Article 5
The Difference Between Indigenous Dance and Theater

"I found that there is much misunderstanding about the nature of the various dance types in Egypt. Terms and names have been used loosely and erroneously."

The Difference Between Indigenous Dance and Theater

There is a great difference between Traditional or Indigenous dance, and The Reda Troupe theater dance. In The Shorter Oxford Dictionary, Traditional is described as follows: The handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from generation to another without written instruction. Indigenous is described as being: Born or produced naturally in a land or region.
For the 15 years, of teaching abroad, I found that there is much misunderstanding about the nature of the various dance types in Egypt. Terms and names have been used loosely and erroneously. One example of the misuse of terms was when I was at a recital some years ago at a festival. I witnessed a group of female dancers from an East European country. They were wore Sa`ydy come belly dance costumes and danced with sticks. They were presenting what was obviously a feeble attempt of dancing what seemed to be a knock off of the Reda movement vocabulary merged with what belly dancers were performing at that time. When I read the brochure, they referred to their performance as a traditional “Saidi dance!”

Dance as Recreational Activity (Indigenous and Traditional)

The majority of indigenous dances in Egypt are recreational and not exclusive to certain performers. In some areas local professional dancers and instrumentalists are brought to the event to perform with the inhabitants. Dance events cannot be categorized as participatory or pure entertainment. Both the participatory and entertainment elements co-exist in these dances. On-lookers may merely enjoy watching the dance or join in whenever they feel inclined to do so. At times, these events can include few people and at other times, these same events can include more than a 100 participants. These dance traditions, most often take place in the open air, in the center or in the peripheral areas of villages and towns.

Improvisation is an important characteristic that is found in all dances whether performed by local inhabitants or professional dancers. Dancers are most often led by one person, some times more, who determine the inclusion or repetition of a movement sequence. Because of this improvisational characteristic, there is no set choreography nor is there a predetermined sequence of movement combinations. These dance events are not prearranged either in number of participants or length of time. Some events may last for a few hours and others may last late into the night, depending on the mood and fervor of the participants. This element of improvisation has given these dance traditions resilience. Improvisation is always within the boundaries of the particular style of the dance tradition and the social codes of the society in which it takes place.

It is very important to understand the difference between a dance event that takes place in its original surrounding, and that, which is presented on stage. Once a dance event is transported to a stage, it must adhere to theatrical dictates. One must keep in mind that a spectator-participant in a dance event is tolerant. He knows that those dancing are ordinary people who are dancing for their own pleasure. Theater-goers, on the other hand, demand perfection and expect artistic creativity.

Mahmoud Reda's adaptations were never meant to be literal replicas of the indigenous dances that he witnessed and documented. He focused on the different qualities of movement and stressed the unique characteristics of each indigenous dance event, modifying and developing, its potentials, while preserving the essence and characteristic of each event. Because of Mahmoud Reda's cultural sensibilities, he comprehended the importance of the social codes of each region he visited. His choreographies conformed to local tradition by maintaining the original degree of proximity between males and females and their relation to one another in each indigenous dance event. On some occasions, his introduction of female dancers to male dominated dances remained within the social decorum and was accepted by Egyptian audience at large. After identifying the dynamics and rhythmic structure of each movement pattern, he eliminated the redundancies and expanded upon others. His talent, aesthetics and his insight brought forth choreographies that maintained the characteristic features and integrity of the original dance.

I need here to stress that it is not known if these dance events are still taking place in their original locations. These field researches took place fifty years ago. The advent of TV, Satellite, and social media, as well as, the resent attitudes towards dance has obviously changed the way of life of the inhabitants of these areas.


Copyright 2018 Farida Fahmy

Pdfs in Translated Languages


VERSION by Farida Fahmy, Oct 2017


Chinese translation by Wendi Weng & Kay Chng


Danish translation by Bente Petersen


Finnish translation by Riikka Nykyri


French translation by Geneviève Deviller


Greek translation by Panayiota Bakis Mohieddin


Italian translation by Katia Zero


Norwegian translation by Lene Dalen


Portuguese translation by Sara Lima


Romanian translation by Gabriela Zeina


Russian translation by Karina Chistova


Serbian translation by Sonja Antanasijevic


Spanish translation by Anubis Nirvana


Ukrainian by Ukranian translation by Iryna Lytvyn