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. :)~

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Sunday, February 3, 2013


There’s been some talk about ethics in the belly dance community lately.  This is always a good topic, and something that needs to be discussed in any field.  But not when the discussion comes from a false position of self-righteousness, or when it’s a masquerade for a personal problem between people, or when it’s meant to embarrass and “expose” someone you don’t like.  When a discussion about ethics becomes the choice weapon in our own personal battles, then maybe it’s time to step off the podium and examine whether we’re living up to the standards to which we hold others.  

There seems to be an assumption in the belly dance world that the only issue of ethics pertaining to us is that of the casting couch.  Meaning, as long as we don’t have sex with managers, venue owners, or other “men of power” to procure work, we’re completely ethical artists.  While this is definitely one of the biggies, being an ethical artist entails much more than not selling your body for work.  

In fact, there are many types of unethical behaviors.  We behave unethically whenever we engage in destructive activities intended to give ourselves an unfair advantage while creating unfair disadvantages for others.  Cheating, in other words.  Taking the easy way out while making it harder for others to succeed.  Since lots of people conveniently forget to talk about these other issues, I figured I’d give it a stab, from a purely intellectual standpoint.  I make no claims of self-righteousness, nor do I point any fingers.  And in the name of fairness and honesty, I’ll even admit to times when I’ve acted a bit unethically. 

Giving “False Hope
An unethical practice that gets off the hook too easily is flirting with venue managers (i.e. giving them “false hope").  You know, making a man believe that he will sleep with you in the hopes that he will give you work.  A lot of dancers may think they’re playing an innocent game here, but they’re not.  In reality, there's no difference between leading someone on and actually delivering your promises (which will eventually be expected).  In both instances, you’re trying to advance your career at the expense of others who refuse to engage in similar behavior. 

Strangely, quite a few people have advised me to play this game.  My response to that has always been a categorical “No.”  I see no difference between doing the deed and pretending you will.  In fact, here in Egypt, they’re one and the same.  Both fall under the category of sharmatta, “whoring around.” 

I’ve seen others try this strategy.  Not only is it unethical, it reeks of desperation.  It's also the best way NOT to get the job.  Or lose it as fast as you got it.  Nobody likes a tease.  Once your target realizes you’re playing him, you’ll be out your job faster than you can sneeze.  Similarly, lying on the casting couch promises the same results.  As soon as the next fresh piece of meat strolls into town, you’ll find yourself out a job, wondering why the boss decided to stop rewarding you for your “services.” 

Here in Egypt, one of the most unethical things a dancer can do is work illegally on a regular basis.  This applies to Egyptian and foreign dancers alike (Egyptians also need a license to perform).  I’ll be the first to admit that I danced illegally for quite a while (most of us have at one point or another in our careers).   I was even caught by the bellydance police and almost deported for it.  But I did that before the revolution, when the economy was in better shape, and when there was much more dance work to go around.  My presence on the market didn’t really hurt anyone.  That activity obviously stopped once I got my papers, and once the revolution started.  I have since changed my views on the whole subject.  

Currently, the economy is so fragile that the dance market can hardly sustain all the legal dancers, let alone the illegal ones.  In fact, quite a few venues, including the Grand Hyatt and Mena House have done away with their belly dance shows altogether.  Other venues, mainly cabarets, have closed down completely.  Thus, for unlicensed dancers to take away the few work opportunities still available to licensed dancers who pay taxes just doesn’t seem fair.  

With respect to foreigners, it’s not like they’re coming from impoverished countries and need the work to survive.  They come seeking fame and recognition.  While that’s all lovely under better circumstances, these self-serving goals should take a backseat during such hard times as these.  These days, dancing illegally punishes those legal Egyptian and foreign dancers who actually need the work to sustain themselves, and who pump more money into the economy than they make (not to mention it’s dangerous).  Legal dancers pay taxes, monthly dues (and fines!), agent commissions, hefty residency renewal fees, work permit renewal fees, etc.  Not to mention all the costumes we buy (which are more expensive than our rent!), and, as is the case with us foreigners, all the classes we take.

To be fair, the agents who employ unlicensed dancers are as much at fault as the dancers themselves.  Some agents love working with illegal dancers because they don’t pay them much.  They exploit the fact that the dancer has no papers, and that she’s dying to perform in Egypt, and then use that as an excuse to pay her peanuts for an hour show with 3 costume changes that takes 2 hours to get to, 2 hours to return from, and 2 to 3 hours to prepare for!  Or peanuts for a wedding that’s paying much more.  The dancers who accept this are undercutting, and it sucks.  It’s also unethical.  Undercutting creates an unfair disadvantage for all the legal dancers who rightly charge much more for these jobs.  
Another issue of ethics with respect to money-making is pirating, the practice of burning other artists’ copyrighted music onto blank CDs and selling them for a profit.  I couldn’t imagine spending loads of money to produce my own copyrighted music, only to have it stolen by others who are too cheap or lazy to produce their own work.  This is not only unethical, but it’s theft and it’s illegal. As professional artists, we need to be more respectful of others’ work.

Personal Behavior
We should also be more respectful of each other.  One of the most important issues of ethics that is often overlooked is our personal behavior.  Our professionalism.  How we treat others, especially our fellow dancers.  

One of the most interesting pieces of advice given to me upon first landing on Planet Egypt was to stay away from all working and non-working dancers.  I was told that there’s no sisterhood here.  No camaraderie amongst dancers.  That dancers go out of their way to harm each other.  At first, I thought it was a bunch of bull—until I started seeing it with my own eyes, hearing it with my own ears, and eventually, experiencing it. 

I can’t speak about others’ experiences, but so far, I’ve had other dancers call the belly dance police on me.  I good-heartedly (and stupidly) lent out a costume only to have it stolen.  I’ve been accused of lying on the casting couch.  I’ve been accused of recording people’s nasty gossip on my mobile phone and letting others hear it (as if I have nothing better to do).  And these are only the things I know about! :D~  

None of this is unique to me, by the way.  Every working dancer finds herself in similar situations from time to time.  Which is why we need to address this issue of ethics.  There is nothing ethical or professional about calling the police because we’re pissed that someone else is getting more work.  And needless to say, there’s nothing ethical about stealing or destroying each others’ personal belongings.  Rather, if we’re upset that someone else is working more than us, we should find out why.  Are her costumes better?  Does she dance better?  Does she interact with the audience more?  Once we make an honest assessment of why others are more successful, we should then strive to make ourselves the best dancers we could possibly be.  This is how competition should be handled.  Not by throwing roadblocks in front of others.

While actions speak louder than words, what we say can be just as damaging as what we do.  As such, part of being ethical is being mindful of our tongues.  Starting and/or spreading nasty rumors about people’s personal or professional lives is never cool.  Yet it’s probably the most common of all unethical behaviors, and one that we’ve all been guilty of.  

I personally fell into that trap a while back.  It happened when I was kicked outof the Semiramis Hotel because of a problem that started when the manager realized he wasn’t getting any from me.  That experience left me so depressed and deluded that I started believing, saying, and writing publicly that the only way to get a contract in Cairo is to sleep with someone.  I even claimed to “know” of people who had done this.  Mentally, I was in such a state that if you told me Mother Theresa herself was dancing in Cairo, I would have said it’s because she’s a whore.

Which is problematic.  

First of all, there’s no way to really know if someone slept around to get their job.  Thee's a difference between knowing, on one hand, and hearing and believing, on the other.  Unless we see something with our eyes, we cannot know that it happened.  We thus have no right to invent it with our small minds and spread it with our big mouths.  There is nothing ethical about finger pointing, especially when we don’t even know the people we’re pointing at.  Or because we hate the person for our own reasons and want them to fail.  Or because we’re jealous and want to believe bad things about them.  Not only is there no way to verify accusations, but most of the time, they’re not true.  Besides, gossiping just makes us look like petty, envious individuals.  

Secondly, and I’m just putting this out there, there are many examples of what seem to be legitimate love stories in our dance industry.  There are dancers who have had relationships and even kids with their tabla players, singers, keyboardists, costume designers, male dancers, managers, DJs, technicians and bosses.  Is it fair to assume that every one of these women latched on to their man to get work?  Especially if their relationships formed after they legally secured a job? And when the relationships last for years and produce children?  Though maybe not ideal, isn’t it possible—indeed highly likely—that chemistry, emotions, and dare I suggest, love, might develop between two people who see and work with each other every day?  Or is every dancer who finds a man just an exploitative whore?  

More importantly, however, other people’s personal lives are just that—personal.  And none of our business.  

Even without such traumas as the one I experienced at the Semiramis, it is very easy to get caught in the cycle of spreading rumors.  The dance scene seems to lend itself to that.  Indeed, from the minute I landed in Cairo more than 4 years ago until this very second, I have yet to come across an artist say something positive about another artist (unless they’re in each others’ presence!).  Maybe I’ve been hanging around the wrong people, but I’ve noticed that nobody has anything good to say.  Who slept with who, who stole who’s husband, who’s been paying off the manger to keep her position at the hotel, who kicked who off a boat, who’s a murderer (yep), and, and, and.   The stories are endless.  And they can get very creative!  Especially when they mix fact with fiction.  Indeed, there’s not one dancer about whom I haven’t heard some sort of crap, including myself.  From the big to the small to everyone in between, it seems that it’s impossible not to be spoken or plain lied about.  It gets quite toxic after a while.  That’s when you make a decision to either isolate yourself, or, as in my case, just not care. 

The interesting thing about it all is that oftentimes, it’s the people closest to us who generate these sorts of rumors.  Take the Dina sex scandal for example.  Egypt’s belly dance superstar was filmed having sex with her husband, by none other than her own husband!  He then distributed the tapes all over Egypt, causing the poor woman emotional trauma of epic proportions.  I could probably come up with a myriad of reasons why he felt justified to do that, but the point is, the people who are supposed to love and support us sometimes say and do things that our worst enemies wouldn’t do.  And there’s no excuse for it.  Luckily, Dina emerged from this scandal bigger and better.  She also gained the sympathy of millions of Egyptians, who faulted her sleazy husband for doing such a thing.  

That being said, this kind of behavior is never excusable.  No matter how much emotional pain we’re in, or how insecure we’re feeling, it’s unethical to publicly bash others for how they conduct their personal lives.  Even if we believe the gossip about them.  Spreading rumors will not change the fact of what they did (or didn’t do), and, two wrongs don’t make a right.  Besides, it’s never good when people start tracing rumors back to you.  

Instead of trashing people, it would be more productive to teach future generations of working dancers to conduct themselves as ethically as possible…and that it’s not the end of the world if they don’t get the gig.  That’s pretty much all we can do.  The rest is up to them.  

The topics I’ve covered are not an exhaustive list of unethical behaviors.  Nor do they solely apply to belly dancers.  Rather, they are behaviors best avoided by decent human beings in any field.  By acting unethically, we not only hurt others, we hurt ourselves.  Sooner or later, others will grow resentful of our unprofessional behavior.  And we’ll develop reputations for being frauds, liars, and insecure people.  That’s why it’s always better to act ethically, even if it means success won’t be imminent.  In the end, you will have earned others’ respect, if not your very own.


  1. great.. you're a philosopher :)

  2. again, great wisdom and balanced insight from Luna- shokrun and thank you!

  3. What a thought=provoking blog entry Luna. Thank you for sharing the insight into Egypt as always and for giving us some context around your world. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this from my work desk in a cold and drizzly UK and wondering why people feel the need to behave so badly. I guess in my world, you work, you get paid and competition isn't any where near as high as it appears to be with you. Insightful, thoughtful and inspiring as always - thank you as always xxxxx

  4. Hi Abi,
    Thanks so much for reading! And I wish it were cold and drizzly here. ;) I honestly don't know why so many people do what they do just to get a job, but I do think it's something that needs to be addressed in dance classes, and even in primary school. Sort of indoctrinate them when they're young, lol.