Behind the 1001 Nights - Interview with Magda Monti

by Isis Zahara 

To understand a people you must live among them for 40 days. 
(Arabic proverb)

Her history can be one of the one thousand and one nights Scheherazad told in the famous tales. Her dance incorporates her experiences growing up in Argentina and her fascination with Egyptian culture. 

Magda Monti and the book, gift from her father 

Magda Monti was born in San Miguel de Tucuman, North of Argentina.  In 2005  she started her Oriental Dance education in the Arabian Dance school de Amir Thaleb, based in Buenos Aires.  Amir Thaleb is a great worldwide performer, choreographer and master teacher of Oriental Dance.

In 2009 she needs to replace a dancer in one of the most prestigious boats that go by the legendary Nile. Magda's debut was a remarkable event, the performance was technically impeccable and the audience loved her. Until these days Magda Monti is the official soloist of the Nile Pharaoh Cruise in Egypt.

She also has a blog - Del Cairo con amor/ From Cairo with Love - where you can find more stories about her life in Egypt.

Magda Monti by Mirian Abdel Aziz

IZ – How did you get involved with belly dance?
MM - I got involved in the Oriental dance through the music. One day came into my hands a cd from Amr Diab... the music entered by my ears.I can't explain what I felt when I heard "Amarain" or "Nour el Ain"... Simply, I had to dance.I decided to learn from local teachers. The time passed and my father told me - "I can't pay your lessons" - (I think he wanted I let the dance)... It was then that I began to teach at my house to pay my courses and costumes... The living room of my house turned into a ballroom and I didn't stop my dream! 

 "I didn't became a belly dancer magically 
with just one step on Egyptian soil! 
I have years of training and I believe in what I do!
Many people will hate this... I'm sorry for them."

IZ - You started Belly Dance in the Arabian Dance school de Amir Thaleb. How was to learn from him?
MM - I must be honest and admit that my first week in Buenos Aires was shocking ... for all that means leaving a little city like mine and found myself in the vorágine of a big city... I remember going with so many expectations. Had taken several workshops with Argentine teachers, I was hesitant until I met Amir.
I Had seen him on video but seeing him in person is something else. I remember being on the top floor of his school looking for the secretary to register for the class. Suddenly I enter into an office and then I saw him ... I almost died (literally) He looked at me and I smiled. Then, in the class happened to me something like what happened with the Amr Diab CD ... It was before and after in my career.  Besides being a great dancer is a master with all the letters. There are many good teachers with flawless technique, but they don't have the humility and human quality that Amir has.  Amir is a man who has traveled and walked many stages, loved and admired worldwide but still sits beside you and talk to you as an equal.

After that first week I had to turn urgently to my city, my father ill and was dying. 
Although it had been able to see him and he asked me how the classes were? I said to him - that was what I wanted in my life that would make me happy and my father replied: "If is what you really want, do it."
Was a sacrifice for me every month to travel to Buenos Aires and take the required classes to attend the examination at the end of year... Minimally you need 1000 pesos per month. But I didn't care about anything because once being in class I felt that the effort was worth... I was learning a lot. I traveled during 4 years until I came to Egypt.

preparing to the show

IZ - Tell us how you start to dance in Egypt.
MM - "I was at the right time" because when I came here a dancer needed a replacement. I should add that besides having been there they also liked my show. In that week I was called 3 times. 
The manager offered me to sign a contract and start my working papers, but I had to return to Argentina to fix some things... It could not disappear and not return.
Delay 6 months, I come back, which is a long time so when I returned I had to audition.
At the audition had Egyptians and Foreign dancers... I was really nervous but passed the audition successfully... The manager (who was not the same that had offered the contract on my first trip) told me: "Your look is not foreign and your dancing is exquisite". Immediately began my papers so I started working legally. Delayed papers are 3 months.

Magda and her assitent Sahar

IZ - Behind the glamour how is to be a foreign belly dancer in Egypt?
MM - I said it many times and repeat it as many times as necessary: ​​The problem with dance is NOT the dance itself, but the costumes and the image left by the Egyptian movies on the dancer. When you say dancer: "Rakassa" - everybody thinks about a girl who moves sensually in a few clothes, in a night club and after she go to somewhere with any man. But this is far from the artistic vision you may have.
The Egyptian woman who choose art as a profession (particularly dance or acting) should be strong and be clear about what they want. No doubt, they will give up many things but if your vocation is authentic it worth the sacrifice.
No foreign women who works as a dancer in Egypt can't say publicly what their occupation is because there is a lot of censure and prejudice about the category.
For me sometimes it's frustrating don't say because I am proud to be everything I am (female, Latin American, Oriental dancer) but this is the place I choose to live, so I must to play by the rules apply here. I didn't come to "report" or to focus my attention on the bad shots that may have Egypt... because in life there are everything and I'm living here...Prejudice is everywhere! Also I always say: "I have to adapt to the place where I am, it is impossible that the place suits me"...

photo by André Elbing

IZ - Are there any moves, rhythms, musical progressions, points of etiquette, etc, that you didn’t know before you came to Egypt? How has Egyptian culture helped you understand more about belly dance?
MM - Any??? I can't count what I have learned here!The first thing that cost was the greeting and contact with people.When someone approached me to say hello or take a picture with me I was striving for hug people... Here the physical contact is no more than a handshake, is something quite opposite to what I am used as a Latin American woman.
Talking about dance: I Apply to my dance a "cadenza" that had not existed for me. That "cadenza" is the essence of listen, pause: FEELING. In order to make it shorter: "I began to enjoy every musical note... like when you eat something delicious and you don't want to finish." 

Every word of the lyrics deserves to be interpreted. Great compositions can't be taken lightly as Om Kalthoum and Abdel Halim Hafez.
 "The accordion sounds and each time it does seem to permeate through every pore of my skin is transformed inside by my essence and goes out as a movement"
It is so great blessing, it feels so good on the stage! I believe that every belly dancer experiences a profound change in her performance in Egypt ... is inevitable.

Magda and her musicians at  the Nile Pharaoh

IZ – How is your routine as belly dancer in the Nile Pharaoh Cruise Restaurant?
MM - I have no routine. My hours vary according to the scheduled shows and bookings.I have assigned work days and days off. Although the days off are relative because it happened that a group come to see me and they match my day off. I LOVE IT... Never I get angry when I stay from the midday to night dancing ...I love my job, I can hardly call it work ...

IZ –I’m wondering about bad rumours sometimes goes through the private life. You have a relationship with one of your musicians (Mohamed Reda). Did you have problems with gossip? I have heard about dancers using the relationship to get a contract.  Does people talk much behind?
MM - You have no idea how people love to talk: "Magda works because Mohamed put her on the boat!", "She has no talent"... I smile ... I have several reasons to smile and even burst out laughing.
Who is Mohamed Reda? Is the son of an Egyptian very talented musician and composer, so that for the heritage he is also musician (and talented as well).
That's what people see. What people don't see is that Mohamed besides being a musician is a computer engineer and works in the morning in a government office. He is not an "empresario" (word used in Egypt to who manage the artists). It is true that when I came here the first time I was called to replace that dancer through Mohamed.But in this day who was dancing on stage was ME not him. He was not even there that day.
Another clarification that it is worth noting: When I was auditioning to get into the boat I had another "empresario" who is far from Mohamed and his father and the musicians were not the same, the orquestra was diferent!

Over the months, I asked Mohamed to join my band, what cost to me a lot of convince him, because he knew about the rumors, he told me: "People will talk"... I told him that people talk anyway until he accepted. Now I have the honor of having his father in my orchestra too.
Some people need to know this also: "I didn't became a belly dancer magically with just one step on Egyptian soil! I have years of training and I believe in what I do"... many people will hate this... I'm sorry for them.
There are details that are better being handled by Mohamed, details behind the scenes: paperwork, cachet. Many things are easier with a man beside in a society like Egyptian, and the people tent to see you in other way if you have YOUR man beside you.
Mohamed helped me a lot. And I have the luck that he is NOT behind a "commission" as it would be an "empresario"...
People talk because they have a mouth and my name should have a good taste for them that is why someone's talks always about me. My energy is focused to the important things. Everybody is welcome to come and see my show and tell me what they think about my dance.

Magda & Mohamed Reda

IZ – What do you think about dancers who give a bad idea of Egypt? Are they giving wrong tips to theirs readers?
MM - I think everyone chooses to focus in something bad. If you are in a place and you focus on the bad things I think even at Disneyland you will find bad things!
I think if a dancer speak ill of Egypt but stays in Egypt perhaps is to discourage other dancers to come to try their luck. There are many stories and many gossip! Dancing here is not easy. There are many dancers who came and never got a contract, so patience and ability to adapt is what that should be present if you want to come and make your experience... But don't let others create a false impression of something you don't know!

Nile Pharaoh restaurant

IZ - What are the good and the bad things to live and work in Egypt?
MM - At the beginning the bad thing was don't be fluent in the Arabic and becoming ill from drinking water. These problems are now solved.The only bad thing I can do a reference now is that I can't scream from the rooftops what I am: a Belly dancer as an Artist!
The Good thing? I enriched my dance and I have grown professionally so much! I also made a separation between "Magda artist" and "Magda person".
Being under contract and having people come especially to see you don't allow you the luxury of "stay at home if you want". It is a commitment and you must give the best from yourself.
I was dancing in the anniversary of death of my father, with a big smile... in his honor.
I was sick but I didn't miss the stage. I had a "bad day" (like many people can have) but I was spinning and vibrating with all my heart... The secret is know how to transform the things...

"I didn't come to "report" or to focus my attention on the bad
 shots that may have Egypt, because in life there is everything and I'm living here.
Prejudice is everywhere! 
Also I always say - I have to adapt to the place where I am
 it is impossible that the place suits me."

IZ - Can you pick one dancer and one choreographer and describe how they are inspirational, what you admire about them?
MM - First, Amir Thaleb: definitely! I always say to Amir: "You are my artistic father." I admire him as a dancer and as a teacher. He is sublime in class and is delight to see him dance  live.
Now talking about Egypt: I have plenty of dancers that I like between now and from all the times (and not only from Egypt). It's hard to choose but I prefer Dina. I saw her dancing on a tile... wearing a black dress ... she needs nothing more... I love her passion.
As a teacher I love Madame Raqia Hassan. She is generous when she teaches, something uncommon in female teachers. I love her choreographies!

Magda and Raqia Hassan
IZ –Who you consider now as a Belly Dancer Star in Egypt? Why?
MM - The question is complicated. There are many renowned and talented dancers: Dina, Randa Kamel, Asmahan, Joana... They dance a long time... And also there are new dancers that also have talent but their journey is just beginning.

IZ - How you see yourself as belly dancer in Egypt in the next years?
MM - The truth is that I see myself dancing. I want to dance while I can. Dance is my life. Maybe in the future if I can't dance here I will do it somewhere else. But, no matter what my essence will never gonna change. There are many secrets to be successful but I think that one big help at the beginning of each road is: "know where you are going and don't forget where you come from"  I still am that "Magda" who discovered the Amr Diab's Cd. And so will be even if I become something like the figures that I admire. That is my wish.


that have very essential info about dancer in one of the most prestigious boats that go by the legendary Nile. Magda's debut.

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