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

Friday, December 21, 2012

Crazy Dog Lady

Two brown puppies up for adoption.
 
Yep.  It’s official.  I’m the crazy dog lady of Cairo. :)  I am now the proud caretaker of 5 dogs.  One mum and four pups.  I swore I wasn’t going to rescue anymore dogs, but alas, I lied. 

It all started a few months ago.  I was coming home from a long night of work when I noticed a sad-looking dog curled up in the entrance of my building.  That’s odd, I thought.  Street dogs usually avoid people.  There’s probably something wrong with it if it’s decided to seek refuge inside the building.  So I decided to find out.  I approached the dog slowly, not knowing if it was wounded or scared, or if it would bite me.  “Hiwoy,” I said (that’s “hi” in the super retarded doggie language I invented :D).  I got closer and crouched down to pet its head until it finally acknowledged me by wagging its tail.  Very well.  It didn’t seem to be hurt, so I made my way to the elevator.



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.  

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Current Affairs

One of the reasons I allowed myself to come to Egypt was because I was burnt out.  Six years of nonstop reading, writing, and thinking about Middle Eastern politics will do that to you.  Not to mention the constant debating, arguing, analyzing, questioning and critiquing.  It’s educational, no doubt, but also maddening.  Your brain never stops.  One thought opens the door to a million new ones.  I thought learning to dance in Egypt would be the perfect way to clear my head of all the political pollution, but boy was I wrong.  If anything, living here has only the made the wheels in my head turn faster.  Especially after the revolution.  All people seem to want to do is talk politics and make history.  At work, in taxis, at cafes, in Tahrir.  There’s just no escaping the political madness these days.  It’s endemic.

This month was no exception.  Tensions reached an all time high, seemingly over that disgusting film which denigrates the Muslim prophet Mohamed.  As an American who lives in Egypt, this is something that greatly troubled me.  So I want to share some of my thoughts on the matter.  Note: they are just thoughts.  I don’t have an “agenda,” and don’t present my views as THE truth.  

Sunday, September 9, 2012

"Living the Dream"

I’m always bemused by all belly dancers who tell me I’m “living the dream.”  Every time I hear that, I want to ask, really?  What dream?  I never dreamed of being a belly dancer in Cairo.  I didn’t even know that was possible! =D
Truth be told, I didn’t come to Egypt with a mission to be a “star,” or because someone pumped my ego with garbage.  I came to Egypt because I had a broken heart.  I hadn’t broken up with a boyfriend or anything like that.  But a couple of years earlier,  I saw something I really wanted and didn’t think I could do-- real Egyptian belly dancing.  Since attending that festival in 2006, I desperately wanted to learn.  But because achieving that level of excellence in the dance requires many years of living in Cairo, I decided that was impossible, and got depressed.

It turns out I was wrong.  I have, after all, been living in Cairo for four years.  Yet at the time, if you would have told me this could or would happen, I would have responded that I also believe in the tooth fairy.  I had just been accepted to Harvard, would spend the next two years of my life there, and would then go on to get a job and make babies.  I couldn’t imagine interrupting the very natural flow of things to fit Egypt in.  Nor could I imagine the logistics of undertaking such an endeavor.  How would I get there?  Where would I stay?  Who would hire me to work so that I could pay my rent and fund all my dance classes?  Too much uncertainty, too much impossibility, no money. 

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. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Joker. Are You Joking?!

Because I have something to say about everything. ;)

This year more than ever, I had really been looking forward to coming home.  I was homesick, missed my family, and was having cravings that could only be satisfied in New York.  More importantly, Egypt was starting to get a little unbearable.  People have grown irritable and quarrelsome.  The traffic is worse than ever.  It’s impossible to go anywhere any time of day or night without sitting for hours in a cab, inhaling toxic amounts of exhaust.  Most cabs don’t have air conditioning, and it’s disgustingly hot and humid.  Some do, but lots of times, drivers lie and say the AC doesn’t work. 

I’m also a bit fed up with wearing long pants and long sleeves in this weather.  But what can I do?  Anything less and I’d be asking for real trouble.  These days, women are being assaulted in ways that never happened before the revolution.  I should know.  In just one month, I was targeted three times!  The first time, a man jumped out of a microbus and chased me down the street in broad daylight.  Next, I was in a cab when a gang on 10 motorcycles spotted me and tried to crash their bikes into the cab.  The driver got angry and tried to run over the motorcyclists.  Had I not barked at the driver to stop engaging them, we would have had a catastrophe on our hands.  Most recently, teen-aged boys sprayed tear gas in a cab that my friend and I were getting into.  Both she and I and the driver started tearing.  And I started losing consciousness.  We eventually drove away and the gas wore off.  

Monday, July 2, 2012

Woe to Egypt

I would have posted this earlier last week, but I've been insanely busy.  I apologize in advance, as there will be no sacred cows.  If you have any, don’t read this.

I feel like I just woke up from a nightmare.  Only, that nightmare continued into reality.  Islamists won the Egyptian presidency, fair and square.  That’s after winning 70 percent of the (now dissolved) Parliament.  Not to sound like a jackass, but I told you so.  

Even before this so-called revolution, I knew that religious fanatics would eventually come to power.  It was only a matter of time.  I guess studying the Middle East at Harvard is responsible for my political foresight.  But honestly, anyone with half a brain would have reached the same conclusion. The writing was on the wall.  Egypt has been ripe for Islamification for some time now.  One need only have noticed the growing number of veiled women and bearded men, and the widespread illiteracy, unemployment and poverty to figure that out.  If that’s not the perfect recipe for Islamist governance, I don’t know what is. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Politics of Harassment

“Egyptian women sexually harassed at anti-harassment rally,” read this week's headlines.  Well isn’t that ironic? 

On Friday, a few hundred women staged an anti-harassment rally to protest the sexual harassment that is ubiquitous in Egypt.  Male supporters formed a protective circle around them, only to be overwhelmed by hordes of violent young men who sexually assaulted some of the protesting women.  

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what happens when women stand up for themselves in Egypt.   

Wait, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn.  Let’s look at the bright side.  Some Egyptian women and men are starting to recognize that sexual harassment is a HUGE problem and are willing to do something about it.  It’s unfortunate that it took several instances of revolution-related gang rape for them to wake up, but at least they’ve awoken.  Better late than never. :/


Monday, June 4, 2012

"No Justice, No Peace"


In the words of New York firebrand Al Sharpton, “no justice, no peace.”  That’s what came to mind upon hearing the verdict of the Mubarak trial two days ago.  I’ve never had much use for the Reverend Al, but his words reverberated in my head as thousands of Egyptians took to the streets, enraged that Mubarak and Co. were let off the hook.  Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison for failing to stop the shooting of protesters.  So was his minister of interior, Habib Al-Adly.  His sons Gamal and Ala got off scot-free.  So did the 6 officers charged with actually pulling the trigger on protesters in the beginning of the revolution. 

If that’s not getting off the hook, I don’t know what is.  You’d think that after 30 years of robbing the country, they could come up with enough charges to put him in the electric chair.  Or wrap a noose around his neck and mete out justice in Tahrir Square, Iraqi style.  Which is basically what a lot of Egyptians clamored for.  Especially the relatives of those who died in the revolution.  Instead, Mubarak was found guilty of only one thing, and completely innocent(!) of various corruption charges…  

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

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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.   

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On Being Egyptian

I’m not Egyptian and I don’t pretend to be, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t picked up a few Egyptian habits.  Being Egyptian is contagious. :) Particularly when you live here for a while and speak the language pretty fluently.  That’s all quite normal, I guess.  But it’s interesting in light of the fact that I grew up in a country where it’s common for foreigners to cling onto their native cultures and resist assimilation.  So when I step outside of myself and observe the ways in which my thoughts, mannerisms, and even speech have transformed, I can’t help but chuckle at how much I’ve unintentionally assimilated into Egyptian culture.  
For example.  I’ve gotten into the very Egyptian habit of staring at beautiful women. :)  Now, I don’t lean that way, and I definitely don’t harass them.  But like most Egyptian men and women, I can’t help but marvel at beautiful people.  Which is pretty hypocritical,  being that I hate when people stare at me.  Even if it’s because they think I’m cute.  I think staring is rude and is an invasion of personal space.  Besides, I learned not to do it in Kindergarten. :)   

Saturday, February 11, 2012

On Being American

Last year, I bought some glittery red,white and blue fabric and made an American flag belly dance costume.  I never intended to do that, but when I saw lycra stars and stripes while fabric shopping, I just couldn’t resist.  It was as though the fabric were saying, “make me.”  Politics aside, it is a beautiful flag.  And, I’m crazy like that. :)  
The costume was absolutely stunning, and I performed in it quite a bit.  At first, I was a little reluctant to wear it, given Egyptians’ unfavorable views towards the United States.  But one day, I decided to take a chance.  The worst that could happen, I figured, was I’d be booed off stage.  I was willing to take that risk.  To my surprise, nothing like that happened.  In fact, my audience started clapping and cheering the moment I entered the room.  Many of them even begged to be photographed with me.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Metamorphosis

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.

Technique
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.