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

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.

This is why I freaked out when I went to work one night and learned that Tika had been kidnapped. Apparently. he was in serious debt, and his lenders snatched him while he was visiting family in Alexandria. They kept him tied to a chair for days in an undisclosed location until he arranged to pay the money he'd borrowed. In the meantime, I had to suffer through yet another drummer. To be fair, he wasn't terrible. He was full of piss and vinegar, and he pounded his drum as though it had insulted his mother. But he didn't translate my movements as accurately as I needed him to. Many nights, he'd completely slack off.

Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, but still no word from Tika. Then one day, he miraculously reappeared. I didn't see him before going on stage, but when my band started playing, I immediately recognized his drumming. It was a very happy day for my butt.

Contrary to what it may seem, my drummer's relationship with my ass, and by extension, me, is the most non-sexual and non-threatening relationship I've had with a man in this country. It's probably because I'm constantly swinging it in his face, that he has no desire for it. It's funny. We have a great relationship on stage, when he's dealing with my butt. Off stage is a different story. He's forced to deal with my brain. That's where the problems set in—we actually don't like each other very much. We've had plenty of screaming matches, and I even had to (temporarily) fire him once for punching one of the other percussionists in the face in a dispute over a cup of tea. We fight about a host of other things too. Mostly trivial stuff, like which member of my band I give my music requests to on any given night (he always wants to be the one), or about how he flails his arms in anger whenever one of his colleagues makes a mistake on stage. Sometimes, we fight about more important stuff. Like how he manages to scare off every new musician I introduce into the band. So far, he's lost me three exceptional keyboard players, and one singer. That's because he bullies them on stage. My newer musicians aren't used to this and wind up quitting after a week or so.

This is partially my fault. Rule number one when working with musicians is to never let them know how amazing you think they are. You have to act like there's nothing special about them, and occasionally pretend to be dissatisfied with their work. This is what keeps them on their toes. It's what makes them do their best every night to please you, and thus keep their jobs. It's also what keeps them humble. Once you tell them how good they are, they grow comfortable with that affirmation and stop striving. And they become divas.

I knew all of this, yet after observing Tika's behavior the first few weeks on the job, I made a conscious decision to break the rules. I decided to show him some genuine appreciation. I did this because I realized that all of his post-show fainting spells were feigned, and nothing more than a desperate plea for attention. My other musicians scoffed at me for suggesting such a thing. They fell for Tika's act, saying that he had only recently sold his liver, and that his body hadn't yet recovered from that operation. I wasn't buying it. I was aware of his operation, but I knew it was his deep rooted insecurity, not his newly nonexistent liver, that was causing him to 'faint.' So one night when he wasn't busy fainting, I praised his drumming in front of the entire band. I told him what an astute drummer he was. How no other drummer had been able to keep up with me the way he did, and that he played a mean tabla solo. I could tell by the look on all of their faces that they had never heard a belly dancer direct such kind words to a musician. But it worked. From that night on, Tika miraculously stopped fainting. In fact, he became even more attentive on stage, throwing creative accents into our routine and surprising me with mind blowing drum solos. The fallout was that he became a diva and a bully, but at least I got a top-notch drummer who doesn't faint every night out of it.         

Any other dancer would have gotten rid of him by now, but not me. This man understands my butt too well, and that is an ASSet that's difficult to replace. No matter how much either of us deviates from our norm, we always catch each other. Because we share a musicality. (One of the signature features of our musicality is adding two fast tak-taks to the 5,6 of a phrase of music. Sometimes the 7,8, but mainly 5,6.) We also share callouses and wounds. Well, we don't actually share them. We just have them in common. Him on the insides of his hands, and me on bottom of my feet. Him from beating his drum, me from dancing barefoot. Every night before the show, we sit in my dressing room; he wraps the tips of his fingers in protective tape, and I place Bandaids all over my wounded feet. Sometimes I give him some of my stash. He likes American Bandaids. Egyptian ones don't stick. ;)