THE LADY WITH THE EYES: NAKISH, BEAUTIFUL ONE
SO HERE’S THE DEAL:
In honor of Black History Month we thought we should recognize the wonderful Nakish. Nakish is known as the first African American belly dancer in the US and worldwide. She was also the first and only Black dancer in Bal- Anat in the early 70’s. Her other firsts include being first Black woman to teach at the YWCA (in San Fran) in 1977, and one of the first teachers to ever teach at Rakkasah.
Nakish was born in San Francisco. She was a dancer from a very early age. At 6 she took ballet and later in high school she studied flamenco and modern dance. Although she was studying the Martha Graham technique, she did not want to pursue this in New York after school, where she didn’t know anyone. Instead she went to the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance and studied Modern Dance at City College simultaneously.
In 1962, Nakish explored other aspects of her creativity and went to the Louise Slinger Academy of Fashion and graduated in 1966 becoming an assistant to Patricia of London Design in 1967. Nakish also took interest in stone and gem cutting and jewelry design.
Nakish was introduced to belly dance through her boyfriend who worked at a Renaissance Pleasure Faire as a blacksmith. At first she didn’t’ feel right about participating as a belly dancer because it wasn’t part of her ethnic culture. A year later, she went to watch and saw Jamila Salimpour’s troupe Bal-Anat perform. In an interview with Gilded Serpent, Nakish said, “ Rhea (Rhea of Athens) was performing with her sword. She saw me standing there watching the dancers and came up to me and said, ‘You should be in our group!’”
And so it happened. In 1969 Nakish began studying with Jamila and became the next sword dancer in the group when Rhea left to go to Greece.
In 1973 Nakish left Bal-Anat and began teaching. Although she didn’t really like the nightclub scene she would gig about once a month and she was very protective of her students. She demanded that club owners respect her students, saying that if they were disrespected she would not dance at their club. If they were respected she would pack the house.
In 1983 Nakish was invited by Dr. Bousaini Farid, the President of the Women’s Club in Egypt at the time, to go to Egypt and dance for the Friendship Force International program. She said this experience was her pride and joy. She danced at the Nile Hilton for Egypt’s elite. While she was there she also danced on NYE at the Yacht Club for over 50,000 people, but it was cut short because she had pneumonia.
She stopped teaching in 1993 when she injured herself working on “The Phantom of the Opera” where she worked in the wardrobe department. She does teach the occasional workshop.
WHY I <3 HER:
Nakish just explodes with creativity. Not only was she a pioneer in the dance and the sword dance specifically, but she was also on the staff of Belly Dancer magazine as beauty editor. She designed costumes and millenary for large productions like the San Francisco ballet and she was also featured in several magazines and shows like the Belva Davis Show and the Jim Dunbar Show.
You can really get a sense of her passion for this dance if you listen to this interview. We listened to the whole thing and it’s so interesting to hear her perspective and how she see’s dance now and her advice to dancers. She also talks about how race impacts dance.
(if you want you can skip the first 4 minutes)
Although I couldn’t find a video of Nakish, if you want to see a bit of what Bal-Anat was like please watch this video, she isn’t in it unfortunately, but you get an idea + it’s pretty freakin’ cool 😛