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

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!

This is what happened. In September of 2009, I was apartment hunting again (for the 5th time in one year!). After weeks of searching, I finally found the perfect flat in Doqqi. It was on the 4th floor. It had 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a large reception area, AND an extra room that could be made into a dance studio. Most importantly, the price was right. I told the real estate agent that I would rent this apartment and would like to sign a lease with the landlord. The landlord, I was told, was living in Kuwait, but his sister Wiam would act on his behalf. So I met with Wiam and her two young sons.
Our meeting was cordial enough. And then she popped THE question: “So what are you doing here in Cairo?” (Mind you, Wiam had just made a point of saying that she was very religious, and that her whole family was conservative.) “I… um…I’m writing a book about Egyptian art,” I blurted. “Oh, so you attend the American University in Cairo?” she asked. “Um… I guess you could say that,” I answered, and then we signed a 6-month lease.
Fast forward 2 months. I’m hired to belly dance at the Paradise Hotel in a city called Ras Sidr, which is 3-hours away from Cairo. I did my usual 45-minute show with three costume changes. It must have been the first time the hotel hired a foreign belly dancer, and the audience was loving every minute of it. They were cheering, whistling, clapping, screaming and even throwing roses at me. I left the stage feeling so good about myself…
…and then, two young boys approached me as I walked to the changing room. “Excuse me,” they said. “Aren’t you the girl who lives at 22 Doqqi Street?” “WHY YES I!—am. Wait, how do you know that?!” I asked. “Because our mother is Wiam,” they replied. “She was sitting inside with us watching you dance. She said you dance really well.”
The boys’ words hit me like a ton of bricks. All the joy that I felt just two seconds before seeing them turned to disgust. “Just my luck,” I thought. “Wiam catches me belly dancing in a random hotel 3 hours away from Cairo! “Now she’ll tell her brother and he will kick me out of his apartment.”
Sure enough, my thoughts materialized. Mohamed came back to Cairo from Kuwait in March of the following year, and the first thing he did was say that he would more than double the rent. When I said I wouldn’t be able to pay the rent increase, he said rather sharply that I MUST have lots of money, being that I’m a belly dancer.
“So this is what it’s all about,” I said. “I’m a belly dancer and you’re not comfortable with that.” He admitted that he did not like the idea of a dancer living in his flat, because he and his family were “people of God.”
So what does that make me?! The daughter of Satan?!?
One of the things I hate the most about Egypt is the way the majority of Egyptians view belly dancing. Here, as in the rest of the Arab world, belly dancing is a synonym for prostitution. It is not an art. The belly dancer, or ra’assa, is a whore. Any woman who dares show her flesh and “titillate” men with her sexy jiggles and vibrations is looked down upon.
Admittedly, much of this thinking has to do with the fact that historically, most Egyptian belly dancers have engaged in prostitution. In fact, Muhammad Ali famously banished all the belly dancers (awalim) from Cairo in the 19th century for supposedly spreading gonorrhea amongst French and British soldiers who were stationed in Cairo.
The other factor responsible for this view is Islam, which has a strong hold on Egyptians’ imaginations.  Islam demands female modesty, and says that a woman’s beauty must be reserved for her husband. Displaying hair and skin in the presence of men is considered sinful (not to mention dancing half-naked in front of them!).
Though I was always aware of this mentality, I always held a “not my problem” attitude toward it. Now that I live here, it is my problem. I take extra precaution not to let anyone know that I’m a belly dancer. I keep my makeup to a minimum when traveling to and from work. I wrap my sequined Saidi sticks in a huge black garbage bag, and when I practice dance in my apartment, I keep the music low.
Nevertheless, my secret manages to escape, as the events that led to my eviction prove. In fact, more often than not, people tend to find out that I’m a belly dancer. 


One week after I moved into my next apartment, I accidentally locked myself out. Unable to get in, I asked my neighbor to climb into my apartment via our connecting balconies, pull my spare key out of my purse, and open the door. Apparently, he was unable to fish the key out of purse, so he turned the bag upside down and emptied its contents. Out flew the key, along with more than 40 photos of me in my belly dance costumes! That’s it. My secret had gotten out! Now my neighbor knew that I’m a belly dancer. And in Egypt, if one person knows, the whole country knows. Indeed, it wasn’t too long before the bawabs (doormen) started giving me funny looks as I entered and left the building. They also started paying extra attention to all the men my roommates starting bring up to our apartment, and threatened to call the police on me for having male visitors (i.e. starting a whorehouse)! For though it is technically not illegal to have mixed-gender households, religious sentiments vis-à-vis gender segregation outweigh all other considerations.
As difficult as it’s been for me, however, Egyptian belly dancers have it a whole lot worse. Not only do they need to hide their lives from their landlords and neighbors, but they have to contend with their families. Most Egyptians would never accept their daughter/sister/mother working as a belly dancer. I feel bad for these women. On the one hand, they make good money belly dancing. On the other, they lead double lives. To make matters worse, 99 percent of them really believe that belly dancing is haram, sinful, and swear that they will quit once they’ve amassed enough money to live comfortably. Theirs is not just a social conflict. It’s an inner conflict, and it’s one that as a westerner, I do not have to deal with.

11 comments:

  1. What makes Egyptians think this way about belly dancers, not cause of their religious views nor any particular faith. It's just norms. All about norms, as you might have noticed during your stay in Egypt, that norms play a great role in our lives here.

    People here do care very much about their reputation and to keep their image clear in front of everyone. You probably meet a liberal open minded guy who believes that belly dancing isn't another form of prostitution and it's a pure art, but he wouldn't approach you in order to avoid rumors, of he being in a relationship with a belly dancer.

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    1. Mohamed, you're right about rumors and reputation. I would just like to add that those "norms" that you're talking about are based on religion. Most of modern-day Egyptian culture is influenced by Islam. Being a belly dancer is considered shameful because religiously speaking, it is haram. Women are supposed to save their beauty for their husbands, not display it in public. So a man who has a dancer as a wife will not be respected, as you suggest. He will be called an "3ars." But let's not deny that Islam plays a big role here. Thanks for reading and writing.

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  2. To close this door of problems coming from neighbors.. I advice to move to Zamalak or GardenCity.

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  3. I think that the Egyptian community wither they are Muslim or christian is very conservative, because religion believes is rooted inside everyone, but i think that no body want to look over the fact from the other side so you can understand the fact with more logical thinking, everyone hear the sound of his desires not the sound of the reality.

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    1. But the reality is that modern Egyptian culture is influenced by religion, particularly Islam...

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  4. I dont understand that its acceptable to watch and both men and women will go and watch, but not acceptable to dance.
    If your landlord's family was such 'of God', then why was his sister and her two sons there?
    I don't get it.

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    1. Exactly. Because they're hypocrits. If they're so religious they shouldn't be seeking out that entertainment in the first place. Thanks for your comment and for reading. :)

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  5. It is an interesting debate. And I also question why it is OK to watch in public (as many Middle Easterners in the USA also enjoy watching), but not to dance in public? Because my understanding, not having been to the country myself, is that EVERYONE dances at home, and at celebrations!

    Sadly, the religious belief that places the blame on the woman for "showing her flesh and 'titillating' men with her sexy jiggles and vibrations" ultimately overlooks the fact that if the man were held responsible for his own self-control, he would be, at least partly, to blame for his own titillation. But this is also a society which blames a woman for her own rape, right?

    As much admiration as I have for the ART FORM of belly dance, and for the beauty of Egyptian culture, I find it very sad that the people of the Middle East cannot embrace the beauty of the dance, both in private AND in public.

    I have only just begun to follow your blog, and I wish you continued success in your quest to live, work, and learn in that country!

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    1. Hi Sheila,
      Thanks for commenting. I too wish that Mid East cultures would accept the public, performance variation of the dance. But alas, I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon. There are many double standards when it comes to men and women here, but I don't want to get into that. Thanks again and happy dancing. :)

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  6. Well, you're definitely right about almost the whole article. My ex girlfriend was a European belly dancer plus of course the number of the European belly dancing friends I have, and I faced alot of questions about my ex girlfriend profession that time and many people were laughing or wink by the eye as a sign of that I got a hot girl, or in another word "a prost****", It was a long journey to convince people that belly dance is just a pure art, by time it started to work, my family and alot of my friends started to believe the same way as I do, I don't know it was easy for just me cause of my well educated surround I have or my way was the easy one to be felt or understood, I was telling them "Its like ballet in the west guys!" once I say that, I find this spark on the eye followed with "yes, you're right", I convinced many people with that way or example, and I found great reactions from all around me including my family whom loved my ex and all my other friends! But lets be honest, this bad reputation didn't come out of nothing,the bad attitude from many belly dancers is what made the public thought that about anyone take this profession, I've seen by my own eyes many belly dancers (Egyptians) are dealing totally like prostitutes in many night clubs, so those dancers are the ones to put the blame on! And my last point, is that things are changing alot lately in Egypt, people are getting more liberal on several levels and more understanding to many stuff, maybe yes not yet with belly dance, but it eventually it will, it just takes time, am sure many of my friends and family members whom already convinced that belly dance is just a pure art will talk around occasionally, and other people with experiences like me will talk, and the word will be spread all over the country, maybe it will take years, but it will, trust me, it just takes time :)! And my advice is when to be asked again, you can say any profession related to dance, like ballet if its possible or whatever job in theater, like acting or whatever, so if you get caught, "Its a side activity I do or learn" ;)

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