The website for the original Marrakesh
restaurant in D.C. is www.marrakeshdc.com
In my performing career I worked in many
places around the DC metro area, but the Marrakesh stands out.
Other places are also in my heart, like the Casablanca in
Alexandria, and Attila's in Arlington; but my time at the
Marrakesh was different.
(photo courtesy of Za-Beth)
Working at the Marrakesh was a good fit for me
from a dancer's point of view because the shows were regular,
the sound system was great, and the show itself was well
produced. Also, they paid the dancers like clockwork each week,
with no problems. The owners and staff were always respectful
and helpful. This made my time there really
The Marrakesh was also unusual because they
had belly dancers not just on the weekends, but every single
night - they only closed on Thanksgiving! On the busiest nights,
Fridays and Saturdays, there was an early show (about 7 pm) and
a late show (9 pm) in the main dining room; but often on the
weekends the dancers would also do a show either upstairs or in
the Kaslik club in the back.
I'm lucky that when I was working as a
professional belly dancer, the economy was better. And the
owners of the Marrakesh knew how to do business well enough to
not only stay open, but to thrive. It seems that in today's
economy (2013) many venues have
closed and dancers can only get a
spot on the schedule by rotating or "sharing" the gig with
numerous other dancers. In the belly dance world, to keep a
regular dance gig for 15 years (without a contract) is a little
unusual so that's why I'm writing about it.
I started working at the Marrakesh in 1992,
thanks to the lovely Xena, a student of Zarifa Sa'id (Libby
Parker). Xena called and told me the Friday night spot was open
(this is as close as I can recall after so many years). So I
called Raj, who was the manager at the time (he later opened
Sahib, where I also worked) and he asked me to come down.
Because it was such a long way (about 65 miles from where I
lived in Virginia with my children in a little old farm house),
I declined to audition for free. Luckily I came recommended by
Xena so it worked out and I went down and danced, got paid, and
also got the gig; in fact I got four nights! For the next two
years I danced there Monday, Thursday, and the late show on
Friday and Saturday. Sometimes they would call me in for private
parties during the day; and of course, there was an episode of
"Unsolved Mysteries"* filmed there that I danced in as well.
In 1994 they gave Monday nights to another
dancer, so from then through 1999 my nights at Marrakesh were
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday - the busy nights! Of course I
was still working
at other venues before or after the Marrakesh show because
the economy was good, the metro nightlife was busy, and that's
what dancers do. However, I became ill in 1995 (the owner,
Bashir, even came to see me in the hospital - but he was
probably just checking up on me!), and when I recovered he
offered me an exclusive deal for Fridays (meaning I wouldn't
work anywhere else that night) which was great, because I was
exhausted. For a while I'd been doing the early show at Raj's in
Olney MD, driving to Marrakesh for one or two shows, then going
to Atilla's for the late show with the band, and driving home.
No wonder I was tired!
It was always fun when I'd run into the early-show dancer in the Marrakesh dressing room - I got to meet some really cool dancers that way. Of course there were some who weren't so nice too! I continued doing three nights a week there until 1999 when I decided to cut back to just Thursday and Friday. I wanted to have my Saturdays free for local gigs or workshops - it really felt like a treat to have Saturdays back to myself.
In 2003 I also gave up Thursday nights so I
could begin offering more classes in Fredericksburg; and I
continued dancing only on Fridays at the Marrakesh. After four
more years though, I was ready to retire because of physical
issues. My last show at the Marrakesh was in July 2007. I do
miss the Kouchacji's, who were so gracious to me and my children
over the years.
Most dance gigs don't last long. When a dancer has a steady gig at a venue it's hard to keep it because other dancers, especially newcomers, are always trying to step in and get that spot - especially for the good (weekend) nights. Many, many times I saw new dancers come in and audition; some never came back, but some did get a regular night there, and it was always good to see a dancer who was professional. Many dancers got on the schedule but were replaced pretty soon afterwards. I guess the less I say about that, the better!
Of all the places I worked, the Marrakesh will
always be my favorite, not only because the professional way
they produced the dance performances, highlighting the
dancer and giving the audience a great experience; but because
they treated me, and my family, exceptionally well.
The photo above was taken in the main dining
room, the floor of which which was slightly slanted from front
to back (the location was corner of New York Avenue and 6th
Street, NW). It's not a great photo, but you can see the odd
stage that disappeared between shows like magic!
There was almost always someone in the
audience celebrating a special occasion. So just before
showtime, the lights would go off and the staff would quickly
assemble the stage while the special guest were brought a
baklava with a lit sparkler in it... while of course, the Arabic
version of our Happy Birthday song playing loud enough to cover
the commotion of the stage. Then the dance music would start and
up we'd go onto the platform. I would always test it before the
lights came on to make sure it was put together correctly,
because a few times I had to get down and have them adjust it so
it didn't wobble. I never fell off, but it was scary to dance up
there, especially since the lights were blinding. Yes, quite an
Performing so regularly for so many years not
only helped me hone my dancing skills, but explore performing
from the inside-out. A dance job can
get tiring, uninspiring, and rote; and performers get burned out. I had to learn how to
manage myself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually
so each performance would be a
positive experience for me. I had to be fully present each time,
and approach the performance and audience with respect; and this
approach carries over into teaching as well.
It was often lonely, but gave me plenty of
time to think. Exploring the inner world or performing has been
a real gift. I've tried to write on these topics in my articles
on performing, and I hope other belly dancers find them
*"L'Enfant Calling" aired Feb 17, 1993