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Letter from Santa Clara

Belly-Dancing Tooo Hallowe’en

By Bill Costley

[Channeling the ghost of Count Floyd (aka Joe Flaherty of SCTV)]

A vast yellow moon (just past full) rose up to meet us as we whizzed passed the (scary) Catholic cemetery and the monument (gravestone) works on our way to San Jose. Scary! It was the last Friday of the month, and Straw Hat Pizza at 1535 Meridian Ave. in San Jose, next to the Three Flames Restaurant, was (as usual) featuring two local belly-dance teachers and their students: Saiqua Khajulah and her Sisters of the Temple Moon, and Kamillah and her students.

Carolin and I had met Kamillah (Camille Morales) at a tai chi course we all took in 1998 at the William A. Wilson Adult Education Center (formerly high school) in Santa Clara. I had to drop out with a bad heel, but Carolin continued on. Tonite (29 OCT 04) she was driving us from our little house in Santa Clara between two cemeteries (oooooo, scary!)

We were heading to Straw Hat Pizza (aka Straw Hat Cooperative Corporation) that claims to offer Genuine California Pizza, with the slogans “Left Coast, Right Pizza” and “Master Pizzas ™ - Pizzas So Good They’re considered works of Art.” Posters based on Whistler (his mom), Bronzino (cherubs), Grant Wood (American Gothic), and Da Vinci (Mona Lisa) reenforce their claim. Their pizzas are beautifully, craggily loaded-up; their french fries are large ripple-cut serrated arcs, sold by the half/whole pound.

But back to the belly-dancers: some were thin, some fat, some young, some middle-aged. We took a front-row table, sitting next to the mother of one of them: a chubby Mexican girl who daringly wore a red devil’s mask and scarlet elbow scarves as she danced…fabulously. Scary! Behind her, in an ante-porch, a birthday party stopped to gawk at her, approvingly, sending a little boy up to her to slip a dollar into her waistband (as per std. etiquette).

Saiqua acted as emcee, setting up each dancer, down to whether she had children or a beloved cat. We were told what they did for work, leisure, and their art before they danced — and art it surely was, tonite, more than the previous time I’d seen them a few years ago, because the driving back-theme was Hallowe’en. Massive Saiqua’s troupe of five wore pumpkin or skull medallions. She herself was a virtual sphinx with five shimmering gold stripes. “Those (knockers) could put your eye out!” Carolin observed, and indeed, their point(s) were intended to do just that — but from a pseudo-discrete distance, of course.

Sitting at the next table over were two women in Renaissance Faire costumes, whose artistic function, I assumed was to represent newly captured European members of the harem who hadn’t yet been stripped down for belly-dance costumes. Just the other side of the red devil dancer’s mom, two blonde high-school girls in blue soccer uniforms with GO BELLS painted on their cheeks looked mesmerized by the dancers, who walked like Egyptians, pointed and struck like asps, dove like herons, etc. demonstrating that De Nile was overflowing their collective minds.

Finally, Kamillah took the stage in a black, peaked witches’ hat, together with Ashisha, porting a spangled gold cane, for a truly bravura series of seven more sets, each with different background music: J.S. Bach: Toccata; “The Adams Family” TV-theme; “ I Put a Spell on You” (slow, with a full Egyptian orchestra; then fast, with a hard-rock band); the Hootchie-Cootchie dance; some funky Rasta-rap; and finally, “The Monster Mash,” to spontaneous applause from the audience. Kamillah and Ashisha then distributed silver-foil-wrapped chocolate eyeballs. To say they’d pushed the belly-dancing envelope would be grossest misunderstatement.

What could possibly top this? Sunday afternoon, as part of San Jose’s annual Dia de los Muertos, there was live drumming and shaking of bones — open to the Belly-Dance Community — from Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 2020 East San Antonio Road, shimmying and shaking for six blocks to the Mexican Heritage Plaza, 1700 Alum Rock Ave. Dancers were asked to wear a costume, paint, or a skeleton face, bring percussive doodads, finger cymbals, zagahreets, and happy spirits. Children were welcome, and small monetary compensation was offered (from the official flyer by patrice-khajulah@excite.com).