Leila Farid is a force of nature.
She’s one of the most popular belly dancers working in Cairo today… and not just to audiences, but also to those in the biz, who are taken with her exquisite technique, elegant appearance and easy-going professional demeanor.
A long, lean dancing machine, the gorgeous American ex-patriot has resided in Cairo for years. She got her dance license in 2002 and performed at the Sherton, The Pyramisa, the Nile Phaoron, and many other hotes. Currently, she performs regularly on The Nile Maxim, as well as at concerts, weddings, and cruises, and most of the other and in music videos with superstars like Hakim, Waleed Toufiq, Ahmed Fathi, and many others. She also tours from time to time, performing and teaching workshops all over the world.
Leila is the founder of the belly dance and live music retreat, Camp Negum, has starred in three instructional/performance DVDs, and produced four hugely popular CDs of incredible Egyptian music featuring her famous husband, Safaa Farid, and his band.
In addition to her dancing, she’s also well-known throughout the Middle East as an actress and model, having appeared in numerous films, commercials, and on the cover of every fashion magazine in Egypt.
In her “spare time”, she writes extremely articulate and candid, well-thought out articles about her fascinating life in Egypt, which have appeared in a number of belly dance publications, including www.gildedserpent.com and Zaghareet Magazine.
True to her American heritage, she’s a really fun and a hip chick, as well as being a great dancer and business woman, and an all-around smart cookie. In fact, while we were corresponding about this article, she mentioned that she was currently absorbed in a huge book on the Civil War- as in Yankees and Confederates,-not the Egyptian Revolution!
But while she’s on stage, she’s all Egyptian… last year at the Mena House in Cairo, Leila closed the Ahlan Wa Sahlan Closing Gala with a set that was so beautiful and powerful, I just had to get her to spill the beans on how she prepares for her show.
Here, in her own words, is what she does backstage:
“ I feel like I can get ready for a show with my eyes closed. I’ve been in Egypt now for nine years and have worked between five and seven days a week for most of those years , the only exceptions being during the ban on foreign dancers in 2004, when I was pregnant, and during the Revolution when it was not possible to work.
I have a definite routine developed over the years with my hair and make-up that I rarely vary. Some dancers in Egypt have make-up artists and hairdressers with them all the time. I don’t. I’ve been lucky to have had most of the top make-up artists in Cairo do my face on different shoots and I’ve learned so much from them.
I am a very sweaty dancer so I have to put my make-up on in specific layers so that I won’t end up with raccoon eyes at the end of the first number. They taught me how to create nice Oriental make-up that stays on under hot cinema or stage lights. I also prefer to do my own hair and leave it as natural as possible so it isn’t trashed by daily hairdressing. Hair and makeup take about an hour.
One of the best things about working in Egypt is never having to schlep anything yourself. I have three technicians that go with me to all my work and prepare everything before the show. I have a driver who carries all the bags to the car.
When I arrive at the hotel or boat there is another technician who has already discussed where the dressing room is and has ok’d it (clean, no cameras, near the stage) and also carries the bags to the dressing room.
He is also in charge of dealing with any props for me and the folklore dancers. Both of these techs also lead me to the stage and stand near it (sometimes people are dancing so closely at a weddings that the techs need to go in and fish me out) but mostly they are waiting until I finish the number to help me find the dressing room so I can change my costume.
If you do enough weddings in a night, in big enough halls, you can completely forget where the dressing room ( that you came out of fifteen minutes before) is!
The third tech is the woman in the room with me that arranges all my costumes and accessories, and helps me change. Two of these technicians have been with me since the beginning of my career and they are like family. If they are absent it feels like the show can’t go as normal.
When I arrive, my dresser has already laid out all my make-up and costumes. I check my hair and make-up, do a few warm-up stretches and wait. I don’t change into my costume until I hear the overture or until a technician tells me the music has started. I can change quickly. Egyptian costumes are not very comfortable with everything buttressed up so I spend as little time in them as possible.
When I’m dancing outside of Egypt, I try and keep my routine as close as normal as I can (doing everything myself). Sometimes I get nervous when I dance outside Egypt, especially on a theater stage (yikes), so having my daily pre-show routine helps keep me calm.”
You can purchase some of Leila-and Safaa’s - amazing Egyptian belly dance music here:
Leila’s website: www.leilainegypt.com
PHOTOS: Leila portraits by Rudi Piero; Leila live at Ahlan Wa Sahlan 2011 by Andre Elbing