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

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!

Yikes! They even photoshopped my chin wider!
To be fair, it’s not all the dress’s fault. A lot of that permanently pissed look has to do with Egyptian makeup, particularly the eyebrows. You know, those ultra-linear, diagonal eyebrows that make you look like you have a “V” on your forehead. The ones that start closer to the eyelid than the natural brow bone permits, and run away from your face at an 45° angle. Now, with all due respect to Egyptian makeup artistry, “V-45” eyebrows make you look pissed. Every time I have my face made-up for a shoot, someone tells me I look angry (that’s if I’m not smiling, of course :D). In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, but that just goes to show how intense those brows are. So intense that in addition to making me look pissed, they change the look of my face. No exaggeration. I often don’t recognize or even like myself after being made up this way.
Fortunately, I never care how bad I look in these shoots. That’s because Egyptian bridal modeling isn’t where my heart is. For me, this is Halloween with a pay check. But for others, namely thousands of Russian and Ukranian girls who make careers out of this in Egypt, looking funny is a serious matter. It even brings tears to some. I remember doing one bridal shoot with a beautiful Russian model in a bridal beauty center. Both of us had been made up in the typical baladi way, and thus transformed into different people. But while I found it reason to laugh, she found it reason to cry. She couldn’t stand looking so hideous! And believe me, we did look hideous. We both had jet black “V-45” brows, foundation 3 shades lighter than our natural skin tones, at least 4 different colors on our eyes, fake moles, and huge bright fuschia lips. I don’t even want to get into what our hair looked like!
What’s funny is that what we non-Egyptians perceive to be tacky, Egyptians find beautiful. That’s why this look gets reproduced every time I do a model shoot in Cairo, be it bridal or otherwise. They even made me look this way when I modeled a line of Mickey Mouse kids’ pajamas!

Big, white & poofy! :D

The last shoot I did a week ago was particularly brow raising (pun intended). The owner of this baladi   beauty center hired models and a film crew so he could broadcast his makeup and hairstyling services for brides. The video was being aired on television stations throughout Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, and parts of Europe. Supposedly. Anyway, when it came time for the makeup artist (who was also the owner of the salon), to do my brows, things got a bit ugly. First, he covered my natural brows with thick, dark brown lines starting at the top of my nose bone and running away from my face on a steep diagonal. Then, he asked me to close my eyes, popped out a sharp razor, and sliced off the parts of my brows that weren’t covered by the harsh diagonal line!
As soon as I realized what he had done, all sorts of expletives started racing through my mind. I was infuriated that he shaved my eyebrows on camera without even telling me! I mean, it’s not like I don’t need them! Or like I intend to keep drawing diagonal lines on my face until my eyebrows grow back, whenever that may be. But because we were being filmed live, I couldn’t protest. Looking back on it, I wish I had flipped out on camera. That would have added some much needed comic relief to the whole fiasco. :D

Ok, Ok, this one's not too bad :)

There I was, on display for the entire Middle East, propped in a salon chair wearing an enormous wedding dress and a white bath towel to cover my cleavage(!) Making me feel even more ridiculous was the way the makeup artist turned my face to and away from him by pulling my nose! All this for $50 USD, or 300 Egyptian pounds. That’s slightly more than I make dancing one show at the Nile Memphis. But at least on the boat, I’m doing what I love.  And it sure beats being wrapped in a wedding dress and bath towel for seven hours, having my eyebrows shaved off and my nose pulled in front of the entire Arab world!

To be honest, I’m not sure what upset me more—the shaved eyebrows, the pulled nose, or the fact that I had to cover my cleavage with a bath towel because this was being broadcasted in Saudi Arabia. I mean, why have me wear a wedding dress with a plunging neckline in the first place? As if the towel weren’t enough, the camera crew suggested that the makeup artist wedge his fingers through a pedicure toe separator so that his hand would not come in contact with my face when he applied the makeup! Religious people wouldn’t appreciate the idea of a strange man’s hand touching the bride’s face for any reason.
Come on people! The Taliban hasn’t taken over yet!
That was it. My (apparently very high) tolerance for bull had been maxed out. Thankfully, the makeup artist balked at the foam toe separator idea. There was, however, one makeup application technique he insisted not be demonstrated on camera—that of blowing powdered glitter on my fuschia-stained lips. Too suggestive.
Next was the hair. Tight Shirley Temple banana curls paralyzed by loads of hairspray. Yikes. Three black sponges the size of oranges were then fixed to the back of my head with rubber bands, to which all the curls were pinned. More hairspray. I think my head more than doubled in size. :) As with the makeup, the hair session was being televised, so I tried my best to contain my laughter. Especially when the hairstylist repeatedly put his hand out to the assistant and asked for “benis”—pins. :D
It was 5 in the morning when we finished. And thank God for that. I wouldn’t want any living creature on the streets of Cairo looking at me looking like this. When I got home, it took more than an hour to wipe off all the makeup, undo and wash my hair, which was sprayed solid. Not prepared to see what I looked like minus ¾ of my eyebrows, I tried to avoid washing the eyebrow area, but to no avail. The sharp diagonal lines became squiggly streaks with the rest of the makeup running down my soapy face. Words can’t describe what I looked or felt like when I saw my makeup-free face in the mirror, but all I can say is that I had never wanted big bushy eyebrows more in my life than at that moment. And I worried about all the sweat that would now roll into my eyes while dancing.
From now on, I plan on informing all makeup artists of my new “no shave” policy beforehand. They can do whatever they want to me, as long as it doesn’t involve removing my eyebrows. For now, the first thing I do in the mornings is draw a pair of eyebrows on my face until my real ones grow back in. Whenever that will be!

Some more blackmail-able photos for your enjoyment. :)



These aren't so bad... the makeup was done by a Lebanese makeup artist


  1. Asalamu Alaykom,

    Both laughable and cringe-worthy! Thanks for the glimpse. I managed to avoid this torture somehow. I did theatre for years and took two make-up for theatre classes at the university. I would love to be made-up at a salon once as a kind of experience. My eyebrows would need to be off-limits as I love a more natural (human) look. The robotic Stepford brides' eyebrows scare me too. I wish that the make-up could keep some of the peronality shining forth instead of covering it all up. I'm amazed that you lasted through such a long and laborious shoot. You've got some PATIENCE! And really...that's how any of us survive here :) Keep laughing about it and let the Russians shed the tears.

  2. I also prefer the natural look, but I don't think that's very popular here in Egypt. And you're totally right about patience. In my case, however, it's more about surrendering and not resisting. Experiences like these pale in comparison to all the garbage I've been through. So I can do nothing but laugh. Besides, they make good blog content! :D

  3. Wow! Great participant-observation experience! ;) I wonder about the whole beauty thing and how much the belad actually likes (does the groom reaaaaally want to see the arousah that way?) or is it like in the States advertising when certain objectifying trends take over in advertising despite what the people go for.. I do like the excessive make up of the lebanese stars like Haifa and Nancy, but they wouldn't be considered "beladi"...

  4. That is so funny. I scrolled down to look for pictures and was so disapointed not to find any. Although I can't really blame you...

  5. @ la mera guera I'm not sure it's a trend that imposed itself and took over. On several occasional Egyptian male acquaintances would see me made up this way and ogle over me. Not to generalize or anything, but most of them have the same opinion. But I too am a fan of the Lebanese makeup... over the top but in a nice way :)

    @ Miriam... :D yeah... both the before and after pics are hideous. Didn't have the gall to post them. Sorry about that! hahaha

  6. omg i would have killed that guy for shaving off my eyebrows! you have great self control lol