s Nima Elbagir reveals that despite the ban in Kenya and Great Britain, “FGM” has been moved to “secret rooms.” The sickening practice is even forced on young women who might be natives of Great Britain who are just visiting Kenya and for all intents and purposes are “kidnapped” and tied down for this ancient and barbaric practice.
I remember being shocked that in American popular culture of the 1970s, there was a reference to “FGM” – a young woman was going to experience sexual joy with Richard Roundtree’s iconic character before returning to the “Motherland” and the impending destruction of her “pleasure centers” and marriage. “Shaft in Africa’s” blasé treatment of this female character’s fate was troubling to say the least.
Today, the general public is more aware of “FGM” and the facts are nothing to scoff at. While preserving history and customs is sometimes a noble undertaking, nothing barbaric and cruel against man or animal should ever survive “antiquity.” Humanity is meant to advance, not remain in the dark ages.
“Egyptian Chick Magazine” is firmly against the practice of “Female Genital Mutilation” and encourages it’s readers to sign any petitions urging it’s legal eradication.
For more information on the latest laws and statistics please go to the “World Health Organization’s” page here: “World Health Organization FGM Facts”.
The “Salad Days” of Susanne and Lou Forestieri: Two Artists Triumph – An Intimate Portrait by An Old Friend.
By Aziza Al-Tawil
In the 2014 short documentary film “For the Love of Art,” Susanne Forestieri, standing before a canvas, said “It’s always good to step back – which is a good lesson in life-if you get too close to things…you don’t really see them.”
With a touch of wistfulness, the artist remembers winning the “National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Painting” in 1996 for portraits of her daughter Gina and friends playing “dress-up” – the photos of their escapades years previous being saved in a shoebox. For Susanne, they represented “childhood,” “the loss of childhood,” and even just the very passage of time and the eventual loss of our fruitful childhood “fantasy lives.”
It is with my own touch of “wistfulness” in the year 2016, that I “step back” from Susanne Forestieri and see the woman as she really is – and as she “was” when I was just one of the little children in her sphere – indeed acting out those “fantasy lives” she so touchingly recalls.
To fully understand just what Susanne Forestieri’s impact on my life has been you have to go back in time – to the late 1960’s to be exact – when my mother found herself pregnant by a “bigamist” musician she thought she was legally married to. When he “split” as it were, my mother was at a complete loss of what to do. One of her former dance protégés Francine had a brilliant idea – years ahead of it’s time – when she told my mother Johanna “I’d like you to meet a friend of mine. The same thing is happening to her.”
So, my mother Johanna met Susanne and her mother Doris through Francine. Susanne had just been left “with child” by a Greek musician she worked worked with and both Susanne and Johanna needed to stick together to get through this tough time – tough because soon to be forty year old Johanna’s flame Samir had stolen all her money and Susanne, quite a few years her junior at twenty three years of age, was a budding artist with no benefactors yet except her mother Doris.
Johanna had been bouncing around a few friends places-one arrangement was just not working out-she was sharing an apartment with Susanne’s male friend, a “shell shocked” Armenian man in Brooklyn Heights. His “phobia?” He was freaked out to see any doors closed or locked. He also had strange fits where he would slap my mother. At one point my mother was in the Ansonia hotel after one of these horrific encounters with Arthur in Brooklyn and became so ill she was throwing up constantly. Susanne and Arthur came and got her and took her back to his large “Pre-War” but after many apologies his bizarre behavior and fits of violence continued.
This is when Susanne’s mother Doris really “stepped up to the plate.” Susanne and Johanna moved into an apartment together to await the birth of their children, all expenses paid by Doris. Susanne’s father had unfortunately been very ill and had to live in a hospital. Susanne and Johanna made an easy friendship as both were from “multi-cultural” backgrounds. While Susanne’s father was Jewish, Doris was mostly of English and Native American stock. Ironically, now, after all these years I can see Susanne and Johanna’s resemblance to each other through their Native American connection mostly. (At some point, I can’t remember when exactly, Mr. Sherman passed away).
Susanne’s son Peter was born around November and I was born the following March. Like a true “unwed mothers co-op” Johanna and Susanne took turns babysitting Peter and I as each woman returned to her respective careers as belly dancers in New York City’s famed “Greek Town” District of Eighth Avenue and 29th St.
As everyone has probably heard, “Wednesday’s Child is full of Woe” so I went through quite a while of being quite a “crier.” Peter on the other hand was a happy baby-all he needed to soothe him was a musical mobile that hung over his crib. The same mobile bought for me proved fruitless-it started going around and I took that as my “cue” to “start” crying not “stop.” (Peter did cry “with” me a few years later in Central Park one time when fireworks overhead seemed more like “battlefield” explosions).
Peter was a sharp and observant little fellow. He was fascinated with me and relished doing things to “grab” my attention-like pulling the head off a favorite doll. As for me, I was alternately repelled and fascinated by Peter who oft, during Archie Bunker impersonations, would call me “Dingbat Dodo Bird.” I was also forced to endure “Star Track!” (“Star Trek”) theme play time, but I was a “sport.” I would tell you he was like “family” – but he really wasn’t. We were small children but it was more of a boyfriend/girlfriend dynamic. I can honestly say as the years went on Peter would never seem like a “brother.”
In the year of “Watergate” my mother was requested to return to her hometown of Charleston, WV to teach belly dancing at the YWCA-so she packed up and sported me off at age 5 to see my grandmother and, at least for a while, a new life. During that year I helped my mother teach what would end up being around five hundred students who filed into the gym and the other rehearsal rooms to learn what was the hottest sensation in the world at the time. Belly dancing was unleashing a wave of feminine expression as it exploded from a art form seen performed in cabarets in the 1950’s and 1960’s to a true housewives hobby. Well, not just “housewives,” but truly women from every walk of life.
By the following year my mother realized that she really wanted to return to NYC as I was six years old and would be starting school. She wanted me to have the best education in the arts, so packing up again, we headed for NYC, the only place I’ve ever really thought of as “home.”
As soon as we hit town, my Mom checked us into the “Henry Hudson Hotel” and by the next night, no later, she looked up Susan-maybe called Doris first and got her new number. By a strange coincidence, Susan was living just down the street from the Henry Hudson Hotel in number “309” on 57th St. and the exact same building my mother had once lived with her first husband and dance partner, Bill. By now Susan was engaged to a piano player name Lou Forestieri and he was living with she and Peter in an apartment there.
Johanna hung up the phone excitedly and we raced down to their “pad” to see them. As I entered the apartment with my mother I was thrilled to hear Peter’s voice call out to me from the “loft.” There was a ladder and he cried out for me “Zizi” to come up there with him. As far as I remember, he had to come “down” as I was not particularly “athletic.” I belly danced but I did not climb ladders or trees!
Susanne’s Lou was a struggling musician, but who was in the middle of an exciting run as one of the piano players that came up out of the stage floor to play Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” during the “spectacular” that accompanied the screening of “The Sting” at Radio City Music Hall. “The Sting,” about “depression era” con men starred Robert Redford and Paul Newman and was the box office smash of 1973-74. It would go on to win seven academy awards.
Susanne, was still dreaming of and trying to pursue a career as an artist – something she truly had talent at but was in gestation at the time. My mother and I returned to what was left of the belly dance scene although it would not be long until it would dry up and wither away. My dream was to be an actress.
My mother enrolled me in school for what she hoped would be a fulfilling experience. However, it would not be long before it turned into a “hornet’s nest” as NYC was on the verge of one of the most devastating periods in history: It’s “bankruptcy” both “financially” and “morally.” The school I started to attend had become terribly tough for an elementary school. Little children were getting in with knives while the “establishment” was ill equipped to deal with it. During school months, the physical abuse that was to become just about the norm had begun, and some of the most trying years of my life were about to begin.
But my personal life was still rich in content. The friendship of Susanne, Peter, Doris, and now Lou, was a loving and supportive environment to foster all my dreams. My mother Johanna was a rather sophisticated woman and Susanne’s wacky personal style tickled her a bit. I will never forget the day Susanne came up out of a subway staircase on our block, Peter in tow, wearing a toboggan, a long black fur coat, and sneakers. Johanna had never seen quite an “ensemble” like it before and was amused.
Eccentric as artists should be, our friends were beautiful in spirit-the kind of New York people who touch each other’s souls – in the coffee shops, the “Cinema Revival” houses, the parks and museums. I eventually came to believe Woody Allen wrote “us” – he knew our kind so well – but really the City itself was the “writer” that marked us with it’s magic.
Pretty soon Susanne found herself with Lou’s child and they moved to 110th St. to a fabulous “Pre-War” apartment. Play dates often included another little boy named Ian who was about 2 years younger than Peter and I. Peter and I went to Central Park, spent the night in Astoria at Ian’s place and I spent a lot of time up on 110th St. I remember so well going to the Columbia University campus at night. It was terribly romantic, I thought, to see all the young lovers out walking. The new baby, Gina, joined the Forestieri clan, and Lou and Susanne married. The new baby was a beautiful Italian looking baby, and looked so much like her father.
At around eight or nine years old I took a few oil painting lessons with Susanne in exchange for posing for her in a frilly Victorian looking girl’s outfit. I demurely held a large sun hat in front of me as I sat for her – learning the smell of the turpentine and how patient an artist’s model must be. As for my art, Susanne was taken with me, calling me “the little colorist.”
In the late 70’s, Lou was doing some arranging for musical acts for clients like Eileen Fulton who played “Lisa” on “As the World Turns” and the very lovable Ted Ross who won a Tony as the “Cowardly Lion” in the “The Wiz.” (Ted would go on to reprise his “Wiz” role in the movie version which co-starred Nipsey Russell, my then neighbor at the “Henry Hudson Hotel” and make a memorable mark as the chauffeur “Bitterman” in the hit movie “Arthur” ). Eileen Fulton, whose autograph I scored at the time, also commissioned Susanne to paint her portrait. It remains one of Susanne’s loveliest works and certainly hints at her burgeoning greatness at the time.
Idyllic Summers were spent at Jones Beach on Long Island, the Astoria Pool, and even the “Dee Lee’s Bungalow Colony” near Tamarack Lodge in the Catskills – Ellenville, NY. Peter’s cousin Denise who was a few years our senior joined us in upstate NYC. My Mom was so busy working by now – trying to raise me without child support that she was unable to come on the trip and instead put me on a bus with Lou to go up and join them. That Summer we swam, ate Italian ices from Mr. Dee Lee’s vending cart, explored abandoned houses, played with toads and frogs and even discovered a “nudist colony” beyond some bushes.
I remember Susanne trying to keep up with all the grubby little kids baths and sometimes telling us to wipe off our dirty feet before crawling into bed. There was the time us kids dared bring a “tree frog” into the bungalow, and how scared we were when it “escaped” it’s enclosure. We looked every where and could not find it. That night, we wondered just whose bed it might crawl into and tried to act “nonchalant.”
The song that played every night at the Disco at Tamarack was “Last Dance.” “Last Dance” may have been the “Anthem” for the older more decadent crowd at “Studio 54” but for me it was the “anthem” for the soon to be ending of a nearly decade long or more friendship with the Forestieris and my dear Peter.
It seemed like terrible, dumb things just started happening, and they seemed to just grab weight and start “snowballing.” While in the Catskills I had accidentally opened a door when a bunch of us kids were screaming and playing, and even though someone tried to warn me, I couldn’t stop my hand that was already in motion. On the other side was the toddler Gina and the door hit her lip. I felt so terrible as Lou cradled his crying baby. I said I was sorry but I knew what I had done was terrible and I felt awful.
Another mistake was a classic “faux pas” of saying the “wrong thing.” My mother had said to me that when Susanne had first started belly dancing in Greek Town she was nervous and had bit her lip on stage that night. It was just something she blurted out to me one day and like an idiot, at an inexplicable time, I repeated it to Susanne as if to say “My mother said you weren’t a good dancer one time.” I guess I meant to say “She said you were like a lot of people, nervous when they first start out.” The words became twisted and tangled coming out of my mouth and later I felt I had hurt Susanne’s feelings. But even more “Cats Ass Trophies” were soon to follow. Ian’s mother Linda had recommended a dentist to my Mom that turned out to be a sadistic crackpot who broke some of her healthy teeth while in the chair for another. My mom was horrified and angry at this dentist and angry at Ian’s mother Linda for sending her there. Their relationship soured overnight.
Peter and I were close , but we never went to school or church together as I still lived down at Hell’s Kitchen and he lived on the Upper West Side. I remembered supporting him by attending his concerts when he was in the choir at “Saint John the Divine” cathedral but I never saw the inside of the private school he attended. Spending nights on 110th St. was still wonderful to me, the building had touches of marble, and the rooms were large and white and perfect. The night sky and the stars looked pretty from his room. “Goodnight Moon” first published a generation before us, was still the children’s book of the day. The first hint we would be incompatible as adults was that I was the “Gypsy” that was used to staying up late and Peter seemed to be more interested in the morning and “Military” time. Yet even as he shushed me one night as I chattered away in the dark – “Go to sleep Zizi” – I still felt love in my heart for my friend.
As for me, since returning to NYC at age 6 my mother had seen nothing but major disappointment where my schooling was concerned. I was a small child and had my school supplies stolen and was constantly picked on by bullies. Coming home covered in bruises, my mother took me out of public school but the abuse continued in private school. At one point, I was even sent to a public school across town to the “East Side” and really, it was no better.
After “Flower Power,” the new method for dealing with bullies in schools was essentially very “Kumbaya.” Embarrassment over some bad “reform schools” had brought about a change in how dangerous kids were dealt with. A teacher told me we were going to rehabilitate the kids that were stealing the school supplies from my desk. We acted out a scenario where I was to catch them in the act (The teacher played the role of the “bad guy” and when I implored her not to steal my pencils she acted out putting them back and saying “I’m sorry”). I tried this out during the “real thing” and the only thing that happened was they added a “black eye” to the pencil stealing!
Not too long after the trip to the Catskills I entered the private school “Lincoln Square Academy” in the Fall. There, in our class, was a young man a few years older than we were, and much bigger, who had been held back a few grades. This big boy began molesting the younger girls and practically tried to rape me. My mother had enough. She took me out of school and exercised her right to a private tutor for me. My mother acted just in time, not long afterwards we learned the boy had broken the teacher’s arm! (The only great thing about this school was seeing Jimmy Osmond in the lunchroom. He was a few years my senior and his family sent him there for a time).
When I was nine years old I had been tested by NYU psychologists who had deemed me a “creative genius.” My gift from two of the lesbian professors in the research study had been a huge ninth birthday party and tickets to see Baryshnikov dance at City Center. “Hunter College” had a “prep Grade school” that was booked to capacity with students for seven years or that would have been the school I was attending.
So, here was Johanna, still trying to do the best for me when another bombshell in our relationships was dropped. Susanne’s step father Morty worked for the school board. He had opined that perhaps I had made up some of the stories about school. Susanne passed this “tidbit” on to Johanna and she was livid. By now, my mother was terribly world weary. She could not take the slightest amount of aggravation. She said to Susanne on the phone, “You take care of your house – and I’ll take care of mine.”
As the phone hung up, a new chapter in our lives would begin, one without the Forestieris. Not long before this incident, my mother had a conversation with Lou about his grief for his sibling that was dying of cancer. It was a breakthrough for them. My mother said she never thought Lou really liked her too much, maybe just thought of women as being rivals to each other in some form, but he was “mistaken” Johanna would say. She said she never pitted herself against Susanne in any realm and I knew that to be the case. So Johanna was touched that after several years they finally had a conversation that smacked of human connection.
After beginning advanced lessons with a private tutor which lasted about a year, the School Board and Social Services came down hard on my mother, this time it warranted swift action on her part. My mother packed my things and sent me to Charleston, WV to stay with her mother and start Junior High School there which I did. I made some friendships there that have lasted.
Meanwhile, my mother learned that Susanne and Lou’s marriage was headed for “the rocks” and so was Ian’s mother Linda’s relationship with her man. More lessons in “Nothing lasts forever” I thought when she told me.
I returned to my mother and New York City the next Spring. As we plotted our next move I became an artist’s model for some of the members of the Art Students League. Our belly dance student Jan was a member there and asked me to pose for her group. My love of the Art Students League came from Susanne who had taken me into their supply shop on many occasions including one trip for charcoal pencils and erasers. Susanne showed me how wonderful it was to smudge charcoal pencil work with your fingers.
Sadly, the city’s decline in the 1980s, the beginning of the “Reagan Era,” and “trickle down” precipitated more hardships for Johanna. Working three jobs to support us and my still being too young to really go to work to help her, my mother fell ill with “narcolepsy.” She went to bed and could barely get out, just enough to go to the bathroom, and then, straight back to bed. I tried to take care of her but was at a loss of what to do. After not speaking to the Forestieris for almost two years or so at this point I did not confide our troubles with them and they may have already split up and left town by then, not sure.
Anyway, I dealt with this situation mostly on my own, then after talks with a social worker and doctor’s visit got Johanna together enough to see some improvement. But, by now, my mother just gave up on the city she had loved since moving there in the 1950s. The authorities were hounding her again and I could not argue with her that we had no support for anything lasting, there just wasn’t time, I was in the awkward age, and would just have to “come of age” and thrive somewhere else. We packed our things and headed for Charleston, WV.
After attending school a couple of years in Charleston, and experiencing the death of my grandmother who by now was living in a “Senior Citizens” apartment complex, the “Gypsy Spirit” returned to me and my mother. By the mid 80’s we headed to Boston and a belly dance gig. The scene was not what it used to be but it was great to return to the stage.
As for visual art, I had taken the influence of New York City and it’s museums I used to hang out in, and the impact of studying with and just having Susanne Forestieri in my life, and had continued to create pieces in different mediums all through High School. I continued in Boston and also pursued writing.
When the internet exploded as a means to really look up people and see what they’ve been up to, one of the first people I wanted to know about was Susanne and of course, I wanted to know how my childhood friends Peter and Gina were. I still felt guilty about opening the door on Gina when she was little and about the dumb remark I made to Susan stemming from the “biting her lip” anecdote, that I was, even after all these years, “beside myself.” In my heart I had already forgiven any trespass or “misunderstanding” from their side. Now, it was just me and my own guilt which I carried “like a cross.”
Through my initial digging I learned that Susanne had given up on New York not long after we did to seek other “Vistas” in Las Vegas, NV. I thought I remembered her sister Tina having connections to Las Vegas. I was also happy to see that Vegas had been a good move for her. She had thrived as an artist in her new atmosphere, been commissioned by casinos to paint murals, and won the “National Endowment for the Arts” prize in painting. Even though, yes, she and Lou had divorced, they both had thrived as artists. As for Lou, he had chosen Los Angeles for his new life and had gone on to work on “The Fabulous Baker Boys” film and then the musical scoring of TV shows and movies like “Diagnosis Murder” and “Beverly Hills 90210,” and even appeared onscreen in Bette Midler’s “For the Boys” and “My Blue Heaven” to name a few. I was also floored to find out more about Lou’s background in jazz – being trained by Bobby Hackett, working with Errol Garner, Count Basie, Lena Horne. He had even accomplished this before I knew him and I had just never realized!
As for their daughter Gina – I braced myself – and saw that this adorable child had seemingly grown up without permanent damage from the stupid thing I did when we were kids! She has become a successful hairdresser and a “reality star” to boot on a show about her trade “Split Ends.”
As for Peter, it was not evident to me what had happened to him just yet as he did not really have any internet presence to speak of. I hoped he was in the “land of the living” and was alright.
Shortly, after finding out what had happened to the Forestieri clan I told my mother. Not too long after she fell ill suddenly. During her severe illness, at one point she said to me, “Have you heard from Susanne or any of them?” I said, “No, I haven’t contacted them yet.” Then a short few weeks later my mother Johanna was dead.
There is a part of me that regrets taking so long to say something to the Forestieris. How do you thank people that gave you “the world?” That’s the question. In truth, there are no “words.” The truth is, these artists helped raise me in my formative years. Their impact on me could never be negated. There is another simpler truth that needs stating once more: Susanne’s mother Doris Sherman literally saved my mother’s life. My mother was always grateful to her and in awe of the kind of woman she was. As I write this I hope and pray that Doris is still living and feeling well so she can read this.
Finally, after years, Peter finally got a Facebook page. I see him and his wife and great kids doing all kinds of “outdoorsy” stuff in photos of them out in the desert, etc. I was touched and happy to see he had a normal and fun life. I still can’t ride a bike and have no desire to. I am glad he found someone to share his interests!
Susanne and Lou were amazing talents. Please check out their websites and see all they have accomplished in their great lives.
And one more thing. Don’t wait too long to tell people how much you love them.
(Our magazine is funded by “affiliate” marketing links and advertising. Thank you for supporting our site through shopping if you choose to do so. Saint Jude’s is a charity we promote and we receive nothing from them in return – just the gratifying knowledge that we have helped children).
Acknowledgments coming soon for the “Belly Dance Photo Restoration Project in cluding Shots from the Famous Tayoun’s Mahrajan”- the fundraiser is still ongoing.
In Memory of my mother Johanna who gave me a lifetime of dance to have with me always….