Dance icon Farida Fahmy reveals the evolution of folk dance

Sara Elkamel, Saturday 4 Dec 2010

Egyptian folk dance icon Farida Fahmy, of the renowned Reda Troupe reveals the concepts, costumes, and characteristics of the haggalah and fellahin dance styles

Farida Fahmy 1
Farida Fahmy dancing the falaheen dance Source: Farida Fahmy's official website


Egyptian folk-dance icon Farida Fahmy, of the renowned Reda Troupe, reveals the concepts, costumes and characteristics of haggalah and fellahin dance styles at the Sphinx Festival 2010 - Egypt's Folkloric Arts and Ethnology.

The five-day event, ending on 5 December,  strove  to uncover the dynamic spectrum of Egypt's folkloric arts, holding a variety of seminars that delve into the evolution of provincial folk arts, including folkloric dance arts, ethnic costume, music, culture and philosophy.

On the third day of the festival, Farida Fahmy dissected the art of haggalah and fellahin dance. As the Reda Troupe principal dancer for a quarter of a century, Fahmy has devoted her life to performing on screen and theatre stages all over the globe.  Now, she recollects the memories of her happiness and unwavering passion for dance. 

“We are left with mere ruffles of a once-thriving art form,” Fahmy tells Ahram Online, a look of longing on her face. Still, Fahmy is extremely satisfied with the festival’s ability to bring together diverse groups, keen on unearthing what’s behind the scenes of the glamorous portrait of Egyptian folkloric dance. “They truly want to learn, they are not simply enticed with the allure that dance holds,” she maintains.

Dressed completely in black, looking as graceful as ever, Fahmy spoke to an eager group about the rhythmic patterns, the dazzling costumes, and the melodic movements of fellahin and haggalah dancers.

Fahmy’s presentation was loosely choreographed; stories poured out from the star, as she shared details of her sensational past. Her hands dance around as she reveals the mechanisms of a truly enchanting folkloric heritage.

Reminiscing about the good old days, Fahmy claims that fellahin dancing prevails today as shaped and formed by Mahmoud Reda. The fellahin’s body language - shaking their hips and waving wooden sticks around - was transformed into an art form by Reda’s genius, declares Fahmy.

Costume and movement collaborated to produce an impeccable final product – a rhythmic and alluring performance. Dancers flaunted brightly-coloured fabric, ruffled and tailored strategically to accentuate graceful bodies. Even in the black and white photographs on the screen, the costumes appear utterly enthralling.

Born to an architect father, Fahmy felt obliged to study some form of systematic science. Yet, the dancer found her mind chaotic and her dreams never-ending. Somehow, she found herself complying with structured choreography and taking accurate measurements in an endeavour to study costume design.

Her fascination with the women of the fellahin was apparent - she admired the swish of satin their bodies instigated, their status as prominent economic assets in the countryside and the birds and flowers carved into their jewellery.

Equally enchanting, yet less sophisticated is hagalleh dancing. Fahmy remembers their field research trips to Marsa Matruh, where they first encountered this elaborate combination of song, poetry, chanting and dancing.  But the 'clap' is the master of this dance, and the dancer's body moves to its beat.

Wrapped around the dancer’s waist is a jirt, which is made of cream-colored, beautifully woven wool,  (Fahmy likens it to the Roman toga) and the dancer wears leather boots covered in colourful embroidery. Headdress are equally important with the dancer’s hair coiled into a large cone on top of her head.

Yet all such features are merely garnish to the hagalleh’s core movement: a simple oscillation. Adapting this monotonous movement to the demanding theatre, Mahmoud Reda, Ali Ismail and other talented dancers such as Farida Fahmy herself, whipped up the perfect combination of glamorous costumes, innovative routines and engaging instrumentals, and rendered the hagalleh fresh and dynamic, while preserving its basic characteristics.

A practical workshop followed Fahmy’s lecture, in which she prescribed choreography and shouted out instructions to this vibrant group of dance-fans. The morning sun shone brightly  with a soft breeze wafting through the vast studio..  Large mirrors reflected a group of keen students, many with beaded scarves wrapped around their waist - ala fallaha.

 “Listen to the rhythm,” Fahmy shouts - and the dream continues. 

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