In the mid 1990’s, I was a member of Flowers Of The Desert Arabian Dance Company, a large professional belly dance troupe put together by talented Los Angeles-based choreographer and performer Laura Crawford. The Flowers worked regularly at Al Andalus, an Egyptian-run club in North Hollywood as well as many other clubs; we did theatrical productions, appeared on Arabic television, and at ridiculously sumptuous private parties held by the many members of the Saudi Royal family.
Our repertoire was extensive, focusing on the dances of The Middle East and North Africa, but we also did Bollywood, Samba, Flamenco and quirky international fusion numbers. Because the company often gigged at multiple locations in the course of an evening, and was composed of dancers who were frequently busy doing their own solo gigs, the group’s line-up would change drastically from gig to gig, often on the same night, with dancers scheduled to drop in and out according to what numbers we were doing or to meet the individual’s needs for the solo projects. Because of this, everyone learned the group choreographies, but there was also a need for solos, duos and specialty acts to fill in the spaces where other company members were absent, or for when they were backstage changing costumes. This took a lot of planning, and at rehearsals when the company’s scheduling was taking place; Laura was always on the look out for new numbers to add spice to our repertoire.
During the late fall of 1996, the troupe had recently added weekend shows at a new Arabic club called Pasha. The club owners wanted a modern floor show as opposed to a more traditional production, and the performance area was small, holding six dancers tops, so this was yet another challenge we faced- creating a full, varied show with a limited amount of performers.
At a Monday evening post-Thanksgiving rehearsal, calendar in hand, Laura announced,
“ We need a solo for this week at Pasha, and they specifically want something modern…can anyone come up with a new piece?”
The room was strangely quiet; it was that obvious everyone was wracking their brains, trying to come up with a performance that could be ready by the weekend. Since nobody else was offering a suggestion, I volunteered.
“I could do a number to “Santa Baby” by Eartha Kitt,” I ventured.
“Is it ready to go?” Laura asked, “Can we see it?”
“Well, no…” I admitted. “But it could be ready by this weekend!”
Laura cocked her head a regarded me in a perturbed way. Sometimes she thought my ideas were a little risqué, because many of them really were kind of outré, if not downright scandalous. For example, I’d been nominated as the soloist in a samba number, not because of my fantastic Brazilian dance technique, but because I was the only company member who would wear a thong on stage! Another time, I’d suggested a group number that involved a West Side Story gang-girl rivalry act; with all the dancers appearing onstage clad as Flower Power1960’s go-go dancers in hot pants, fishnets and boots. Everyone in the company had their doubts, but the audience gave us a standing ovation and by the next show, everyone in the troupe wanted to get involved.
“How would it go?” Laura asked, “What’s the idea?”
“I’d come onto the stage in a big faux-sable coat, gloves and a Santa hat,” I said, “. And sort of strut around a little, taking off the gloves and coat to reveal a red velvet Christmas outfit . Then I would just sort of mime the words to the song, and walk around the tables giving everyone some personal attention.”
A strange expression crossed Laura’s face, and the rest of the company was even more silent than they had been earlier, anxious to see what the verdict would be.
Finally, Laura said she’d think about it.
A few days went by, and apparently nobody else had come up with anything, because I got a call from Laura the night before our gig, telling me that “Santa Baby” was a go.
“But keep it clean!” she admonished.
I rehearsed my number into the wee hours and got the costume together, even pinning a huge rhinestone brooch and Mistletoe spray to my Santa hat. I felt great about my new debut, until I got to Pasha, and had a look at the audience. They seemed to be all multi-generational families dressed to the nines in holiday finery. There were Lebanese, Armenian, Persian and Arabic people there, and I started to get a little nervous. A Bollywood number had just ended- would the crowd get what I was about to do? Would they even know who Eartha Kitt was?
As the opening strains of “Santa Baby” came over the speakers, I flung caution to the wind and sauntered out onto the stage. I removed my fake fur coat, revealing my sparkly, Sexy Elf outfit. The crowd became still, sitting upright in their seats. I removed my red satin gloves, walked over to a table, and “polished” an elegant, older gentleman’s bald head with one of the gloves while I sat on his lap.
Except for Eartha Kitt’s suggestive voice, the silence was deafening…until everyone at the man’s table burst into wild hoots and applause, and the club’s photographer ran up flash bulbs a-popping, to document the moment. With that, everyone produced their own cameras and started taking pictures, and other tables started waving me over, brandishing wads of cash over the head of the person they wanted to single out.
I left the stage triumphantly to appreciative applause, until the club’s manager came backstage after the show- something he had never done before.
“I want to talk about “Santa Baby” song,” he said, with a note of conviction in his voice.
All the Flowers –especially Laura- looked apprehensive, and I was afraid I might have crossed the line...and maybe get fired.
“ You must do this “Santa Baby” every show!” he declared, “Every night you come, you do this!”
After he left, we all had a giggle, and Laura looked at me in a mixture of pride and disbelief.
“Ok, Plezzy,” she said, “You’re booked!”
I performed “Santa Baby” every Friday and Saturday night of the season, and it was a winner every time. On New Year’s Eve, the tips during my number lay so thick on the stage it was as though it had been covered with a snowfall of cash.
The first weekend of the New Year, we performed an entire set of brand new dances, which we’d been working on feverishly all throughout December.
That night following our show, the club’s manager once again stormed into our dressing room, only this time he was really angry. We couldn’t figure out why he’d be mad; we’d done a truly awesome set!
“WHERE “SANTA BABY”? he roared,
WHY YOU DON’T DO THIS? I ASK YOU TO DO EVERY TIME!”
Taken aback, we tried valiantly to explain to him that it wasn’t Christmas anymore, but he just shook his head in disappointment and left.
My book, "Showgirl Confidential: My Life Onstage, Backstage And On The Road" ( Punk Hostage Press) is available here: http://www.princessfarhana.com/book_showgirl.htm
"The Belly Dance Handbook" will be published in January, 2014
|Photo & design by Maharet Christina Hughes|