by Luna

by Luna

Luna

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Endangered Species

The Dying Art of Egyptian Belly Dance

Egyptian belly dancers are an endangered species.  On the road to extinction.  That is, if there isn’t a belly dance renaissance in Egypt sometime soon.  Even Dina fears as much.  For the truth is, aside from Dina, Randa, Camelia, and more recently, Aziza, there has been a decline of good Egyptian belly dancers on the market.  This is ironic, considering that most of us imagine Egypt to be “Planet Belly Dance,” and that Egypt is the home of belly dance legends Samia Gamal, Fifi Abdo, and Soheir Zaki.  There’s also at least 40 million Egyptian women living here.  You’d think that with those numbers, this music and dance oriented country could produce a few more belly dancers.  Yet the reality is that an ugly combination of economic and socio-religious factors is robbing this country of one of its greatest artistic achievements.

I remember first moving to Cairo and being excited about all the belly dancers I thought I’d see.  Expecting to discover hundreds of naturally talented women, I visited nearly every venue that featured belly dancing.  But what I expected and what I discovered were two different things.  To my dismay, the level of dancing here amongst most Egyptian belly dancers is not as high as it used to be just 30 years ago.  

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An Entirely Possible Possibility

Until now, I’ve refrained from dabbling in political discussions about Egypt.  Mainly because watching this so-called revolution unfold before my eyes elicits intense emotions.  A year later and with elections currently underway, however, I don’t know how much longer I can keep silent without exploding.  I mean, I didn’t get a degree in Middle Eastern politics for nothing. :) 

When Egyptians first took to the streets to overthrow Dictator Hosni Mubarak on Jan. 25th, 2011, I couldn’t help being swept away by all the revolutionary fervor.  Indeed, since moving here 3 years ago, I’ve been saying that Egypt is ripe for revolution. Life for the average Egyptian has become intolerable. Poverty is rampant, food prices are unreasonably high, government corruption and inefficiency know no limits, and unemployment rates are well over 50 percent.  I predicted that violence would erupt before the upcoming presidential elections in November, for which Mubarak intended to nominate his son.  Due to the jolt of inspiration Egypt received from Tunisia, however, it happened earlier than I expected. 

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 lunaofcairo@gmail.com 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.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My Interview with BellyDanceFinder!

Bellydancefinder: Tell us a bit about yourself. What is your background? What do you do when you aren’t dancing?
Luna: Three years ago, I won a Fulbright Scholarship to write a book about the history, development and decline of belly dance in Egypt. I had just graduated from Harvard University with a Masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies, and would soon be moving to Cairo. I originally planned to return home after 9 months upon terminating the scholarship. However the dance distracted me and I never finished my book! I kept taking classes and meeting new people, and one thing led to another. Before I knew it, I was performing regularly at all of the 5-star resorts along the Red Sea. Exactly one year later, I auditioned at the Semiramis Hotel and the Nile Memphis and was awarded contracts to dance at both. The Semiramis gig didn’t work out (for very ugly reasons), but I am happily dancing at the Nile Memphis every night. I also perform regularly at weddings and upscale corporate events with my band.



Thursday, October 27, 2011

Celebrate Halloween
Nile-
Style
with
Luna
@ The Nile Memphis!

October 31, 2011
7:00p.m.

.
$25 USD gets you a buffet dinner, a 2.5 hour cruise on the Nile, and a fun belly dance show to live music by Luna of Cairo.


Halloween costumes strongly encouraged.
Winner of Best Costume Contest receives a (sur)prize!


E-mail me at lunaofcairo@gmail.com for location & details & to RSVP :)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Frustrated Feminist

I’m a frustrated feminist.  I’ve always been a feminist of one kind or another, but the frustrated part is rather recent.  It has a lot to do with where I live and what I do.  Luckily, I haven’t reached the point of no return.  I still shave my legs and armpits and wear makeup :0).  And I’m still straight (whatever that means). Yet I hate men.  Well, most of them anyway.  It’s not that I hate the individuals who happen to be men.  I just hate their “manliness” – their “machismo”—whatever it is that drives them to subjugate women.   

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, I live in an ultra-patriarchal society.  That means men have the upper hand in almost all aspects of life here.  They are the leaders, the law makers, the law keepers and law breakers.  Actually, this is true of most of the world, but it’s a little more exaggerated in places like Egypt than in the United States or Western Europe.  That’s not to say that Egypt is on par with Saudi Arabia, Iran or Afghanistan. Nevertheless, misogyny does have its place here.  And it takes various forms:  Female genital mutilation (extremely widespread); domestic violence (very common); sexual harassment (no comment); honor killings (much rarer but do occur from time to time); divorce, adultery and other personal status laws (overtly favor men); and the oh-so-prevalent “a women’s place is in the home” school of thought to which men AND women subscribe.  Again, all of these things exist in other countries.  It’s just that they occur with more much more frequency and much less stigma in this slice of the world.
  

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Case for Cairo

Why you should come to Cairo… Now.

Anyone who knows me knows that I complain about Cairo a lot.  That’s because I’m way past the infatuation phase in my relationship with this city.  I’ve said and continue to say that it’s dirty, crowded, chaotic, draining, dysfunctional and frustrating. But one thing I’ve never said about Cairo is that it’s dangerous. If it were dangerous, I wouldn’t live here. Plain and simple. Neither would thousands of other foreigners who live and work here alongside me.  Ok, ok, the first week of the uprising was pretty scary.  I’ll give you that.  But things calmed down dramatically soon after.  Sure, there’s no government, and there still aren’t as many police on the streets as there used to be, but I could think of much more dangerous places with governments and plenty of police.

Despite what you hear on the media, Cairo is safe.  The problem with the media is that it has a tendency to broadcast events from Tahrir Square and forget about the rest of the country.  This results in a very skewed version of reality. Uh, Newsflash! Tahrir is NOT Egypt.  It is a tiny sliver of Cairo that serves as a rallying point for political agitators.  Generally, what happens in Tahrir stays in Tahrir and doesn’t affect the country at large.  In fact, half of the time, Egyptians don’t even know what’s going on there!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Baladi Beauty



Modeling a wedding dress in an
Egyptian magazine
There must be some superstition about wearing a wedding dress before you get married, but I’ve worn quite a few of them since moving to Cairo. In fact, at one point, I was up to 20 wedding gowns a week. No, I’ve never been married (despite the endless marriage proposals from Egyptian men), and never want to be. I simply model wedding dresses in my rare spare time, when I’m not performing or teaching belly dance.
Let me clarify. I’m NOT a bridal model. It’s just that I’m a bit more “well rounded” than all the Russian girls who saturate the modeling market in Egypt, so I get called for a lot of shoots which require a fuller-figured woman. That means lingerie and wedding shoots. Being that I downright refuse to model lingerie in Egypt, I stick to the bridal modeling. Kind of ironic considering my phobia/disgust with all things marriage. Especially poofy white dresses. And boy are they poofy here. The minute I step into one of those monstrous things, I look like I’m drowning in a sea of white tulle and chiffon. Not to mention it’s impossible to maneuver in them. Now I know why all the Egyptian brides whose weddings I dance at look permanently pissed and scared!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Ramadan in Cairo

Ramadan suhoor at local restaurant Il-Gahsh

It’s that time of year again when Cairo finally takes a break from itself.  The city is quieter, and traffic is more predictable.  Taxi drivers make an extra effort not to rip you off, and people go out of their way to be kind.  From the multicolored Christmas lights that adorn mosques and buildings, to the ubiquitous fawanees (Ramadan lamps) that hang from every home and storefront, there is an undeniable mood of festivity in the air. 

It’s Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, during which Muslims fast and abstain from all things vulgar. Well, theoretically at least.  In Egypt, cabarets, casinos, bars and nightclubs close down.  Muslims make an effort to refrain from using profanity, fighting, lying, smoking, and engaging in other un-Islamic activities, one of which is belly dancing. 

Legally speaking, belly dancing is prohibited during the month of Ramadan.  This is because it contradicts Islamic values of female modesty.  In reality, however, some venues continue to hire belly dancers.  These are mainly the Nile cruises, which cater to foreign tourists and can’t afford not to have belly dancing.  Thus, they dodge the “no belly dancing during Ramadan” policy by making the dancer wear a 1-piece Saidi galabiyya and dance with a couple of folklore boys, thereby making her a folklore dancer.





Sunday, August 7, 2011

Song Translation Service!

Take your dancing to the next level with my new Arabic song translation service! 
Upon popular suggestion, I’ve finally decided to offer a song translation service. :)  Now you can have ANY Arabic song translated & transliterated into fluent, native English for just $18.00.  I provide accurate, precise translations, phonetic transliterations, and explain all idioms, terms, and cultural references that aren’t immediately intelligible to non-Arabic speakers. No more limited, awkward, online translations by translators who are limited in either English or Arabic.
Understanding the meaning of the words to which you’re dancing will significantly improve the way you “feel” the music, and your audiences will be impressed.  Song translation is also a great way to gain further insight into Middle Eastern culture.
Just for the record: I have 5 years of formal Arabic study under my belt: 2 years at Harvard University, 2 years at Columbia University and the City University of New York, and about 1 year in Syria, Yemen, and Egypt combined.  I’ve also been living in Cairo for 3 years and am fluent in the Egyptian dialect.

Click here and here to read testimonials from satisfied customers. :)

Payment via Pay Pal.  To begin translating, contact me at lunaofcairo@gmail.com.  Looking forward to hearing from you!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The "P" Word


No, it’s not what you think.  It’s another word that starts with the letter P—one that has been pestering me for quite some time now.  The word is “prestige,” or bresteej¸ as the Egyptians say.  :)  It means the same in Egyptian Arabic as it does in English, except Egyptians also apply this concept to belly dancing.  I’ll show you what I mean. 

A few days ago, I got a call to perform at a restaurant after my shows on the Nile Memphis.  I would dance to CD, change my costume 3 times, and collect plenty of tips.  I told the agent I would do it, and arranged for a friend in the business to accompany me.  Upon arriving at the restaurant, however, we discovered that there was no dance floor.  In fact, the entire restaurant was no bigger than my kitchen, and there was absolutely no room to dance.  At most, I could prance around the tables and bop to the music.  To make matters worse, the majority of the customers were drunken men.

When he saw this, my friend went on an angry tirade about how jobs like this are not “prestigious,” and how I’m setting myself up for failure.  He went on and on until I snapped and threw a temper tantrum in the street.  Mind you, I was supposed to be “on stage” in 5 minutes. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Condomonium

...yes, it says what you think it does  :) 

That Little Blue “Piece of Paper”
Here’s some heartfelt advice from your resident foreign belly dancer—NEVER carry condoms on you or anywhere near you while traveling in Egypt.  Same goes for tampons.  Most people don’t know what they are, and when their curiosity gets the better of them, things get awkward.  To say the least.  

It just so happened that while I was coming back to Cairo from a show in the Red Sea area last year, the security check-point officers decided they would stop our car and search our bags—me, the DJ, the whirling dervish, and the driver.  The 3 guys stepped out to be frisked by the officers.  I, being the only woman, was instructed to stay in the car until the search was over.  I felt the car bouncing up and down as the officers opened the trunk and rummaged through our bags.  And then, one by one, the guys climbed back into the vehicle, each one with a look of horror on his face. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Celebrate the 4th of July Nile-Style!


4th of July Nile-Style! If you're American & in Cairo, come celebate the 4th of July at the Nile Memphis! $25USD buys you dinner, a wonderful cruise along the Nile, and an exciting belly dance show by American belly dancer Luna! Invitation extended to non-Americans, anti-Americans, wana-be Americans, and eveyone else :D Boat sails at 7pm sharp! Space is limited! Email me at lunaofcairo@gmail.com for boat location and to RSVP.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Birthday Blog

Today is my birthday.  In fact, it’s my third consecutive birthday spent in Cairo.  And yet, if you ask me where home is, I’ll probably answer “America.”  
 
I’m not sure how many years you have to spend in a place before you consider it your home, but the truth is, Cairo is as much my home as New York.  I’ve been living and working here for almost three years now.  I’ve sweat an entire Nile.  I’ve made friends, enemies, and relationships to last a lifetime. I’ve laughed and made others laugh, cried and made others cry, lied and made others lie. :) I speak Arabic fluently.  I’ve helped and been helped, encouraged and been encouraged, fought and been fought, loved and been loved.  I’ve been fooled, cheated, robbed and evicted.  I’ve been supported and cheered on.  I’ve had fits of laughter and fits of rage.  I’ve almost been arrested, deported, and killed on several occasions. I’ve even experienced a revolution.  In short, I’ve grown up here. And I have a few grey hairs to show for it.  If none of this makes a place your home, I don’t know what does. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Showdown @ The Semiramis

You know that hackneyed cliché, “everything happens for a reason,” that people like to say when misfortune knocks at your door?  Well, it’s true.  At the time, I probably would have pelted anyone who told me that there was a reason I got kicked out of the Semiramis Hotel.  Looking back on it, however, I now understand why, in the larger scheme of things, this was a blessing in disguise.


The circumstances of my being contracted and de-contracted at the Semiramis were rather odd.  One typical Cairo evening, I found myself sitting in the Semiramis’ disco with a dancer friend and the two managers of the nightclub where Egypt's most famous dancer performs every week.  Embarrassingly enough, it took me a whole hour to realize that the man sitting across from me conversing with me was THE big shot manager who hires talent at the Semiramis Hotel.  In my defense, I wasn’t told who this man was.  I was simply asked by my dancer friend to accompany her to a party with some artists at the Semiramis disco, and “by the way I’m auditioning here tomorrow.”  


Huh, ok.  We’re going to a party with artists and she was scheduled to audition at the Semiramis tomorrow.  Fair enough.  As the night when on and the conversation got deeper, however, I realized that the man sitting across from me was, in fact, THE manager of the Semiramis nightclub.  Figured.  That’s why he knew so much about that famous dancer! 


Thursday, June 16, 2011

The $6.78¢ CondunDRUM


After 6 months of changing drummers like I change my underwear, I FINALLY found the perfect drummer to join my band. He’s skilled, powerful, properly translates my moves, and isn’t lazy or greedy. He’s everything I’ve been looking for in a drummer, and I couldn’t be happier. But, as always, there’s a problem. The other members of the band don’t like him. They say he’s arrogant and makes funny faces and gestures at them. And they want him out.


Dealing with musicians is one of the most challenging aspects of my job. I do have someone to handle them for me (mainly because it’s not “prestigious” for a dancer to talk to her musicians), but I still feel the effects of their inflated egos and childishness. And last night, it really got to me. We were on stage, about to close the show with a drum solo, when all of a sudden, the band stopped playing. They left me hanging in front of my audience with no music to dance to! I turned around to see what the problem was, only to find them arguing with the drummer!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Finding Work in Cairo -- The Naked Truth


For many belly dancers around the world, dancing in Cairo is the dream of a lifetime.  Whether it’s the opportunity to perform every night to a live orchestra or the chance to earn recognition in the international belly dance community, belly dancing in Cairo brings hundreds of foreign women to Egypt each year. 

Although we all fantasize about it, the truth is that belly dancing in Cairo is not for everyone.  It takes a certain type of woman—physically, emotionally and intellectually—to succeed here as a dancer.  And it’s not always the woman who wants it.  As Layla Taj, a New York based dancer with some experience dancing in Egypt, says on her Web site, “Cairo picks you.  You don’t pick Cairo.” http://www.laylatajdance.com.  From what I’ve seen thus far, this seems to be true.   Each year, hundreds of dancers flock to Cairo determined to make their dream of dancing here come true.  Some even sell their homes, life possessions, and leave loved ones behind.  Most go home disappointed and disillusioned.  Others remain in Cairo for years, hoping their dream will one day come true. With that in mind, I put together a SUPER REALISTIC guide about finding work in Cairo, in which we'll examine the characteristics of the foreign dancer who is likely to succeed.  Please keep in mind that the following comments are based on my personal experiences and observations over the past two and a half years.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Dancing Deportation Drama


My Run-In with the Egyptian “Belly Dance Police”




At the time it was happening, it wasn’t funny, but now I look back on the day I almost got deported and laugh.  I mean, who would have thought that belly dancing on a Nile Cruise could land you in jail and get you kicked out of Egypt?  Do Egyptian authorities really have nothing better to do than arrest foreign belly dancers? 
It happened like this.  After auditioning on the Nile Memphis last August, the management had me performing every night.  Sometimes I performed 2 shows, sometimes 6, depending on how much business the boat had.  After 2 months of steady work, the Egyptian belly dancers who used to dance there previously started resenting the fact that they would only be called to work twice a week—on my days off.  Instead of coming to the boat to check out their competition and understand why I had virtually replaced them, they tried to terminate my dance career in Egypt.  With me gone, they thought they would then reclaim their positions on the boat.  So they called the “belly dance police” and told them I was dancing illegally without working papers. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

"Les danseuses du Caire" ­ - “The Belly Dancers of Cairo”

French TV channel TF1’s 2011 Documentary on the Cairo Belly Dance World



A few months ago, I had the privilege of being filmed for a French documentary on belly dancing in Cairo. Three French journalists from TF1 spent an entire day shadowing me from the minute I woke up (literally), to the minute I finished my last performance on the Nile Memphis.  Their goal was to document a typical day in the life of a Cairo belly dancer.  They also shadowed Brazilian dancer Sorayya Zayed, an Egyptian cabaret dancer, and famous costume designer Sahar Okasha.

The experience of being shadowed was nothing but fun and laughs from start to finish.  I am grateful to French belly dancer Maya Sarsa of Cairo for recommending me for this project.  http://www.youtube.com/user/mayasarsa

The journalists quickly discovered that my life as a Cairo belly dancer is exciting, funny, and frustrating all at the same time.  Watching their reactions as I told them how I was kicked out of my apartment for being a belly dancer, kicked out of the Semiramis for not sleeping with manager, and almost deported for dancing without working papers, was priceless.  And it was exactly the kind of stuff they wanted to hear.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

FINALLY!

So I received excellent news this morning! My work papers have been approved by the Egyptian government!  (Well, whatever remains of it :D). I'm now legally authorized to work as a belly dancer in Cairo.  Finally!  It only took, oh, 2 and half years and a revolution!  Well, not really.  I was contracted to dance at the Semiramis last year, but that ended sooner than it started (for reasons I’ll write about in my next post).  A week after that drama, I passed an audition at a Nile Cruise called Le Memphis, which then applied for a license to hire foreign dancers.  The next step was contracting me and processing the paperwork, which took much longer than it should have. 
First, the man whom I hired to process my papers has chronic sleep syndrome, or so I like to joke.  This was THE laziest man on the planet—the personification of sleep itself.  And even though he would have made good money doing my papers, he just couldn’t get around to doing it!  If he stood me up once, he stood me up a thousand times.  Months of rejecting my phone calls and making up lame excuses went by before this man even began to process my paperwork, and that only happened after I was about to get deported for performing without papers!  By the time I got fed up with this person and looked for someone else to do my papers, 8 months and a whole revolution had gone by!


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Egyptian Uprising 2011

This is an account of how I experienced the political events of Friday, January 28th, 2011, aka “Friday of Wrath.”   I apologize to my readers for not providing any images to accompany my story.  Though I had originally intended to photograph the protests, I quickly changed my mind as I experienced the day.  The acts that I witnessed were so unconscionable that I felt it would be unethical to capture them on film and slap them all over Facebook.  Besides, the media does a good enough job of capturing people at their worst.  They get paid for that.  I don’t.

Friday of Wrath
It was 1pm, and I had just woken up.   As I laid in bed, my thoughts drifted to the Nile Memphis, the floating restaurant on which I'm contracted to dance.  My band and I were scheduled for three trips across the Nile that day, totaling six shows.  But would they happen?   The country was supposed to have erupted into massive anti-government demonstrations, and I couldn't imagine business running as scheduled. 
Not knowing whether the silence of my 13th floor bedroom meant that there were no demonstrations, I picked up my mobile to call my manager.  After several attempts, I could not get through.  There was no phone reception, and no way for me to call anyone.  The Egyptian government had cut off all lines of communication, including land phones and the internet in a last ditch attempt to prevent protestors from mobilizing in Tahrir Square.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Harvard Thing...

Warning.  This is a rant.  :) 


So I’m just going to say it.  I went to Harvard.  Four years ago.  I did a Masters program in Middle Eastern Studies and graduated with a 3.9 average.  I’ve been deeply fascinated with the Middle East ever since 9/11, and decided I’d drive myself into serious debt studying it.  
 So why for the love of God am I belly dancing in Cairo!?!?  Shouldn’t I be putting my education to use? Shouldn’t I be raking in a 6-figure salary working for the US government?  Aren’t I wasting my life “shaking my butt” in a third world country? 
 People have been antagonizing me with these questions since I moved to Cairo more than two years ago, and quite frankly, I’m getting sick of it! Who made it a crime to hold a Harvard degree and work as a belly dancer?  Are there not hundreds of highly educated women teaching and performing belly dance all over the world?  Or is dancing only for idiots?  

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Whore on the 4th Floor

My Secret Life as a Belly Dancer in Cairo
This might sound strange, but here in Cairo, I lead a secret life. I’m not a spy or anything. I’m just a belly dancer. But I make great efforts to hide this from people. When Egyptians ask me what I’m doing in Cairo, I tell them I’m writing a book about Egyptian “art.” I keep things vague, but not untrue. I am, after all, writing a book, and its subject is belly dancing, which is an Egyptian art. Never do I mention that I’m a practitioner of this art, however. Doing so would unleash a series of unfavorable consequences, not the least of which is being labeled a whore.
You might be thinking, “So what? Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t apply here. True, it’s not like I’ll be stoned for being a belly dancer, but I might…oh, let’s see… get kicked out of my apartment.
Oddly enough, this is exactly what happened to me last year (in fact today marks the one-year anniversary of my eviction!). My landlord virtually kicked me out of my apartment upon learning that I am a belly dancer!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

My Story...

More than two years ago, I traded in the hustle and bustle of New York City for Cairo.  I had just graduated from Harvard University with a Masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies, and had won a Fulbright scholarship to write a book about belly dance in Egypt.   A more secretive goal of mine, however, was to learn real Egyptian belly dance.  Ever since participating in Raqia Hassan’s Ahlan wa Sahlan dance festival in 2006, I knew that it could only happen in Egypt.  

Though I had taken belly dance classes and performed for a year in New York City, I had never seen the likes of Dina, Randa, Asmahan, Sorraya and Katia in the States.  Their performances at the festival’s opening and closing galas mesmerized me, but also made me realize that I didn't know how to dance.  I realized that in order to be a fraction as good as these women, I would have to spend some time living in Egypt.