Minnesota Belly Dance History
George Is In Fridley
George Is In Fridley was a Greek restaurant located at 37th and East River Road in Fridley, MN. George’s, as it became known, operated from the early 1970’s to early 1980’s and was owned by “Papa” George Nicklow. The Nicklow family had owned many local restaurants over the years, including Nicklow’s in Robbinsdale, Nicklow’s in Northeast Minneapolis, The Shoreview in Fridley, and Santorini in St. Louis Park.
George’s was a Greek family style restaurant/nightclub which incorporated an International Show for entertainment. The original restaurant was in the basement of the building, and held about 75 patrons. The restaurant eventually expanded to include the upstairs of the building, which increased the seating capacity to 300 – including the workingman’s bar where they had a mechanical bull!
The International Shows included performances by bellydancers, a Greek band, and a Greek singer. Over the years the belly dancing segment of the show would vary from one or two student dancers followed by a featured dancer or two each night. Prior to 1978 the dancer schedule was two shows a night, 5 shows a week; in 1978 the schedule expanded to 6 nights a week.
Performances were 30 to 35 minutes in length, consisting of the now seldom-used 7 part format, tips, and always a fast finale often in 9/8 time signature. As costume vendors were virtually non-existent then, dancers wore costumes they mostly made themselves, meticulously hand-beading them.
Some of the Greek musicians and singers included George Kalogeropoulos, bouzouki; George Kitidis, bouzouki; Yannis Angelos, bouzouki; Nick Meimaris, bouzouki; Nikos Katris, bouzouki; Stelios Aslanides, bouzouki; Marios Zigomales, drums; Judy Kolba, singer; Katarina & John, singer & keyboardist; Maria Stellana, singer.
Many bellydancers performed at George’s over the years, and came not only from Minneapolis but from other cities as well. Out of town dancers included Zeyna (Judith Thibideau) and Farah (Diana Shiell), both from New York City; Yasmin and Aida al-Adawi from San Francisco, Sultana from Chicago; and Daria from Milwaukee. Local dancers, included Cassandra (Cassandra Shore), Lucretia (Mary Kaye Piazza), Tara (Christine Cherewan), Kasia (Kathy Thomas), Alia (Alison Grab), Shadia (Christina Ouma), Margo (Margo O’Dell) and Kitty O’Dell. While this may seem like a large number of dancers, one must remember there were 6 shows a week! Dancers were hired after auditions, upon recommendations from other artists, or were someone the owner knew and liked.
George’s was the first Twin Cities restaurant to have bellydancers, and dancers were paid much differently than they are today. As this was in the pre-Minnesota Guild of Oriental Dance days, there was no wage guidelines for dancers. Dancers were paid per night, not per show, no matter how many shows performed in an evening. Principal and featured dancers were paid $40-$50, plus tips, and student dancers were paid a much lower rate of $10-$25 plus tips.
Due in part to this discrepancy in wages, and wage undercutting in some of the other area restaurants which began to feature bellydancers, the first dancer strike against a club occurred. Many of the dancers boycotted George’s until they agreed to pay the student dancers a fair wage, which was determined to be $42.50 per night. The unified front presented by the bellydance community at that time marked the beginnings of the Minnesota Guild of Oriental Dance.
Dancers at George’s had the luxury of a dressing room which was converted from a laundry room! As odd as that sounds, it was sized for 3 dancers and equipped with a sink, mirrors, and hanging racks. The room was cleaned weekly, and was conveniently located stage right adjacent to the bathroom.
Around 1982, George’s converted to a Country/Western bar. Bellydancing continued for a very short time afterwards, and on occasion bellydancers would perform to tape recorded Middle Eastern music between Country/Western music sets.
Many thanks to Cassandra Shore, Christine Cherewan, and Mary Kaye Piazza for their input into this article.