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

Origins of Reda Troupe Dances:
Part 9: Fellahin

 

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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The Nile Delta

"People recognize themselves in the dance. They love it, as if honored by a dance being made about them." —Mahmoud Reda, July 31, 2006.

In the very northern part of Egypt, the Nile River expands into a delta of marshes and rivulets as it completes its journey to the Mediterranean. (See the shaded area on the map.) The soil is rich with the sediment deposited by the water, which makes it particularly well-suited to farming. Due to its low altitude, this is the region known in ancient times as Lower Egypt.

The local farming economy is what inspired Mahmoud Reda when crafting his dances to represent this part of Egypt. The Arabic word for "farmers" is "fellahin", and that is the name often applied to these dances. The word fellahin is not the name of a specific ethnic group. It is a reference to people's professions. The word fella refers to a man, and fellaha to a woman.

There are farmers throughout Egypt, of course, including Saidi and Nubian people in Upper Egypt. However, when people refer to the word fellahin in connection with Reda Troupe dances, it's typically a reference to the delta.

The Nile delta is particularly known for growing cotton, and people all over the world think of Egyptian cotton as being a high-quality textile. It is the most important export crop, with rice a close second.

ABOUT THE MAP: The shaded part of the map indicates where the Nile delta is. Although farmers exist throughout the Nile valley, the delta is the region that Reda Troupe's fellahin dances reference. Click the map to see more detail.

Egypt

 

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Dances of the Fellahin

At the beginning of his initiative to create a body of dances that represented the many regions of Egypt, Mahmoud Reda divided Egypt into several cultural regions. One of these was the region of the Nile delta, with its agricultural economy. In traveling to this region to research its folk culture, Reda discovered that the women had some dances specific to the region, but the only dance that men did was raqs baladi (the folk dance that had been used as the basis for the Oriental dance seen in the nightclubs). The men would put on a hip scarf and jokingly dance like a woman.

Reda didn't want to exclude this region from his collection of dances, so he looked for ways to represent them in a recognizable way. He decided to borrow movements from the way the men lived their day-to-day lives. He looked at their gestures, how they walked, how they adjusted their hats, and how they worked. He viewed the fellahin dances of the delta as having no refinement, being primitive, basic. What he meant by this was that the movement was that of regular people, without the artifice of city people.

Formations

When creating choreography for a folkloric dance, one consideration is whether the formations of dancers mirror the culture being represented. For the fellahin, Reda drew his cue from the fact that the farm workers walk through the fields in lines, picking cotton. This led him to use lines as his formations in choreographies that were intended to represent them.

Costumes

Fellahin women wear dresses called gargar that hang to the floor with ruffles on the bottom and trail behind them as they walk. The word gargar means "something that sweeps behind". Of course, it wasn't practical to dance in such dresses, so Reda Troupe shortened them for stage.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Reda Troupe does a fellahin-style dance in their performance at Wadi el Gafra. This photo was included on a CD of photos that Reda gave me for the purpose of illustrating these articles. Click the image to see further detail.

Reda Troupe

About the Balas (Pots)

Reda Troupe dances representing the fellahin frequently feature women carrying the balas (pots).

There was no traditional dance of the fellahin women involving balas. The idea of creating a dance that incorporated balas as a prop came to Mahmoud Reda as he watched the fellahin women going about their daily lives. Their villages had no tap water, so they used the balas to fetch water from the nearby river.

From the way the women carried the balas on their heads, it was possible to discern whether they were going to the river or coming home from it.

  • If a balas was lying on its side, then it was empty and the woman was on her way to the river.
  • If the balas was upright, then it was full of water and the woman was returning from the river.

Reda was inspired to build stories around the women carrying the balas. For example, if a woman was carrying a full balas, then a man might offer to help her carry it, and she in turn would then try to decide whether to let him. This presented many opportunities for miming the interaction.

The village balas were typically ordinary clay pots that were not decorated. However, Reda arranged for the stage props to be painted to enhance the theatrical effect.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Farida Fahmy dances with a balas in a Reda Troupe performance at Wadi el Gafra. 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.

Farida Fahmy

 

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Fellahin Reactions to Seeing Their Lives Depicted on Stage

When Mahmoud Reda first presented a show consisting of his dance visions, he was uncertain how the people he depicted in his choreography would react. He was gratified by the response.

Reda said, "People recognized themselves in the dance. They loved it, as if they were honored by having a dance made about them. Farida's father [Farida Fahmy's father, also Reda's father-in-law] used to stand behind the people during a show and say, 'This isn't real!'' and the audience members around him would challenge him, insisting, 'No, this is us! This is what we are like!'"

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Farida Fahmy performs a fellahin dance at El Gafra. 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.

Fellahin

 

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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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