If it appears I am smiling and crying at once… it’s true (again). Here’s why.
Along with a small and dedicated group of dancers, some of whom were colleagues who came to Egypt with me from New England, I sat sharing an afternoon of tea complete with pretty finger-food, in an elegant, sun-filled apartment in Cairo. The gleaming hardwood floor, richly upholstered couches, handsome yet feminine chairs, and artwork on the walls surrounded us as we enjoyed a casual chat and interview with Farida Fahmy. Her sweet dogs, for the record, also surrounded us, sniffed us, and welcomed us warmly – one fell asleep on Inara as she gave it perfect massage.
For three hours I hung on every word Farida said. It was easy to feel the rapt attention of all of us. If a pin dropped it would have been a loud sound. We did take a break to breathe after an hour or so. We ate the mini pizzas she made us (!), some sweets which our group brought as a gift (thank you, Sahra and Erika), more fancy teas. Then, even more delightful chatting, questions, and repartee. Finally, along with a few others in the same condition, I left both smiling and crying at the same time.
Take aways: As Farida revealed herself it became obvious why the people of Egypt loved Farida as their star during her performing years and why they love her now as a living legend. The tone she strikes as a strong, artistic, modern Egyptian woman is inspiring. No matter the topic, the first lady of Egyptian folkloric dance was intelligent, articulate, an educated member of society, a philosopher, a thinker, an artist, and an entertainer who was equal with and not above the people. Did I mention a warm, generous, and gracious hostess?
I have to admit I was thoroughly thrilled and proud to find I was on the same page, understanding, and in agreement with all of her points on art, music, politics, and entertainment as she bravely addressed the group with honesty – even if it was an unpopular opinion. This gave me courage to be me and honor my own thoughts. The visit with Farida Fahmy and with Sahra Saeeda had a strong underlying theme – know what you know, own it, back it up, and proudly present it to the world.
The story of arts and entertainment in Egypt is actually full of strong Egyptian pioneering women – so inspiring. This trip showed this fact again and again.
If you don’t know Farida Fahmy: Google will tell you of Farida’s long-time dance partnership with Mahmoud Reda and part of the establishment of one of the first national Egyptian folkloric dance troupes. Egypt’s folk dances were brought to the world and to the stage by Mr. Reda, Farida Fahmy and their organization so Egyptians could enjoy them dances during a strong nationalistic period in Egypt’s history. Farida and the Reda troupe’s contribution to the nation and to belly dance cannot be measured.
I’d first learned about Farida Fahmy almost 20 years ago. My teachers directed me to the Reda troupe footage as I began to seek the origins of belly dance. I saw Farida dance like a butterfly in Egyptian dance film clips and read about her, the pioneer she was, and the Reda troupe. I learned many of Farida and Mahmoud Reda’s steps and style over the years. I shared them with others in my classes. I was blessed to take workshops with Mr. Reda and had the honor of dancing for him once in a Reda tribute show (Riskallah Riad brought him to CT). I was beyond thrilled for these opportunities. But, Farida, I’ve only been able to read about for many years, to read her articles, and watch clips of her dancing. I stood amazed from afar by the place in history Farida plays for Egypt and for belly dancers. And now, I can say that I sat up close amazed, too!
If you don’t know the story of Sahra and Farida: As Sahra Saeeda was on her path, which included dancing professionally in Egypt for many years as a glittering star, she became deeply involved in investigating the real-life sources of music, dance, and lifestyle in Egypt. Sahra’s journey lead her to UCLA as a dance ethnology student. It was there a fellow student proved to be the great Farida Fahmy. After her years-long dance career and establishment in historic artistic high-standing, Farida went to UCLA to honor her father’s wish that she finish school. A long friendship between Sahra and Farida began and has orbited around the arts and culture in Egypt. Sahra’s desire to clarify the body of work and add to our understanding of belly dance and Egyptian culture lead her to form courses that many dedicated dancers enroll in, including the appreciative one writing this blog, and thus work of Sahra and the support of Farida are continually doing a huge service to the art form.
So, Farida Fahmy lives in Cairo in a historic place all her own but, through Sahra, I found myself there, along with friends from New England including Kali who teaches at Ancient Art Studios with me, and I assure you the strata of Farida compelled tears and smiles at the same time from more than myself.