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 $20.00.  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. Your audiences will be impressed.  Song translation is also a great way to gain further insight into Middle Eastern cultures.
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, 1 year in Syria and Yemen, and a decade of surviving in Egypt. 

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!


Here's a sample translation for you:


Si Abdo***
Mr. Abdo
*** “Si” is the local ‘baladi’ equivalent of mister.

Si Abdo!
Mr. Abdo!
Wa Oyoon Si Abdo
And Mr. Abdo’s eyes

Hosh an ayoonak Si Abdo, ah ya Si Abdo
Stop looking at me Mr. Abdo, oh Mr. Abdo
Da al hob garee wa ana mish adoo ah ya Si Abdo
Love is too strong for me, and I’m not up to it
(They both like each other, but the girl is afraid to start a relationship because of the complications that may arise.)

Si Abdo
Mr. Abdo
Si Abdo
Mr. Abdo
Si Abdo
Mr. Abdo
Si Abdo
Mr. Abdo

Aaloo il hawa luhu dawa
They said that love has a cure
Raga aloolee…
They came back to me and said…
GIRL: Ma Azunish!
I don’t think so!

Aloolee tamin, gaylee il-nawa fo il-nakhel, oolt
They told me, ‘wait, there’s a cure,’ that I can have an entire palm tree with dates cure me of love, but I said
(This doesn’t really make sense in English.  What it means is that finding a cure for love is like trying to tear down an entire palm tree with dates, or, a better example, trying to capture a star and bring it down to earth. Very difficult).
GIRL: Ma Azunish
I don’t think so!

Il-inkawa min il-hawa, yenam il leil
Whoever is in love, sleeps very well at night
GIRL: Ma Azunish!
I don’t think so!

Ana hadrab, wa hafashfish, wa hakasr, wa hadashdish
I’ll hit and crush and break things [to get rid of his love]
GIRL : Le le le, ma azunish!
No no no!  I don’t think so!

Il-wad zagh minee wa fak,
My lover ran away from me
Wa ana zanoo fi khant il-yak
But I was able to break her check mate (reference to a move in Backgammon similar to the check mate in chess.) 
Now the song starts using the metaphor of a Backgammon game to describe what’s happening in the game of love. This was really difficult to translate, as it’s extremely local, and normal Egyptians don’t speak like this.  It also makes very little sense if you have no clue about Backgammon. :D  I did my best not to translate literally.

Il-wad zagh minee wa fak,
My lover ran away from me
Wa ana maskoo fi khant il-yak
But I was able to break her check mate
Aal eh il haz idaloo
He said he got lucky
The song starts out with the singer speaking in the first person.  Then he shifts to singing in the third person.  It’s really typical of Arabic poetry, from the Quran to modern day shaabi music, for the author to shift between persons.  This is done for two reasons.  One, the rhyme scheme may call for it, and two, it’s more respectful for a man to address or speak about his lover in the masculine. 

Fakar yamil doyak
And he wants to try his luck (literally throw the dice and hope for the outcome he wants)
Il-wad zagh minee wa fak,
My lover ran away from me
Wa ana zanoo fi khant il-yak
But I was able to break her check mate

Harifa
Professional
Harifa
Professional
Ihna il-nas il-harifa
We’re the professionals (at backgammon, but really the game of love)

Il-do, Il-see
One, two (on the dice)
Il-do wa il-see w ail-gohar
One, two, and four (on the dice)
Asla ihna il-nas il-shutar
We’re professionals too
Fil-do wa il-see w ail-gohar
One, two, and four

Ihna il-nas il-shutar
We’re professionals too
Harifa
Professional
Harifa
Professional
Ihna il-ayal il-harifa
We’re the professionals

Awazilna ya-ayni fi heera
All those who are jealous of our love are confused  
Sabaha il-ashra bi-tareefa
And they’re a dime a dozen

Fatafeet il-sukar fatafeet
Sugar crystals, sugar crystals
Al-halu ya-halu itrabayt
I grew up on sweet things (he means good values)
Fatafeet il-sukar fatafeet
Sugar crystals, sugar crystals
Al-halu ya-halu itrabayt
I grew up on sweet things

Fatafeet il-sukar tagibni
I like sugar crystals
Wa inta ya-halu mudawibni
And you, my sweet, make me melt
Dawibni fi-hobik dawibni
Your love makes me melt
Wa fi albi rah abnilik bayt
And with the love in my heart I will build you a house


Hagir, Asee, Yehib wa yamil nasi
He leaves, he doesn’t ask about me, he loves and then forgets
Hagir, Asee, Yehib wa yamil nasi
He leaves, he doesn’t ask about me, he loves and then forgets

Ah minak ya muftari tabia fi albi tashtari
You’re treating me badly and playing with my emotions
Ah minak ya muftari tabia fi albi tashtari
You’re treating me badly and playing with my emotions

Ashtikeek li ahl il-hawa
I’ll complain to all the lovers
Aool da wayeh il dawa
I’ll say that you have the cure (for love)

Ashtikeek li ahl il-hawa
I’ll complain to all the lovers
Aool da wayeh il dawa
I’ll say that you have the cure (for love)
Yabia fi albi tashtari
You’re playing with my heart and emotions.


Yallah ya amar
Let’s go, beautiful
Rawah ya amar
Go home beautiful
Yallah ya amar
Let’s go, beautiful
Rawah ya amar
Go home beautiful


Ya Amar!.....