Hello, I'm Luna, and I'd like to welcome you to "Kisses from Kairo,"* my blog about living and working as an American belly dancer in Cairo.
Life in Cairo isn't easy for dancers, foreigners, women, or even Egyptians. It is, however, always exciting. That’s why after living here for seven years, I've decided to share my experiences with the world. From being contracted at the Semiramis Hotel to almost being deported, not a day has gone by without something odd or magical happening. I will therefore fill these pages with bits of my history in Cairo—my experiences, successes, mistakes, and observations. Admittedly, my time here has been rather unique, so I want to stress that while everything I write is true, my experiences do not necessarily reflect the lives of other dancers.
In addition to my life as a belly dancer, I will write about developments in costuming, performances, festivals, and, of course, the dance itself. I will also make frequent references to Egyptian culture. I should note that I have a love/hate relationship with Egypt. If I make any criticisms about the country, please keep in mind that I do so with the utmost love, respect, and most of all, honesty. Egypt has become my home, so I want to avoid romanticizing and apologizing for social maladies, as most foreigners tend to do. Nothing could be more misguided, patronizing, or insulting.
I hope you find this blog informative, insightful and entertaining, and that we can make this as interactive as possible. That means I'd love to hear from you. Send me your comments, questions, complaints, suggestions, pics, doctoral dissertations, money, etc., and I will get back to you. Promise. :)~
Monday, July 11, 2016
Friday, June 24, 2016
Saturday, March 19, 2016
I've never been comfortable dancing in this type of environment. Cabarets are dens of vice, and serve as outlets for large scale sexual repression. The potential for objectifying, if not compromising, situations, is real. There is rarely any security at these places, which means that should something go wrong, a dancer's only recourse is a brave musician shoving himself between her and the offending customer. Her first line of defense is her singer, because he's already on the stage with her. But sometimes it takes a few musicians to get the job done. They form a circle around the dancer, the way dolphins do when protecting humans from sharks, and pound their drums extra hard to ward off the offender(s). It's actually quite funny to watch, unless you're the dancer experiencing it. The fact that these people are paying for you to entertain them means you can't react the way you would if someone tried to grab your ass on the street. You can't scream or curse at them, and you definitely can't clobber them over the head. You have to somehow keep a smile on your face, pretend that you're oblivious to what's happening, and wait for your musicians to keep your ass from falling into some drunk patron's hands. At three in the morning. In the meantime, you hope that the bastard will shower you with tips. Fives, twenties, hundreds, whatever. Egyptian pounds, riyals, dollars. This is how you keep your job. It's not that you're entitled to a percentage of the tips, but that the venue won't ask you to come back unless customers throw money at you.
Mawwals are real money makers. Especially the ones that are spoken more than sung. They have a story-telling feel that can transfix an entire audience, and they are always about issues everyone can relate to. Misery, pain, betrayal, heartache... Just the other night, my singer sang something to the effect of: "Your best friend is your money. If you don't have it, people step all over you. But when you have it, everyone greets you with hugs and kisses.' It was much longer than that, and it sounds better in Arabic. But the diction and passion with which he delivered this mawwal made everyone stop what they were doing. Even I had forgotten myself. For the two minutes that this lasted, people were nodding in agreement. Some had smirks of admiration for my singer's ingenuity; nearly all threw money on him when he finished. I remember being amazed not only by his skill, but by the power he held over us. It was as though he transformed the sala into a kindergarten classroom during story telling, or better yet, into a church, with an enthusiastic congregation lapping up the preacher's every word.
Monday, March 14, 2016
Sayyid is the definition of fine. He's tall, dark, handsome, has excellent stage presence, and he serenades me on stage. He also smells like laundry detergent. I think the regulars-- the riklam, the staff, and the musicians-- have noticed our chemistry; we're practically radiating uranium at this point. They stare at us every time he comes near me and we slip into an impromptu duet. He sings to me, and I wiggle about in approval with a huge smile and batting eyelashes. Kind of like Farid El-Atrash and Samia Gamal. Not that I'm comparing ourselves to them artistically. We do have a similar on-stage chemistry though. And we quite like it, even though it annoys the band. When things get too scandalous for their prudish sensibilities, my percussionists express their collective disapproval by interrupting the prevailing rhythm with a doom, tak tak tak tak, doom tak tak!, the famous zaffa rhythm played at weddings when the bride and groom enter and exit the wedding hall. It's meant to be sarcastic, and to embarrass us. Neither of us care, though. Ma andinash dam. We have no blood, as the Egyptians would say, referring to our inability to feel ashamed.
Monday, May 4, 2015
Back home, we have this notion that belly dance has a more accommodating aesthetic than other dances--that this art is for all sizes, shapes, colors and ages. And that may very well be the case, because, we insist on it being that way. And also because belly dance is not a mainstream form of entertainment there. The majority of high profile performances are unpaid and occur within the context of festivals, produced and attended by other dancers. It can therefore get away with having dancers whose bodies would be unsuited for traditional mainstream performing arts like ballet, hip-hop, music video, ballroom, etc. In the real world--and by that I mean the part of the world in which belly dance is a major pillar of mainstream entertainment--things are little bit different. OK, a lot different. In the Middle East, your numbers-- inches and years--are just as important as they are for a ballet dancer in the US. There is an ideal standard of beauty held by a good majority of the people, and any deviation from that is less marketable. Now we don't want to lump all the Arab countries together when it comes to this issue; the ideal aesthetic in Egypt is a bit different than what it is in Lebanon and in some Gulf countries. However within each of those countries, you'd be hard-pressed to find people who have an alternative vision of beauty.
That being said, fellow belly dancer and author Zaina Brown and I decided to share our experiences with body image, as we've both been working as professional dancers in the Arab world for years--Zaina in the UAE, Yemen, Bahrain, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Mali, and India, and myself in Egypt. By the way, you can follow Zaina on her own blog, "Where's Zaina." And if that's not enough, you can purchase her book "Stories of a Travelling Belly Dancer" from Amazon. It's a great read that documents her experiences working as a dancer in the Middle East. Zaina also just produced a documentary called "Traveling Belly Dancer in India," which is currently screening in film festivals around the US. It will be available for public viewing by the end of 2015. In the meantime, Zaina is dancing in the New York / New Jersey area and is working on a new book about dancing in the Middle East.
Sunday, February 15, 2015
Saturday, December 13, 2014
There's a recent trend emerging in the international belly dance community that's come to my attention. It's the obsession with creating your own style. Over the past year, I've had several workshop attendees ask me how to do this, and how I created mine. This is an important question, but also a bit misguided...at least as it pertains to me. I didn't create my own style. It created itself. I didn't sit down with myself one day and say hey, I've been dancing professionally now for x amount of years, it's time to create my own set of moves and combinations. I mean it's OK to have that conversation with yourself, but it's neither necessary nor guaranteed to result in your own signature moves. Rather, as I suspect happens with many dancers known for being different, we stumble upon new moves as we advance in our careers. Not while taking classes, but on the stage and while practicing in the studio. I've noticed that the more we perform and choreograph, the more our bodies reveal different ways of moving to us.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
Sunday, April 6, 2014
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Sunday, February 3, 2013
Saturday, October 20, 2012
Saturday, August 4, 2012
Friday, June 1, 2012
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
|photo by Tracey Gibbs|