Gilded Serpent presents...
Surreal Experience with Mahmoud Reda:
A Little Aloha goes a Long Way
by Tammy Yee

In this age of rampant tribalism and fear-mongering, where we are reduced to "us" versus "them," it is easy to forget that 200,000 years ago we were all part of the diaspora out of Africa. We share commonalities that make us distinctly human morality and family values are not the exclusive property of right-wing demagogues. I have yet to meet a culture which does not share Maslow's hierarchy of needs or one that does not treasure family. If anything, the extended family and social structure of other cultures take better care of the young and the old than we westerners do.

So begins my surreal experience with legendary Egyptian choreographer, Mahmoud Reda. Ric and I met Walid and Morwenna Assaf, of the Dance Academy in Ocean Beach, California, at the International Belly Dance Convention in Las Vegas. Organizers asked Walid to drum for the open stage and my husband Ric, having the only dumbek available at the time, offered his instrument. In turn, Walid offered guidance, enthusiasm and encouragement, inspiring Ric to take his drumming to the next level. We exchanged business cards and promised to show Walid and Morwenna some "island hospitality" on their upcoming trip to Hawaii.

Little did I know that Walid would be in Hawaii for a Mahmoud Reda workshop that I was taking, and that he and Morwenna would be judges at that evening's NATCMED Belly Dance Competition. The event was graciously organized by Kauai's Miranda, who was ever-present, making sure everything ran smoothly and that her guests were comfortable. Mahmoud, of course was fabulous, his choreography flawless and challenging a lot of turns and arabesques, and a lot of folk inspiration. With Walid's help, Mr. Reda stressed that the proper translation of Arabic was essential to Egyptian dance interpretation.

But what I enjoyed most was how, decades ago, Mr. Reda traveled Egypt to learn and preserve folk dance. Strangers welcomed him with open arms, even offering to move up the date of an upcoming wedding so he could witness the traditional dancing.

When asked how this change in wedding plans would be accomplished, Mr. Reda's host strolled into the village square and fired his gun into the air whereupon the villagers came running to see what the commotion was about. Once the village was gathered, the host calmly announced that the wedding would be moved forward for Mr. Reda's benefit.

Later that afternoon we took Walid and Morwenna on an island tour to Iolani Palace where the Hawaiian Monarchy was overthrown; to the Pali where Walid was thrilled at the gusts of wind rushing up sheer, verdant cliffs; and finally to Kailua Beach, where we watched wind surfers perform aerial stunts. As we drove back into town, Walid made dinner reservations at Pyramids Restaurant on the outskirts of Waikiki.

In Pyramid's dim interior, we spied Mahmoud Reda with Miranda's party. Beside him were chairs apparently kept empty because Walid made reservations. Issam Houshan, drummer for the Belly Dance Superstars, was there too, having completed a drummer's workshop sponsored by Hawaii belly dancer Malia. Ric and I sat next to Mr. Reda, Walid and Miranda. The Arabic was flying. Walid ordered for us and for Mr. Reda. That evening we learned more about Lebanon, Egypt and Syria, and the distinction between Arabic dialects and culture, than we could have ever have imagined.

By the end of the evening Ric, Walid and Mr. Reda were huddled together like little boys, telling naughty jokes. Ric, of course, telling jokes beginning with "There are three friends, an Egyptian, a Lebanese, and a Filipino..." These jokes, surprisingly, initiated my Mr. Reda himself, who from the workshops I had taken to be a distinguished and refined gentleman. They laughed like old friends.

If only we could have more such evenings, where all that is exchanged is laughter, music, dance, culture and good food, instead of bullets. So share the aloha. In whatever language you speak.

More names needed please!
Mr Reda has white hair and stands in the middle of the back row


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