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

Origins of Reda Troupe Dances:
Part 1: Beginnings


by Shira




Table of Contents



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 Mr. Reda 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



Beginning the Folk Troupe Movement

"This man made Egyptians for the first time proud of their dance." — A native Egyptian now living in the U.S., July 30, 2006.

Reda Troupe was the very first theatrical dance company to perform tableaux based on Egypt's folk culture. Today, there are hundreds of such groups in Egypt, all inspired by Reda Troupe's original work. This is the first in a series of articles that explore the dance foundation established by Reda Troupe — which pieces were indeed grounded in actual folk dances, and which were constructed to tell stories or represent typical Egyptian characters.

As a boy, Mahmoud Reda had a passion for sports. He started as a swimmer, and won championships in Cairo and also at the level of Egypt before the age of 16. His interests then shifted to diving from a 10-meter platform. Following a back injury, he turned to gymnastics.

Around the age of 15-16, Reda became interested in his older brother Ali's accomplishments in ballroom dancing. Ali was skilled in Latin dance, rock & roll, and swing. Mahmoud remained focused on gymnastics, but also copied some of his brother's moves. When his gymnastics coach saw that he could dance a bit, he suggested adding some of the dance steps to his free exercise, which he did.

Reda proved to have a talent for gymnastics, and competed as a member of Egypt's gymnastics team in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Mahmoud Reda competes in the 1952 Summer Olympics as a gymnast in Helsinki, Finland. 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.

Interest in Dance

After the Olympics, Reda began to further explore his interest in dance. He would go to watch movies featuring Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly, then try out the steps after the movie was over. Sometimes he would go to watch the same movie as much as 30 times.

Reda went to watch a performance by an Argentinean folk dance ensemble when they came to Cairo on tour. Afterward, he sought out the dancers to congratulate them on the show. One of the performers, Alfredo Alario, asked him whether he could dance. Reda said he could, and showed them a few of his steps. As it happened, they needed a dancer. They invited him to join their dance company, and he accepted.

During the tour's stop in Paris in 1955, it struck Reda — why was he, an Egyptian, touring with an Argentinean folk dance troupe? Why not form a troupe specializing in the folk dances of Egypt? With this thought, Reda left the ensemble and returned to Egypt.


Reda Troupe's Debut

For a few years, Reda worked as an accountant for Shell Petrol to support himself and his bride. In 1959, he was ready to move forward with his plans, and he launched Reda Troupe.

Reda cast himself as the principal male dancer for the dance company, and he cast his sister-in-law Farida Fahmy (who was married to his brother Ali) as the principal female dancer. He recruited some of his friends from his gymnastics years to serve as male dancers in the troupe. Altogether, he assembled an ensemble of 7 men and 7 women, some with little to no prior dance training.

Reda Troupe debuted in Cairo in 1959. This performance occurred before Reda had an opportunity to do his field research into the dances of Egypt. Therefore, this program, called "Sketches", consisted of a series of character portrayals based on what Reda knew from his own experience: the lifestyle of people in Old Cairo. These tended to be simple stories showing recognizable typical Egyptian personalities interacting with one another. One of these, El Erkesous (The Syrup Vendor), represented Reda's very first use of a melaya leff in a choreography.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Mahmoud Reda dressed as his character for his skit, "The Syrup Vendor." 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.

Creating a Foundation

When Reda Troupe initially started, there was no foundation. There was no central body of collected knowledge about folk culture, either male or female. Reda needed to collect it himself. The moves he found in his field research were very simple, so in order to use them on stage Reda needed to add variations - forward, back, from side to side, and turns. They needed to be categorized, and a methodology developed to teach them to others.

Through this effort, Reda created his fundamental dance technique. He studied how ballet was taught, seeking ideas on how apply that methodology to the Egyptian movement vocabulary. He devised a classroom structure to teach and drill Egyptian technique. As Reda says, "I put all the movements into a frame called Egypt."

Other Egyptian folk troupes who came later presented their own versions of dances pioneered by Reda, sometimes without knowing which dances were based on actual folk traditions versus which had been constructed by Reda to portray snapshots of Egyptian daily life. In addition, some of these later troupes also created their own new works, or drew from cultural foundations that Reda Troupe had not explored.




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.




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 the November / December 2006 issue.

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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