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

Monday, July 11, 2016

Midnight Musings



Disclaimer: I wrote this while suffering from severe PMS.


This might sound a little strange, but I'm haunted. Not by ghosts or ghouls, but by the fact that my life is relatively... easy. I have a job that I love. I'm living 'the dream,' and I make decent money doing it. I have no husband, no kids, and no alcohol or drug addictions. Most of my family is still alive. I've traveled the world and have friends and fans all over. I speak three languages. I obtained a master's degree from an elite university when I was 24 years old. Seven years later, I'm completely debt free. My biggest concern is what color my next costume will be. And yet, I'm not completely happy. Grateful, yes. Happy? Not a hundred percent.


I know. You just want to slap me. Countless people around the globe dream of living a life like mine... doing everything they've ever dreamed of, climbing to the top in whatever they do, having so many choices without a worry in the world. Sure, I have my trials and tribulations (mainly self-inflicted and the result of poor judgment (especially when it comes to men)), but they pale in comparison to everything that's great about my life. So what's my problem? I'm not exactly sure, but in trying to figure out, I've stumbled upon a couple of scary recurring thoughts:

Dala3 on Steriods



I wrote this sometime in 2014 but never published it.
Oops.  I did it again.  I just shot another music video.  This time with an unknown singer who wants to make it big.  Nothing special.  Just your ordinary, low budget, thoughtless, uninspiring, very Egyptian clip that makes you wonder why producers make so much money.  I agreed to be a part of it because, well, because... I knew it would make for good blog content! No, that's not why. :)  I did it because a) I didn't know what I was in for, b) getting your face on screen is great promo and results in more high-end gigs,  c) I'm always up for a new experience d) I needed a good laugh, which is almost always guaranteed at these things, and e) it really does make for good blogging.
The laughs, or rather regrets, started with the makeup 'artist,' a 25-year old boy with a unibrow and a chip on his shoulder.  I arrived at the studio already made-up, as I had just come from work, and figured I'd just freshen my makeup before going on set.  Not so.  UniBoy handed me a bottle of rose water, a cotton pad, and told me to remove my makeup.  But my makeup is fine the way it is, I protested.  Take it off! he said.  So I went to the bathroom and proceeded to remove, more like smear, the makeup all over my face.  Great.  I looked like I was ready for Halloween.  Rose water proved no match for my waterproof Maybelline eye makeup.  Now, if they had given me some olive oil...

Egypt's Identity Crisis



I wrote this in 2014 but I didn't publish it back then.

Two things you don't want to be while living in the Muslim world: gay and atheist. The consequences for being either or both can be severe, and may include ostracization, imprisonment, and even death. For though many conveniently ignore major parts of their religion, almost no one denies the existence of God or believes in gay rights. And they have zero tolerance for those who do.
We were once again reminded of this last month in Egypt, when the new "secular" government publicly declared war on both groups of people. Authorities arrested four men at a party for engaging in homosexual acts. Three of them were sentenced to eight years in prison, while the fourth was sentenced to three years and hard labor. They were accused of cross-dressing and attending "deviant sexual parties."

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Stuff

My alternative title for this entry is ‘Shit Egyptians Ask Me to Bring Back from America.’ :D
Whenever I leave Egypt for a vacation, I try to be discreet about it. Not because I’m superstitious, but because if I let people know, everyone will ask me to bring them Stuff. And they’re rarely modest in their requests. I don’t mind bringing back a few necessities for close friends. But when everyone from the bawab (doorman/keeper of Islamic morality in your building) to that ‘friend’ who only and coincidentally calls you a week before your annual vacation sticks you with a shopping list, we have a problem.
You see, the airlines only allow you a total of one hundred pounds of Stuff. That would be more than enough if I were constantly going back and forth from Cairo to the US, but I don’t. I only come home once a year, which means that those hundred pounds I bring back have to last me a whole year, until my next visit when I can replenish. It doesn’t help that the Stuff I buy is heavy. Things I buy include massive amounts of clothes, impractical shoes, fabric (which is currently contraband in Egypt), supplements, more supplements, several bottles of Bragg’s organic apple cider vinegar (with the mother, in case you needed to know), several tubs of extra virgin cold-pressed coconut oil, cosmetics, lashes, tens of boxes of instant manicure, tampons, pads, and if it’s mating season, condoms and such. So I don’t have a lot of space to be bringing people unnecessary luxury items.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Fainting Drummer


If there's anyone in this godforsaken place who can get away with staring at my ass, it's my drummer. Actually, that's his job. I pay him to observe every drop, lock, twist, twerk, clench, accent, bounce, circle, roll, shimmy, vibration, jiggle, wiggle and wobble that it's capable of doing, and to create a corresponding sound for each movement. Doom; tak; traaaaaaK!; dr-r-r-r-r-r…; dish, etc. This is called translation, and it's what draws attention to my moves. So basically, he's my butt's translator. Or spokesman. Don't laugh. It's a serious job (and a much coveted one in the land of sexual frustration). But it isn't easy. You see, my butt is a complicated thing. It has a mind of its own, and it moves in ways that even I don't fully comprehend. Somehow though, my drummer understands it. I want to say it's because we've been working together almost every single night for the past five years, but that's not the reason. Tika understood my teeze from day one. He got right on stage with me and translated every movement it did, as if we had choreographed our routine.

I don't know how he did it. All of the other drummers I worked with took at least two weeks to even begin to understand my musicality, and none of them could keep up with me. Tika, on the other hand, is so in tune with my posterior that he can anticipate how it will interpret any given measure of music... even when I try to surprise him with a new movement, a new way of doing a movement, or by altering the timing of my moves. It's like he shares a brain with my butt or something.
All this time, you probably thought it was the other way around. You probably thought the drummer calls the shots, and the belly dancer slavishly follows. This is how it works outside of Egypt, but inside Egypt, it's the opposite. The dancer decides where to add shimmies, accents, and pops, and the 
drummer follows her lead. Basically, he's her bitch. 
Artistically speaking.



Of Men and Belly Dance



I'm going to share something personal, and perhaps a bit controversial. But you're already used to that from me, so I know you can handle it. Belly dancers, be VERY careful who you fall in love with. Make sure they are sane, balanced, confident , and don't have a controlling, violent, or vindictive streak. Especially if they are from the region, even more so if they have ties to your line of work. Multiply that by ten if you're going for the big cheese, i.e. working in Cairo and/or the international workshop circuit.

As I was trying to fall asleep last night, this morning actually, it occurred to me that two former love interests had been sabotaging my career at the same time. One has fucked off, and the other recently passed away, but I am still feeling the effects of it today. While my ex was busy getting me uninvited to festivals around the world as payback for terminating our tumultuous relationship, my significant other, who was acting as my manager and whom I trusted completely (not to mention with whom I was madly in love), stunted my career in Cairo. He rejected many opportunities and powerful allies because he feared I would leave him for a movie producer or a high powered agent ( big opportunist slut that I am).

Saturday, March 19, 2016

My Foray into the Cabaret - Part 1

A strange thing happened in my dance career recently. The Nile cruise I'm contracted with now moonlights as a cabaret. It operates its regular tourism sails in the early evening, and then remains docked for the rest of the night as patrons from the Gulf come to do everything that's forbidden in their countries. They dance, drink, smoke, and pick up strange women, sometimes until ten in the morning. They check their 'harameters' at the door, and give their reputations the night off-- the cabaret is a no shame zone. It is one of the few places in the Muslim world where a person can let loose without fear of being judged.

I've never been comfortable dancing in this type of environment. Cabarets are dens of vice, and serve as outlets for large scale sexual repression. The potential for objectifying, if not compromising, situations, is real. There is rarely any security at these places, which means that should something go wrong, a dancer's only recourse is a brave musician shoving himself between her and the offending customer. Her first line of defense is her singer, because he's already on the stage with her. But sometimes it takes a few musicians to get the job done. They form a circle around the dancer, the way dolphins do when protecting humans from sharks, and pound their drums extra hard to ward off the offender(s). It's actually quite funny to watch, unless you're the dancer experiencing it. The fact that these people are paying for you to entertain them means you can't react the way you would if someone tried to grab your ass on the street. You can't scream or curse at them, and you definitely can't clobber them over the head. You have to somehow keep a smile on your face, pretend that you're oblivious to what's happening, and wait for your musicians to keep your ass from falling into some drunk patron's hands. At three in the morning. In the meantime, you hope that the bastard will shower you with tips. Fives, twenties, hundreds, whatever. Egyptian pounds, riyals, dollars. This is how you keep your job. It's not that you're entitled to a percentage of the tips, but that the venue won't ask you to come back unless customers throw money at you.

My Foray into the Cabaret Part 2

The single most important person in this production is my singer. His voice, charisma, and knack for getting customers to throw money keep us in demand every night. More than my quivering belly. I attribute this to the fact that Arabic speakers are more auditorily oriented. It's probably because of the long-standing oral traditions of Arab and Muslim societies, and because of the hang ups some Muslim societies have had over visual representation. Add to that a sprinkling of disdain for the uncovered female figure, and you have an audience that is much more receptive to a male singer than a belly dancer. This is why he makes the big bucks. He's not just a singer. He's an emcee, a server, my body guard, a psychologist, and a smooth talker all rolled into one. His job is to 'read' the sala during the performance before ours to learn where the customers are from, and to observe their tipping habits. Then he compiles a mental playlist of songs they're most likely to respond to. During the show, he waits tables, taking requests for songs and shout outs, and warming up to the customers with friendly greetings and banter. This takes a lot of energy and experience, and an excellent memory; a successful cabaret singer must have hundreds of songs from all over the Arab world memorized, as he might perform for the same customers for weeks on end. Khaligi and mawwals are very important, the latter more so because it's when the most tips are thrown.

Mawwals are real money makers. Especially the ones that are spoken more than sung. They have a story-telling feel that can transfix an entire audience, and they are always about issues everyone can relate to. Misery, pain, betrayal, heartache... Just the other night, my singer sang something to the effect of: "Your best friend is your money. If you don't have it, people step all over you. But when you have it, everyone greets you with hugs and kisses.' It was much longer than that, and it sounds better in Arabic. But the diction and passion with which he delivered this mawwal made everyone stop what they were doing. Even I had forgotten myself. For the two minutes that this lasted, people were nodding in agreement. Some had smirks of admiration for my singer's ingenuity; nearly all threw money on him when he finished. I remember being amazed not only by his skill, but by the power he held over us. It was as though he transformed the sala into a kindergarten classroom during story telling, or better yet, into a church, with an enthusiastic congregation lapping up the preacher's every word.




Monday, March 14, 2016

My Foray into the Cabaret - Part 3

The biggest factor in my ability to loosen up was my singer. With him in the driver's seat, I was able to relax knowing that if anything went wrong, he would be the one in the line of fire. Half of my musicians could show up mid-gig, or they could be killing each other behind me, and I could just let them carry on, because for this one hour that we're together, it's not my circus. I've learned to thrive in this informal performing environment because it frees me to do more important things. Like shaking hands with customers as they take their seats, making small talk, goofing around with the riklam, and being downright silly. Basically, I get to indulge my inner teenager. Speaking of which, I even have a crush. On my singer. You've probably figured that out by now.

Sayyid is the definition of fine. He's tall, dark, handsome, has excellent stage presence, and he serenades me on stage. He also smells like laundry detergent. I think the regulars-- the riklam, the staff, and the musicians-- have noticed our chemistry; we're practically radiating uranium at this point. They stare at us every time he comes near me and we slip into an impromptu duet. He sings to me, and I wiggle about in approval with a huge smile and batting eyelashes. Kind of like Farid El-Atrash and Samia Gamal. Not that I'm comparing ourselves to them artistically. We do have a similar on-stage chemistry though. And we quite like it, even though it annoys the band. When things get too scandalous for their prudish sensibilities, my percussionists express their collective disapproval by interrupting the prevailing rhythm with a doom, tak tak tak tak, doom tak tak!, the famous zaffa rhythm played at weddings when the bride and groom enter and exit the wedding hall. It's meant to be sarcastic, and to embarrass us. Neither of us care, though. Ma andinash dam. We have no blood, as the Egyptians would say, referring to our inability to feel ashamed.


Friday, January 22, 2016

A Half Hour in Hell

The irony of a bright red sun setting so serenely as all hell breaks loose underground. People clamor for their lives, but the sun doesn't care. It sinks into the Nile with a nonchalance that budges for nothing and no one. 

I happened to be in the Attaba metro station this evening, on my way to work from a modeling shoot when the escalators gave out. Thankfully I was not on one of them. It was just my luck, as I decided that climbing six long flights of stairs was preferable to being sandwiched between a sea of men and teenage boys on the escalator. Good call, because then THIS happened. There was an electrical failure, and the four escalators going in both directions stopped abruptly. Some people fell as others were squished, and many were badly injured. Mass panic ensued. People were screaming and crying and jumping over each other to escape. Others were trying to capture the magnitude of the crowd with their camera phones-- there were already thousands of us without each arriving train replenishing the stock. 



Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Birth Control, Secularism, and the Belly Dance 'Revival'

In Egypt, belly dancers are hired for as many reasons as there are people. Some are hired for their looks. Others for their locks. Some are more affordable, while others confer status on those doing the hiring. And then there are dancers who are chosen for their personality, or because of their connections, or even their status. What we all have in common though, is that we are rarely sought out for our dancing. Even the best of us. Nevertheless, we all cultivate an audience-- a loyal set of fans that follow (and sometimes stalk) us around as we perform in hotels, weddings, and boats around the city. Amie Sultan, a newer, foreign-born Egyptian dancer and the subject of"Amie Sultan: Reviving the Art of Belly Dancing in Egypt", is no different. She, like the rest of us, has carved a niche for herself in the super competitive world of Egyptian belly dancing. No more, no less.

I'm stating the obvious here because somebody has to...because Amie makes a bold if dubious claim about her impact on the dance scene. She says: “Now I’m seeing belly dancers trying to become more elegant and trying to lose weight and, you know, tone it down a bit. People want something more refined, more studied. People want the art of it, not the tattooed eyebrows. I think because of me there’s less vulgarity.” While I'm no fan of tattooed eyebrows, I do believe that Amie is overstating her impact. Just a bit. It's not that Amie is changing the way dancers are approaching the dance or Egyptians' tastes-- in fact her influence is mostly limited to a rather closed circle -- it's that she's found her audience in a certain sector of Egyptian society that's already had those tastes. The Cairo 'posh.' The 3%. The self-serving elite and nouveau riche who prefer English to Arabic, whiskey to hasheesh, and who uncoincidently situate themselves away from the lumpen. I'm not rich-shaming, by the way. Just laying down the facts. Amie is part of and thus appeals to this sector of the society. More power to her. But let's not buy into the hype about her single-handedly changing dancers and audiences' preferences.