Is Egyptian folk dancing dead? For many people it is purely a matter of nostalgia, a form of Egyptianness that has been trapped in the past in the form of fond reminiscences by grandparents and video recordings of Mahmoud Reda and Farida Fahmy in the classic movie “Gharam Fi El Karnak”. . Once upon a time we celebrated Egyptian folk dancing – but has its time really passed us by? Or do we have the opportunity to revive it, as others have done before? Mahmoud Reda’s legendary troupe once gathered forgotten traditions and put them center stage for the world to see, and now the AUC alumni folk group is trying to do the same, led by the banker, mother and dancer Pinky Selim.

BANKER BY DAY, DANCER BY NIGHT

During his undergraduate studies at the American University in Cairo (AUC), Selim took an active part in the university’s folk club, which was committed to preserving folk dance and performance. After graduating, she found herself unwilling to part ways with dancing. So, while acquiring a job as a banker, she also decided to keep her passion alive. Through a partnership with the AUC Alumni Office, the AUC Alumni Folk Group began in 2013 with the sole purpose of “bringing the art to life”.

Selim would describe his schedule as a normal day, like anyone else. She gets up every day at 6 a.m. to get her daughter, Clara, ready for school. At 7:00 a.m. the bus arrives to take her daughter to school, so she walks her home before heading to her office. Selim then works at the bank until 6:00 p.m. at the latest, before returning home to help her daughter with her homework and tuck her into bed.

However, Selim’s day does not end there. She puts on her practice gear and heads to the dance studio where she has a class to teach people different types of folk dance and their fusions. On weekends, she spends hours with the AUC Alumni Folklore Group in a rented studio to space out their choreography and practice for their upcoming shows.

REVIEW OF THE HISTORY OF CONTEMPORARY EGYPTIAN FOLKLORIC DANCE

When Selim speaks of folklore, she does so in a suave tone; his usually energetic voice softens with admiration and reverence. In the same way that one would talk about the birth of a nation, Selim tells us about the beginnings of contemporary Egyptian folk dance, popularized by dancer Mahmoud Reda and his creation of the Reda troupe in 1959.

“All over the world, nation states have dedicated national projects to the practice and, by extension, to the preservation of the country’s heritage through folklore,” Selim told CairoScene. “Folk dance and music, lessons in folk tales, and even making folk clothes are some of the concentrations offered at these schools, and upon graduation from these institutions, the most successful students become part of the folk troupe. who travels the world to play and proudly represent the heritage of their country.

After joining an Argentine folk dance group in his youth, Reda realized that not only did such an organization or school not exist in Egypt, but there was no unified “Egyptian” folk dance. Egypt is almost exceedingly rich in culture and heritage; each street has its own traditions and identity, not to mention each village, town or governorate. Thus, when contemporary Egyptian folk dance was established, Mahmoud Reda toured Egypt, spending weeks and sometimes months in ramshackle alleys and unheard-of villages, from Sinai to Matrouh, from Cairo to Luxor. He covered most of Egypt in his search for folk tales and folk dancing. Reda learned tahteeb, a fusion of martial art and dance that the Upper Egyptians inherited and preserved from ancient Egypt, and fallahi, a form of dance practiced by women farmers in the delta. Eventually, when Reda thought he had collected and learned enough hereditary and cultural dances, he returned to Cairo to found the Reda Troupe.

“For you, as an audience, to be attracted to dance is difficult. When performed poorly, dance can be very alienating and repetitive,” says Selim. see that as two people hitting each other with sticks without understanding its context.Mahmoud Reda’s genius stemmed from his ability to merge the movements that represented each governorate and make a dance out of them.The most distinctive element of Mahmoud’s folk dictionary Reda, which we all follow to this day, is classical ballet, closely followed by raqs sharqi, so he created this dictionary that respected, taught, celebrated and loved folklore and is still used to create a precedent all over the world.

“REVIVING THE ART” THROUGH THE AUC ALUMNI FOLKLORE GROUP

“I started the group by contacting other AUC alumni who were dancing,” Pinky recalls. “Then the group grew and I also started reaching out to dancers outside AUC. We’re an amateur group, but that’s why I think the lovely aspect is you have people of all generations. I have people who dance with me from the age of 15 and up to 52 on the same stage. All they want to do is play what they love and what people fall in love with it too.

The AUC Alumni Folk Group is not funded by any entity, but rather Pinky Selim’s own generosity, while the AUC Alumni Office lends the studios on the AUC Tahrir campus as space for practice before a big performance. The group mainly rents out different studios across Cairo for more laid back workouts. The folk group regularly holds full two-and-a-half-hour shows at the Ewart Memorial Hall in the AUC Tahrir Cultural Center.

Everyone in the group has to take care of school, college, work or children, but they are so intensely passionate and invested in preserving this part of Egyptian heritage that they take the time to attending practices and performing, without seeing any profit whatsoever. The money that comes from their performances is used to balance rental and costume costs, but the actual revenue goes to the AUC Scholarship Fund to help students study at AUC, as it l has done over the past nine years.

“I danced through every genre you can think of for 12 years; classical ballet, hip hop, Latin, jazz, contemporary, Argentine tango, I’ve done it all,” says Selim. “I have nothing against all genres of dance, but I think folk dance is under enough threat right now that it will soon decline unaided, as will other forms of authentic Egyptian arts and heritage. Regardless of social class or education, the younger generation as a whole is growing up not knowing what our art is, and I mean all of our art.There are centers that are trying in vain to preserve our inherited crafts. and who fail to do so. For example, one of the costumes worn in a specific folk dance is made using something called tal asyouti, which is created by embroidering silver into the fabric. it was accessible and easy to find, but today I can’t find it anymore.

Like a flame, the spirit of folk dancing needs to be nurtured; By rehearsing, recording and promoting their performances, the AUC alumni folk group combats the threat of oblivion that this art form would otherwise face. As long as people are watching and talking about it, the fledgling dance troupe knows they’re doing everything they can to carry on the torch.