|Adrianna, Belly Dancer|
The Real D.C. Mover and Shaker
Adrianna, Queen of the Middle Eastern Dancers
Washington in the 1960s conjures up images of the Kennedys and their Camelot, new questions of Civil Rights, Home Rule for the District, the advent of the Hippies and Counter-Culture, demonstrations, marches, and Change in general. This was a very dynamic and unusual time, especially for someone in their early 20s like me. I was a graduate student at Carnegie Institute of Technology (later Carnegie-Mellon University) during this time. The particular project that I was working on required regular travel to Washington for conferences with the Federal sponsors. Hence, I had the unusual luxury of having travel and "expenses" paid.
One such "expense" was dinner at the Astor Restaurant, which was unbelievably cheap so that a date might even be squeezed under the allowable "Per Diem" expense which in those days was about $30 per day including hotel room. It was at the Astor that I made the acquaintance of Adrianna, the queen of the middle eastern dancers. That is the academic euphemism for what we called "Belly Dancing" back then.
It turns out that Washington was the national center for Middle eastern dance during this period. There were three very large clubs that featured this form: Port Said, Syrianna and the Astor. Because of the cheap but excellent Greek food, the Astor drew the largest crowds, swelled even more due to the popularity of the film Never on Sunday. The old Astor was located in the vicinity of 18th and M, and was very close to the DuPont Circle house that was rented by several of my friends who were making careers in Washington. Staying with these guys stretched that $30 even further.
The best thing about this arrangement was that for the first time in my life, I was one of the "regulars" at a "scene". (Graduate students generally have neither the time nor the money to indulge in such things.) Of all the dancers, Adrianna was by far the most talented and without a doubt, the most beautiful.
My partner has another memory of Adrianna -- during the early 1980s, she took lessons in Middle Eastern dance, and attributes some of that "top shimmy" in Lindy Hop to this course of study.
So, it was with some interest that we attended a program at George Washington University on February 4, 1998 which offered a career retrospective on Adrianna. Specifically, the program provided one of the first public previews of a new film Adrianna: shadows on yellow silk.
Alas, Adrianna's career since the Astor has had some bumps in the road, including a bout with cancer, the murder of her husband and a deep depression. Fortunately, Adrianna is back to health, teaching and producing Middle Eastern dance shows.
The film by Ray Schmitt and John J. Wayne [NO relation to the Duke...] is largely forgettable. It has a great excess of talking heads, over intellectualization, and suffers greatly from poor editing. The only redeeming feature is the grainy black and white footage of Adrianna dancing at the Astor. You had to be there to experience the excitement that this lady could create.
The question and answer period with Adrianna was a lot better than the film. We found out that she had studied Russian Ballet for 15 years and that she is quite a serious scholar of Middle Eastern dance. She has a quick wit and remains committed to her teaching.
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