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. :)~



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Friday, June 24, 2016

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).

The sad part is that I had no idea this was happening. I only found out after he died, when all the secrets and lies started surfacing. I did have a sense that something was wrong though—that I was underworked and not nearly as in demand as I should have been, or as I used to be. But when I asked my boyfriend why, he said no one was interested in working with me because I don't put out. End of story. That was my fate, and there was no changing it. No need to even bother trying.

As you can imagine, my state of affairs filled me with despair, depression, and rage. If what my boyfriend was saying was true, well then there really was no hope for me. I never have nor will I ever degrade myself for a chance to be in the spotlight. So I just sucked it up and continued my artistically and financially unfulfilling daily gig, secretly hoping that hell would freeze over, and planning an early retirement if it didn't. It never occurred to me that he was the problem.

You see, the way it works here is that dancers need managers. (Well, they don't *need* them, especially if they are savvy and speak Arabic. It's more like the industry is set up in a way that punishes dancers who don't have them). And when a dancer enters into a relationship with an Egyptian, more often than not, he acts as her manager. Because he'd have it no other way. YOU the dancer don't really have a say in the matter, as the slightest difference of opinion can unleash an unending series of emotionally exhausting altercations. So he forces himself into your affairs until he winds up running the whole show. All you do is show up and dance. You have no right to communicate with agents, clients, and sometimes even your own musicians. The reason? It doesn't 'look' good. A dancer is supposed to be a star, and you know, stars live in the sky. By talking with mere mortals, you automatically lower yourself. You thus lose your 'prestige' (pronounced BREStige). The other commonly cited reason is protection. Because didn't you know this a dangerous business full of terrorists, murderers, and rapists, and little old helpless you isn’t smart enough to avoid being ensnared into their traps. The result? You lose ALL control of your career, and quite possibly don't even know how much money is really coming in. You get paid whatever he gives you, and you assume it's in good faith. And, if you're a stupidassmthrfckr like me and you pity the fact that your lover is poor, you willingly give him a not so insignificant cut of the salary he just gave you. (Yes, I went to Harvard, but I opted out of the Third World Street Smarts classes, unambitious student that I was.)  

What you don't know is that the real reason Mr. Lover wants to be in your life is so that he can leech off your career, taking a cut of every penny that comes your way. And he'll do whatever it takes to make sure no one steps on his turf. Think about it. No Egyptian man in his right mind would marry a belly dancer. It's culturally unacceptable. So if he does and he actually wants her to dance, you can rest assure that it's not because he loves her or wants to father her child (though that sometimes happens). It's to exploit her for all she's worth—to wring her dry until there's nothing left. Basically, he's a parasite, and she is his host.

I'm not writing this because I'm looking for pity. I'm writing because it helps me clear my head, and because what happened to me is somewhat of the norm in the Egyptian dance world for foreign and Egyptian dancers alike. Also, because I can't believe the extent to which I was duped, exploited, and held back. Me of all people; I consider*ed* myself a smart person. Whatever. What's done is done, and in my case, all of this may have been inevitable. The truth is that I've never been good at choosing men. I am stupid in love—a hopeless romantic with a weakness for liars, cheaters, stalkers, wife beaters, and other ridiculous types.  Like, literally. And I let that unreciprocated love completely blind me to the reality of what these men are and were (a couple of them are dead). If I were a character in a novel, this would be my tragic flaw.. But for those of you who can control who you fall in love with, do not repeat my mistakes. Realize that as a belly dancer, men related to the business in any capacity see you as a commodity, not an individual. They want to exploit you. Make a living off your sweat, toil, and tears. Control you, and then kick you to the curb once you're no longer of use. The best way for them to do that is to marry you, though honestly, they can do this without resorting to the good old ball and chain. Sometimes, all it takes is a few sweet nothings whispered into your ear, and perhaps an impressive display of protective masculinity—the kind that so many 'liberated' western women are ashamed to admit they crave. Don't fall for it.

I know that no one has spoken publicly about this before. Probably because it's taboo, or because those experiencing it like to pretend it's not happening. They like to keep up the glamor façade, leading those on the other side of the internet to believe that they became 'stars' in Cairo all on their own. The truth is that no one does anything here without being exploited. Some more than others, but we all go through it, regardless of whether our manager also happens to be our lover. It's the price we pay for dancing in Egypt. Those who are a little smarter choose who they allow exploit them—they don't fall in love. They choose men with money, connections, clout, impunity, and lots to offer. These are the men who make stars out of belly dancers. They are also the men who then destroy them once the (business) relationship goes sour. A spurned manager will stop at nothing to make sure his former project never sets foot on stage again. Police, court cases, jail time, deportation, and even death threats. Sofinar, an Armenian dancer who became Egypt's belly dance superstar a little over three years ago, went through all of this. Apparently she took her career into her own hands after becoming famous, which pissed off a few of her former managers. The same has happened to other successful dancers. Some of them self deport when the shit really hits the fan. 

**************

Now that I am both single and without a manager, I've had plenty of requests to manage my work. Most are really marriage proposals in disguise, One offer seemed legit though, and I did entertain it for a while. It wound up being a dead end, but before I realized that, I made sure I was the one setting the terms of our work relationship. After all, my manager is supposed to work for me, not the other way around. They forget that here, and need to be reminded every now and then.

I'm now at a crossroads. I can forge on with my career with a results-oriented but exploitative manager; continue as I am on my own, dissatisfied, while newer and sometimes less experienced dancers climb their way up the ladder; or I can wrap it up and go home. The last option is the easiest and most attractive. Then again, I've never given up that easily. Plus I've suffered way too much to be able to do what I do. Emotionally, financially, physically, and spiritually. I've paid my dues, so to speak. Now I need to take things to the next level, so that I won't feel like all of my suffering was in vain. Which means it's all or nothing at this point. Nothing has never been an option.  




8 comments:

  1. So sorry to hear about all of these experiences, but thank you once again for shining a light on the truth of what it means to be a bellydancer working in Egypt for all of us who have contemplated moving there at some point.

    I also went to a "top-tier" university and somehow missed the class on street smarts :) It's a hard lesson to learn, and I'm getting there slowly. Don't know how qualified I am to give advice, but if you've noticed this pattern of always falling for men who end up treating you terribly, a few therapy sessions might help you figure out why you tend to do this and how you can stop. Good luck and always enjoy reading your honest, reflective posts!!

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    1. Thanks Zoe! I have to change the *demographic* of the men I go after. :D

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  2. Hi there, thanks for sharing this post. I'm sorry you've had to go through so much crap. Keep in mind the sunk cost fallacy as you consider your future options. Also, I second the suggestion for therapy - it's been very helpful for me. Whatever happens, wishing you the best of luck!

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    1. I'll definitely consider, thanks for reading. :)

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  3. I was a target of a Syrian musician sociopath who used me and sucked me dry too, he runs a smear campaign against me and does everything to ruin me even though I'm no contact with him now for months. I educate myself about these types and how they operate to heal from this biggest mind fuck of my life. There are many red flags, one is love bombing that is used in an idealization phase in the beginning when they try to hook you. These are very common within the Arabs..These types are: Narcissists/sociopaths/psychopaths and they all operate as if they had the same manual. Spreading the awareness since all of us should know the red flags for our own protection. Btw I really enjoy your blogs Luna :)

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    1. Yes you're absolutely correct, I second everything you said.

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  4. Thank you for sharing your story Luna. You are such a strong woman and you are an inspiration. I loved meeting you when I was in Cairo with my teacher Michele. May your path always be blessed.

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  5. First, I love that despite your deceptions, you continue to be a romantic, idealist and true to yourself. I hope true love will find you some day and some place where you least expect it. Try to look in other places outside your work, perhaps. Second, the so-called "romantic" affairs (aka sexual favors) in exchange for promotions, stardom, etc are more common that we think in many industries (including highly intellectual ones, such as medical field and academia), and sometime they go both ways (or same gender). It's very hard to beat the system. As you said, the options are to stay where you are, get out or work the system. Occasionally, someone still makes it "fairly" (but then you have to look at other things - network, net-worth, family ties, etc). In my experience on one can make it to the top without some kind of support. The options are, as you said, to stay where you are, get out, or find support (whatever you choose that to be). In an industry controlled by men, you have to think like a man and play on their terms. In general, they respond well to sex (go figure), money, but also to threats, extortion, blackmail and display of power. In a world of dogs, you need to be the alpha dog! LOL!

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