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

Origins of Reda Troupe Dances:
Part 6: Saidi Dance

 

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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Saidi Dance

"I was famous for my stick dance, it was one of my favorites." - Mahmoud Reda, July 31, 2006.

Introduction to the Said

The Said is the part of Egypt in the south that was known in Pharaonic times (and still is today) as Upper Egypt. It extends approximately from south of Memphis on to Aswan. (The Saidi region is shown by the shaded area.)

The term "Upper Egypt" refers to the fact that it is the "upstream" part of the Nile River, meaning it is closer than Lower Egypt to the highlands of eastern Africa where the Nile originates. Major cities in the Saidi area include Luxor and Assuit.

Click on the map to see more detail.

Egypt

Saidi Men and Sticks

Traditionally, a Saidi man would carry around a large stick. Its length equaled the height of a man. When he was out in the field, this stick was useful as self-defense against wolves and other predators, including the human kind. If it should become necessary to battle another person, this stick was strong enough and heavy enough to kill.

Over time, a martial art called tahtib arose which was based on the use of this stick. It became a game in which men competed against one another within the structure of certain rules. Traditional music was played as background for the practice of this martial art. Over time, a men's folk dance evolved using a smaller and lighter stick, which was based on the moves of the martial art.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This photo comes from a scene in the 1965 Egyptian movie Gharam fi al-Karnak (Love in Karnak) starring Reda Troupe. It depicts Mahmoud Reda (on the left) performing a stick dance. Click on it to see more detail.

The Women's Stick Dance

The women's stick dance was inspired by the men's stick dance. Women would teasingly imitate the movements that men did with the prop, adding a feminine touch.

Reda Troupe never used women's stick dance in choreography. Mahmoud Reda explains this saying, "The women's dance is an imitation of the men's dance. In Reda Troupe, we had men available to do this dance, so why not have them do it?"

The closest Reda Troupe came to having women dance with a stick would be in the context of storytelling.

For example, Reda choreographed one dance which opened with a group of men dancing with sticks. The women then entered the stage, and captured a stick from one of the men. The women then played around with the stick as its owner tried to get it back.

Mahmoud Reda

 

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Conducting the Field Research

Following the 1959 successful debut performance of Reda Troupe, Mahmoud Reda took a group of 5-6 dancers with him to conduct research into Egyptian dances and culture outside of Cairo. The group started by traveling south to Aswan, then made their way north back to Cairo, staying in each town 3-4 days. They took with them cameras to take pictures, tape recorders to capture the music, and notebooks to take notes. They talked to people to get ideas for stories that could be told through dance.

In Upper Egypt, Reda saw possibilities in tahtib for creating a stick dance. He took lessons from a tahtib master to learn the actual martial art.

Throughout the process of sparring with his instructor, Reda took several blows to the head and body in the natural course of learning how to duck, attack, and parry. Finally, following a successful bout in which he was able to avoid being struck, he thanked his instructor for the lessons.

The instructor then took his stick and struck an astonished Reda on the head. Reda rubbed his sore head and asked, "Why did you do that?

The instructor replied, "Somebody, you will be famous. And when you are, you will always remember that I am the one who taught you!"

And he was right. This was one of Mahmoud Reda's favorite stories to tell, even into his 80's!

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Mahmoud Reda spars with his instructor while learning the tahtib martial art. This photo was included on a CD of photos that Reda gave me for the purpose of illustrating these articles. Click on the photo to see more detail.

Learning Tahtib

 

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Music

A distinctive musical rhythm is associated with Saidi dance and culture. This would be played on a tabla (drum) as doom tek, doom doom, tek.

The traditional musical instruments used for Saidi music are mizmar (similar to an oboe) as shown in the photo to the right, rebaba (a stringed instrument played with a bow), and a large, heavy drum worn around the neck and played with sticks.

As described in Part 4: Music of this article series, Reda used tape recorders to capture examples of indigenous music for each region he visited. He took these recordings back to Cairo, and gave them to his music director, Ali Ismail, to create original compositions for Reda Troupe's theatrical shows.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This photo of a mizmar band is from the collection of photos Mahmoud Reda took during his field research. This photo was included on a CD of photos that Reda gave me for the purpose of illustrating these articles. Click on the photo to see more detail.

Mizmar Band

 

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Creating One's Own Reda-Inspired Saidi Dance

Mahmoud Reda offers these suggestions for dancers wishing to create their own Saidi tableau in the spirit of Reda Troupe dances:

For the Men's Stick Dance

  • A Saidi man with a stick doesn't dance with a woman.
  • Treat the stick as a dance partner. Don't bang it on the floor.
  • Keep the movement slow and deliberate.
  • Some dance performers in other folkloric troupes have been known to use 2 sticks, or even as many as 4. Reda recommends against this: "That is not dance, that is acrobatics and juggling. It's a different art, not dance. The stick is no longer a partner."

For Both Men and Women

  • The performance should be about the dance, not the prop.
  • Don't make it like a circus.

For Women

  • For women, the dance is imitating men.
  • Women use a smaller stick.
  • When women use the stick in Oriental dance, they do costume changes to put on a folkloric costume before using the stick.
  • For women, twirling the stick is essential.
  • Balancing the stick on the breasts is not good. It's degrading.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This photo comes from a scene in the 1965 Egyptian movie Gharam fi al-Karnak (Love in Karnak) starring Reda Troupe. It depicts Mahmoud Reda (on the left) performing a stick dance. Click on it to see more detail.

Mahmoud Reda

 

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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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