Aleya is a phenomenal bellydancer in Cairo. She tells fantastic stories of rubbing rhinestones with famous Egyptian bellydancers and having snake charmers serenading outside her apartment because they think she is a wealthy Saudi. But the most amazing part of her life’s story is that she is an American bellydancer who decided to live her dream and move to the heart of the bellydance world.
Aleya and I go “way back” as dancers. I had the honor of dancing with her when we were both performing in the restaurants and clubs of Los Angeles. As a bellydancer, it is one thing to be respected by Middle-Easterners living in the United States, but it is entirely different story to perform in the Middle-East.
I believe that dreams should not be just dreams. The way I see it is that dreams aren't made for sleeping on. They visit with purpose. And yet, I know how difficult it is to follow our dreams.
I am so inspired by Aleya pursuing such a bold dream, that I asked her to tell her to write her story and share it with us. Enjoy The Cairo Chronicles and let her motivate you to do what you love and love what you do.
The Cairo Chronicles: An American Bellydancer who Moves to Egypt to Pursue her Dream
The road that brought me to Cairo was long and winding. I think every belly
dancer dreams of coming to Cairo to work with a live band, and to live in
the birthplace of this fascinating dance that seems to consume your soul.
Since I can remember I have always been drawn to the Middle East and its
culture. From early on in grade school and high school, our mascots were
the “Arabs”. We were the ‘mighty Arabs’ when we cheered in football games.
In drill team we wore genie pants, fez hats with chiffon draped from the
top, and midriff bearing tops with chiffon sleeves and vests. I loved
wearing my costume for parades and being a beautiful genie.
I started traveling to Cairo to study dance about 7 years ago. I used to
come once or twice a year and stay for 4 weeks. I took private classes from
everyone I could find. My vacations were strictly for dancing. I did most
of my sight seeing on my first two trips. Every trip after that was
strictly for dancing and to watch shows and buy costumes, except for my
requisite trip to the Pyramids, which to this day awe me. I love the
Pyramids and their beauty.
It was on one of my trips in 2007 that I took a private class with Randa
Kamel. Randa is a phenomenal artist and the first time I saw her dance, I
was amazed that you could have that much power on stage and still look
relaxed. She is also breathtakingly gorgeous and I was instantly smitten by
her charm while she performed. I wanted to take class with her, so I phoned
one of my other dance teachers to find her number. I called her up and made
an appointment. I went to her apartment on Faizal street in Haram (next to
the Pyramids) and had a class with her. She happened to have already
choreographed a song that was brand new, and that I had heard and loved. I
was so excited to learn choreography for this song, and I felt like she
had the same feelings for music that I do as a dancer.
I thought I knew how to dance, but it always shocked me when I came to Cairo
to study and to find that I felt like I knew so little. Well, if I felt
like I knew very little with other teachers, I felt like I was not even a
dancer with Randa. She made me get higher on my toes, made me really pound
the floor with the choo-choo shimmy, and had me do a hip lock down with my
glutes instead of my hips, walking backwards. I was in awe. She was so
cute in how she explained everything, and when she would yell at me and say
“harder!” or “more!” or “bigger!”.
In any case, I was very comfortable with her, and she with me, and we
chatted like old friends. It was during one of our chats that she said
“Aleya, why don’t you move to Cairo and work here?” I was kind of shocked
because I admired her as an artist so much and I was really flattered and
taken aback by what she said. She said I had the body and look for Cairo
and I should try to move to Cairo to work. This was the first time I
entertained the thought of ever seriously moving to Cairo. I left Cairo a
week later and forgot all about our conversation.
When I arrived back in the States I met my friend Iris, who is a singer and
belly dancer, and had just moved back from Cairo. She filled me in on all
her crazy stories, and said she liked it but it was time to come back to
California before she went crazy. Then she said “Aleya, you should move to
Cairo and try to work, they would love you there.” Again I was shocked. I
said to no one in particular “Why does everyone keep saying this to me?” I
told her what Randa had said to me, and she reiterated that I should really
think about it.
Being from California (Los Angeles to be exact) I am a big believer in “The
Secret” and all things related to manifesting and creating your desires. I
have read “Conversations with God” several times and it states that nothing
is a coincidence, so I started to wonder why people had started to say this
to me. I tried to pay attention to other things in my life to see if I
could get answers, and consequently I attended a seminar on “Life
Directions”. They asked “If you had all the time, money, and energy in the
world to do what you love, what would you be doing?” The only thing I could
think of was dancing in Cairo, so I wrote “belly dancing in Cairo” on my
paper. The trainer said, “This is what you should be and were meant to be
doing in your life.” It was a shock to hear, because in my mind this was
only a dream. But I started to think that maybe I was supposed to be in
I was not happy where I was in my life; I was feeling unfulfilled. I was
working in mortgages and selling homes, always running, trying to make money
to cover my bills, car payment and mortgages. I had also done film
costuming, but wasn’t happy with that either. My last project I worked on
was a great project and I got to work with Jada Pinkett Smith and her
husband Will Smith, but it did not fulfill me and when I worked on projects
like that I was always completely stressed out. If I would want to do my
dance gigs on the weekend it became an issue because we never knew at what
hour we would be finished shooting the film for the day. I just wanted to
dance and that’s all that made me happy.
When I was on stage I was free and happy and fulfilled. I always wanted to
feel like that, but chasing mortgages and car payments got complicated
because I took on lots of debt. When the real estate market in Los Angeles
was good this was ok but when it started to go south things became very
difficult. In addition, in order to afford living in my house I had 3
people living with me. I started getting the worst roommates in the world.
One time I arrived home at 2am to find my S&M-practicing roommate breathing
10 foot flames on the corner by my house. It was really funny, but
completely insane, and it got to be too much for me. I was feeling
pressured and miserable, and to top it all off I broke up with my longtime
boyfriend. We broke up partly because I was not happy with myself and so
could not be happy with him, and partly because my heart was leaning toward
leaving all my problems behind. I was starting to really entertain the
thought of moving to Cairo.
What pushed me over the edge was an old friend of mine. We’d been friends
for 10 years. I had dated him a couple of times, and every so often we
would get together to have dinner and drinks or just to socialize. I liked
him. He was smart and liked to go to great restaurants. I could talk about
business and politics, and I enjoyed that. At one point, as the economy
started to take a dive, credit card companies were doing crazy things. I
had a mark on my credit for a pager bill, of all things - a $30 bill! One
of my credit cards slashed my $10,000 limit to $2,000. As soon as they did
that at least 3 or 4 other creditors followed suit. As a mortgage broker I
knew that they were about to ruin my very good FICO score, and that the
money I owed on my credit cards was going to be a problem. I told my friend
about this and he said “don’t worry, I will help you”. Needless to say it
didn’t quite work out that way. He ruined my credit for good on the pretext
that he would pay it all back. He scammed me like I have never been scammed
before, and I was horrified.
After this incident I decided it was time to leave the States. I was
completely stressed out and did not want any attachments to anything. I
said to myself “If I move to Cairo it will not matter, as I have nothing to
lose anymore.” I sold my home, all my possessions and my two cats, and I
came to Cairo. I felt like a weight had been lifted. The pressure was
gone. The move was grueling. It took a lot of work to figure out how to
tie up all the loose ends in my life.
It has not been very easy but I am happy I have come and had this
experience. As a dancer this experience is invaluable. The music, language
and culture mean so much more to me now. I now understand how important it
is to know what a song means and what you are dancing to. This experience
has taught me I can go anywhere and survive. I came here without anyone to
call except the few people I knew in the dance community. But by the grace
of God I was lucky, and everything has worked out. It never works quite as
you like it to but if you can appreciate the journey it makes it all the
better. My journey continues, and I try to be as positive as possible
wherever it may take me. I am thankful one more of my dreams has been
fulfilled, and that I had the courage to make this happen.