Amina Goodyear began her performance career in the mid-60's at the Bagdad Cabaret dancing nightly in San Francisco's North Beach district during that city's golden era of Middle Eastern dance and until the Arabic clubs closed in that area.
In that era, dancers worked and supported themselves (and their families) solely by dancing. She continued working in clubs in San Francisco as well as nearby cities as the Arab population moved to the suburbs.
She founded her dance company, The Aswan Dancers, in 1975, celebrating over 40 years of continuous performance and entertainment.
Amina has founded many musical groups, both informal & professional performance groups. She founded the Cairo Cats, now a percussion ensemble led by her daughter Susu Pampanin. She also co-founded The Arabian Knights Band, Karnak and Caravan Band, and was a founding member of Aswat and Pasha Band. Today she plays with Aswat (20 years), Georges Lammam's Belly Dance Band (15 years), Caravan Band, Karnak Marvels, and Four T’s Band.
Amina founded a cultural club out of her home called The Giza Club that has hosted the Giza Awards since 1990.
Amina was inducted into the American Academy of Middle Eastern Dance (AAMED) Hall of Fame with a Lifetime Achievement award in New York in 1994. She followed dance pioneers and her mentors, Ibrahim Farrah, Morocco, Dahlena, and Aisha Ali, in receiving this honor. She also received a Humanitarian Award in 2001 from MECDA, a Lifetime Achievement award in 2003 from BDUC in Long Beach and a Lifetime Achievement award in 2015 from Isis and the Belly Dance Chronicles in Texas.
Amina is an avid collector Egyptian music & films, all the way from B&W classics to Ramadan trash. She is especially interested in the evolution of Egyptian dance and music in the media - shaabi music in particular. She claims to own one the largest collections of this type of music.
Amina has produced two DVDs: "Hizz ya Wizz," a historical narrative of the first 20 years of the Aswan Dancers, and "Nadia in America," a concert performance featuring Egyptian dancer and almeh Nadia Hamdi.
She also produced "Nostalgia," an Egyptian music record featuring her daughter Susu Pampanin with the Pasha Band and Safaa Farid, recorded in Cairo and San Francisco.
Amina's dance passions are teaching to the music and lyrics (primarily Egyptian) and staying culturally correct. She spends many hours daily listening to and analyzing Middle Eastern music and loves to study how it is forever changing. Amina's almost daily classes have a "club-like" atmosphere and her group of loyal students learn all aspects required for dancing and performing. They learn the culture, the rhythms, a working knowledge of Egyptian "song talk," technique and how to apply dance movements to different genres of music.
Isis and the Star Dancers of Texas presented Amina Goodyear with a Life Time Achievement Award. Below is an accompanying article.
Living my Dreams
Amina Goodyear, The Belly Dance Chronicles Vol. 13 Issue 3 2015
Amina, tell us how you started your dancing career.
The story of my journey all started one day after my husband Roy and I purchased a house and due to additional expenses, I needed to find work. We were married and had 3 babies. The youngest was 2 weeks old, the oldest just turned 3 and the one in the middle, Susu was not yet 2 years old.
Leaving the hospital, this was the first time after delivering a baby that I couldn't fit into my regular street clothes, thus I decided to diet to lose my stomach because I had to put a rubber band on the clothing at my waist in order to connect the button with the button hole.
I recall that someone, knowing that I collected rocks and seashells, had given me a present of rocks and pebbles that turned out to be candy coated large irregular shaped jellybeans that looked like rocks. Since I had about 10 lbs of these “rock candies” I decided to starve myself by eating nothing but these rocks. Rocks can't have calories. I thought I could live off the fat in my body and therefore I would lose weight quickly. After a couple of days of doing this, eating only the pebbles and rocks, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, I realized that my poor baby who was being breastfed wasn't going to get nourishment. So, I desperately looked in the newspaper want ads for an exercise gym. There it was: a small ad that said: “Lose weight, lose your belly, take belly dance lessons.” It was called “Harems Unlimited” - and there was a phone number. I thought, perfect – this is the only part of my body that is out of shape.
I called the number and talked to a woman named Bettina Robbi. She admitted that she had no classes yet and that I was the only one who answered her ad. She could either give me expensive private lessons or an affordable class rate – if I got together a class. I asked my mother, my aunt, my cousin and my mother's two neighbors – and we had a group for classes.
Bettina lived in a large flat that she was trying to rent out to visiting belly dancers on tour to San Francisco, California thus she held classes in her dining room and living room. The rooms were empty except for one sofa in the living room. She worked at a Greek restaurant and invited all her Greek male friends to come, have Metaxa and ouzo and sit on the sofa and watch the class.
Bettina was a Flamenco dancer who studied in Spain and later got a job Flamenco dancing in Morocco. She worked with Moroccan belly dancers and learned their movements. She taught us Moroccan stomach flips and footwork and Turkish style finger cymbal patterns. The music was probably a mix of Armenian, Turkish, and Greek from records recorded on the East Coast (USA).
Her Greek audience loved watching us contort our bodies and roll our bellies. We would wrap our veils around our hips and sometimes Bettina would tell us she had just waxed the floors and they needed to be buffed. On those days, we would take off our veils, put them on the floor and lay on top, then proceed to buff the floors with our dance movements writhing like a snake, or crawling like a soldier in battle, or squirming like a worm – rolling from our butts to our chest. It was a great workout and her floors got really shiny. We did this once a week for about 5 months, then Bettina left San Francisco and went on tour.
Returning to the story of finding that first dance job - my son was born in July and by January 1, five months later, we moved into our newly purchased home. I no longer had a belly dance teacher as she was on tour. But we found ourselves strapped for money with new home expenses, so I couldn't have taken more lessons. I needed to get a job. Because I had just spent so much money on classes my husband suggested I get a job as a belly dancer. He dropped me off at the only belly dance club in town – with only a leotard and hip scarf in my purse for my audition.
In front of the club was a man wearing an Aladdin outfit. I later learned that this man was Bert Balladine, dancer and teacher – he was helping his friend Yousef Kouyoumjian, the owner of the club called The Bagdad – as a “street barker inviting customers in to see the show”. Bert invited me in and introduced me to the owner. This was only the second time I had ever been in a bar – since I don't drink - The only other time was on my 21st birthday. I was a fish out of water, but bravely asked the owner if I could audition. Since I looked like a housewife wearing something like a Hawaiian Muumuu dress - he asked me where my costume was. I pulled out my leotard and hip scarf and said “I brought these to audition in." He laughed and asked me if I'd ever seen a belly dancer. I replied, "I just took a bunch of lessons, and know all the moves." I thought that after the audition that I would learn routines like I saw in the movies. I actually had never seen a dance performed. I only saw the dancer on stage out of the corner of my eye. From the look Yousef gave me – I knew that he knew this. He said "Sit and watch the dancers, and if you can dance like them with costumes like they are wearing, come back and I'll let you audition." Well, since I really needed to make money I went home and told my husband that I would get the job the next night.
I remembered a Sonja Henie movie. Sonja Henie was an ice skater who made a costume out of velvet hotel curtains in a movie (much the same make-do costuming story of Scarlett O'Hara in “Gone with the Wind” movie). I looked at my curtains - they were feminine pink and lavender chiffon and they would do – so I went to work and sewed the curtains onto a pair of underpants, covered a bra with extra fabric, attached necklaces to the bra, sewed my Indian dancing bells from a different type of dance class outfit onto the back of my skirt – and I was ready for the audition.
That next night, I went back to the Bagdad and told Yousef that I wanted to audition. I felt like a fool, because he didn't even remember me. But I kept telling him I needed to audition, I really needed to work – so finally he pointed to some stairs and told me to get dressed and they would call me.
I remember being embarrassed to change in front of people and squeezing myself into the corner of the dressing room to change. This tall woman came up to me and said “You can't hide when you change – we change so fast, you just have to let it all hang out” . Her name was Aziza! When I put my hip scarf on my hips, she asked “Where is your veil?” I pointed to the hip scarf, she took it off my hips and draped it toga style over my body. “OK, now you are good to go.” Then said, “When the lights go low and the music gets slow, slowly strip tease it (the veil) off.” Then, from downstairs on the stage I heard – “Introducing our next dancer - our guest dancer “Amina”. Aziza! said, “That's you. Go down.” “I said, that's not me – my name is June.” Aziza! said, “No one here named Amina, so it must be you.” I kid you not, before I went on stage to dance – I was so nervous, I almost wet my pants.
I did a terrible audition because I realized that I didn't know how to put my steps together. We only learned dance moves and I was primarily concentrating on belly rolls to reduce my belly. But Yousef asked me to stay until after the club closed so he could talk to me about starting work. Wow, I got the job! But then found out that my pay would be a 5 dollar bill that he would put on my costume every night to encourage customers to do the same. It was OK because when I danced, I got so many tips, that my husband didn't have to give me grocery money anymore. About two weeks later, one of the dancers told me that they all were getting paid and my not getting paid was jeopardizing their jobs. I didn't realize that they were paid, so I approached my boss and demanded to get paid too. But that is another story. To make this long story shorter, I ended up dancing for more than 20 years on Broadway Street in San Francisco at the Bagdad and the Casbah which was another Arabic night club that opened a couple of years after I started working.
How has your dance career as a soloist evolved? And do you feel you're living your dreams?
First I would like to say, that although my days of dancing every night on stage are pretty much in the past, my days of dancing every day is not. I teach daily for several hours: small group lessons and private instruction in dance and drumming for belly dancers And when I'm not, I'm either rehearsing my dance company, practicing with Aswat, or the Pasha Band, coaching a student for a festival, competition or performance, planning a future show or workshop, or rehearsing my zeffa drummers and the boys in my debke group. I still perform at festivals and sometimes at the little clubs in my area. But mostly I like to teach my dancing my way, which is to also to teach dance along with a bit of the language and the lyrics and a lot of the culture and the music and the rhythm. I still have the Aswan Dancers perform some pieces while drumming and have even taught many of them to drum. My greatest joy in life and my greatest pride in my career is in inspiring my students through teaching dance, culture, language, music and rhythms. Seeing my students perform on stage as soloists who are immersed and understand the sensibilities of the music makes me proud. Many of my students are so inspired that they are constantly reading, researching and are even enrolled in Arabic language classes and travel to the Middle East as well. What more could they do to instill my dreams? Dancing is my life and to share it with others and see their enthusiasm grow fulfills my dreams.They share my love for dance and passion to interpret the music.
Before I knew about this dance...I was drum crazy. Here are some random thoughts about my association with drums and how it relates to my dance career. I have always danced - since I was 3, so dancing somehow always felt natural. Playing music, on the other hand never felt natural, but music is what makes the dance go round. I usually played music only on the radio or a record player. But as a teenager I became obsessed with playing drums. I found that drumming wasn't as easy for me as dancing so I got "training" bongos to play along with the records. Later I even got conga drums and timbales and timbalitos and fantasized about playing Indian drums and even timbales and jazz drum sets and played along with Latin Jazz, African and Indian drum records. I particularly liked Olatunji, "Drums of Passion," Katherine Dunham and Chatur Lal.
I got my first drum lesson from Fadil Shahin, the drummer and oud player at the Bagdad Cabaret on Broadway in San Francisco. It was during my first week at work. He gave me a broken dumbek and gave me my first drum lesson because I bugged him about wanting to know the drum rhythms. Later, when I went to Egypt on my first belly dance tour with Morocco of NYC I was looking forward to seeing all of the famous dancers I had heard about Sohair, Nagwa, Fifi, etc. - but found myself staring at the musicians and drummers – I barely even looked at the dancers.
After Fadil, I eventually went on to study with Vince Delgado and later studied drum and tambourine with George Dabai and even later studied tambourine with Tony Lammam. Because I worked with George at the Bagdad, he would let me play onstage for the other dancers. This is how I learned to play live on stage. I've always danced to live music to the bands at the Bagdad, the Casbah, 3 different Zorbas, Scheherazade, Pasha, Amira and TropiGala throughout my dance career.
I used to dance at a night club called “Scheherazade” and after my set I would sit in with the band as the riq player and learned musical cues and arrangements. I thought the drummer liked my playing and worried that he liked me also because sometimes during the show he would play footsie with me on stage. I felt uncomfortable about this behavior because I was married. When I finally got the nerve to ask him why he was doing that - it turned out that the little foot nudging meant that he wanted me to concentrate and focus on my playing and rhythm cues.
I also carried a tambourine in my purse when I went to shows hoping the musicians would allow me to play with them. My friend, Linda Grondahl, and I discovered that if we would go to shows holding our tambourines, people would let us in for free thinking we were with the band. And the band thinking – “free” musicians they wouldn't have to pay us, would invite us to play with the band. One memorable incident was when Linda and I went to the El Morocco restaurant (Pleasant Hill, CA) holding our tambourines. We were invited to play and we were introduced to a guest musician who was scheduled to play that night. The owner of the El Morocco restaurant and the Casbah nightclub, Fadil Shahin introduced us to the guest musician as his musicians Amina and Linda. This guest musician turned out to be the famous violinist and band leader Aboud Abdel Al. We even had the honor of playing with him that night but were nervous about being "found out" that we were really wannabes.
I used to take Arabic singing lessons and learned by dancing and singing while drumming. One time after dancing I played with the Egyptian drummer, Reda Darwish and I bravely joined in singing with him because I knew the songs. Reda very politely told me I needed to either sing or drum, but not do both at the same time.
I wanted to drum so badly, some people would say I didn't need to drum because I had birthed a drummer – Susu Pampanin. I liked working together with Susu - who also would become my drum teacher. She makes me feel like a drummer. When we worked together we would also invite other musicians to join us in rehearsal and in shows we became known as “The Cairo Cats." We played and danced everywhere we could including many civic sponsored events because of our "Susu and The Cairo Cats" local fame, especially with the drumming section. in 1988 Susu was commissioned to compose a drum piece for the World Drum Festival. She would play on the same bill with top percussionists like the world famous king of the timbales, Tito Puente. I was to collaborate by providing the dancing drummers. I believe this was a first in the belly dance world. We were the Aswan Dancers but we also were the Cairo Cats. We were interchangeable. We were dancers who drummed and we were drummers who danced. And so later, in 1991 Susu went on to record "Susu and The Cairo Cats, Dancing Drums, Live at the Giza Club." To my knowledge, this was the first ever Arabic styled drum ensemble with composed drum pieces (with choreographed troupe dancers playing drums). I am not talking about drum solos with backup percussionists. And I'm not talking about belly dancers who play tabla and move some. I am talking about drum compositions with every percussionist playing set composed pieces while the dancers are totally integrated in the dancing and drumming. So we were the first belly dance troupe of dancing drummers. In 1991, "Dancing Drums" was not just part of the name of her album, it was a fact. When she recorded the album, it was recorded live and the dancers were drummers and vice versa. To my knowledge, this was also a big first in the belly dance world and as a dancer I finally got to drum.
I started two other bands that existed for a long time. One was "The Arabian Knights Band” that became a very popular Arabic dance band at a club called El Valenciano. I started it with my friend Jacques Al Asmar so we could have a band that would play for us when we danced. But as it turned out, we hardly ever got to dance as we had to be musicians in the band.
I used to invite musicians to use my studio to practice – just so I could play with them. Many musicians have taken advantage of this and would also play for parties at the “The Giza Club” (a Middle Eastern non-profit educational and cultural club that I formed 25 years ago). Many musicians have told me that they played their first gig when they moved to San Francisco (from the Middle East or...) at The Giza Club. One of the musicians, Hussain Resan, would come every week and so we decided to form a small band – “Layalli Al Sharq” with: oud, violin, riq and drum. We did a couple of gigs and eventually, after adding more musicians, we changed our name and became “The Pasha Band” with: oud, violin, kanun, drum, riq, and duf.
I used to work in a nightclub called The Excelsior with my group the Aswan Dancers. It was an Egyptian owned club and we did Egyptian folkloric dances. George Lammam, violinist and singer, worked in the club playing for the belly dancers after our shows. I always ingratiated myself into his band by playing riq with his band. When the club closed, George said he would find another venue for us. When he did, he asked me to be part of his band. I guess he got used to me.
I play percussion in an Arabic ensemble called “Aswat” that includes many professional Arabic musicians. I used to sing with them. Aswat started as an Arabic community choir open to all to sing. I always sang out of range of the microphone as I didn't believe I had a good voice. One day, our visiting director brought in from Egypt to direct us, Dr. Sary Dowidar, asked each of us to sing individually in order to to assess our voices. When it was my turn I was so afraid to open my mouth I told Dr. Sary that I was a better riq player than a singer. He immediately invited me to join the band and play riq.
In 2013, Leila Farid, of Cairo, Egypt invited me to Egypt to play riq with her band at Camp Negum (Leila's Dance Intensive). I was so excited to do this, and wanted Susu to come with me, knowing that Susu would be invited to play. How could I go to Egypt to play percussion without Susu? I couldn't! We went together with a group of friends and dancers and decided to hire Leila's husband Safaa Farid and his band to produce and record an album with Susu. We felt great be recording with the “Real Cats of Cairo.” When we were back home in San Francisco, Susu added the Pasha Band to the album and with the blend of both, we released "Susu and The Cairo Cats with Safaa Farid - 'Nostalgia' - Egyptian Belly Dance Music." It was very exciting to be part of this project. It was Susu's dream to record music from the Golden Age of Egyptian music and dance because she felt that so many new musicians and dancers were unaware of Egypt's rich musical legacy. I felt happy and proud to co-produce the CD with Susu and to be part of the project in every stage - from dreaming and planning, choosing songs, talking to musicians, being in the studio recording, listening and helping to edit and master and finally helping to promote. Now that the album is done, I can even say that the album can be purchased from me.
Besides bringing a riq and duf to gigs, I often also bring my Dahola which is a large bass drum shaped like a tabla, but it's bigger. When I would bring my Dahola to some gigs some drummers like Loay Dahbour or Tony Lammam (who are both big people) would take my Dahola and ask to play it because it is big like them. With the Pasha band, Susu is training me to play duets with her. I play the Dahola with her playing Tabla and we do memorized pieces as a prelude to her improvised drum solos. For example we can play “Tablatain” or "Tabla ya Hawanem" together (from the “Nostalgia” CD) and then she continues with an improvised solo while I then play back-up. Susu taught me the parts on these pieces and others and it's pretty exciting when I get them right.
As I said before, it is very fulfilling for me as a teacher to see my students approach the dance with the same amount of musicality, interest and enthusiasm as I feel. I always try to be a better teacher as well as a better dancer for myself and for their inspiration. I was, am and always will be a student of this dance and music and hope to inspire the same in my students.
Someday I hope to be able to play the drum with the ease of creativity and fluidity that I usually feel I'm able to do when I dance. And I hope to make my drum teachers (especially Susu) proud that I finally can play with the freedom to create and be spontaneous and make it sound like fun. It's in my head, but I need to make it natural and flow through my veins and into my fingers as well. Although there definitely are counts, I don't count when I dance and I don't want to count when I drum. I just want my hands to feel and know. The drum and the music are the heartbeat and soul of the dance and we can't have one without the other. Although my days of myself performing dance may not be as regular as before, I perform very very regularly on stage as a musician with quite a number of groups - all Arabic. My greatest joy is when I am on stage playing on stage, rooting for and performing for my dance students and feel they understand the connections between the music, the drums and the dance. I can tell when it's inside their bodies, not just in their minds, and then I know that I have taught them well and that I continue to inspire them. I am living my dreams.
Author’s Bio: Ma*Shuqa Mira Murjan of Los Gatos, CA (instructor/coach) has been a colleague, friend of Amina, and admirer of the Aswan Dancers and percussion and music of Susu and the Cairo Cats for many years. Ma*Shuqa and Amina are contemporaries and their paths have crossed in many performances and at many events over the years. Please address your comments to me at MaShuqaDancer@gmail.com With the spread of global Middle Eastern music produced in the USA; I would love to hear about your teaching and performance experiences with the music of "Nostalgia" and "Cairo Cats". www.MaShuqa.com