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Ahlan! Tervetuloa! Welcome!

To October's edition of Zameena
(the ezine brought to you by Sandra at Zara's Zouk, and Zara Dance)
We are excited and honoured to bring you

a conversation with
travelling bellydancer

Zaina Brown
(in pic above)
In addition to being a professional bellydancer, Zaina is an intrepid solo traveller, writer and filmmaker

Bellydance has led her from Finland to the USA, Egypt and subsequently, across much of Africa and Asia. 

Zaina records many aspects of her life and dance adventures on her website, blog, books, and has even filmed a documentary about bellydance in India.

Zaina and I (Zara) met up  here in Cairo and I am so happy to share her fascinating tales about being an INTERNATIONAL BELLYDANCER.
Welcome Zaina, and thank you for agreeing to chat to us. So, to jump straight in, is it true that you have danced professionally as a bellydancer in OVER 10 COUNTRIES all over the world?! 

All over the world is a bit of an exaggeration! Let's count - there's countries like UAE, Yemen, Tunisia where I did hotel contracts, and ones where I worked with local agents, like Egypt and India. Including the countries I've lived in - currently that's Thailand - and Cote d'Ivoire, where I did a few random shows, the current figure is 14. As far as countries I've travelled in, it's somewhere around 65.

WOW! That is astounding, but actually it all started in your native Finland?

Yeah. I started bellydancing when I was thirteen, and was hooked from the first class. Bellydance was very popular at the time, and classes were popping up everywhere!

You were young when you started striking out on your own.  Were your parents /family/ friends surprised, supportive? Did you ever feel homesick?

My first move because of bellydance happened back in Finland. I was just shy of sixteen, I moved from my small home town to Helsinki to take bellydance classes with the best teachers. Officially, the reason was to attend a prestigious performing arts high school, but that was just a cover. I loved my high school though!

Back then, no one could understand why I was so dedicated to this dance. There were few performance opportunities, and while a handful of full-time teachers existed, nobody was making a living from gigs. My parents and friends were definitely shocked once again when I took off to New York at 22, and stayed. I suppose it began making sense when I became a full-time dancer there.

Homesickness is a foreign concept to me. I miss people, not places.

I appreciate that feeling. People are what matter!
Did you ever imagine the path your life would take as a young bellydancer in Finland? If you could, is there any advice or warnings you would give to the 13 year old Zaina?

If someone told me when I was a beginner dancer that I would perform around the world, or even that dance would become my profession in any shape or form, I would never have believed them. Nothing like that existed around me. I didn't know any artists. My goal was just to become a good dancer, a real dancer, whatever that was, and it took many years for me to even hear about the opportunities that existed. I mean, it was hard to even get your hands on a performance videos of dancers in Egypt!

Had I known what was coming, I could have prepared for being a solo dancer, learn to turn for example. But on the mental side, it's good I didn't have a clue. My love for dance remained unadulterated for so many years. I think those early years as a student are so precious, and it's what keeps you motivated through all the troubles you end up going through in the professional field. If the goal from the beginning is to be a pro, you might end up regarding the dance itself more as a job than as a passion.
That's so insightful - thank you for sharing. So, how exactly did you get to dance in so many countries? What is your secret on how to travel the world via dance?

I worked with a Lebanese agent for many years. Some of my work comes through my colleagues, as referrals. I will say that most often the opportunities come to those who are near them, and ready to get on a plane on a day's notice. I've heard dancers say they too would love to do a contract in some Arab country, if it was conveniently timed with their teaching schedule in their home country. It rarely works out that way. Maybe my secret was being available!

That is so true! I have also found that availability, and reliability are key. Out of interest, where have you worked, as a professional dancer, for the longest period of time and the shortest? 

Aside from the USA of course, the longest time period was five months in Delhi, with a one-month break. With numerous contracts in the UAE, it must amount to more than a year altogether.

Once, I did a New Year's show in Abu Dhabi on a layover, I was in the country less than 48 hours.

Gosh, that's a fast turnaround! What other challenges do you face as a dancer who travels so much?

For many years, I had no home aside from the place I was currently sleeping in. My life was in a couple of suitcases. I rarely bought a return ticket, and I almost never knew where I was going - or when I would work next. It was a lot of insecurity, but I learned to roll with it.

Romantic relationships are of course difficult to maintain living that way. But when it's the real deal, that is not an obstacle, either. One great thing about travel is making friends around the world, many of whom also change countries frequently.
Over the years you have met and become friends with so many top bellydancers. That must be such fun! 
However, I am just as impressed with the number of ordinary people, throughout the world, who have helped and befriended you during your solo travels. Those stories from your blog always make me smile! 
Yes, I have made some wonderful friends through bellydance. Another bellydancer can understand the ups and downs you go through as a professional dancer and it's always good to catch up with them.

Also, I am lucky in  that I have never had an experience which makes me afraid to continue travelling solo. I feel that our beliefs shape our experiences, so if you believe most people are good then that is what you'll find. Whereas, if you expect most people to be bad then that's what you'll find. That is my belief and experience.

There are far, far more good people in the world than there are bad and, thankfully, they are always there, ready to help.

Wherever I have travelled, I have met people who are willing to keep me safe and to help me. They are amazing!

That's a great belief system and positive way to view the world. 

Talking of the good and bad, in all the places you have danced do you have a best memory and a worst memory?

I'll just go with these two off the top of my head.

I was working in a nightclub in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, and the musicians had booked me to perform at a hotel staff party with them. 
The clubs close at six or seven in the morning, so for us, an afternoon show was an unnatural thing. I had just rolled out of bed, and my plan was to do my makeup while the guys set up their instruments. What do you know, the stage was completely set already, and we were expected to start within a few minutes of arriving. I put on mascara and lipstick, and quickly threw the costume on while someone banged on the door to rush me. I thought it would be one of my worst shows.

Something strange happened as soon as I got on the stage. The crowd, all guys from other parts of Egypt, toiling far away from home to save up some money - went completely wild. And not in a gawky, objectifying way, they just lost their minds over the music and the dance. They stood up to sing, shout, and dance like they just couldn't contain themselves. It was like this energy that had bottled up inside them just roared out and we all became part of the mass euphoria. For me, it was like an out of body experience.

How wonderful - That's dance for you!

As for the opposite type of memory - in the same city in the previous year, I brought the police into a club who fired me and refused to pay me. It was a big showdown, and a massive learning experience for me on how wrong things can go, so it wasn't all bad after all.
Wow, that's a positive take on a bad situation. No wonder you have made a success of dancing abroad!

Do you have any advice for a dancer who is thinking about making that move? Is it financially viable? What are the positives and the negatives?
So much could be said about this topic, but let's bring up a few points. 

If you're serious about pursuing a career in Arabia, be ready to make some sacrifices.  You might have to leave that boyfriend behind. The apartment, the job, the stability. I personally don't know anyone who came, saw, and conquered in a short period of time, and went home with a bag full of satisfying experiences. For me, it was easy to be all in: I had been on this road since a teenager. I was already used to leaving everything behind for dance, and I had no other life goals than to be a bellydancer.

It can and should be financially viable, yes. Many contracts come with flights, accommodation, and food, so living expenses are pretty much covered. Be smart and save your salary for those times when you're in between work, though. And at all times, have enough money to get yourself into a hotel, or on a plane, no matter the situation. I could tell you horror stories of girls getting stranded.

Do some market research. Thanks to Facebook and Instagram, nowadays it's so easy to see what the standards are in different places. Some places like the Gulf are youth-obsessed and have very rigid ideas about beauty and body type, whereas others like India have more variety. See where you can fit in, and follow the example of established dancers in costuming and dance style. The Middle East is not a monolith - in Dubai, nobody cares what the trends are in Cairo! 

That's sensible yet positive advice - thank you!
It is good to get your perspective because for me Cairo is home just as much as London is so, I don't feel I am dancing abroad.  Now, if I was dancing in India I'm sure I would feel very different as I don't know that culture or  language. That's why I so enjoyed your film, Traveling Bellydancer in India. It paints a great picture of your experiences there.  Is this your only film?

Thanks! This documentary was my first venture into the filmmaking world, and so far the only one. After finishing editing, I began my current project, which is a memoir. When another great topic comes along, I might pick up that camcorder again.
Sit back, watch and enjoy Zaina's full length film here:
You should - it's a great film!
You've been married for just over a year – Congratulations and a belated happy anniversary!
Now you and your husband are living in Thailand. Are you planning to live there long term? Are your  travelling days over? What is next for you?

Thank you! Well, considering I'm answering these questions in Cairo, and heading off to Sudan next, by myself, it does not seem like my travelling days are over...

I met my husband, who is Swiss, in Algeria. We worked in the same hotel, me as the bellydancer, he as the food and beverage manager. While I was still there, he left for Phuket, Thailand. Our first few years were long distance, while he worked in Phuket, and I was all around, so he knew he was getting a travelling wife. We are just now relocating within Thailand, so probably we'll be there at least a couple of more years. I'll do some dancing in Bangkok, and go off on my own when the mood strikes. We've travelled a lot together as well, in around twenty countries so far, which is pretty good for five years.
I loved Zaina's wedding dress story (it's on her website) Afterwards, she  turned it into a blue bellydance costume - cool!   Enjoy the wedding dance:
That is a lot of travelling you and your husband have done and having met you I know your travelling and writing will continue!! 

You have already written a book about your dance adventures, Stories of a Traveling Bellydancer  That’s amazing!
And, for those who enjoy a good read you have a website  and  a blog with interviews, many of your travel and dance experiences along with great input from other dancers. Have you always been a keen writer? Which language do you write in?

Actually, I'm currently in the process of finding a publisher for my new memoir Fire In The Belly, which tells the story of my seven-odd years working with the Lebanese agent with all its highs and lows, and traveling in Africa and Arabia. I'm expecting to have news on that front some time next year.

I only write in English, which is my strongest language. I have written on and off since high school, but in recent years I've written a lot about the dance industry, and being a Western woman in the Arab world. Now that I no longer have to worry about burning bridges, I can freely speak my mind, and write about my experiences in a completely honest way.

Wow!  I'm really looking forward to reading your no-holds-barred memoir! I bet you have some juicy and amazing stories to tell. Can't wait!
Hopefully, Fire In The Belly will be published next year! I'll keep you posted.

Thank you so much Zaina. It has been fun meeting you here in Cairo. Enjoy your travels, good luck and stay in touch!

Thank you!  It's been lovely meeting you too; chatting  and shopping together.

We'll stay in touch!

My thanks and best wishes to Zameena readers  :) xx
Connect with Zaina on Facebook   
Connect with her World of Dancers Facebook page too
Here is Zaina's YouTube Channel
Photos of Zaina and Zara shopping and chilling in Cairo!
Results of last month's musical instruments competition
Big THANK YOU to everyone who entered 
1) Daff (also allowed for: frame drum, tar, doria, bodhran) 
2) Tabla (darbuka)
3) Castanets
4) Sagat (zills)
5) Riq
6) Krakebs (quarkabeb)  

There were only two correct entrants to pop in the hat. We decided both were winners and have sent them each a pair of beautiful jewelled anklets:
Congratulations to Sue in Cambridge and Paula in Cheltenham!
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Give Yourself Some TLC
Look after yourself by getting into the habit of checking your breasts regularly.  Follow the TLC method as recommended by Breast Cancer Now.

TOUCH your breasts.  Can you feel anything unusual?
LOOK for changes. Is there any change in shape or texture?
CHECK anything unusual with your doctor. 
It's also a good time to support Just Because
the charity supporting breast cancer care for women in Egypt.
If you are shopping online at Zara's Zouk you can check out Just Because merchandise too  and maybe pop an item (they start at just £1) in with your other bellydance goodies.
All money for their goods goes to the charity and there is no extra postage as you pay just one postage cost for a basket full of goodies (free p&p on orders over £80 in UK)

GOING PINK on Friday Oct 20th? How about our NEW chiffon skirt with veil? Other colours available!

Catch up with
Sandra and 
Zara's Zouk

if there's anything special you want  us to bring please ask!

14th Oct - Abingdon Oxfordshire

Hope to see you there!
Sandra with the souk
(if there's anything special you want  us to bring please ask!)

and Zara 

Are looking forward to meeting you
In Torquay, Devon, at:

Zara's Dancing in London on
Thursday 26th October at Rouh Arabi 

Dar Marrakesh, 422 Edgware Road, London, W2 1EG
Please call/text Tara 07984448488 to book a table or pay at the door

Looking forward to seeing you there!
Thank you for taking the time to read.

A big thank you to
Zaina for being a wonderful,
gracious friend here in Cairo and for chatting to us.

Hope to catch up and see some of you later this month.
Best wishes
Zara and Sandra xx
Copyright © 2017 Zara's Zouk, All rights reserved.

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