Transitions are almost never easy, unless we´re talking about falling in love or winning the lottery and, even in those cases, some will argue the transition isn´t easy. I´m ready to fall in love and win the lottery, thank you very much. Bring them on! I can take those transitions quite well 😉 But there are others I must learn to ride on/with.
Living and performing in Egypt for 8 years was far from easy but I created a subworld and a system I could understand – sort of – and control, most of the times. I knew who were my friends and my enemies; I knew about the dirt and how to go around the dirt; the Egyptian market for Oriental Dance may be the hardest and dirtiest in the universe but it´s also small, static in the way it deals with dancers and not difficult to grasp. I could predict people´s attitudes and their tricks (Egyptian society is predictable in many ways); I knew what worked and what didn´t. The basic characters were there, repeating themselves: the manager/pimp who dreams about marrying you for extra income, status and, who knows, an European or an American visa; the musicians and their peculiar manners; the wedding mice who go around paying bribes to promote this dancer and slash her competitor; the dancers who try to cut your legs when you shine too much; the bosses who try to buy you in exchange for higher payment, job opportunities or stardom on a platter; the “baweb” (doorman) who checks on your departures and arrivals, sure that you´re a prostitute; the “lapissa” (the girl/woman who assists the dancer, helping her to dress and undress before, during and after each show).These are the basics. I carried them under my armpit, like a French bagette.
Basically, that was a crazy world but one I got to know in depth. I learnt the rules of the game – fast and passionately – and I knew how to move around them and break them:
Men fool around with dancers but they don´t date them, marry them or present them to their families.
Managers, bosses, empresarios, clients – 99% of them – will try to pick you up, presuming you´re a prostitute.
Other dancers will send the police after you – to check on your work papers, cloths, behaviour, whatever the imagination calls for – and try to make you stop dancing, if you bother them too much with your success.
Musicians need a good dose of tough leadership and love. In equal measures. If you give them more of one, the ship goes down.
If you want to dance YOUR OWN THING, you cannot deliver your orchestra to a manager who knows as much about music as you know about gardening. YOU have to take the lead and express, clearly, what you need from the music YOU will dance.
If you dare going out of the shelf women are put on, prepare yourself to be punished.
The list goes on and on. I got it. This list and other lists no one tells you about when you move to Egypt to accomplish the ever imPOSSIBLE dream of becoming a successful Oriental Dancer. Now we arrive to The Transition – from Egypt to the World.
When time came to close my Egyptian Chapter – between 2012 and 2013 -, I knew my Path with be global. I knew how much knowledge and precious experience I´d gathered in almost a decade of an improbable successful career filled with victories but also struggle, loneliness and personal pain. Swimming against the tide has never been easy, especially for a woman who refuses to bow her head towards a Patriarchal rotten system like the Egyptian.
From the moment I decided – or recognized – I was moving ahead to an whole different journey, I smelled the new challenges. What had been applied until then would have to be expanded, according to the expansion my life would be going through. Key words: expansion & adaptation.
Egypt was so
damn hard but I´d nailed it. I knew how to play in the mud without getting dirty. What about performing, teaching and lecturing in different countries? What about translating the PEARLS I´d rescued in Egypt to a language the whole world could understand and, what is more important, feel? I knew how to dance for Egyptians – those were my audiences, the ones who got me, appreciated me, built me as a dancer and a person and made my name in the Egyptian market. But what about dancing for foreigners: Chinese, English, Spanish, French, American, Japanese, Israeli, Portuguese, Turkish, German, Italian, Australian, Polish and so forth? What did they like and expected from a dancer? Furthermore: did I have to worry about what they like and expect from a dancer?
There is no set of rules anymore. You cannot apply old rules to a new world. You have to surf the waves, whatever their shape is. If you close yourself inside what you know – or knew – you´re doomed to failure and frustration.
Each country, culture, language, mentality and person has its own set of rules and way of living. I have to figure out how each one of them works and, eventually, flow with it. Now that my home is the world, I cannot grab myself to the set of rules that worked in Egypt. The World is wide, varied, complex, impossible to pin down. There´s no other option but to FLOW with each person I deal with while establishing my limits, YES & NO. I don´t do whatever other people want me to do but I listen, I manage, I understand (or try to), I do my best to cooperate within a middle term between what I believe it´s fair and what the other person believes is fair; what I want to teach/perform and what the other person and her/his country wants to experience.
In terms of dance, I never worried about what audiences expect. They usually don´t expect much, not in Egypt; not anywhere else. We´re still talking about the “exotic belly dance” We´re still on Shakira mode. We´re still stuck to the old prejudices that limit and shame Oriental Dance to some low sexy gymnastic it never was. We´re still there. So, if I build my dance around people´s expectations, I´m
screwed done. My dance will be as poor as their expectations.
I do what I feel. Period. Add knowledge, in depth experience in the core of Oriental Dance, awareness of cultural context and Vision to the recipe. I flow with the world waves, that´s true. I also make a point on living my dream and mission: sharing the Magic of Oriental Dance; bringing back the soul of this ancient art. Between the flow and the mission I breathe, work and dream higher. There are no limits.
And this is not a solo dance anymore; it´s a TANGO, a happy end, passionate, fabulous tango. I don´t dance alone anymore. I have to listen to my partner and dance with him. Life´s perfect in its own messy, often painful, way.