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

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.