by Luna

by Luna



Blog Intro

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. :)~

My Videos

Monday, July 11, 2016

Midnight Musings

Disclaimer: I wrote this while suffering from severe PMS.

This might sound a little strange, but I'm haunted. Not by ghosts or ghouls, but by the fact that my life is relatively... easy. I have a job that I love. I'm living 'the dream,' and I make decent money doing it. I have no husband, no kids, and no alcohol or drug addictions. Most of my family is still alive. I've traveled the world and have friends and fans all over. I speak three languages. I obtained a master's degree from an elite university when I was 24 years old. Seven years later, I'm completely debt free. My biggest concern is what color my next costume will be. And yet, I'm not completely happy. Grateful, yes. Happy? Not a hundred percent.

I know. You just want to slap me. Countless people around the globe dream of living a life like mine... doing everything they've ever dreamed of, climbing to the top in whatever they do, having so many choices without a worry in the world. Sure, I have my trials and tribulations (mainly self-inflicted and the result of poor judgment (especially when it comes to men)), but they pale in comparison to everything that's great about my life. So what's my problem? I'm not exactly sure, but in trying to figure out, I've stumbled upon a couple of scary recurring thoughts:

Dala3 on Steriods

I wrote this sometime in 2014 but never published it.
Oops.  I did it again.  I just shot another music video.  This time with an unknown singer who wants to make it big.  Nothing special.  Just your ordinary, low budget, thoughtless, uninspiring, very Egyptian clip that makes you wonder why producers make so much money.  I agreed to be a part of it because, well, because... I knew it would make for good blog content! No, that's not why. :)  I did it because a) I didn't know what I was in for, b) getting your face on screen is great promo and results in more high-end gigs,  c) I'm always up for a new experience d) I needed a good laugh, which is almost always guaranteed at these things, and e) it really does make for good blogging.
The laughs, or rather regrets, started with the makeup 'artist,' a 25-year old boy with a unibrow and a chip on his shoulder.  I arrived at the studio already made-up, as I had just come from work, and figured I'd just freshen my makeup before going on set.  Not so.  UniBoy handed me a bottle of rose water, a cotton pad, and told me to remove my makeup.  But my makeup is fine the way it is, I protested.  Take it off! he said.  So I went to the bathroom and proceeded to remove, more like smear, the makeup all over my face.  Great.  I looked like I was ready for Halloween.  Rose water proved no match for my waterproof Maybelline eye makeup.  Now, if they had given me some olive oil...

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Fainting Drummer

If there's anyone in this godforsaken place who can get away with staring at my ass, it's my drummer. Actually, that's his job. I pay him to observe every drop, lock, twist, twerk, clench, accent, bounce, circle, roll, shimmy, vibration, jiggle, wiggle and wobble that it's capable of doing, and to create a corresponding sound for each movement. Doom; tak; traaaaaaK!; dr-r-r-r-r-r…; dish, etc. This is called translation, and it's what draws attention to my moves. So basically, he's my butt's translator. Or spokesman. Don't laugh. It's a serious job (and a much coveted one in the land of sexual frustration). But it isn't easy. You see, my butt is a complicated thing. It has a mind of its own, and it moves in ways that even I don't fully comprehend. Somehow though, my drummer understands it. I want to say it's because we've been working together almost every single night for the past five years, but that's not the reason. Tika understood my teeze from day one. He got right on stage with me and translated every movement it did, as if we had choreographed our routine.

I don't know how he did it. All of the other drummers I worked with took at least two weeks to even begin to understand my musicality, and none of them could keep up with me. Tika, on the other hand, is so in tune with my posterior that he can anticipate how it will interpret any given measure of music... even when I try to surprise him with a new movement, a new way of doing a movement, or by altering the timing of my moves. It's like he shares a brain with my butt or something.
All this time, you probably thought it was the other way around. You probably thought the drummer calls the shots, and the belly dancer slavishly follows. This is how it works outside of Egypt, but inside Egypt, it's the opposite. The dancer decides where to add shimmies, accents, and pops, and the 
drummer follows her lead. Basically, he's her bitch. 
Artistically speaking.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

My Foray into the Cabaret - Part 1

A strange thing happened in my dance career recently. The Nile cruise I'm contracted with now moonlights as a cabaret. It operates its regular tourism sails in the early evening, and then remains docked for the rest of the night as patrons from the Gulf come to do everything that's forbidden in their countries. They dance, drink, smoke, and pick up strange women, sometimes until ten in the morning. They check their 'harameters' at the door, and give their reputations the night off-- the cabaret is a no shame zone. It is one of the few places in the Muslim world where a person can let loose without fear of being judged.

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.

My Foray into the Cabaret Part 2

The single most important person in this production is my singer. His voice, charisma, and knack for getting customers to throw money keep us in demand every night. More than my quivering belly. I attribute this to the fact that Arabic speakers are more auditorily oriented. It's probably because of the long-standing oral traditions of Arab and Muslim societies, and because of the hang ups some Muslim societies have had over visual representation. Add to that a sprinkling of disdain for the uncovered female figure, and you have an audience that is much more receptive to a male singer than a belly dancer. This is why he makes the big bucks. He's not just a singer. He's an emcee, a server, my body guard, a psychologist, and a smooth talker all rolled into one. His job is to 'read' the sala during the performance before ours to learn where the customers are from, and to observe their tipping habits. Then he compiles a mental playlist of songs they're most likely to respond to. During the show, he waits tables, taking requests for songs and shout outs, and warming up to the customers with friendly greetings and banter. This takes a lot of energy and experience, and an excellent memory; a successful cabaret singer must have hundreds of songs from all over the Arab world memorized, as he might perform for the same customers for weeks on end. Khaligi and mawwals are very important, the latter more so because it's when the most tips are thrown.

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

My Foray into the Cabaret - Part 3

The biggest factor in my ability to loosen up was my singer. With him in the driver's seat, I was able to relax knowing that if anything went wrong, he would be the one in the line of fire. Half of my musicians could show up mid-gig, or they could be killing each other behind me, and I could just let them carry on, because for this one hour that we're together, it's not my circus. I've learned to thrive in this informal performing environment because it frees me to do more important things. Like shaking hands with customers as they take their seats, making small talk, goofing around with the riklam, and being downright silly. Basically, I get to indulge my inner teenager. Speaking of which, I even have a crush. On my singer. You've probably figured that out by now.

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

The Belly Dancer's Body

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

Competition Craze

Belly dance competitions are a lot like sex. You'd rather your kids not have it, but you know it's inevitable. So you teach them the right way. The 'safe' way. Sorry for the analogy, but this is how I feel about competitions. Not exactly the best our art has to offer, but an undeniable part of its current landscape. As someone who has both judged and entered competitions (back when I had no idea how terrible I was), I think I'm pretty qualified to talk about this subject, as well as give a few pointers on how to do it the 'right' way. And I have a lot to say. As always. :)

First I should mention that I  have many friends who have both entered and won competitions. I'm very proud of them, as I do see this as an accomplishment on some level. When truly deserved, winning a competition can bring a dancer recognition, esteem, and even jump start her teaching career. Which is great. None of my subsequent criticisms of the competition world are meant to detract from their success in any way.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Creating Your Own Style

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 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. 

As with everything, this is a process that comes easier to some of us than others. After all, life is not fair. We don't all have the same opportunities, abilities, experiences, or resources. And we're talking about art here. Art is a very personal enterprise. It depends on factors that vary from individual to individual, such as access to training; how long you've been dancing; training in other dance or art forms; body type and overall health; technical ability; cognitive ability; personality; psychological disposition, aptitude for creativity; ability to think abstractly; intellectual background; life experience; worldview; spiritual inclinations; economic and social status; the environment one grew up in; the languages they have access to; childhood experiences, etc. Art depends on all that-- on everything that makes you unique. That's why one person's art will look different from another's. If it doesn't, that person is a copy artist.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Always Let Your Music Be Your Guide: Choreography vs. Improvisation

Something I’ve always been curious about was whether Cairo’s belly dance stars choreograph their shows.  I remember watching Dina, Randa, Soraya and Asmahan for the first time seven years ago, thinking there's no way such artistic genius could be produced spontaneously. At the time, I was a choreography junkie, and I imagined everyone else to be. I couldn't believe that improv could look so good.  Until now, I still don’t know whether/which dancers choreograph. I’ve never asked any of them, and I don't exactly suppose I’d get honest answers if I did
If my onstage experiences are similar to those of other Cairo dancers, however, I think it’s safe to assume that most of us do both choreography and improvisation--depending on where we are in our careers. I’ll speak for myself at least. Currently, I mostly improvise. But that wasn’t always the case. When I first started performing regularly here four  years ago, I relied heavily on choreography. My own, of course. Back then, the thought of dancing to live music for live Egyptians :) terrified me. I was afraid that if I improvised, I would be boring, or “mess up,” so I choreographed every single doom and tek until the piece was airtight. I also figured that performing choreography would free my mind to concentrate on posture, hands, emotions, and presence, and that if I were too busy thinking up the next step, all those other aspects of my performance would suffer. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Cabaret Day

You know that feeling of being stuck in a rut and not being able to get out of it?  That's what it's been like for me these past two months. I think it's a combination of feeling like I've accomplished everything there is to accomplish in Egyptian belly dance land, and that what's to come is more of the same, plus a sense that I may have outgrown this country. I'm not faulting Egypt.  I'm faulting myself.  I have a tendency to get bored... with things, places... people. And just when I was seriously starting to contemplate a major life change, the gods distracted me with the mother of all gigs-- a birthday party at one of the seediest cabarets in town.   

You're probably wondering what the big deal is.  The big deal is that, aside from jolting me out of my boredom, a "5-star" dancer performing in a sleazy cabaret is a no-no.  Here, if you're a featured dancer at a 5-star hotel or cruise, dancing at low-class venues puts your reputation and sometimes even your career at risk.  That's because well-to-do Egyptians have a tendency to be very classist. They despise whatever they consider to be beneath them, and condescendingly dismiss lower class mannerisms, behaviors, and tastes as baladi, or (my favorite) bee'a-- lowlife.  (There are some deep historical/psychological reasons for this, but I'll refrain from getting into them here.) If the rich owner of the ritzy-by-Egyptian-standards Nile cruise that you work on finds out that you moonlight at cabarets, he just might fire you-- you are now tainted. :)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

On Belly Dance and "Cultural Appropriation"

I never intended to respond to Randa Jarrar's article "Why I Hate White Belly Dancers," but I did.  And now I'm going for round two.  This time, I want to unravel Jarrar's whole argument by chipping away at her assumption that white women's "appropriation of the art causes others harm."  Without that element of harm, her argument falls apart. White belly dancers (or black or Asian or Latina ones) cause no harm whatsoever to the people to whom this dance "belongs."  No bodily harm, no economic harm, no social harm.  Quite the opposite really.  The vast majority of Arab women and men appreciate non-Arabs learning and mastering their dance.  At the very least, they fetishize us, similar to how some of us exoticize them.

Let's dissect this a little bit.  Of course the idea that one woman's dancing causes another woman physical harm is ridiculous. So let's put that aside.  But how about economic harm? In order for Jarrar to suggest that the alleged "cultural appropriation" we're engaging in is economically detrimental to Arab women, it would have to be true that white women are taking opportunities away from them.  This is patently false.  Due to a very unfortunate mentality that demonizes women, women's bodies, and women's independence, not too many Arab women aspire to become professional dancers (and this mentality has NOTHING to do with European imperialism. It's much older than that.). The few who do take up the profession desperately need the money, and are brave and skillful enough to dodge the social stigma.  However, most of them would rather die of starvation than dance for money.  It's therefore simply ignorant to state that white appropriation of the art is "harming" Arab women by taking away their opportunities. That's like saying illegal immigrants are hurting Americans by taking away all of the toilet bowl cleaning jobs.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

2013 Summer Workshops

Hey everyone!  It’s almost that time of year again (Ramadan) when I get to come home and relax from my busy life in Cairo.  Though honestly, I don’t think I’ll be doing much relaxing.  I’ve got a pretty busy workshop schedule set up for me, and I wanted to share that with all of you.  I’ll also be available for private lessons, and will be bringing plenty of new and used costumes for sale!  Please don’t hesitate to contact me or any of my sponsors for more information or to register.

In chronological order:

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Egyptian Weddings

As much as I love performing on the Nile Memphis, nothing beats the excitement of dancing at weddings.  Weddings are considered the “holy grail” of the belly dance industry, and with good reason.  Everything from the money to the exposure to the band and the dance floor is bigger.  (You know what they say about bigger. :D)  Though it’s often impossible to put on a show when hundreds of jubilant guests are crowding on top of you, I still enjoy dancing at weddings more than anywhere else. 
The main reason I prefer weddings is that my show is longer and my band is bigger.  Instead of my usual two costume changes and 6-piece band, I change my costumes four times, and expand my band to at least twenty members.  The music is rich, layered, detailed, and powerful.  Providing the sound system is decent, the music is so loud it takes over my body and does the dancing for me.  Suffice it to say that most of the time, I have no idea what I do/did on the dance floor—until I see a video (if there is one). 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I don’t know what to title this post.  “The Flight from Hell;” “I Hate Air France/Delta,” “Why I Love Egypt,”  “Flying Stinky;” “The Worst 48 Hours of My Life,” “Everything Works Out in the End” would all do, but none on its own would do justice to the magnitude of the disaster that was my flight from Egypt last weekend.  Let me explain why.

Earlier this year, I had been asked to do some workshops and performances in Cincinnati in April.  Given that I enjoy teaching, needed a break from Egypt, and needed to get the remaining two puppies to their new mommies in the US, I gladly accepted the invitation.  My sponsor booked me a roundtrip flight from Cairo to Cincinnati with Delta/Air France, which are one and the same now.  What ensured thereafter was a travel catastrophe of epic proportions, and another example of how Murphy’s Law hijacks my life every now and then.  Well, rather frequently actually…

Sunday, February 3, 2013


There’s been some talk about ethics in the belly dance community lately.  This is always a good topic, and something that needs to be discussed in any field.  But not when the discussion comes from a false position of self-righteousness, or when it’s a masquerade for a personal problem between people, or when it’s meant to embarrass and “expose” someone you don’t like.  When a discussion about ethics becomes the choice weapon in our own personal battles, then maybe it’s time to step off the podium and examine whether we’re living up to the standards to which we hold others.  

There seems to be an assumption in the belly dance world that the only issue of ethics pertaining to us is that of the casting couch.  Meaning, as long as we don’t have sex with managers, venue owners, or other “men of power” to procure work, we’re completely ethical artists.  While this is definitely one of the biggies, being an ethical artist entails much more than not selling your body for work.  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

From Ballet to Belly

I’ve forgotten the names of all of my elementary and high school teachers, but one name that will remain with me till the day I die is Dorothy Lister.  Dorothy Lister was my ballet teacher at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City.  I studied--more like suffered--under her tutelage until the age of 15ish, at which point she quit the Joffrey, and I quit ballet. 

Miss Dorothy was, oh, just your average ballet nazi. :) Old enough to be my grandmother, she was a stickler for discipline and had zero tolerance for lazy feet, lifeless limbs, and other similar ballet crimes.  And she’d punish us too.  Whenever she caught us slacking off at the barre, she would angrily clap her hands and let out a shrill “STOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP!!!”  At which point the class, the piano player, and all of 6th Avenue would freeze in frightened paralysis. She would then sarcastically imitate our mistakes to show us how dumb we looked, and literally yank our body parts into the correct position.  Miss Dorothy always ended these torturous episodes with her signature dirty look, which masked her grin of sadistic satisfaction.  She’d then carry on with class.  

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Feelings About Feeling

Let’s face it.  We foreign belly dancers are under a lot of pressure.  Not only do we have to look good, but we have to dance as Egyptian as possible.  Some get closer than others, but none of us ever hit the 100% mark.  Personally, I think it’s impossible.  Being Egyptian is one of those things you’re either born with or you’re not.  No matter how immersed we are in the culture or how well we speak Arabic, we’ll never be as Egyptian as an Egyptian.  And we’ll certainly never out-Egyptian one. :)  Not that that’s necessarily the goal...  Our “disadvantage” notwithstanding, however, we’re constantly being compared to Egyptian dancers.  And one of the points of comparison is feeling.
“Feeling” is one of those words that has no real meaning.  Yet we use it all the time to refer to some vague concept of Egyptianness in the dance.  We can’t exactly pinpoint what it is, because it can’t be defined, quantified, counted, or taught.   Yet somehow, we know it when we see it.  Most interestingly, feeling is the thing a lot of Egyptian belly dancers (claim to) have, and that we non-Egyptians strive to obtain. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Lesser of Two Evils

“El-Tet” 24/7 Belly Dance TV

Sorry, this is going to be long.  I have a lot to say. 

If there’s anything positive coming out of post revolutionary Egypt, it’s the new belly dance channel “El-Tet.”  El-Tet, which is based in Bahrain and has an office in Cairo, features performances by Egyptian and foreign belly dancers 24 hours a day.  That’s right.  Shimmies and undulations around the clock on national Egyptian TV.  The channel, which is a little over a year old, takes its name from the Egyptian Arabic word for the accordion/tabla section of a baladi piece. It’s actually pronounced “tit,” which conjures up the wrong images for us English speakers.  That’s why you’ll almost always see it transliterated as “El-Tet.”  Short “e,” not “i.” :)

I first encountered the new channel last December, when some of my musicians insisted they had seen me dancing on TV.  I hadn’t heard of it before and had no idea why they were saying this, although I found the idea of a channel named “The Tit” quite hilarious.  So I assumed they probably saw another dancer who resembled me.  I was right.  My tabla player showed me the clip on his mobile phone of the dancer in question, and sure enough, it wasn’t me.  Don’t know how he confused us, but then again, Egyptians tend to think all of us foreigners look alike. :)

                  Dancing to "Ya Helwa Sabah" on El-Tet

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Being a foreign Belly Dancer in Egypt Interview with Luna of Cairoby Isis Zahara

photo by Tracey Gibbs

"We are all of us stars, and we deserve to twinkle."--Marilyn Monroe 

Luna of Cairo is an American Belly Dancer originally from Brooklyn, New York (she studied in Harvard!) and has been living in Cairo for the past 3 years. She is contracted at the Nile Memphis in Cairo (Memphis Tours Nile Cruises) .

Luna will be at the next Salamat MasrEgyptian Festival (July 05th till  July 12th  2012) teaching with the well known Egyptian belly dancers stars as Mona El Said, Zizi Mostafa and Najwa Fouad.

She has a polemical  blog: Kisses from Kairo.  Where you can read experiences about being a  foreign belly dancer in Egypt, some cultural contrasts and - as she says - her mistakes, observations and successes!

IZ -    When and why did you decide to start a  dance carrier in Egypt?

LC - I actually never intended to start a dance career in Egypt. My goals were much more modest than that. I came here in 2008 on a scholarship to research the origins of belly dance and trace its development

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Big Yellow "M"

photoYes, I’m talking about that M.  McDonalds.  The place no self-respecting American traveling abroad would be caught dead in.  We Americans who travel abroad suffer from a sort of “McDonalds complex.”  We are painfully aware that the rest of the world stereotypes us as provincial, untraveled, uncultured cowboys who only speak one language and only eat fast food.  So to prove to the world (and ourselves) otherwise, one of the things we do is avoid eating at McDonalds.  Even when it might be in our best interest.   

I am one of those Americans who suffers from McDonalds complex.  Not just because eating at McDonalds would be an indication of close-mindedness, but because of all of the things the fast food chain has come to symbolize over the years.  Especially here in the Middle East.  As one of the largest corporations in the world, it is a symbol of American economic and cultural hegemony.  It’s thus no wonder that McDonalds restaurants have become a favored target of America-hating violence in the Arab world.   

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Eat My Feet

This post is for all the guys, real and virtual, who have ever said they want to kiss, lick, bite, tickle, rub, suck, wash, or eat my feet.  Gentlemen, be my guest.  I have THE most disgusting feet on the planet.  Dancer’s feet.  There’s years of ballet and belly dance under those things. (There’s some men under there too!).  Actually, they’re more like tools than feet.  I have hammer toes, ingrown toenails, calluses, corns, blisters, open wounds, broken bones, premature Arthritis, dead skin, and permanently blackened heels.  Bunions run in my family. I walk and dance barefoot on surfaces you wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole.  My feet are so gross even the podiatrist grimaces when I take my shoes off.  In fact, they’re so untamable, I’ve given up on them.  I no longer bother painting my toenails.  Who would I be kidding?  Besides, ninety percent of the nail polish disappears after just one show.  I don’t clip my toenails either, but then again, they never seem to grow past a certain point.  Hah!  They probably get filed down from all the friction that occurs when I dance on wood and concrete surfaces.  I still clean them every so often, although it doesn’t really make a difference. They just get dirty again. 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Audiences of Cairo

One of the perks of being a contracted dancer in Cairo is that you get to perform quite regularly.  Some of us work multiple times a week.  Others work multiple times a day, depending on the venue, the popularity of the dancer, and these days, whether there’s enough business. And what could be better than that?  Doing what you love every single day.  It seems like the ideal work situation.  And it is. Except I wasn’t too sure of that when I first got contracted.  Here’s why.
Anytime art becomes your job, you run the risk of losing your passion.  That’s because a “job” entails obligation, routinization, and money, and there’s something about art that’s antithetical to all of that.  Art is a gift from God (or the universe or whatever you call it).  It’s not something we can force out of ourselves whenever we want.  That’s why we often hear the word “inspiration” associated with art.  The artist seeks out and waits for inspiration.  And when it comes, the artist becomes impassioned and produces her best work.  Since inspiration can neither be forced nor rushed, it seems ridiculous to make art our job, the way we would law, or medicine, or dry cleaning.  And yet, somehow, after a year of performing every single night, I have not lost an ounce of passion for the dance.  Rather, what I’ve noticed is that my passion for the dance has increased, and is highly dependent on the enthusiasm of the audience.   

Monday, January 30, 2012


It just dawned on me that I’ve been living in Cairo for more than 3 years.  That’s a long time for someone who never intended to live or work here.  With all the uncertainty in the air about Egypt’s future, one wonders how much longer I and others like me will be able to thrive.  But rather than speculate about the future (again), I’ve decided to reflect on my past and share a few of the adjustments I had to make as a dancer.  There were many, because belly dance outside of Egypt is a totally different animal than belly dance in Egypt.  There were adjustments in technicality, musicality, and even physicality.  There were adjustments in music selection and music understanding, costuming and audience.  And there were changes in attitude, ethics and comportment.

Perhaps one of my biggest challenges as a foreign student of Egyptian dance was learning proper technique.  Egyptian technique is much more subtle, nuanced, and intricate than what most of us learn back home.  Movements are smaller and more precise, more controlled and more meaningful.   Upon studying dance here, the first thing I had to do was unlearn everything I thought I knew and start from scratch.  For example, back home, I learned to do everything in plié.  Shimmy in plié.  Hip drops in plié.  Figure 8’s in plié.  I never noticed how bent my knees were until I came here and Egyptians pointed it out.  Not only do bent knees look bad, but they prevent us from getting the maximum oomph out of our hip movements.  I’ve since straightened up and become somewhat of a knee-nazi, as anyone who’s ever taken class with me can attest.  :)

Monday, January 9, 2012

False Alarm

Warning: If you have an aversion to feminine products or problems, or are generally squeamish, proceed no further.

I totally didn’t intend my first blog post of the year to be about my period, but hey, it’s better than some soppy post about New Year’s resolutions.  Years come and years go, and I never make resolutions.  They’re worthless, and nobody keeps them anyway.  Besides, there’s nothing  special about January 1st.  As far as I’m concerned, July 29th is just as good a day to make resolutions as January 1st.  Because there’s no such thing as time.  Not here in Egypt anyway.

Back to my period.  If anything, my monthly cycle is the closest thing to time in my world.  It’s always punctual and always painful, and I can always count on it coming.  That’s more than I can say for most people, including myself.  And, conveniently enough, it came back to haunt me on January 1st, at the stroke of midnight, to be exact.  Couldn’t possibly be a better way to kick off the new year, now could there?  

The reason I’m blogging about my period is because I wound up touring four hospitals because of it.  In one of my many moments of absent mindedness, I inserted a tampon without remembering if I had removed the previous one.  Being the sissy that I am, I panicked.  Left unremoved, a floating tampon can cause Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), which is potentially fatal.  Not to mention, I have extremely long nails, which I wasn’t about to remove to perform a tampon extraction. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Flying High...

…well, more like drunk.  But hey, it’s been a while since I’ve consumed alcohol. Alcohol just isn’t a priority when you live in Egypt—a relatively dry country (pun intended).  At least for me it’s not.  And what better way to celebrate my coming back to Brooklyn than by drinking cranberry and vodka on the flight home? :)
I’ll admit, I’m a lightweight.  That’s because I rarely drink.  It only took one cup of the stuff to blur my already blurry vision and make me giggle out loud while watching “Aasal Eswed.”   “Aasal Eswed,” is an Egyptian comedy which translates as “Sour Honey.”  It satirizes the oftentimes repugnant ways in which Egyptians treat each other by juxtaposing it with the royal treatment they bestow on foreigners.  The protagonist is Egyptian actor Ahmed Hilmy, who returns to Cairo to work as a photographer after living in the United States for 20 years.  Intent on “going native,” Ahmed deliberately leaves his American passport in the States and proudly identifies himself as Egyptian.  The film progresses by showing all the unnecessary hassles he endures because of this.  From taxi drivers to authorities to horses(!), no one treats Ahmed the way he expects to be treated as an Egyptian.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Teaching in NYC Nov. 14th-16th

11/13: Performing @ Columbia University Raqs    2-4pm
11/14: Egyptian Shaabi Choreography                       5-7pm
11/15: “Feeling” & Sas - Taqsim Baladi                       6-8pm
11/16: Classical Egyptian Choreography                   6-8pm

All classes are $45 and require prior notification of attendance.  Please e-mail to reserve a spot. Classes will be held
@ Anamita Navatman Studios
344 W 38th Street, 5th floor, New York, NY, 10018 

I will also be available for private lessons.