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Photo of Shira

 

 

PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Origins of Reda Troupe Dances:
Part 2: Researching Folklore & Bringing It to Stage

 

by Shira

 

 

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Table of Contents

 

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About the Interview

On July 31, 2006, Mahmoud Reda agreed to an interview to discuss the origins of the dances used in Reda Troupe. The purpose of this interview was to clarify which aspects of Reda Troupe's work were drawn from actual folk sources, versus which arose from other inspiration.

My objective for the interview was to document Mr. Reda's process and experiences that shaped the work he created. I wanted to provide a primary source that others could reference when performing their own research into Reda Troupe and its place in Egyptian theatrical history. For purposes of these articles, it is not in my scope to critique his work or provide my personal analysis.

Mr. Reda expressed a preference that I not record the interview. He said he would speak more freely if I didn't capture it on tape. For that reason, I opted to take written notes by hand instead of recording. To ensure I had accurately captured the conversation, I gave him the opportunity to review the articles I wrote describing what he said in the interview and correct any errors I had made. This final version has been approved by him as accurately representing what he told me.

Mahmoud Reda

 

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Conducting the Field Research

Following the success of the first Reda Troupe show, Mahmoud Reda was able to tour around Egypt with his principal dancer Farida Fahmy to research the movement traditions throughout the country. They divided Egypt into several areas for purposes of this effort:

  • Old Cairo
  • The fishermen of the port cities (Red Sea, Port Said, Esmailia, Alexandria)
  • Fellahin (farmers) of the delta
  • Aswan (Nubia)
  • The Said
  • The Bedouin
  • The western desert

Wherever possible, they attended events where local people were dancing so they could study their movement. They also studied local culture at a broader level, to create choreographies that truly captured the flavor of the region.

In these efforts, Reda primarily saw men dancing, because in Egypt it was rare for women to dance in front of men who were not part of their immediate household. He was able to draw some educated conclusions about how women dance by studying children in schools who were imitating how their parents danced. In addition, Fahmy was sometimes able to gain access to observe the women dancing.

ABOUT THE MAP: This map shows the regions of Egypt that were discussed with Mr. Reda during the 3-hour interview. Click on it to see an enlarged version for easier reading.

Egypt

On this tour, Reda attempted to record music from the local area that could be used as inspiration for the composers for his troupe. He brought back samples of clothing to give his costume designers, for them to adapt into movement-friendly stage costumes.

In addition to the dance moves themselves, Reda studied other aspects of the local people. He paid attention to what kind of work they did in their professions, how they moved when working, what their clothing was like and how that affected their movement, what their sayings and stories were, how they interacted with each other, and more. Using all of these details in his dances allowed Reda to put convincing portrayals of each region on stage that would be embraced by the people they represented.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Mahmoud Reda and Farida Fahmy pose in a pubicity photo for Reda Troupe with the pyramids as a background. This photo was included on a CD of photos that Reda gave me for the purpose of illustrating these articles. Click on the image to see more detail.

Mahmoud and Farida

 

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Folklore vs. Theater

It is important to realize that Reda Troupe and other Egyptian folk troupes do not present raw re-enactments on stage of actual folk dances. Their performances are theatrical interpretations of Egyptian folk culture.

Even when a dance consists of steps drawn from folk dances observed in field research, the act of moving that dance from an environment where everybody participates (such as a wedding reception) to a theatrical environment where most people are spectators requires some changes to the dance. Real folk dances are often very repetitious, more fun to do than to watch, and can go on for hours. When adapting them for stage, it is necessary to add variations such as traveling steps, floor patterns, storytelling, showy costuming, etc.

Also, sometimes Reda would study a village culture that didn't have its own distinct dances. In these instances, Reda created his own dance to represent the region by studying how these people lived their everyday lives. He would notice their posture, how they walked, or typical gestures used when talking, and then construct a character dance that incorporated these attributes. The people represented by these dances would recognize themselves in the dance, even though the steps themselves were not something they actually did.

ABOUT THE PHOTOS: This photo shows a row of sugar dolls being sold at a market in Cairo for the Eid Mawlid al-Nabi holiday. Click on the image to see more detail.

Sugar Dolls

Finally, some Reda choreographies represented characters that normally wouldn't dance at all. One such choreography was the Sugar Doll. In Egypt, there was a festival called Mouled El Nabbi which celebrated Prophet Mohammed's birthday. For this festival, sugar candy was made in the shape of dolls, with beautiful paper clothing, to show children that God is sweet. Everyone knows that dolls made of sugar don't dance. But the Egyptian public recognized and appreciated the portrayal of dancing sugar dolls in Reda Troupe's sugar doll choreography.

Reda summed this up by saying, "I am not doing folklore. My art is inspired by folklore. My inspiration comes not only from the dances that people do, but also from the stories, the superstitions, the music, how they dress, how they sing, and how they live."

This methodology of using dance to portray folk culture, not just folk-based dance forms, served Reda well. He said, "My elder brother Ahmad was skeptical, he didn't believe there were many dances I could use. He thought all folklore was one dance from here, one from there. But I choreographed over 400 dances."

ABOUT THE PHOTOS: This photo shows Reda Troupe in a scene from the 1963 movie Agazet Nos el Sana, performing a dance in which they portray sugar dolls. Click on the image to see more detail.

Sugar Dolls Dancing

 

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Related Articles

Shira has written additional articles based on the interview. Some have not yet been posted online. This section will be updated once they are available.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Mahmoud Reda for making himself available for the interview on which this article is based. He was most patient in answering my many questions and clarifying points for me when necessary.

I would like to thank Maleeha and Kahraman Near East Dance Ensemble for their important role in making this interview possible.

The material in this article originally appeared in print in Zaghareet Magazine, in 2007.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: I took this photo of Mahmoud Reda in July, 2006, the day of the interview.

Mahmoud Reda in 2006

 

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