Wednesday, August 29, 2012

It’s not fair....

I love dance.

I love being a dancer.

I love being a dancer in Cairo.

I hate the prejudice that us dancers face here. The small-minded attitutes that even many eductated, westernised Egyptians unfortunately seem to share, never mind the uneducated majority.

The reason for this complaint? I've been thrown out my home of 6 years, purely because I bellydance.

In June, the doorbell rang, and one of ‘Hotel Bellylorna’s house guests, answered it. It was the downstairs neighbour complaining about the noise and asking what she was doing. She, innocently enough, replied, “but we weren’t making any noise. We were just bellydancing.”

The woman went crazy, “that is inappropriate behaviour- what do you mean you were ‘bellydancing’ ?”. The poor girl was confused why the outburst against the artform she was practising... so the male folkloric dancer went to the door and attempted to get the neighbour to calm down. That was it. Red rag to a bull. Not only was this foreign girl ‘bellydancing’ but she was alone in a room with an Egyptian man, they MUST be up to no good!

I stressed , and waited and waited... but it seems the neighbours didn’t pass on their complaints to my landlady.

That is... not until 2 weeks later, as soon as Morsi had been elected as president of Egypt. Then, and not before,  I had an hour of abuse over the telephone with my landlady calling me all sorts of names... accusing me of running the house as a business and having ‘men there all times of day and night’ . Now EVERYONE who knows me can verify just how far from the truth this statement is... but the neighbour had decided to get her revenge- so she had made up all sort of stories about me and seems like the landlady believed them all. Not surprising I guess, since they are related, but I did feel incredibly hurt that the fact that I had been a model tenant for nearly 6 years, always doing my own maintanence for the flat, always paying not only on time but often early, never causing any problems with neighbours etc, all that suddenly meant nothing at all.

The problem was, in some things the landlady was sort of correct. I did run the place not just as my home, but as a semi-business- but not the business that her sordid mind had imagined!

I have been renting out my spare rooms to visiting (female) dancers for years now, and teaching private classes too. The work of a bellydancer in Cairo, especially since the ‘revolution’, pays nowhere near enough to even cover the rent let alone food and travel expenses! So when she accused me of ‘not’ being an English teacher, as I had told her- well, she was right. But you can see why I said it! (Actually, I never said I was an English teacher- but when I told her I was a ‘teacher’ , she just assumed it was English!).

Bless the bowab , who MUST have known all these years what I actually do for a living (hard not to, with bags and sticks going in and out the building!) but who had obviously never said anything to her.

Anyway, to cut a long story short.... I was on TV.

The Ramadan TV drama by Adel Emam came out 2 weeks ago (see my previous blog entry for the whole story and to view the clip!). It's a show that EVERYONE watches, especially old women who stay at home all day. It features me as a dancer in a cabaret in Syria, and was it was shown on all channels in Egypt and my face is clearly shown...

The truth was out. I knew there was no way I was going to be able to continue with my story that no of course was not a dancer! ( I had already done a google search just for 'lorna' and was at the same time very chuffed that I came up so early in the search- and worried that the landlady's son or neighbour might think to do the same search and find out my ocupation) what a way to live huh? frightened to tell anyone what you proudly do for a living.

The landlady had made it painfully clear that she did not approve of entertainment work, waxing lyrical about this ‘singer’ that i had staying with me (who she hadn’t even met but had managed to make up all sort of interesting, hair raising stories about!), But then, to find out that her tenant of 6 years was a bellydancer. You can but imagine!

I returned to Cairo on august 20th. I had paid my rent until 26th, and I knew I had no option but to leave by then.. ...

What a hellish week.

In 6 years living somewhere, discounting the memories, you also collect a lot of things around you. ‘Stuff’. Not to mention about 50 bellydance costumes!

The past 6 days have been full of boxes and bags, tears and tantrums, stress and sleepless nights.

Thankfully Ellie had returned to Cairo the same day as I had, and she was an immense help with packing and organising, and the running for the tissues everytime the weight of it all broke me down again and again. It was hard on her too. Ellie has been living in Cairo for over a year now working successfully as a singer, and she loved the flat too!

‘Hotel BellyLorna’ had so many guests over the years... so many fabulous memories... so much care put into it, I kept – keep - feeling the enormity of how unfair it all is.

The upside of it was I was able to give so much of the ‘stuff’ away to people who really needed it and who also find scraping together a living in Egypt a trying task at times. The popular idea that us foreigners are ‘made of money’ is so false it is laughable! All the left overs completely disappeared, my cleaner and her brother came round and took away things that to people in the UK would have been seen as rubbish, used shower curtains, coathangers, shoes, clothes, half used toiletries. They took the lot. If they couldn't use it themselves, they knew people who could. Recycling here at its best!

I dance.

 I love dance.

 I love dancing in Egypt.

I am gutted that my job is viewed in such a negative way by so many people. That my personal character is slated because i am an artist.

People who would happily hire me to dance at their son’s weddings or watch me as they eat their meal on the Nile... but who would never allow me to be any part of their personal life, to the extent of even renting out their apartment. The worry about what other people think here is so very strong. Much stronger now that Morsi is ‘in charge’ !

When she came over to collect my house key, and make sure I really left, the landlady was still horrible to me. Still accusing me of a lot of things that I almost wish now I had done! I can only feel sorry for someone who acts like that when out of fear of what others may think. As long as she got her money, and people didn’t think badly of her, she was very happy to take my money.

One of the things that really upset me was the Bowab’s reaction to my news that i was leaving. He actually slumped and his eyes welled up. Only people who have ever met my bowab can know how unlikely it is that he would ever cry in front of a woman especially. He is the top dog of the street, the head bowab. The saaidi man on the street, to be feared and respected. But I swear, he had to hold back his tears. I couldn’t. I stood blubbing on my doorstep. He assured me that they would never find someone as good as me. Because above all, I was a good person. God bless him. I know it. But it was really what i needed to hear to stop myself from hating everyone around me!

I am staying with a lovely Scottish friend, in her spare room. She is very welcoming and I really appreciate her putting me (and Ellie) up at a moments notice. At times like these I am even more grateful to my wonderful friends.

Also a huge thank you for all the many many messages of support I have had from around the world, with lots of what I affectionally would call ‘things my granny would say’ ; “everything happens for a reason” and  “what’s for you will not go by you” etc. It really does help to know people care , and to think of my granny sending me her support somehow!

 However, I miss my place already, although it’s only been 3 days. Maybe it is wrong to become so very attached to a flat, but I can’t help it.

 I still cry when I think about all those lovely evenings with friends coming over to visit.

Being able to open my house to interesting, fun, talented girls coming to stay with me from all over the world.

All those hours spent teaching and dancing in my very own studio.

 All those nights sitting in my ‘internet cafe’, my house guests and me all sitting round the giant dining room table each interacting to the leggy internet spider that spans the globe.

Those nights when rather than go out, we would all go into the studio, dim the lights, pour a drink, and just dance the night away.

Following the ever changing news of Egypt from my living room, and watching it live from my balcony.

The love and tears that went into making that flat a real home, for me and my guests.  The memories.

It’s always sad to leave a place you have been happy in, but usually you have some time to get used to the idea, Time to sort your things and pack. Usually you want to move on.

 I didn’t and the only way I can really fully express how I feel about it all is to stamp my feet, fold my arms, knit my brow, stick out my lower lip and sulkily shout;

“IT’S NOT FAIR"   !!!!




.... and quietly hope that the next tenants are wild party throwers and enjoy living there as much as I did... whilst making the nosy neighbours and narrow-minded landlady’s life miserable!!

Lorna bellydancing on Egyptian TV

When I was back in UK over Ramadan this summer, I was very happy to receive emails and messages on facebook from friends back in Cairo, telling me that they had seen me on TV!

It was Ahmed Refaat who had given me that particular opportunity. Ahmed is a folkloric dancer here in Cairo and has on occasion rented out my dance studio to teach in. He was asked to do some choreography work for a TV series, and they also asked if he could supply a good, foreign bellydancer, someone with the correct work papers to perform in Egypt. He thought of me straight away and within a few days I was heading out to Haram early one morning, taking Ellie along as my chaperone, dresser and moral support!

The scene was set in a fabulous old nightclub, next to the Movenpick hotel in Haram (the area in Cairo right beside the Pyramids of Giza). When we arrived I still had no idea what I was going to be asked to do... I didn’t know if it was just me dancing, or if there were a few of us. There were certainly other girls around, mostly Egyptian, a few Russian.

 I had been asked to bring a small selection of costumes with me, but no red ones (since the backdrop was all red). A woman came over and introduced herself as the costumes manager, and she chose the same costume out of my selection as I had. A turquoise blue and gold Eman Zaki creation which I really love and is very comfortable to wear. Eman had recreated it for me out of an old costume she had previously made for me which had a gold skirt rather than blue, but since metallic material always gets sweat ruined when I wear it night after night for performances it had eventually become unusable. Now it was transformed it a stunning ‘new’ costume;
from this costume:
to this one:

Photo credit: Maani Vadgama

So, after costume selection was hair and makeup. The makeup artist was a boy whose fingers reeked of cigarettes and who was surrounded by other boys smoking and an older woman, and not sure how to write this politely, but from the look of them I have to admit, I was slightly concerned how I would end up looking! My fears were unfounded. They were very talented indeed. The makeup was not so different from how I would have done it myself... but somehow, I’m still not sure how, made me look very Egyptian!

The hairdresser, also male, spent a long time ‘ironing’ my hair and hair piece (the one my normal hairdresser had made fun of saying it wasn’t real hair, so she couldn’t do anything with it... that proved her wrong!!) and he spent a long time attaching the ‘prestige’ as they call it here, so there was no risk of it falling out! I had long straight luscious locks!

Then to dress, in the nightclub toilet with a bunch of Egyptian girls who looked, well... to put it bluntly, rough. At this point I was still unsure what we’d be filming, and I was rather concerned that if these girls were dancing up alongside me, it wasn’t going to be a very classy show!

I worried for nothing.

The girls were the ‘waitresses’. That is to say, in low class nightclubs they hire girls to stand around the tables and encourage the men to drink more.

The beer bottles were filled with pineapple juice; seemingly just the right fizz and colour!

There were men dressed up as gulf Arabs, with some of the Russian girls sitting at tables too.

On stage, the band was all set up. Turns out there were the musicians from the Mena house hotel. They were good. Well, good at their job anyway. When the director called action they first time, the poor men didn’t really know what to do, so they started the introduction to a song..... ‘no no no, cried the director, we need to go straight into the middle of the music’, ok, they said... but they still missed their ‘action’ cue again. From then on, the director called equivalent of ‘lights, camera, musiqa’ so that the band started on time! It was obviously the first time for them to do something like this too!

I was told to stand in the centre on the stage, a fabulous catwalk style stage so I had tables all around me, and ‘just dance’. I didn’t get to request the song, or even know what it was going to be before I started... ‘Just dance’.

Thank God I am not a choreography type of dancer! I only ever improvise in any of my performance although then of course I know the music because I have chosen it! However, I am always up for this sort of a challenge!

We did maybe only four takes in total, with different camera angles. The actors, both famous, but for the life of me I couldn’t tell you their names, other than one is the son of the most famous actor in Egypt, Adel Emam, had to come up onto stage and throw  (pretend) money over my head. It was a strange experience for me, because although this is the custom in cabarets in Egypt, in the years I have worked here I have never worked in a place like that! Should I look at the actors, at the camera, at the ‘audience’, I had no idea and no one gave me any direction. When I asked.. I was told, don’t look at the camera, and just do what you are doing, it’s perfect!

Certainly when they were all looking at the playback on the monitors they were lots of lovely comments from them about me (they hadn’t realised that Ellie and I could understand what they were saying about me, but thankfully it was all positive, about how good I looked, very Egyptian,  and danced and how perfect it all was!). When I had a look on the screen I got excited too- it looked so professional, with all the lights and camera angles! I had caught the bug- I loved doing this- it was so much fun!!!

In fact, when Ahmed came to me and said, ok you can change now, they are finished, i was most upset! I wanted to stay more and dance more!

At the time I didn’t know any of the story line or even the name of the production or whether it was going to be in cinemas or TV! They wouldn’t tell me any of it!

I never knew what a huge thing it actually was... maybe that was just as well!

It was part of a TV drama, ‘Fer2et Nagy Atallah’, due to be run throughout Ramadan and starred Adel Emam and his son amongst others. It was shown on every channel in Egypt and I played the part of a dancer in Syria, seemingly!

One of the channels, channel 1, took out the dance scene, since seemingly that channel is owned by the Muslim brotherhood? Not sure whether that is correct, but that is what I was told!

They used my dance scene the night before as the taster for the next day’s episode, so I was on everywhere,over those two days, so I am told. It was very exciting, both filming it and then receiving all the messages from people in Cairo who were watching it. I spent the day going around Edinburgh telling people- I am on TV today in Cairo... I was so chuffed! I managed to get someone in Cairo to record it and send it to me so i could see what they had edited in and out... and it looked good. They kept in a lot more veil work that i had actually done, they obviously really liked that stuff! The ending was really sharp too. Granted it doesn’t show off a lot of my dancing, but enough so you feel i really do know what i am doing. I did post it up onto youtube, but it was unfortunately blocked due to copy right within a few hours! i am uploading it here... hope this doesn't get blocked too and you get to view it!
When I returned to Cairo last week after Eid, all the people whose first comments were ‘you were on TV with Adel Emam!!!!’ Not strictly true, since he wasn’t in the scene we were filming- but he was there on the day! All my friends were coming up to me telling me I had been on TV. I think it was almost as exciting for them as it had been for me! Almost enough to make a girls head swell!

One of my Cairo dreams was to have a dance role in Egyptian film. Tick!

Except now it has whetted my appetite for more......

Anyone out there need a bellydancer for their tv/film...?!!!