Belly dancer Narayana is finally queen for all the Doo Dah day

In year 37, belly dancer Nancy Urbach -- a.k.a. Narayana -- gets to shine as queen of the Doo Dah Parade

She won't be wearing diamonds. She won't be dressed in white. She won't travel along Colorado Boulevard on a float festooned with fresh petals.

But do not think that her role as queen of Saturday's 37th Occasional Pasadena Doo Dah Parade is something Nancy Urbach takes lightly.

It means as much as being Rose Queen to this belly dancer known as Narayana, who has shimmied, sashayed and snaked her way down the boulevard every Doo Dah since it began in 1978.

Granted, at least one year the irreverent event didn't quite come off. For Doo Dah 13, she says, with no permit, they made do with a pub crawl.

Doo Dah started as a sort of counterculture Rose Parade opposites day, and well into its early years, Urbach says, it was ragtag, wild and much more risque than it is now.

People wore costumes that can't be described in a family newspaper. Some wore hardly anything at all. (Urbach once got beat out in the competition to be queen by two nearly naked nymphs who came as Siamese twins, wearing pasties and teensy bikini bottoms, each with one leg in a shared snakeskin-fabric tube.)

For a time, too, flashing was all the rage. "Once there was one, there were many," she says. It used to be, you never knew what to expect.

Something's been lost there, Urbach thinks, as it has in the parade route, which no longer travels through Old Town Pasadena. She once liked to pose in her shimmery costumes under broken windows in Old Town's forgotten alleys, which in these upscale days, of course, are forgotten no more.

When the TV cameras started coming to Doo Dah, they brought crowds — but also a certain sanitizing. On live TV, the most outre costumes clearly wouldn't cut it. Sheer anarchy began to give way to lining up neatly at the start (although that gave way again over time, after the live coverage ended).

Do not ask the queen her age, by the way. She'd prefer not to say — though she wasn't a baby when she first danced at that first Doo Dah, and if you feel compelled to do the math, do the math.

Urbach grew up in Pasadena. Her mother, she says, was a homemaker. She started dancing as a teenager at the Renaissance Faire in Agoura — traditional folk dances, until she saw belly dancers. That was it; she was hooked, she says. "Once you hear the music, it gets into your blood."

She's worked here and there when she's had to, in secretarial jobs and at McDonald's. But money's never been her driver, and she's mostly made do with belly dancing gigs and places to land — first at her mother's home, now in one little corner of the back house behind a friend's home.

It's a crowded little corner, full of brightly colored fabrics, feathers, bangles, spangles, skirts, shawls and silk flowers. Urbach is a thrift-store junkie. She can't help but collect.

Midday Friday, she was still picking and choosing what to wear for her royal outing (which begins at 11 a.m. and runs along East Colorado, between Altadena Drive and San Gabriel Boulevard). A hook on her shiny metallic bra had come loose, and she needed to sew it to avoid a wardrobe malfunction.

In the parade, as sinuous and sexy Narayana, she is unafraid to sidle up to bystanders — who, she says, sometimes give her tips of fake thousand-dollar and million-dollar bills.

In regular life, she's actually a little shy. She can't think on her feet, she says. She's introspective. It takes her time to process.

She was never in the right place at the right time, Urbach says, when the first Doo Dah queens were chosen. Back then, it was hard to be. The decision usually was made in a bar, on a random night, with no warning.

Then came tryouts, which for years were held at Altadena's Zorthian Ranch. She began vying for the crown around 2002, she thinks, though she flubbed her early attempts. (Most notably, when the motley crew of judges asked her to describe her ideal man, the word "sober" slipped out of her mouth, and the blitzed crowd booed her off the stage.)

Others, like those snakeskin nymphs, made more dramatic entries, too. So this year, she turned up the volume.

She arrived at the May tryouts on a wooden litter a la Cleopatra, borne by two bare-chested men in beaded neckpieces and white shorts.

On Saturday, as Queen Narayana, she'll do so again, proudly wearing her rhinestone-and-peacock-feather crown.

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