Gilded Serpent presents...

Farida Fahmy Sets the Record Straight


Innovation and Costuming of The Reda Troupe

by Fatima Bassmah
posted 1-11-11

I first visited Madame Fahmy three years ago, setting up a private lesson at her flat during one of my first trips to Cairo. I was so nervous upon meeting her that I burst out crying. Fortunately, she overlooked my outburst, calmed me down, and we had a wonderful lesson. Since then, I visit her during my twice yearly trips to Cairo and have assisted her with her research using my skills as a librarian. When she told me that her costume designs that I loved to pour through would be published, I promptly interviewed her on the spot. This interview is from September, 2010.

Have you been traveling often in 2010?
I don’t travel very often, but this year I went to Italy, England, Venezuela, and Spain (twice). In addition to teaching, I also give lectures that people seem to enjoy and want to attend. I try to impart information in addition to movement. At the end of this month (September, at the time of this interview), I will go to Holland, and then I have no other plans on the horizon at the moment.

Last year was the Golden Jubilee celebration for the Reda Troupe. Did you take part in any events?
People did celebrate the Golden Jubilee last year, but I have nothing to do with the current Reda Troupe and did not attend any events.

The current troupe is an abomination of a wonderful enterprise.

We have been discussing some articles that you are writing regarding Reda Troupe costuming. What is prompting you to write?
Farida's Design of the MilayahI have been traveling recently, after not traveling for many years. I spent 5 years in the United States earning my MA (a Master of Arts degree in Dance Ethnology from The University of California at Los Angeles) and then, my mother was my top priority for ten years until she passed away. During this time, I did not teach or travel. After her death, I began to travel and teach again, and I was quite surprised and shocked, pleased and dismayed, at the same time! I saw many beautiful dancers but also a lot of distortion in the dance and a need for dancers to be informed.

My frustration pushed me to create a website ( My dear friend Keti Sharif is an accomplished dancer with a wonderful sense of art in her view of dance, and encouraged me to create a website. She is technologically savvy and created and runs my website. (I am not cyber inclined.)

When she created the site for me, I found myself writing material for the website and began to have many ideas for articles. I go through times where I have blocks of nothing, and then ideas float in my mind, and I want to write them down. I am not punctual in my articles on my site, though I have written a few but not for a long while.

I was taught and raised to do things that nourish my brain and increase my knowledge, and feel that I will continue to do so by writing articles and sharing this information.

Why write about costume history and design?
I continue designing costumes in a little corner of my mind in my spare time, and I continue to think artistically about costumes. I decided to design costumes for people to give them an idea of the different options for dance costumes. Then I found that I often have to explain how the costumes originated and came to be.

Some dancers take for granted what was, at the time, very innovative designs for the Reda Troupe costumes – obviously, they have been copied up until now. What was a new look or idea is now taken for granted.
I don’t want to force people to read my articles or think like me. However, before I die, I need to get it straight for the sake of knowing. People are welcome to read and learn or can remain in limbo with pleasure if they please.

What will the articles be about?
These articles will be about how the costumes for each Reda piece originated and how the Reda Troupe adopted it for the stage. In the future, it will help. Perhaps in the near future, it will displease some but in the far future, I hope it will be used for reference. My duty is to tell what I know because I lived it, and I have the tools and capabilities that not everyone in Egypt has.

There is a lot of misinformation about our Egyptian heritage which makes me frustrated and upset at times, and which needs to be explained. At the time that these costumes were designed for each Reda piece, it was very innovative and unlike anything worn on the Egyptian stage before. We carefully adapted the clothing from each region for the stage, and often dancers do not understand the difference between what people actually wore and what we wore for the stage.
For example, I have experienced a lot of frustration around the milayah. I have written about how women wore the milayah, how it came to be a part of a woman’s wardrobe, and how we adapted the milayah for the stage.

(As an aside, I was especially intrigued by Madame Fahmy’s research into the milayah. She did some very detailed research, tracing the style back to the 16th century. I was fascinated by her research and hope that at least some of it is included in her article on the milayah.)

Tell me about the ebooks.
Each e-book contains between 8 and 12 costume designs created and hand-drawn by myself, plus an article about the costume style and tips based on my knowledge and my aesthetic.

Farida's Costume Design Books

Interviewer’s note:
I have been privileged to see Madame Fahmy’s costume drawings, and they are exquisite and based on a lifetime of design and refinement. Madame Fahmy’s sister, Nadeeda, was the original designer of the costumes for the troupe’s earlier shows. By the mid 1970s, Madame Fahmy began to design costumes for a number of new productions. Khadiga Fahmy, the mother of Farida, supervised the execution of the costumes and later managed the growing costume and prop department.

Some of my happiest hours in Egypt have been spent at Madame Fahmy’s flat, going through her costume drawings and hearing her explain each drawing, her ideas, her aesthetic, and her suggestions on color, cut, fabric, and embellishment. I believe these ebooks will provide a wealth of information for dancers – not only those interested in Egyptian folkloric costumes exclusively – but any Belly dancer looking to create interesting and original designs for herself, her troupe, or to enhance her existing collection of costumes.

Additional comments by Farida Fahmy available:
For her views on the Reda Troupe, we can add an addendum based on my previous conversations with Madame Fahmy, and her opinion expressed on her own website. She feels that the troupe has not produced any innovations since Mr. Reda’s retirement from the troupe in 1990. I believe that she and Mr. Reda had hoped the troupe would carry on their work and create new pieces, but the troupe largely only rehashes Mr. Reda’s repetoire repeatedly. I attended the Reda show at the Balloon theater last January, and it is a "best of" his most famous pieces. For her views, one can visit where she discusses this in her last three paragraphs.

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  1. Ranya

    Jan 12, 2011 - 02:01:52

    I must completely agree with Madame Farida.
    I have been with the Reda Troupe (the “official” one that belongs to the state, not Mr. Mahmoud’s private one) for 6 months in 2008/2009. I could of course not perform since I did not have the special permit (it is *extreeeemely* hard for foreigners to join) but I was granted the possibility to attend all their trainigns and I must say that there is NOTHING new.
    I love the Reda style, but I think that today’s Reda Troupe is stuck in time. They have no new musical compositions, which they could afford without any doubt. They sometimes change a few steps, but that’s it.
    Mr. Ehab Hassan, the current director, is a lovely person and a great dancer, and I was a little disappointed that the kept on clinging to the already-done stuff, although I think that he could have created new dances while still staying true to the Reda style.
    I hope that the Reda Troupe will not become some kind of conserved fossil.
    Also, for the costuming and stage presentation of folkloric dances, it is so very true that a lot of dancers blindy think that this is exactly how it is in the egyptian villages, this is how they dress (in pretty transparent assuit) and how they interact between genders.
    This is not to criticize the dancers, more to say that teachers (and egyptians mostly) should include some theory in their classes, be it only 10minutes.
    At the Nile Group festival which I attend regularly, there is very few theoretical knowledge being passed from teacher to student, which is a pity, because I think that 10-15min of the class could be sacrificed, just to say why the melaya dress is so and so, and why you do this and that in saidi dance etc.
    Great article Fatima, hope to read some more from you and Madame Farida!

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