Scarabs. Rhymes with Arabs. But back in 1960 little did I know that this little beetle would turn out to be the icon of my passion.
In 1960, when we moved to Bangkok, Thailand from Madrid, Spain, the world seemed to offer abundance of excitement. I nestled into this culture as if it were my own. I was just starting to come alive in my own consciousness as I marveled at life around me.
One of the things that my family would do was to go to the local Weekend Flea Market out in the middle of Bangkok proper. It was an open air flea market that covered an entire football or larger size park. At that age, everything seemed gigantic. Some parts of that flea market were covered in tents, others were simply covered with the overhanging branches of large trees. There, I remember strolling around hand-in-hand with my parents taking in all the smells of the live caged animals, the chatter of a foreign language, and the aromas of grilled outdoor food.
The first time I saw the iridescent green and blue shiny wings of the Thai Jewel Beetle was at one of these rare outings at the Weekend Flea Market. I was drawn to the allure of these moving jewels as they crawled about all over each other in a large box. The man in charge of this box reached down and picked one up. With the other hand, he took a black string and tied it around the large bug between its thorax and abdomen and then let the bug go. As he let go this fascinating large shiny moving bead, it spread its wings and began flying around, still attached to the string in which this man held in his hand. The man grinned at us with a toothless grin. That day, my father bought each one of us a Thai Jewel Beetle. It was on that day that I began a life-long romance with the beetle.
By the time I was ten, I had accumulated about a dozen of these beauties which I housed in a large fish tank. I cared for them deeply and hiked about a quarter of a mile from our house on Soi Sawadii (Soi 31) across a large field to gather the small leaves from a remote bush that were the diet of these flying emeralds. And then I would hike back carrying the leafy food for my lovely bugs.
Back at home, I would then take each beetle in hand, put the leaf in front of them, and watch as they chomped away at the leaf. It was fascinating -- beetle in one hand and leaf in another hand. Most kids have dogs or cats -- and I did too, but these flying shiny iridescent gems were different. These flying shiny iridescent gems were beautiful. But even back then, as I now recall my adoration of these Thai Jewel Beetles, I couldn't really understand then -- or now -- why I was so drawn to them. After all, these were bugs, not warm furry animals.
In 1965, we moved to Soi Seang Mukda (Soi 43), and it was before the move that I decided to let these beauties go free. I gathered up each beetle, put them all in a brown paper sack, and set off across that field toward the security of that leafy bush that was their diet. There, I set each one of them free happily knowing that within their reach, there was plenty of food. Except for the rare occasion back at the house when they somehow rolled onto their backs and made a loud buzzing noise with their wings trying to right themselves, to which I would let out a loud blood curdling scream, they were beautiful in the sunlight as I watched them crawl away to freedom.
But my love affair with shiny insects did not end with the setting free of these jeweled bugs. The costumes I would later make for a dance I would later study often resembled the iridescent colors of the Thai Jewel Beetle. And the dance I would later study would embrace a beetle icon of its own, a beetle called a Scarab, though not often seen as shiny as the one I fell in love with at the Weekend Flea Market in Bangkok, Thailand. And unlike the Thai Jewel Beetle, which ate the leaves of a very specific leafy green bush, I would soon learn that the Scarab survives and lives solely on a diet of the dung dropped from the back ends of animals.
My life long love affair with a beetle has been amazing. After I returned to the United States in 1969, I discovered Ladybugs. They were tiny little things, but in retrospect, I now see them as the five-year interim bridge that connected me from the Thai Jewel Beetle of my nine years in Bangkok to my 40 years later of study of belly dance and its icon -- the Egyptian Scarab.
Today, a stylized likeness of the Scarab beetle adorns the dance floor of my little Egyptian restaurant, Al-Masri, in San Francisco taking up about a ten-foot square space. And, although black is the most common color for a Scarab, they do come in similar iridescent hues. The stylized drawing of the Scarab on my restaurant dance floor encompasses the hues of the iridescent green and blue colors of the Thai Jewel Beetle to which I was so drawn over 45 years ago.
The Scarab Dung Beetle was once worshiped by ancient Egyptians. They saw the sun roll across the sky just as the Scarab rolls a ball of dung across the ground. To the ancient Egyptians, both the sun and the ball of dung, in similar respects, gave life to the world as they saw it. It is yet one more poetic reverence to the sanctity of life of which I can only guess the ancient Egyptians having.
I've always lived in awe of the beetle. A survivor of millions of years, it continues to adapt and flourish, with more species being discovered every day. It's a wonderful bug. So, it is of no coincidence that, in coming full circle with it from my first encounter of this hearty dazzling insect back in Bangkok to the present more revered one of the Egyptians, I've adopted it as my dance academy logo. It has played and continues to play a significant part in my life, representing my spirit and my livelihood both in my restaurant and in my dance academy.
I have great respect for the beetle in its various forms. And for that, it's only fitting that I honor and embrace the beetle for many reasons -- some of which I've now shared with you -- and to dance on it in Scarab form in my little Egyptian restaurant, in celebration of life, beauty, and tenacity just as these hearty little insects in many of its forms so illustrate time and time again.