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

Origins of Reda Troupe Dances:
Part 7: Hagalla


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 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



Researching the Hagalla

"I am not doing folklore. It is inspired by folklore." - Mahmoud Reda, July 31, 2006.

The dance called the hagalla comes from the western Mediterranean coast of Egypt. Hagalla is generally believed to be a Libyan dance tradition which was brought to Egypt by Libyan migrants.

In the course of researching Egyptian folk culture, Mahmoud Reda would approach the local governors with his request. They in turn would try to arrange opportunities for him to see local music and dance. For his research into the western desert folk culture, Reda decided to travel first to Mersa Matrouh, which is very near the Libyan border, and after that, to Siwa.

Mersa Matrouh is along the Mediterranean coast, about halfway between Alexandria and the Libyan border. Today, a road which takes about 4 hours to travel one way connects Mersa Matrouh with Siwa. However, back when Reda was conducting his research, there was no such road. Traveling from Mersa Matrouh to Siwa took about 10 hours, allowing time to get lost along the way and double back.

ABOUT THE MAP: The map shows where Mersa Matrouh is located. It is the area that hagalla comes from.


Arranging to See Hagalla

When Mahmoud Reda and his companions arrived in Mersa Matrouh, he contacted the local officials to request their cooperation in helping him arrange to see local folk dance. Unfortunately, the General Secretary was sick, so Reda worked with his assistant.

Reda was told that a wedding was scheduled for the coming Thursday. However, at the time of this conversation, it was early in the week and Reda's schedule did not allow him to stay until Thursday. The official then said he would let that couple marry that same night.

Of course, there was the difficulty of notifying all the guests of the change in plans. The official handled this by sending his people out in the early hours of the morning to fire guns in the street to wake people up. When they stuck their heads out the windows to investigate what the noise was about, they were told of the change in plans for scheduling the wedding.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Farida Fahmy performs hagalla with the men of Reda Troupe in this scene from the 1965 Egyptian movie Gharam Fil Karnak. Click on the photo to see more detail.

Farida Fahmy

Observing the Dance

In the environment observed by Mahmoud Reda, the hagalla dance was performed by a professional dancer as entertainment for a wedding. The term el hagalla referred to the dancer herself.

For this wedding, the dancer prepared herself inside the house, where the women were, while Reda waited with the men outdoors. Because he was a man, there was no opportunity for Reda to see what occurred inside the house while the dancer was still inside with the other women.

The gathered men were eager and began to clap in a simple, steady rhythm of one clap per count. The dancer waited, holding back, waiting for the claps to build in volume and intensity.

Eventually she came outdoors to perform for them. The men were standing in little clumps - 3-4 in one place, 4-5 in another. The dancer headed for the group that was clapping the most loudly and danced for them.

Another group became jealous and started clapping more loudly, to attract her over to dance for them. One man might go down on one knee to clap to show his excitement, another might lie on his side while continuing to clap. The men didn't actually dance, just clapped and behaved enthusiastically to get the dancer's attention.

This activity continued for about an hour, with the dancer moving from group to group to dance for them.

The movement by the dancer is very simple. Reda demonstrated it in the interview, and it is what many Americans call the ¾ shimmy, the version where the hip on the weighted leg goes down, up, down. He observed that the dancer lifted her feet, which made sense in the sandy desert where sliding motions with the feet would be impractical.

During his visit to Mersa Matrouh, Reda also observed a woman of ample proportions walking normally and noticed that her hips naturally went up and down in this shimmy motion, without her consciously trying to dance.

Different people have reported different stories about the role of the hagalla in society. In the wedding celebration that Reda observed, the dancer was definitely not the bride, nor was she a young woman seeking to attract suitors. (In Egypt, it was customary at that time for marriages to be arranged.) The dancer that Reda saw was a professional performer, hired to provide entertainment for the occasion.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Farida Fahmy is dressed in her hagalla costume. 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.

Farida Fahmy



Bringing the Hagalla to Stage

As Mahmoud Reda observed about many folkloric traditions, there is a large amount of repetition, both in the dance movements and the music. In the case of hagalla, the "music" consisted simply of repetitive clapping for a full hour, and the dancing consisted entirely of one specific traveling step.

Folk Dance vs. Stage

Folkloric dances make people happy because they enjoy participating. They enjoy singing along, clapping along, and dancing along with everybody else. When joining in, a person can be happy.

However, witnessing the dances from an audience perspective is a different experience, and the dance requires changes to adapt it to this environment. This is why Reda said, "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."

The simple repetitive movement of the hagalla didn't provide enough material to fill a 5-minute dance for a theatrical program. Stage and theater audiences are very sophisticated, and wouldn't have much patience for listening to an hour straight of simple clapping. Similarly, their attention would not be held for long by watching a dancer strut back and forth in front of a row of clapping men, doing the same move over and over continuously.

Reda felt the dance needed enhancements to meet the expectations of theater-going dance aficionados. Any normal thing, once it is put on stage, is no longer normal. He said, "You can not bring a tree from its place and put it on stage, or a house and put it on stage. Even the people, when you bring them, the real folkloric dancers, if you put them on stage, they look odd, they look strange."

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Farida Fahmy performs hagalla with the men of Reda Troupe in this scene from the 1965 Egyptian movie Gharam Fil Karnak. Click on the photo to see more detail.


Adding Movement

One adaptation to meet the needs of the stage was addition of movement which was not traditional. Reda witnessed the men in the village approaching the dancer and trying to get her attention. It seemed plausible to place the men in the choreography in a circle around the dancer, and to choreograph moves for them to use in vying for her attention.

The original hagalla-based choreography Reda created utilized 15 men and one woman. The men were arranged in three groups of five men each. Their efforts to draw the woman's attention were exaggerated for stage purposes. A later Reda choreography depicted the hagalla with the men doing flashy steps based on Russian folk dance moves in a circle around the women.

For the hagalla dancer, it was necessary to add all possible variations to the basic shimmy move - traveling forward, backward, sideways, in floor patterns, etc. It was necessary to use the imagination, but still to stay in character. Pirouettes, for example, wouldn't have been logical.

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 PHOTO: The men of Reda Troupe perform in the hagalla choreography segment in this scene from the 1965 movie, Gharam fil Karnak. Click on the photo to see more detail.





One adaptation for stage involved adding music, rather than using just the continuous simple clapping.

Reda felt the need to use a song as accompaniment for hagalla performances, to fit the expectations of a theatrical audience. The simple clapping he had witnessed at Mersa Matrough was insufficient.

As described in Part 4: Music of this series, Reda collaborated with composer Ali Ismail to create the music he needed. This resulted in the iconic "hagalla song" that Reda Troupe's admirers all over the world now associate with the dance.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Ali Ismail, the music director who composed nearly all the music for Reda Troupe, conducts the band playing for a performance. 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.

Ali Ismail



Hagalla Costuming

The costumes Reda Troupe used for hagalla were influenced by the clothing of Libyan women.

The village dancer that Mahmoud Reda and Farida Fahmy witnessed in Mersa Matrouh wore a skirt with a peplum effect around her hips, so therefore Reda Troupe incorporated the peplum into their costume design. The women in the village wore flat boots of soft leather, so therefore Reda Troupe used that idea as well.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Dancers Inas and Nesrin demonstrate Mahmoud Reda's hagalla choreography on a video that was designed to help dancers who learned it from Reda in workshops to retain it after the workshop ended. Click the photo to see more detail.

Inas and Nesrin



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 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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