Remembering John Compton

John Compton with Bal Anat, Early 1970s

I was greatly saddened to hear the news that John Compton passed away this week.  He had a long and prosperous belly dance career, and I want to share my story of how I first knew him.

John had seen Bal Anat  perform at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire and wanted so badly to study with my mother.  She taught in San Francisco, and John sought out her studio.  My mother’s classes were for women only, so she did not allow him in class.

I was quite young at the time, but I still remember John — with his long hair nearly reaching his waist — sitting outside the door of my mother’s class, listening to the music and whatever instruction he could hear.  I was struck by John’s persistence and commitment.  I was there the day my mother finally swung the door open and told him “Okay fine!  Get in!”,  thus allowing John to attend her class.

John was Jamila’s first male student, and the floodgates were then opened for more wonderful male dancers to study with my mother.  With Bal Anat, John first dressed as a Moroccan female impersonator and dancing girl; you can view his related performance in the Bal Anat documentary below (around 8:50).  Later, he performed as one of the tray dancers; if you look at the picture below with me and John, you’ll notice his belt buckle. Jamila gave him that belt buckle when John first starting performing, and as far as I know, it’s the only one he ever wore throughout his career.

I will always remember John from his beginning belly dance days, and I will remember him as that young man so fascinated with belly dance and so eager to learn everything he could.

Suhaila and John Compton, Bal Anat

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12 Responses to Remembering John Compton

  1. Elias GaLo says:

    Wondeful story! I think I have feel a little this feeling, specially when I first try to bellydance. He was one of my biggest inspirations, and is great to know that he will never go, he still there, when those whose know him, still remember.

  2. Europa says:

    Am sad those brilliant blue eyes are now closed. Thanks for a touching remembrance- That smile I have holding the banner actually brought back a sweet time for us all. Love to you, Europa

  3. Donna says:

    He told me the story of when she gave him the belt buckle, and said it was one of his most cherished memories.

  4. Sarah Scogin says:

    What a beautiful story. Unfortunately I didn’t know him as well as I would have liked. However I took his workshop at 3rd coast several years ago. He was a joy to learn from! Those eyes, smile and sense of humor! He truly did radiate light on or off the stage. I bought the Habi ru DVD from him there and have always popped it in these past few years when I needed some inspiration. It’s a huge testament to his spirit that so many people worldwide have expressed their love for him and sense of loss. I only knew him for one day and my life was profoundly touched. I had him sign my Tribal Bible and he laughed and looked with me through all the pics from him in the 70’s.

    “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying good bye so hard.” – A.A. Milne


  5. Mark Bell and Armando Mafufo are also spotted in the documentary video. I was an Egypt nut and first saw the Black Point RenFaire when I was 11 years old since my uncle and his wife were musicians in another section of entertainment. It was until the late 80s that I finally took up the art. My first two female teachers were students of Jamila but I was more drawn to the folkloric styles of HahbiRu. Even after I moved up to Sonoma County, I’d still go to San Francisco or festivals as often as possible to take John’s classes. Opting to have a child as well as being slightly taller than him kept me from making the full push to be in his troupe. I’ll miss how funny and animated he was onstage or off. Even if he was talking about something darker or potentially negative he still found a way to keep it on the light side. Thank you Jamila for finally letting him through the door. Now he has exited… to the upstage in sky. His eyes twinkly on us all.

  6. Rick Dillenbeck says:

    Thanks for sharing that lovely story and pictures Suhaila, miss all of you.

  7. I’m sorry to hear of John’s passing. the hill was my Dad’s passion and something he didn’t do as a “community thing”. but somehow John convinced my Dad to let him help turn the barren barren hill into the lush “Bone’s Park.” He left his footprint on Bernal heights for all to enjoy.

    • Liz Compton MacStravic says:

      Yes, John loved working in the garden, any garden, and left his mark in many gardens across the country, including mine (his sister) in our parents garden in New Hampshire. I do remember how proud John was to be part of the work he did in Bernal Heights on the hill. Of course, his yard in SF was beautiful too.

  8. Oh I am so sad! I didn’t know he had died. I did not know him, but was a big fan of his dancing.Thanks for posting.

  9. I started studying with Jamila at age 15 back when she was at the California Poultry Company. I first noticed John after she moved her studio to Broadway, with his intense blue eyes, and playful eyebrows, and deep connection with his audience, you couldn’t miss him. Imagine my surprise and delight to discover that John was my upstairs neighbor on Church St. a couple of years later. I loved going upstairs to hang out, and work on dance moves. His place was like the inside of a Harem, He influenced my lifelong passion for dancing and collecting Islamic antiques. John, you can dance all you want now. Keep on shimmying….

  10. Wondeful story! I didn’t know he had died. 😦 😦 😦

  11. So sad to hear of John’s passing. He was so engaging. Those early days of dance with John and Jamilla, Roberto and others will always be a treasure in my life….I am so happy i was there and dancing! Melanie DeLuca

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