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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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:



1. I've been prolonging my adolescence. Now, all of life's choices are making me feel like an adult. Choices are for people who know what they want in life. I don't. I mean, I did, up until this point. But that's no longer the case. It's like the older I get, the dumber I get. I no longer understand myself. In my twenties, I wanted to conquer the world. And I did, in my own way. I got the best education I was capable of. I traveled the world, picked up an extremely difficult language along the way, and learned how to dance. I never compromised with life, and I never took no for an answer. I hated men and marriage, and swore I'd never have kids. I'm now in my early thirties. I still hate men and haven't really grown fond of kids, yet when my doctor suggested the possibility of infertility, I wailed. Not exactly the reaction I expected from myself. But wait. Did that mean that somewhere deep down inside, I really do want a family? And, (yikes), marriage? Is it just my feminazi tendencies getting in the way of that? All the man-hating 'it's perfectly fine to opt out of motherhood' brainwashing to which I'm admittedly susceptible? Deep down, am I more traditional than I like to think of myself? Or has Egypt changed me? I haven't found the answers to these questions. But I wish I would because the biological clock does exist. And finding a good match takes time. It's also probably going to require me to leave Egypt. Knowing what I want would make it much easier for me to make the decisions I need to make. For now, though, I'm stuck in limbo.


Which brings me to number


2. Egypt is like a black hole for working foreign dancers. It's very easy to get sucked in, yet so difficult to leave. Here's why. After living in a place for so long, it becomes your home. Even if you don't love it. You live your life here. You make memories here. In my case, I grew up here. I came when I was a mere 25 years old and have since made (and witnessed) so much history. How do you just leave all that behind? How do you make the decision to close that chapter of the book? How can you be sure you won't regret it?


The funny thing about living in Egypt is that it becomes part of your comfort zone. You can bitch about it all you want, but eventually you get used to it. And used to bitching. The country grows on you, like a wart. Especially if you go as native as I have. Heck, even if you don't learn the language well and you associate primarily with other expats, it's still difficult to extract yourself when that time comes. Imagine then what it's like for those of us who live like Egyptians.


The other reason so many dancers don't go home is because of the addiction. Performing every night is like a drug. After a while, you may not even love it anymore, but you can't stop. Because you need it. And because it's WHO YOU ARE. You cannot imagine yourself doing anything else, because that would require that you think of yourself as a different person. And that's painful. This is one of the reasons dancers in Egypt don't retire. Like ever. Even when they really need to.


And then of course there's ego. We all have it. Some of us more than others. Ego isn't always a bad thing, but if left unchecked, it will control your life. It might even make decisions that may not be in your best interest. Like lingering around past your 'expiration date.' In some cases waaay past your expiration date. And trust me, every performer expires. Of course it's not something that's set in stone-- plastic surgery can keep you looking young and may extend your career a bit. But there will come a time when, no matter how good you look and dance, audiences will get tired of seeing you. Agents will stop giving you work. Not because you don't have it anymore, but because of the natural human tendency to get bored-- to want something fresh. Even if it's not as good as the tried and true. This is the cycle of life in the performance world. Everywhere. It's just that our ego can prevent us from recognizing when we've reached that point.


Alternatively, some of us expire prematurely. Mentally, that is. We may be in our prime, with opportunities coming in left and right. But at some point, it can start to feel like it's all just more of the same. This happens when you reach the top. When you've accomplished all there is to accomplish, and there's no new terrain to conquer. Just more of the same. Which isn't a bad thing in and of itself. But if you're the type of person who seeks to constantly grow, you may find that more of the same isn't cutting it anymore. Your work is no longer exciting or educational, and you're not getting anything out of it except money. If that. When you feel this sentiment creeping up on you, you're probably approaching your date of expiration. Not the one others impose on you due to your age or how long you've been around, but your own personal expiration date based on your goals and your psychological disposition. Because this one comes from within and not from others, it's easier to detect and come to terms with. Nevertheless, your ego might prevent you from taking the next step: leaving Egypt. Why? Because you've declared yourself so-and-so of Cairo, and that's supposed to be a big deal. It means you're one of a handful of foreign dancers skilled enough to be licensed to dance in Cairo. Which means you know your shit, and that you're in high demand. It means you have your own band. But it also means everyone wants to be you, and that your job is highly coveted. Between dancers doing auditions behind your back and sometimes seducing the men who hire you, to the enemies you accumulate in the business who then try to destroy your work, keeping your job(s) is no easy task. Succeeding in the face of all that adversity can be an ego trip.


And then what? You're supposed to just give it all up because your inner voice or your audience tells you they've had enough? After all those years of sweat, toil, and tears? After all you invested in surviving in a place like Egypt? Easier said than done. The transition from So-and-So OF CAIRO to No One of Nowhere is a difficult one. Not only are you giving up your stage, but you're relinquishing everything that made you of Cairo (the fact you're there) and turning it over to someone else. You are no longer you. No longer whoever of Cairo. You perceive this as stepping down a few rungs on the ladder of fame and relevancy, and your ego is too swollen to handle that. It's a tough process. Brutal. Only a few foreign dancers have been able to do it. Oddly enough, they were the ones who had super successful careers in their day.


So you stay. Even if you're no longer in demand. Because you're embarrassed to go home and not be 'of Cairo' anymore...because YOU believe your colleagues will assume you've failed in Egypt, and you care too much about what you think they think.... because after all some dancers in Egypt dance well into their sixties, so if you're not one of them, it must mean you've failed. So you stay, hoping to avoid that embarrassment—that 'admission of defeat.' And to maintain your relevancy. And because you still have hope.... because again, if some of your Cairo colleagues aren't retiring after turning forty, there's always the possibility that you could be dancing in your fifties. It's a dream that never ends. Not even when it's achieved.





3. Sometimes I feel like what I'm doing is shallow. OK, a lot of times. I’m not oblivious to the importance of art. However, that doesn’t mean that I have to be an artist. Me, with my advanced degree from an elite university. Like, I could have been drafting legislation, or doing some other important job. Yes, the arts are necessary, but maybe it’s better when people with lesser or no skill sets take on that function. I’m not being condescending when I say this. It’s just that I don’t know of any other belly dancer in Egypt, foreign or Egyptian, who has an advanced degree, let alone from one of the world’s best schools. Yes, this is part of what distinguishes me from other dancers. But it also makes me think that I made the wrong career choice. I have my good days though. Days when I compare myself to all those other educated folk doing boring, predictable, passionless jobs. Then I’m happy with the direction my life took. But I’m quickly brought back to reality whenever someone tries to assure me that what I’m doing is worthwhile by saying things like:


- ‘You make people happy/forget their troubles.’ Yeeeaaaaaah No. Only for the duration of my show. Then they go back to being whatever they were before they saw me. And trust me, I don’t make everyone happy. I make some people outraged, offended, jealous, and insecure. Of course that’s neither my problem nor my fault. But I’m just sayin… it ain’t all happy happy joy joy. And even if I do make people happy or inspire them, part of me feels like I’m capable of much more than that.


- ‘But you’re a walking revolution.’ True. At least in Egypt, anyway. Any woman who does anything outside the accepted sexual mores is a force to be reckoned with. But guess what. That’s nice, but it’s not really my place to play that role. Plus, it’s not completely accurate. ‘Bad’ women in Egypt are not revolutions (yet); they haven’t affected change in the status quo. If anything, it can be argued that they reinforce the idea that women are sex objects. It’s thus more accurate to describe them as dissenters. Silent, unconscious dissenters.


- ‘You’ve found a way to support yourself so that you’re not contributing to the crime rate.’ Wow. Just wow. Talk about great expectations.



4. This business is full of lowlifery. (Did I just make up a word?) The majority of people working with or as belly dancers originates from the lowest stratum of society. Which, in Egypt, means not only that they’re not educated, but that they are typically ill-mannered, vulgar, and have a complete disregard for ethics. Their sole purpose in life is to make money, and their preferred method is by exploiting others. Or, if they’re female artists, by offering themselves up for exploitation (which is a form of manipulation (of the insatiable male sex drive), however indirect it may be). It’s very difficult to find honest, decent people in this industry. This can make you feel isolated and lonely, even if you yourself are as ridiculous as the people I’m describing. This can also make you feel like there’s no way out of the vortex of lies and wars in which you’re trapped. What inevitably winds up happening is that you become like everyone else, just to be able to keep up with them, and so that no one puts you out like a cigarette butt. You tell yourself that you’re only acting, that this is your Egypt persona, that you can slip out of it as easily as you slipped into it, especially when you’re outside Egypt. And for some folks, this is true. For the rest of us, it’s a bit more complicated. But even if we are able to maintain some anchor into our real personalities, the fact that we have to act like low lives in order to command respect takes a toll on our spiritual well being. It can even lead to split personalities and identity crises.


So there you have it. Some of my very conflicted thoughts on my very unusual life. I don’t think I’ll ever completely resolve these issues, but then again, I don’t think issues such as these are meant to be resolved. They are meant to be lived. And in the case that we do resolve them, life presents us with a whole new set of confusions. It’s part of what makes us human, and what makes life interesting.  
























7 comments:

  1. PMS or not these are valid and very real, visceral feelings. These are the thoughts and feelings you have been mulling with for the short time I have known you - wisps of them would come out in conversations or classes or earlier blog posts and now, here is your declaration. To yourself, to the career, to Egypt. It's the truth and the acknowledgement of the paths chosen and ones to choose. That is bravery and also self preservation - to allow yourself the space and time to get introspective and lay it all out. For me, and many other dancers, you will always be Luna of Cairo but when you leave and as you continue to teach and inspire and dance and write your book, you will become Luna of the World. Cairo will always leave a mark on you and it will never fade from your memories or your dance or stop being an integral part of who you are but you already are and will always be MORE.

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  2. Once again, your writings did not disappoint! As always, I enjoy reading your blog every time, even 2-3 times each post! You have a real talent for writing! Which you should already know. Now back to this post, I understand your conflict and internal struggle. You are so brave just for opening up and laying everything out for us to see. This takes courage and honesty. Let along everything you physically have to put up to for the love of your art. Just looking from outside, it’s a difficult decision to take – when to go on and when to move on. And there may be other factors that only you know. What I’ve learned so far in my life is that no one else is living your life, but YOU. Seems trivial, but we get so entangled with our emotions, our own ego, our sunken costs, past experiences, etc, that we tend to live our lives for others (for better or for worse), instead of for us. Plus, all these stand in the way of reaching our full potential. As one of the HR managers once told me when I quit a previous job and I had some remorse – “Anca needs to do what’s best for Anca”. Yes, it’s that simple, after all! Similarly, you need to do what you think what’s best for you. It doesn’t matter what others will think or say. They don’t live your life. Period. I’ve also learned that no matter what you do, you can’t please anyone. There will always be haters, cheaters, liars, fakers, but also loyals, supporters, lovers, and fans. And you know what? They all think they are the good guys! None of their opinions matters, nonetheless. What matters is detachment from all the noise (including our ego and emotions – big distractors!) and visualize how you want to see yourself in 3 years, 5 years, and maybe even 10 years from now. And that’s your focus. Hope this helped a little! But first, have two good night’s sleep, then reevaluate. :) Cheers! Anca

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  3. I think these are all very valid and understandable feelings. The stuff about art is more or less why I decided not to work in theater and pursued the MA in Middle Eastern Studies, and why although I'm still dancing, I'm getting a PhD in Anthropology and don't want a career as just a dancer.

    I think you've learned so much during your time in Cairo, it will continue to be an important part of who you are, and can form the basis of a new career or new direction if you come back. This may not be what you want, but I think you could easily get a lot of work teaching regular classes, giving workshops, and leading tours to Egypt every once in awhile. Maybe you could even do something intellectual during the day and share all your valuable knowledge of Egyptian belly dance on the side. Not that that makes it any easier to leave or less scary, but I have faith that you can and will achieve awesome things away from Cairo as well.

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  4. Olá Luna, leio seu blog aqui do Brasil e achei esse post muito interessante, sincero e profundo... Brasileiros, talvez você saiba , não se contentam em observar, gostamos de opinar, na minha opinião esse vazio que você esta sentindo, vem da sua parte feminina ancestral, que realiza tanto como mulher na arte da dança, mas pouco na arte do amor, todas temos no fundo profundo das nossas almas o desejo até mesmo inconsciente de doação, de cuidar e sentir-se protegida e proteger alguém, talvez não seja possivel sentir-se completa enquanto vive apenas para auto realização, isso é o que você pode sentir nesse momento. Em relação a maternidade, garota, eu tenho que te dizer, também não queria ser mãe, mas agora que sou fico me perguntando como podia viver antes sem meu bebe, é a maior emoção do mundo, é como se ao dar a luz, você também nascesse por uma segunda vez, uma pessoa nova e com certeza vai ser sentir completa. Sei que parece piegas dizer isso, eu costumava pensar assim antes de ser mãe, mas a maternidade nos transforma em uma versão muito melhor de nós mesmas. Com certeza se for mãe, isso é uma coisa de que você jamais se arrependerá, enquanto , se não for, provavelmente chegará um momento em sua vida, possivelmente quando infelizmente não puder mais dar a luz e virá muito a lamentar.... Desejo que pense nisso com carinho. Talvez você esteja intoxicada do Egito, não que ele seja mal, mas quem sabe 6 meses nos EUA te fariam muito bem, se sentir saudades do Egito sabe que pode sempre voltar. Tem um homem, alguém com quem compartilhar a vida, além dos amigos, também é uma graça divina, no fundo do fundo, nossa alma clama por isso. Beijos do Brazil.

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  5. It has been a while since you last published a post. I hope everything is OK with you.

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  6. Lovely reflection - nice read, as you constantly challenge the cliché's, and boy, how I hate the "but you are doing great" pep-talk of too many of my friends who just can bear that I am struggling (sometimes). Best wishes.

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