April ‘14
Insight Interview

April ‘14


Leila is a truly unique and one of a kind performer. Picture this a professional belly-dancer, the quintessential oriental art-form, yet she is 100% American without a single Arab trace in her national heritage. With her sultry and vivacious Eastern choreography, she was able to attract a lot of attention from well-established Middle East stars like Mustafa Amr, Hakim and Sameera Saeed among others. Here is an interview with the sizzling rising star

What is the most essential part of your costume? Why?

The costume has to fit well. Have you ever heard of dancers in uncomfortable costumes? She would move clumsily and the audience wouldn't enjoy her dancing. You just keep waiting for something tailor-made. My costume has to fit or I can't dance.

How long have you been dancing professionally?

13 years.

What was your childhood dream? What sort of passions did you have in your adolescence, have they been fulfilled?

I always wanted to be a performer and to travel, from the time I was very young. I was also passionate about playing music and sports in high school and I think dancing followed naturally. When I was a kid I wanted to fly airplanes, a childhood-fantasy which now makes me laugh. I can hardly manage to drive my car, I can't imagine flying a plane! The world is a safer place because I became a dancer and not a pilot.

Being a wife, a mother and a dancer, how do you manage your time?

I think I am lucky with my job. I work in the evenings so I can spend much of the day with my kids and I go to work when they are safely in bed. I also work with my husband so we get to see a lot of each other. Sometimes when we travel to perform, we take the kids with us. We spend a lot of time together as a family.

Have you become settled in Egypt or would you like to live somewhere else? Where would it be and why?

I have been in Egypt for ten years now and it feels like home. The only other place I would live besides Egypt is the United States as most of my family is there.

Has dancing become a routine job for you or do you still do it for fun? Does it have to be belly-dancing?

Dancing for me is fun. No matter what my mood is before the show, it is always better after a dance. Each wedding is different so it is hard to get bored. Honestly, occasionally there are times that I really don't feel like dancing-I'd rather be home eating pizza and watching a movie. That feeling never lasts past the first few minutes on stage. Once I hear the music and see the people, I immediately shift mood and get the dancing vibe.

Are you still learning new things when it comes to dancing, even though you've been doing it for a while?

Yes, I'm always learning. Whenever I add a new number to the show I try to push myself to do something different. I like to add elements from Lebanon, the Gulf, Tunis and Egyptian folklore. I watch old movies with dancers for the music and movements. I go to the Opera to hear classical Arabic music or watch modern dance. I look for ideas. I don't want people to say that my routine never changes year after year.

Being a prolific belly dancer, have you mastered new types of dances? What are they? If not, what would you like to learn? Why?

I couldn't say I've mastered any other forms of dance but I've been lucky to be able to try them. I danced for the opening and closing of the Cairo Film Festival a few years ago with Flamingo inspired numbers. There was also a stage show with Hishem Abaz that had a gypsy-themed dance and a series of Tango lessons for an advertisement with Ahmed El Saka. Tango is really appealing to me, it is the sexiest and has the best music.

Did you ever design your own costumes?

I design all my own costumes. I start by making sketches and then I choose fabric and stones. I have a woman who beads them for me. I watch music videos and old movies for inspiration with my designs.

How long does it take you to practice when you have a performance coming?

I don't really practice for an individual performance but if I want to include a new number into the show I usually rehearse with the band and sometimes choreograph parts of the song before I put it on stage.

Who does your hair and make up when you have to perform?

I used to have my hair done all the time and after a while my hair was in terrible condition. Now I go with more simple and natural styles, the kind I can apply myself. I was lucky to work with some of best make-up artists in Egypt. I learned a lot from them and now I do my own make-up. I love buying make-up, it's kind of an addiction. I enjoy experimenting with different colours and looks.

You made your acting debut with Hany Ramzi in 'Abu El Araby', have you caught the acting bug? Do you have ambitions for becoming a fully-fledged actor?

I actually studied acting before I came to Egypt. It was wonderful to act in the film and some other TV projects that came after. The language barrier has been my biggest problem to landing more roles. Although my Arabic now is quite good, my accent is definitely 'foreign-sounding' so it limits the kind of roles I can play. I would love to make another film if the right role comes along.

Being a famous professional belly dancer, can you pin point the main ingredient of being sexy? Is it the way you dress, the way you dance'¦etc.?

Being sexy is all in your attitude. If you feel sexy, you will be sexy no matter how you dance or what you wear.

How do you stay fit and sexy? What's your secret?

My job. I perform almost every day so I have at least one hour of cardio workout with dancing per day. My job is great in that it saves me the effort of going to the gym.

What do you consider more erotic: a costume showing skin or a costume that's a bit conservative and leaves more to the imagination?

I think that each costume is different. Sometimes it's nice to wear one that shows a bit more and then the next costume much more covered. It is good to have variety. I think that keeps people's attention. I suppose my only rule is that costumes which are TOO revealing are tacky, not sexy.

Everyone finds you beautiful and sexy, what are your perceived flaws and what would you like to change about yourself?

I used to think I was too skinny, especially for a belly dancer. These days I fit the stereotype a bit better. I still wish I had even more curves. Funny, most women want to get rid of some curves and I would gladly take on a few extra. Remember the dancer Azza Sherif-that is the body I want.

Did something or someone ever pull you back or discouraged you about dancing?

A few years ago, my website designer was adding a link from Youtube to my website and noticed one person was leaving really horrible comments under all my clips and had been doing it for a long time. It was like they were stalking me over the Internet. It scared me a bit, because they must have spent hours and hours to do that. I suppose that being a famous dancer might attract weirdos'¦but to think that someone you don't know having an obsession with you is unnerving. But really that is the only incident like that that has happened over the years. On the other hand, I've found other people that are really supportive, including the people close to me.

What's the most memorable performance you've had through out your career?

I will never forget this wedding. It was years ago in one of the military clubs but not in the main hall, they had built a tent in the garden. There were about 1,000 people with the men in front of the stage and the women behind. When I came on stage all the men rushed up to the stage to take photos. The stage was made of wood and had steps leading up to it. As the people stepped up onto the steps, the stage started shaking. The security came rushing in. We stopped the show after the first five minutes. The security guards and some of my band had to surround me to walk me though the crowd to leave. Even as we were driving away, people were running after the car.

If you had the choice, which song would you choose to dance to and why?

It would be impossible to choose one song only. The song has to emote I'm feeling at different types of moments. I can always find something I like from Adaweya or Abdel Halim. Their songs are excellent for dance.

When was your first kiss?

It must have been when I was 12 years old. A little boy from my class wanted to kiss me. We 'negotiated' the terms of the kiss for a long time before. It was a complete disappointment. I suppose it taught me that kissing should be spontaneous.

What do you consider a major turn on and turn off when it comes to the opposite sex?

Turn on's: talent and intelligence. I always go for artists and super smart guys. I've never cared about looks. Turn off's: muscles that are too big and a vain guy who talks about himself all the time.

What makes a man irresistible to you?

If he can inspire me.

In your opinion, what is the most important quality you need to have become a seductress?

Men are funny. If you want them too much, they don't want you. Men like a challenge, be challenging.