Thursday, February 26, 2015


 On the balcony of the Mena House Oberoi Hotel Cairo, 2009  Photo: Aleya
   This story was written just after returning  from one of my many pre-Revolution trips to Egypt. I was in Cairo after the Arab Spring, and there was a feeling of elation in the air, but since then, many things in the country have changed politically, socially and as far as tourism goes. It was a different world, a different Egypt, and the subculture I experienced and  describe in this story may not  exist  any more... or at least the way it used to. This  was originally published in Zaghareet Magazine in 2009.

 “I’ll sleep when I get home!”

For years, that’s been my motto when I’m on the road. But nowhere does it apply more than when I’m in Cairo, where people stay up all night long  and  the belly dance shows in the Five-Star hotels don’t get  rockin’ until well after midnight. I always  come home extremely- and quite happily- sleep deprived, but my most  recent trip gave me an insider’s view into the surreal world of Cairo’s seedy late-night cabarets…. The  equivalent of  one of my favorite American institutions, Dive Bars. Oh, I’d been to Cairo’s   less-glamorous, off-the-beaten path nightclubs like Cave De Roi and The Sunset before, but the places I experienced this time made those venues look positively tame!

  My immersion into this underworld started innocently enough… it began with a movie trailer, of all things.  One of my oldest Cairo pals is Russian  belly dancer Katia, who began her career in Egypt over twenty years ago, as a protégé of world-renowned choreographer Raqia Hassan, and is now a  star in her own right.

Catching up with Katia, she showed me the trailer for a new Egyptian film in which she was featured called “Cabaret”. No, it’s not a remake of the 1972 Bob Fosse film starring Liza Minelli.  Directed by Sameh Abdel-Aziz and featuring a number of Egyptian stars, “Cabaret” is a high-budget action drama with a huge cast, centering on-you guessed it- a sleazy Egyptian cabaret club.

The trailer featured hooded thugs with automatic weapons, implied prostitution, kidnapping, drug use and showed risque love scenes…along with-of course- plenty of singing and dancing. I’m no authority on modern Arabic cinema, but “Cabaret” looked so dark and transgressive that I was quite intrigued!  The trailer ran constantly on Egyptian TV stations, but unfortunately, the film opened the day after I left, so I never go to see it. What I did  do was start bugging Katia non-stop  to take me to a cabaret  like the one in  the movie so I could see what it was really  like. Call me crazy, but I’m a gal who really appreciates a good dive bar- even in Cairo!

 At first, Katia demurred, because in Egypt, a dancer of her status being seen in a “low class” place could cause tongues to wag in an unfavorable way. But she finally relented, and took me to one of the “best of the worst” as it were, to Amoun, in the Mohandeseen district. Katia chose Amoun because, in her words  It’s no so bad”, and because an acquaintance of hers, Egyptian dancer Dahlia, was performing.

 We walked in at 3:15 am, and the vast, dark, low-ceilinged club was only about a quarter full. A few Saudis in white robes and traditional shumaq headdresses sat against the walls behind tables groaning with mezza, smoking sheesha pipes. The thirty or so musicians and singer onstage out-numbered the audience, and then  some Western-garbed twenty-somethings jumped onstage and for some dirty dancing that raised even my jaded eyebrows. Katia gestured towards them and screamed over the music,

“Thees nothing! Thees place do not really get going until around 6:00 am!”

 Dahlia breezed in with her band, stopping by our table to say hello, and seemed slightly surprised to see Katia. As the bands changed (every dancer or singer brought their own orchestra, and most had over twenty five members) a trio of waiters began fluttering about our table.

 I have never experienced anything like the service at Amoun-ever-it was beyond attentive to the point of being almost ridiculous! Because the music was so loud, we began rolling up paper napkins to use as makeshift earplugs. As soon as we did that, a waiter proffered a box of Kleenex and began folding the sheets into little triangles, dealing them onto the table like a deck of cards, precisely fanning them out at each place-setting. With a flourish, he conveniently positioned the box against our wine-bucket, in case we needed to use it again. Katia’s cigarettes were on the table, and at one point, a waiter took one out of the package, placed it in my mouth, and lit it for me!

Dahlia’s orchestra in place, she began her show. It was a good show, but unremarkable except for the fact that she danced through the audience flirting at the tables in the back, getting showered with cash, something that would never happen at a Five Star club. Her orchestra was incredible. And the music only got better with the next band change. To my amazement, the vocalist who appeared was my favorite singer, Mahmoud El Leity! The place was filling up now and his set was as sublime as it was raucous, the stage packed full of sweaty people getting down.  As El Leity strode into the audience like a younger, swarthier Tom Jones, he grabbed my hand and yelled something to me in Arabic.

 “He wants you dance onstage for the next song!” Katia translated at the top of her lungs, “ He will do Om Kalthoum.”

 As the strains of “Weh Deret Al Ayam” filled the smoky club and the audience waved their napkins in ecstasy, I checked with Katia to make sure I wouldn’t embarrass her if I got up and danced.

 “Go!” she hollered, “Have fun!”

 When I returned to my seat, a Saudi guy dancing in the aisles slipped fragrant strings of fresh jasmine around my neck. Sweaty and with my hair full of loose flower petals, I headed to the Ladies Room to freshen up. The scene there was even more mind-boggling than what was going on outside. The air was actually humid with hair spray and perfume. Young women crowded around the mirror applying gobs of lip-gloss and heavy eyeliner.  The door opened and shut constantly with a steady influx of girls.

 “Come, lady, English Toilet !” the attendant declared, her arm snaking around my shoulders, ushering me in.

 She swung open a bathroom stall and made a huge display of liberally spraying the entire stall and commode with enough aerosol disinfectant to cause a Hazardous Chemical Disaster. She quickly wiped off the seat, laid sheets of Kleenex down upon it, handed me the box and made a sweeping presentational gesture as though she’s just created a masterpiece. As I washed my hands, I was astounded to see fully veiled women coming in, peeling off their dark robes and headscarves, and depositing them nonchalantly into a wicker basket. What was underneath their wraps was   a pastiche of lurid make-up, glittery costume jewelry, and pierced noses, tube tops, mini skirts and insanely high heels. After a quick mirror check, these chicks made a beeline into the club, and I spotted many of them later, dancing on stage or on top of chairs!

 On previous trips to Egypt, I’d been alone in a room full of females, and seen veiled women disrobe when they’d discerned there were no men around…but this was definitely something else.

 Katia explained that these nightclub habitués normally didn’t veil, but used the garments as a disguise so that when they were leaving the cabaret in the glaring sunlight, they wouldn’t be hassled on the street.

We left well after sunrise, and just as predicted, the  very long  line to get into Amoun was as crowded and chaotic as the admission line outside of any American rock club or concert- except, that is, for the predominance of   the “conservatively” veiled patrons! 


 I’ll be   doing a spoken word appearance- and reading Tarot cards pre-show on  Sunday, March 8, 2015 at the   Library Girl Reading Series  at The Ruskin Theater 3000 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90405 .    Joining me will be  authors Lauran Hoffman, Kristin Dwan, and Susan Hayden 7:00pm-10:00pm  for more info on this show, please visit
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Monday, February 9, 2015


Valentine’s Day… just the thought of it makes me queasy. I’ve had so many weird, surreal and downright hellish Valentine’s Days, I often entertain the fantasy of going into hibernation on February 13th and then just popping out emotionally unscathed in the wee hours of February 15th to shoot a lingering sidelong glance at my shadow. Come to think of it, my shadow has probably been the most stable and enduring relationship I’ve ever had!

Don’t get me wrong- I’ve actually been very lucky in love and love gettin’ lucky, but in my regards to Valentine’s Day itself-and my surviving it- it’s a wonder I haven’t been a recipient of the Purple Heart, for sheer bravery, valor and life-threatening battle wounds.

 In fact, the military-slogan-bearing T-shirts stretched across the buff chests of our country’s off-duty armed forces can best sum up my personal Valentine’s Day experiences:


Or better yet:


I remember one Valentine’s Day when the only item in my mailbox that even remotely resembled a heart was a red notice from a utility company. As if that wasn’t bad enough in itself, my evening was packed with shows that only served to rub my “single” status in my face: every damn place I danced was so full of cooing couples I felt like I was performing on Noah’s Ark!

Then there was the February 14 back in the early 1980’s… the date I picked, as a hopeless twenty-year-old romantic, to be My Wedding Day.

My groom and I, in our sole nod to tradition, arrived separately (and not too hung over) at the hall where our ceremony, which had been booked for the better part of a year, was to be held.

I was a vision in an ivory Fifties strapless organza gown, with an over-lay of French lace embroidered with seed pearls. My hair, bleached White Minx, was in a fetching Monroe bob, and under my Goodwill steal of a Juliet veil, I sported my customary Revlon Cherries In The Snow lipstick. As I daintily stepped out of the car, gathering my train, I was astounded to see dozens of buckets of carnations, which had been dyed an uproarious shade of baby blue.

As I wondered who’d Dumpster-dived the Flower District in honor of my wedding, I spotted legions of Low Riders, uniformly bedecked in powder blue Polyester double-knit tuxes… tattooed jailhouse tears and pompadours covered by homeboy hairnets abounded. The four hundred or so bridesmaids were a symphony in ruffled dresses so tight and shiny they looked like they were auditioning to be the Shark’s molls in a special baby blue colorized version of Westside Story.

Just as I was starting to realize that this was not the result of my hangover or an LSD flashback and that Mr. Colorization himself, Ted Turner hadn’t been invited, the Unitarian priest who was to be presiding over my ceremony came rushing out to explain to my groom and I -and three quarters of East LA- that the hall had been double booked.

Tension ran high for a moment, but at the minister’s gentle suggestion we finally decided that a coin-toss was in order. While disgruntled guests from both camps fumbled for quarters, I heard The Best Man whisper to my groom that he had a full tank of gas, a fifth of Scotch, two hundred bucks… and that The Border was only three hours away.

Before my betrothed had a chance to answer, someone pulled out a coin, we won the flip, and had our ceremony first, amongst the blinding neon blue riot of dyed flowers. Speaking of first, I should’ve taken the scheduling snafu as an omen- that turned out to be just My First Wedding. If there are any photos that somehow survived being cut-up or burned, I can assure you they are predominantly baby blue.

Many years later, I foolishly accepted a Valentine’s Day date with Art Boy, to his first major gallery opening. Why I did it, I’ll never know; I was in the throws of an obsessive crush on my best friend, the sexually ambiguous Collegiate Art Department Head, whom Art Boy and I had met in happier times at The Blacklite, an infamous Hollywood dive bar, frequented by a garish parade of luridly made-up trannie hookers.

And there was another little glitch: Art Boy and I had been… just a teensy bit broken up -oh, excuse me, I really meant to say totally hostile and incommunicado- for months.

But hearing Art Boy’s cajoling, purring voice, I magically seemed to forget all of that… as well as the fact that when Art Boy and I had originally embarked upon our passionate and certifiably insane affair three years previously-also coincidentally on February 14th - it had resulted in the spectacularly gut-wrenching dissolution of My Second Marriage. But Art Boy poured it on shamelessly. He really missed me, he was just dying to see me belly dance again! I caved.

So I went to Art Boy’s opening, dressed for sin in a skin-tight black velvet cat suit and sky-high red platforms, glittering sequined hearts scattered throughout my ass-length, teased-up Pricilla Presley hair do. Art Boy was there, of course… but I hadn’t anticipated the bosomy redhead that was hanging all over him!

Realizing I’d been used for a free performance, I bit the bullet and decided to dance anyway, since I was already there… and at least there would be potential tips. In my frazzled state, I started downing multiple plastic cups of the cheap swill that was barely passing for Merlot.  I was starting my fifth drink when the disinterested gallery owner hustled me to a filthy, closet-sized bathroom, the only place in the gallery where I could change into my costume, since he wouldn’t allow me to use his office.

I didn’t realize that the toilet had been over-flowing until my gig bag had been sitting on the floor for quite some time… because there was no light. Foul mouthed drunks-people drunker than even I was, if that was possible-banged on the door as I changed into costume.

 While I performed, the hem of my costume got drenched in the puddles of beer that had formed on the cement floor, and someone burned a hole in my veil with a cigarette. When I finished my show, Art Boy was macking ardently on the new gal. Instantly, drinks and insults were flung from both sides. My recollection is fuzzy, but I do believe I was the one that started it.

My oldest, most-trusted friend Bobby, who was visiting from Memphis, Tennessee, quickly escorted me out of the melee like the Gallant Southern Gentleman he always has been. Somehow, we wound up at The Blacklite. Collegiate Art Department Head was already there, much to my delight. Much to my dismay, he was there with a date…but by the end of the night, I was infatuated with The Date, who looked like a cross between a gorgeous ‘70’s glam rock fag and 6’ 6” Hitler Youth, with the longest, blackest eyelashes I had ever seen- and they were real!

When the din of the jukebox died down, I detected a Euro Accent. I was madly drunk and melting from lust…and apparently, he was too. That Valentine’s Day, we began or affair- and also a five year long merry-go-round of love, lies, sex, heartbreak, stalking, drug abuse, violence, and psychological torture- between Art Department Head, Tomorrow Belongs To Him and lil’ ole me. You name it, we experienced it. It was a Love Triangle Of Bermudic proportions.

Thank god, all that Valentine’s Day insanity ended in the late 1990’s.

 I’d like to say I’ve learned from my experiences… but I know better. I seem to be feeling a little drowsy …wake me up when it’s over, will you?


The story you’ve just read is from my book  “Showgirl Confidential: My Life Onstage, Backstage And On The Road”
Get an autographed copy here:

A Valentines Day Massacre featuring
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