Diane Webber was one of the most gifted artists I have had the honor to know. She founded Perfumes of Araby, one of the first American belly dancing companies. My dad took this photograph of Diane at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in May, 1972.
Believe it or not, the Renaissance Pleasure Faire used to be spectacular fun, especially from about 1968-1973. Those were the years after the LA Sheriff’s department stopped surrounding the venue with mounted cavalry and before the people who ran the Faire started taking themselves too seriously. Back then it was a gathering of counterculture types from the beatnik and hippie eras.
I had the fantastic good fortune to spend many hours on stage with Perfumes of Araby, unobtrusively on the side or in back with the musicians, except for my star turn helping one dancer get her giant snake back in its basket. I remember one afternoon as if it happened yesterday, although it was almost 37 years ago. We were on the small stage at a corner of the Faire for an early afternoon show. The lead drummer yelled out to the audience, “baksheesh,” which throughout the Arab world means charitable giving. Some guy in the audience threw about half a dozen fat joints of dope onto the stage, wrapped together with a couple of rubber bands. My eyes popped out so far the pupils thought it was recess.
The joints landed a few feet in front of me. I thought to myself, “I’m 13. I spend hours every day at the Faire on stage with beautiful, athletic, dancing women. And the audience throws drugs on stage! Am I living one of the best lives a teenager can hope to have, or what?” While I was entertaining myself with these grandiose thoughts about my own splendid good fortune, the drummer glided across the carpet and the felonious cigarettes disappeared into his vest pocket without his missing a beat. Right then, another thought came to my mind. “I’m an idiot teenager who doesn’t know anything, but that drummer has got a pretty soft racket going…”
From 1969 through 1972, Diane and Perfumes of Araby had the big stage for the last hour of the Faire. Her show was so wonderful that anybody who was left at the Faire would come watch her. It’s worth noting that although Diane’s shows were extremely sensual, they didn’t pander to the audience. Lots of women and children enjoyed the shows.
OK – you might find yourself asking this: just exactly what does belly dancing have to do with the Renaissance in Europe? Who cares? Use your imagination! Or go sit under a tree and have somebody play “Greensleeves” for you on a hammer dulcimer, and let the rest of us have our fun.
Diane Webber was a fine artist and a successful businesswoman.
May 10, 2010 update: here is another picture of Diane, from 1971.