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

Origins of Reda Troupe Dances:
Part 12: Other Dance Notes


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



Additional Dance Topics

"Dancers themselves are responsible for the good or bad reputation of the dance. Art itself is not good or bad, it's how the artist represents it. Art is art." - Mahmoud Reda, July 31, 2006.

Previous articles in this series have explored in depth several of the dance themes that Mahmoud Reda utilized in creating choreography for Reda Troupe.

Although Reda Troupe was the first dance company to bring Egyptian folk culture to upscale arts venues, many others have followed over the ensuing decades. Over time, confusion has arisen over whether some of these other dances were created by Reda or by choreographers for other folk troupes.

In addition, in this interview Reda spoke briefly of some additional dances that he used in his choreography, but didn't explore them in sufficient depth to dedicate entire articles to them.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This photo of Mahmoud Reda was used on the cover of some of the DVD's that he sold at his workshops. The DVD's were intended as practice companions for his workshop attendees. They featured demonstrations by some of the dancers who studied with him, showing the choreographies that he taught.

Mahmoud Reda



Performing for the Troops

During Egypt's war with Israel in the 1960's, the Egyptian government sent Reda Troupe to perform for the troops on several occasions. One of these times, circa 1967 or 1968, the performance was outdoors, with the troops seaated in the bleachers.

The surface provided for the dancers was a tent fabric which had been waxed. Farida Fahmy was the second dancer. As the first group completed their dance and left the stage, they warned her to take off her shoes, because the surface was so slippery. Following their advice, she did so.

Reda noticed that she was jumping oddly during her performance. When she finished and came offstage, he asked her why. She explained that the soles of her feet were badly burned by the hot wax.

He asked, "Why didn't you walk out?"

She said, "I can't. They expected to see us."

A military doctor examined Fahmy's feet and said, "Don't worry, we have exactly the right ointment. It's what we have been using for the soldiers."

It took Fahmy 3 days in bed to recover from the injuries.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Reda Troupe performs for the Egyptian soldiers. 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.

Performing for the Troops



Choreographing for Samia Gamal

As Mahmoud Reda became known for his work as a choreographer, Samia Gamal asked him to choreograph a piece for her. His method of approaching choreography was to ask the dancer to show him a bit of her style, some of her signature moves, and then he would build a choreography around it.

So they began to play some music on the sound system, and she improvised a bit for him. He saw some moves that he wanted to incorporate into the choreography, and asked her to do it again. She couldn't remember what she had done! So she did something new, and he saw something he liked and wanted to use, but again she couldn't remember what she'd done!

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Samia Gamal does an Arabesque in a scene from the movie Sigara wa Kas (A Glass and a Cigarette).

Samia Gamal



About "Belly Dance"

"In Egypt," said Reda, "we don't say 'belly dance'. We say 'baladi'." Reda himself uses the term raqs baladi ("dance of the home town") to refer to both the folk dance based on this movement vocabulary and on the nightclub act that has grown out of it. When asked about the term raqs sharqi (Oriental dance), he dismissed it as a term he doesn't use. He didn't explain why.

Reda said:

"All dance art in Egypt is based on folklore. Raqs baladi is based on folklore. Baladi could be praise, or it could be making fun of someone.

"For some reason, this dance became more naked and more exaggerated. The bad reputation of the nightclub dance in Egypt is due to the nakedness and the exaggeration of the belly and other parts.

"The nightclub dancer has nothing to say, no story, no theme, just sexy movements. It's abstract."

He reflected on the Egyptian audience and their attitudes, and the places where the dance is done. "You don't take your mother or wife to a cabaret. The dance there is the same as raqs baladi except that it is an exaggeration of moves and nakedness. It has also historically been associated with prostitution."

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Farida Fahmy's performance demonstrates Mahmoud Reda's vision of what raqs baladi should be. 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

Reda went on to say:

"Dancers themselves are responsible for the good or bad reputation of the dance. Art is not itself good or bad. It's how the artist represents it. Art is art.

"I don't like it when a famous dancer accepts a role as a prostitute in a movie because she then reinforces the bad reputation of the dance.

"Don't concentrate all your moves on stomach work. There are dancers who do only ab work or roll coins - don't do it! You're reinforcing the name 'belly dance'.

"I was very moved when I met an Egyptian man at the show on one of my U.S. tours who said of me, 'This man made Egyptians proud for the first time of our dance.' Before that, the nightclub dancers made us ashamed. I sought to present our dance as something else."

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Farida Fahmy wears a 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



Eskanderani (Alexandrian)

As described in Part 5 of this series of articles, the one about melaya leff, many people erroneously believe that Alexandrian dance and dancing with melaya leff are synonymous.

It's true that a dancer portraying a woman from Alexandria could appropriately incorporate a melaya leff into the dance, because Alexandria is one of the places that melaya leff garments were used.

However, the melaya leff itself could be equally applicable to other cities in Egypt, such as baladi neighborhoods of Cairo. The style of dress, the music, and the story told by the dance are what distinguish a performance as representing Alexandrian dance as opposed to Cairene or any other area.

Because Alexandria is a port town, dances specifically aiming to represent this city would focus on the lifestyles of port people such as fishermen and the women in their lives. In creating dances based on the people of Alexandria, Esmailia, and other port towns, Reda observed, "The fishermen go to the sea. The waves dance, the fisherman dances, the fish dance."

According to Reda, people from the port cities are tough. Men dance with knives, hitting themselves with them to prove they are so tough that knives can't hurt them.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: In this scene from the 1965 motion picture Gharam fil-Karnak, three Reda Troupe dancers perform a segment that's intended to reference Alexandria. Click on the image to see more detail.

Alexandrian Dance



Folkloric Forms Reda Troupe Did Not Pursue


Although he was familiar with this ritual of catharsis, Reda never felt inspired to use the zar as a basis for creating choreography. At the time he was creating dances, Reda didn't really think about why he didn't feel moved to incorporate it into the repertoire.

Now, looking back on his career, he begins to analyze the choices he made. With respect to zar, he said:

"As an artist, I don't like bad things. I try to look for the beautiful. I ignore the dirt, and search for the flowers. I don't like war, and don't make art out of it. I preferred to look for the positive and enlarge it."


Reda never saw the Ghawazee dance when conducting his research into Egyptian folk culture, and therefore did not use Ghawazee dance in any of his choreographies. He made a conscious choice to omit Ghawazee from his work.

With reference to the Ghawazee dance form, he said, "The dances of the fellahin and the Ghawazee contain no refinement. They are more primitive, more basic."

By this statement, he meant that these dances represent the expression of regular people, rather than the artifice of theater.


This dance representing the Suez Canal was not one of Mahmoud Reda's creations. It was invented by one of the other folk troupes, although Reda doesn't know which one. The dance portrays the daily life of people who live along the Suez Canal and interact with the ships that pass through. It's not something he ever used in Reda Troupe's repertoire.

Reda did create his own versions of Suez Canal dance. They just weren't bamboutiyya.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Mahmoud Reda takes a flying leap at the Karnak Temple in Luxor. 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 Reda



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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