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

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Creating Your Own Style

There's a recent trend emerging in the international belly dance community that's come to my attention. It's the obsession with creating your own style. Over the past year, I've had several workshop attendees ask me how to do this, and how I created mine. This is an important question, but also a bit least as it pertains to me. I didn't create my own style. It created itself. I didn't sit down with myself one day and say hey, I've been dancing professionally now for x amount of years, it's time to create my own set of moves and combinations. I mean it's OK to have that conversation with yourself, but it's neither necessary nor guaranteed to result in your own signature moves. Rather, as I suspect happens with many dancers known for being different, we stumble upon new moves as we advance in our careers. Not while taking classes, but on the stage and while practicing in the studio. I've noticed that the more we perform and choreograph, the more our bodies reveal different ways of moving to us. 

As with everything, this is a process that comes easier to some of us than others. After all, life is not fair. We don't all have the same opportunities, abilities, experiences, or resources. And we're talking about art here. Art is a very personal enterprise. It depends on factors that vary from individual to individual, such as access to training; how long you've been dancing; training in other dance or art forms; body type and overall health; technical ability; cognitive ability; personality; psychological disposition, aptitude for creativity; ability to think abstractly; intellectual background; life experience; worldview; spiritual inclinations; economic and social status; the environment one grew up in; the languages they have access to; childhood experiences, etc. Art depends on all that-- on everything that makes you unique. That's why one person's art will look different from another's. If it doesn't, that person is a copy artist.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Review of "Al-Raqisa" Episode 2

Disclaimer: I'm not trying to be snarky or offensive with any of my observations, so please don't take this personally. Understand that if you're going to put yourself in the public eye, then you have to expect and accept criticism.
The other day I posed a controversial question on Facebook. Is it fair to pit Egyptian dancers against foreign dancers in a competition? Almost all of the Egyptians who responded said no. Egyptians have a natural advantage in that they've been Egyptians their whole lives. They grew up with Egyptian music, the Arabic language, and have been dancing baladi since the day they were born. Interestingly, the non-Egyptians responded by saying that it's perfectly fair to compare Egyptian dancers with foreign ones because the latter compensate for their cultural disadvantage with years of hard work, passion, and amazing technique. While I generally agree with that, and while there are many excellent foreign dancers, I have to say that I'm with the Egyptians on this one. It's not that Egyptians are inherently and always better dancers than non-Egyptians, but that both groups bring a different set of skills to the table. Comparing the two would be like comparing apples to steaks. One is pretty and polished, but the other is juicy and well done.

Watching round one of the "Al-Raqisa" competition really drove this home for me. Three dancers competed in front of Dina and the other two judges (a Tunisian actress and an Egyptian comedian). The first dancer was Australian, the second French Algerian, and the third, Egyptian. None of them went through a real audition process by the way. What I felt after watching all of their performances was that it was impossible to compare the first two with the Egyptian dancer. Granted everybody was nervous and probably didn't perform as well as they would have liked to, but I found the first two dancers to be technical and somewhat stiff. The Egyptian dancer was the exact opposite. She barely had any moves, but the few that she did were very juicy... very Egyptian... very baladi. She danced to the original version of a shaabi baladi song called "Ya Gazelle Il-Darb Ahmar"-- a song that most foreign dancers have never heard of unless they've worked in Egypt. She entered the stage with a melaya leff, and then left it to continue dancing in her typical baladi way, replete with baladi facial expressions and baladi gestures. The whole routine was improvised and simple, but undeniably Egyptian.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Always Let Your Music Be Your Guide: Choreography vs. Improvisation

Something I’ve always been curious about was whether Cairo’s belly dance stars choreograph their shows.  I remember watching Dina, Randa, Soraya and Asmahan for the first time seven years ago, thinking there's no way such artistic genius could be produced spontaneously. At the time, I was a choreography junkie, and I imagined everyone else to be. I couldn't believe that improv could look so good.  Until now, I still don’t know whether/which dancers choreograph. I’ve never asked any of them, and I don't exactly suppose I’d get honest answers if I did
If my onstage experiences are similar to those of other Cairo dancers, however, I think it’s safe to assume that most of us do both choreography and improvisation--depending on where we are in our careers. I’ll speak for myself at least. Currently, I mostly improvise. But that wasn’t always the case. When I first started performing regularly here four  years ago, I relied heavily on choreography. My own, of course. Back then, the thought of dancing to live music for live Egyptians :) terrified me. I was afraid that if I improvised, I would be boring, or “mess up,” so I choreographed every single doom and tek until the piece was airtight. I also figured that performing choreography would free my mind to concentrate on posture, hands, emotions, and presence, and that if I were too busy thinking up the next step, all those other aspects of my performance would suffer. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Cabaret Day

You know that feeling of being stuck in a rut and not being able to get out of it?  That's what it's been like for me these past two months. I think it's a combination of feeling like I've accomplished everything there is to accomplish in Egyptian belly dance land, and that what's to come is more of the same, plus a sense that I may have outgrown this country. I'm not faulting Egypt.  I'm faulting myself.  I have a tendency to get bored... with things, places... people. And just when I was seriously starting to contemplate a major life change, the gods distracted me with the mother of all gigs-- a birthday party at one of the seediest cabarets in town.   

You're probably wondering what the big deal is.  The big deal is that, aside from jolting me out of my boredom, a "5-star" dancer performing in a sleazy cabaret is a no-no.  Here, if you're a featured dancer at a 5-star hotel or cruise, dancing at low-class venues puts your reputation and sometimes even your career at risk.  That's because well-to-do Egyptians have a tendency to be very classist. They despise whatever they consider to be beneath them, and condescendingly dismiss lower class mannerisms, behaviors, and tastes as baladi, or (my favorite) bee'a-- lowlife.  (There are some deep historical/psychological reasons for this, but I'll refrain from getting into them here.) If the rich owner of the ritzy-by-Egyptian-standards Nile cruise that you work on finds out that you moonlight at cabarets, he just might fire you-- you are now tainted. :)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

On Belly Dance and "Cultural Appropriation"

I never intended to respond to Randa Jarrar's article "Why I Hate White Belly Dancers," but I did.  And now I'm going for round two.  This time, I want to unravel Jarrar's whole argument by chipping away at her assumption that white women's "appropriation of the art causes others harm."  Without that element of harm, her argument falls apart. White belly dancers (or black or Asian or Latina ones) cause no harm whatsoever to the people to whom this dance "belongs."  No bodily harm, no economic harm, no social harm.  Quite the opposite really.  The vast majority of Arab women and men appreciate non-Arabs learning and mastering their dance.  At the very least, they fetishize us, similar to how some of us exoticize them.

Let's dissect this a little bit.  Of course the idea that one woman's dancing causes another woman physical harm is ridiculous. So let's put that aside.  But how about economic harm? In order for Jarrar to suggest that the alleged "cultural appropriation" we're engaging in is economically detrimental to Arab women, it would have to be true that white women are taking opportunities away from them.  This is patently false.  Due to a very unfortunate mentality that demonizes women, women's bodies, and women's independence, not too many Arab women aspire to become professional dancers (and this mentality has NOTHING to do with European imperialism. It's much older than that.). The few who do take up the profession desperately need the money, and are brave and skillful enough to dodge the social stigma.  However, most of them would rather die of starvation than dance for money.  It's therefore simply ignorant to state that white appropriation of the art is "harming" Arab women by taking away their opportunities. That's like saying illegal immigrants are hurting Americans by taking away all of the toilet bowl cleaning jobs.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Racism in the Middle East

I'm glad Randa Jarrar wrote that article entitled "Why I Hate White Belly Dancers" in the left-wing online magazine Salon.  Not because Jarrar brings up good points, or that her piece created "much needed" dialogue on "cultural appropriation." I couldn't care less.  Everyone appropriates everything these days.  As long as we appropriate respectfully without damaging the cultures or persons whose cultures we're borrowing, I have no issues with it.  Rather, I'm happy because the author (and the publication) exposed what a racist she is.  And because this now serves as the perfect launching pad for me to shed light on yet another problem in the Arab Middle East that is relatively unbeknownst.  I am referring to the unabashed racism that is rampant in the Arab world. Not just the anti-white racism that Jarrar spews, but racism against black people.  The latter is much more common, despite the irony of brown people hating other brown people.  In a region in which the "n" word still enjoys wide currency, in which anti-semitic (not to be confused with anti-Zionist) speech is the norm, and in which the stereotypical ranking of the intelligence and beauty of different races is considered knowledge, it's no surprise that Jarrar, a Palestinian-American writer who spent her formative years in the Middle East, is a racist.