Folklore Is Folklore Aint!

Tarik Sultan

New member
We've had several heated discussions about what is and isn't Oriental Dance and the need to be accurate when describing dance styles that are innovations.

So here's my question. Should we hold Middle Easterners to the same standards of accuracy and honesty when portaying dances. The reason I bring this up is because I've been witnessing a certain phenominon over the past 21 years. The Egyptian "folklore" troups and choreographers. From my experience, if I want to see folk dance, the last place I would look is either the Redda troupe of the National folk troupe. What they present as folklore is so radically different from the real thing, yet they persist in presenting it as authentic. What do you all think/feel about this?
 
I would say that the highest authority on this would be the Egyptian government and cultural department whom have approved the Reda Troupe and the National Folklore Troupe to be the appropriate representatives of the stage adapted stylization of Egyptian folklore. Who are we to question what the natives themselves have approved of.

Social dancing has no place on stage in a professional performance (that people actually might even be paying to see).


DaVid
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Folklore/ Fakelore

Dear Tarik and DaVid,
First, do THEY claim it is real folkloric dance, or do other people claim it, such as western dancers who go to see them perform? I have been under the impression that Reda claims his presentations are folk inspired, but definately created and innovated for the stage as opposed to really folkloric.
Personally, I think some of the worst stuff I've seen was choreographed by Reda for Farida Fahmi. The dances are insipid take offs on bad, very bad, balletic stuff. No matter what he does, he is still Egyptian in his heart and soul, so when he created these dances, they were true to neither western or Middle Eastern dance and came off as drab, dull. watered down and lifeless. I think that sometimes innovations and fusions just do not work and what he created for Fahmi did not. On the other hand, some of his other stuff from the movies and stage shows, is just plain fun, retaining that essence of Egyptianess, pretty much in the same way that the 50s and 60s USA musicals retained that American spirit, though they were not based in reality. In the end, we have no right to hold natives to any standards of anythying as long as they are not lying to us about what they are doing. IN this I agree with DaVid. They are always presenting things in an Egyptian ( or Turkish, or Armenian, or whatever) way, because they ARE natives. We do have the right however, to think the result is horrendous!!

I disagree with you, DaVid on the matter of presenting folk dance as is on the stage. My dance company does occasionally do VERY authentic folkloric Saidi dance on stage as well as authentic stylings from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. We have also consistently presented people like Jennet, who dancesTurkish Rom just as she learned it, and Mohamed Hamideh and his wife, Dina, who present Debke just as it is done by the people, etc. It depends on which dances and how they are presented. Even Shaabi can be presented just as the people do it. It depends on the venue, the audience and what the dance is.


Regards,
A'isha
 
Folklore vs. Fakelore

Hi Everyone, I'm not sure on how to answer the original question in general terms. However if I were a student and went to Egypt, Turkey or Lebanon and PAID a teacher for specific instruction on folkoric styles and music then that is what I expect. Certainly my compensation for their knowledge and talents, would require that I hold them to certain standards.

Or I could do what Reda has done, go directly to the source. The people. I would try to learn the specific movement and musical interpretation. Realistically speaking, it is difficult to hold someone to standards that mean different things to different people. What type of standards/definition did you have mind Tarik? And how can we codify something so esoterical as"cultural essences"?
Yasmine
 

Tarik Sultan

New member
Hi Everyone, I'm not sure on how to answer the original question in general terms. However if I were a student and went to Egypt, Turkey or Lebanon and PAID a teacher for specific instruction on folkoric styles and music then that is what I expect. Certainly my compensation for their knowledge and talents, would require that I hold them to certain standards.

Or I could do what Reda has done, go directly to the source. The people. I would try to learn the specific movement and musical interpretation. Realistically speaking, it is difficult to hold someone to standards that mean different things to different people. What type of standards/definition did you have mind Tarik? And how can we codify something so esoterical as"cultural essences"?
Yasmine
Well the standards I'm talking about is authenticity. For example, if you say the dance you are doing is Ghawaee, then I expect the appropriate music, costuming and movement vocabulary. When I see the national folk troupe do Ghawazee, the costume is a waterd down version of the Banat Mazin costume, but the music is not Saidi and the movement vocabulary is totally different. It does not have the feel or essence of Ghawazee dance. Its is a watered down version of Oriental dance in a psedo Ghawazee costume. When I see them do a Nubian routine, the music is not the intricate Nubian drum rythms and poly rythmic clapping. The movements are not as dynamic and varied as the real thing, once again, the spirit and essence is totally lacking.

I feel that if we criticize westerners for creating fusion dances and calling it authentic folklore, we should be just as critical if not more, of natives who should know better. So A'isha, to anwer your question, yes, I have met people who claim that what they are doing is authentic. Redda was never one of them, which is why althought I don't always like all of his material, I respect him for his honesty.

David I have to respectfully disagree with you. I think that it is possible to present real folk dance on stage without diluting or adulterating it. For example, I've seen Indian folk dances that were very faithfull representations of what is done in the villages. They used creative staging and colorful costumes to compensate for a limited movement vocabulary. I've also seen the same thing from The Saudi Arabians, Moroccans, and Turks, not to mention Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans. None of them feel they need to mix in Ballet, modern, or use inauthentic music. Therefore, I don't buy it when Egyptians say they have to mix in Ballet to make it interesting.
 

Zumarrad

Member
You cannot have it both ways. If ME people have a certain "essence" that makes their dancing fundamentally different to non ME people's, except in the case of a good facsimile, then you also have to accept that if they choose to do something, whether you like it or not, it's part of their "essence" and you have to suck it up.

Culture doesn't exist in a vacuum. Egypt wasn't dropped in resin in 1925. It was us that decided dances had to be categorised and museumised. "Folk" is by its very nature "of the people" and the people are not some warm brown homogenous mass (apologies to Said or Bhaba or whoever I'm paraphrasing) who don't change or develop or have idiosyncracies. Yes, it's really sad that certain dances die out, but why? Because Reda put some ballet on top of them, or because people decided watching TV was more fun? That is the reality of how culture is. Culture changes.

Karayanni criticises Reda in much the same terms that he criticises Dora Stratou, namely that they were part of a movement to sanitise, ie desexualise, the dance, in favour of - and this is important - creating a national identity that suited a certain ideology. Look at when Reda started working, and consider the possibility that, in presenting something that was supposed to be essentially (that word again) Egyptian, he and his cohorts were deliberately rejecting the "Orient", ie Ottoman rule, and attempting to create something that had all the bits of Egyptian culture that they considered wholesome, but none of the bits they considered degraded (and possibly Turkish).

But while these criticisms are valid, I keep asking myself what it means when Westerners tut-tut at indigenous developments, acting as if somehow we are the Great White Guardians of oriental or folkloric dance while the people who actually own the copyright, as it were, are doing it "wrong". Is this really our job?

Another thing I think has to be kept in mind when dis(s)(cuss)ing theatricalised presentations of folkloric dance in the ME, is the relationship between dance as something OK to do in the domestic sphere, and dance as something rather shameful and embarrassing in the public one. Being a belly dancer is a shameful profession. But if it's ballet, it doesn't have the same domestic connotations and is therefore not quite so terrible. Stick some ballet on top of your domestic dancing and put it in a theatre, and it's more legitimate, perhaps. Even more legitimate if you call it "folklore". (Personally, I make a distinction between "folk", which I see as the dance as it is done traditionally or in social settings, and "folkloric", which connotes to me the telling of folk tales/wisdom/history in a formalised manner. "Folk" dance is "authentic", if you like that term. "Folkloric" isn't and never pretends to be, though it seems to contain a sense of the "folk" of which it speaks.
 

Maria_Aya

New member
Another time when I feel that my english are not enough :cool:

I'll try to explain my thougths.
As there are many similarities with Greece and Egypt, and maybe other arab countries also and Turkey, and as the years go by, from a sociology point of view we can see a change, in other countries faster in others slower, regarding their own culture.
The change is this: Folk dance in its birth, and folk dance in general, serve certain community needs before the dancing part. These needs as tecnology, communications, etc proceed are loosing their importance.
60-70 years ago even people had their everyday working clothes, and the "good ones" that they were wearing in fest days, and sad days also of their life. The gathering and the dance between them, was also in more strict times an opportunity for the young ones, just to have an eyelook with the opposite gender, or in the cases of line dance to just hold hands.
These needs today are stoping to exist, so in the same way (on my opinion) the actual dance lose the energetic character and meaning and fall into a "musseum, folk category".
If we have to restore it to keep it, to pass it to the new generations YES!!
But nowdays it have another position in our minds and in the community.
As having lessons already with mr Reda, I understand that what he does was created under reasons that i dont know, and many of us dont. Politics also resolved. For me its "his creative idea" on how a folk dance should be presented on stage. And as this i take it, but I respect him BIG time for all his work all these years. This needs guts, special when we speak about arabs that have different mentality.
Same time in Egypt we can watch at various touristic places "Folk shows" and as the name says, take it like this, as a Show for tourists.
Now keeping in mind that as years go by, even the folk dance develop, for me the most "authentic folk" i've seen in Egypt was done in a bus station lol
Around 6-7 boys from age 10 to 17, working ofcourse already, were there, having boxes as tabla's and stics of baboo, and was doing Saidi.
Priceless.....
In the beliefe that since we are westerns and not born in this culture, we could learn from all cases, my advice is to go for it, but know what you are doing. Be judmental, and use your brain when being taught, learn if possible the history, the career of the teacher. Only then we can divide whats real and whats not.
Sorry i feel this was long lol

Maria Aya:)

p.s.1. while writing this longgggggggg post Zumarrad posted.
About Karayiani and Reda and Dora Stratou.
In Dora Stratou, there is NOTHING that is not original greek, from stepings, from costume, from the stage presentance. As the same time in Reda's style, its so obvious the ballet and something from Russian folk also.

(this part was writen before I read Zumarrad's post)
p.s. If you are not bored yet, continuing here presending the similar case in Greece.
We are fortuned enough to had a great pioneer on folk dance Dora Stratou, that in hard decades of the greek history (political, economical, after war) did a great research job (similar as Reda), managed to buy at 1950-1960 almost all the original costumes of the start of the century, restored them, and made the Dora Stratou Theatre, and organization.
When we go and see a show of this group (more than 10.000 members/dancers in greece) from the body position to the cloths, its like watching my grandmother-grandfather old black and white photos.
There is also the "Lykeio Ellhnidon" which is the hardcore of Dora Stratou, and this is my training from 11 to 17.
Hardcore is hardcore here, means that we were beaten with sticks at the legs from the teacher if we didnt had the EXACT distance from each leg and all details. Musicians that was 75 years old playing us live in class, (and i was teenager), and explaining how things was danced in villages when they were young.
Having this training, can you understand how i feel when going at Crete and watching the "Folk Shows" for tourists? where its so kitch and they do what is expected in the fantasy of people about Greece?
By the way, ZORBA dance, doesnt exist and never did in Greece, it was an invention from a choreographer about the movie Zorba. Only the "dancers" know it, as part of a show.
www.grdance.org worth even only to watch the first page photos, that change. All the costumes are aged more than 80 years.
Phew dont shoot me, its morning and feel like speaking here lol
 
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Zumarrad

Member
Karayanni doesn't suggest Stratou used ballet - merely that she, like Reda, was involved in putting "undesirable elements" where they "belonged", and that those decisions had a lot to do with politics and the manufacture of culture.

Here's a quote from Dancing Fear and Desire:

"With her strong right-wing connections, Stratou denied not only the artistic and cultural value of rebetika but also any connection between tsifteteli and classical Greek dances, in a gesture that complies with the construction of Western civilisation in the heritage of classical Greece. In Greece, therefore, the tsifteteli gradually came to be marginalised - banned into the region of undesirable, distasteful influences of the Orient." (2004, 144)

I'm not agreeing or disagreeing, merely pointing it out. Karayanni is a gay Greek Cypriot academic with his own agendas, but he has some very interesting and valid things to say.
 

Maria_Aya

New member
Sorry Zumarrad, misunderstood, cause didnt knew you were refering to this point of Karayanni.
First, and this is general, Cypriots are Cypriots, total different mentality.
About Dora Stratou and the Rebetica and Greek Tsifteteli, he is correct.
But in greeks mentality, Dora Stratou represents the real folk dance, the urban dance that was rebetica and tsifteteli (that came from minor asia) is another subject.

Maria Aya :)
 
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Aisha Azar

New member
Fakeloric, etc.

Dear Zummarad and Aya,
Very good points, both! In the end, I think Tarik's question has to do with wanting integrity from the native dancers as well as from westerners, and I think I can agree with that. If it is really folkloric dance, then say so. If it is "folk inspired", say so. If it is innovated from beginning to end, say so. I don't think that's asking too much of anyone. I think one difference is that even in presenting pure fantasy, there is always that cultural influence in what
the natives do, simply because they are natives and have the essence of the culture sort of "built in".
It's like DaVid, with his perfect American accent, except for the occasional trace of Hindi in the very back of it!! ( You would never know that he stopped off for many years in Europe between India and America!!). He will always be Hindi in some part of his soul and heart, and in some part of his speech, but boy, does he love Pizza!!
Regards,
A'isha
 
It's like DaVid, with his perfect American accent, except for the occasional trace of Hindi in the very back of it!! ( You would never know that he stopped off for many years in Europe between India and America!!). He will always be Hindi in some part of his soul and heart, and in some part of his speech, but boy, does he love Pizza!!
Regards,
A'isha
Well, I didnt really stop off, I was born and raised in Norway and have only visited the "homeland/India" 5 times. We do speak a mix of 4 languages at home tho (Norwegian, English, Hindi, Punjabi). Punjabi being the "mother tongue". I think the trace of something in my accent comes from the fact that I used to be British speaking and when I had to change my accent upon moving to the US, my tongue just couldnt get itself around some of the "wrong" sounds of American English.

Funny thing is, even in our family household, Saturday nights are known as pizza nights.

:)

DaVid
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Fakelore, etc.

Dear DaVid,
I meant "stopping off" in a facetious way, but, oh, well. Wipe that pepperoni off your face!!
Hugs,
A'isha
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
I would say that the highest authority on this would be the Egyptian government and cultural department whom have approved the Reda Troupe and the National Folklore Troupe to be the appropriate representatives of the stage adapted stylization of Egyptian folklore. Who are we to question what the natives themselves have approved of.
DaVid
Forgive my cynicism, but any government agency would be the last place I'd look for a definition of culture, folklore, or dance, and I don't care what the government department choses to call itself.

This is an interesting thread, so now that I've added my two cents worth, I'll shut up and go back to reading.
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Fakelore, etc.

Dear Shanazel,
I would tend to agree since there are rarely two groups more in oppostion than the Government and the People!!
Regards,
A'isha
 

Aziyade

New member
long meandering response....

Forgive my cynicism, but any government agency would be the last place I'd look for a definition of culture, folklore, or dance, and I don't care what the government department choses to call itself.QUOTE]

As an American, I would tend to agree with you, since it's sort of in our nature to distrust our government, but we have to remember that this isn't necessarily the view of other cultures.

A friend of my husband's went to Egypt a few years ago with A&E to film a documentary about recent archaelogical developments and how the ancient history of Egypt was being rethought -- by western historians. When he came back he was outraged at what he thought was a deliberate attempt by the Egyptian government to repress some information, and to put their own "spin" on other information. He had gotten into a couple of arguments with Dr. Zahi Hawass, who is basically the "official" national archaeologist of Egypt, but who is considered a pawn of the Egyptian government by many American and European archaeologists. Apparently the fight revolved around Dr. Hawass refusing to comment on some touchy subjects, and an implied threat that if the documentary team persisted in certain lines of questioning, they would not only find themselves refused entrance to other important sites, but would also be "dis-invited" from returning to Egypt.

It sounds awful, doesn't it? You aren't allowed to present the truth unless it complies with the "official" record? But that's been standard operating procedure for thousands and thousands of years, all over the world. The Egyptian government believed, in this case, that maintaining certain "half-truths" or at least not upsetting certain widely-held beliefs, was in the best interest of both the Egyptian populace and the Egyptian government itself.

Is it right? That's a question of ethics, and we've been pondering THAT since at least the time of ancient Greece.


To Tarik:

Back on topic. You have every right to be outraged, because what you're witnessing is historial revision. As it's happening! And for someone like you, or Morocco, who has studied the pre-Reda folk dances all their lives, to see something presented as folk -- that ISN'T -- is insulting to you. Understandable. But understand also that this happens naturally. AS reprehensible as it may seem to us, it's just what happens.

I would dare say Egypt has never been one for "accurate" historical representation. The concern in ancient Egypt was always for the ideal. That hasn't changed much -- the government now seems very concerned with representing Egypt (both ancient and modern) as conforming to some Ideal.

Does that mean certain things will be lost? Like the REAL folk forms of these dances? YES, it does. But don't lament just yet.

Aspects of culture are lost every day. Languages die out. Pigment fades. Stories lose their meaning. Buildings fall down. Rivers are re-routed and people displaced. It's very sad, and the part of me that believes EVERYTHING is worth saving is just outraged!

BUT

New aspects of culture appear every day as well. Look at Oriental dance -- it didn't exist in Pharonic times. Not as we know it today.

I had a Flamenco teacher in Jerez who told us that you would never see or hear REAL Flamenco on stage. REAL Flamenco had to be spontaneous. REAL Flamenco would be done in bars, or in small gatherings. And of course, REAL Flamenco would never be done by little white American girls. REAL Flamenco was what the grandparents did. This stuff these kids today sing -- BAH! Not REAL Flamenco. So apparently, when he and others like him pass away, REAL Flamenco will die out as well.

But I digress. One thing that confuses me -- if the Mazin sisters dance it, it's considered authentic Ghawazee, right? Since they are authentic Ghawazee. Now what if Khariyyah or (is it Su'ad?) decide they really like miniskirts and that crazy Said Mrad music. If the Ghawazee THEMSELVES change the fundamental nature of their dance -- is it still authentic?
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Fakelore, etc.

Dear Aziyade,
I think we can safely say that there is a difference between "traditional" and "authentic". If the Banat Mazin ( who according to Edwina Nearing developed the current taaj, so that's a new Ghawai innovation from when they used to wear melea), develop a new Ghawazi concept, they ARE Ghawazi and it becomes authentic Ghawazi movement ( or costuming or whatever), but that does not mean it's traditional; only that it is authentic to what the Ghawazi are currently doing. (Whew, I'd probably be penalized in English class for writing a run-on sentance!!) I think that we as westerners can get the idea that the natives are not innovating, when in fact, they are!
I think we also need to remember that they will innovate within the boundaries of the actual dance with much more success than most of us, because they live the culture daily.
Reda and those guys are Egyptian but not necessarily Sudani, Felahi, Ghawazi, Saidi, etc. Often they know no more about the actual dances than we do unless they go among the people and learn them. Even then Reda I know, has come away with a vison not based on the realities of the dance or the life, but a romantic version of it. As long as he does not state his work is authentic or tradition folkloric, as long as he states that it is innovated for the stage, I'm good with that. He has then created an authentic Egyptian but not traditional dance art form. ( You can sure as heck tell it's not western!!)
Regards,
A'isha
 

Aziyade

New member
A'isha and Tarik:

You know, I was pretty firm in how I felt about this yesterday, but this morning I woke up to a New York Times article about how dance in Iraq is becoming scarce and dangerous (Asim posted it to the MEDance list -- I don't have the link here) and I just got OUTRAGED!

I'm not sure why I should feel Reda has the authority to rewrite history and the new Iraqi government DOESN'T, but that's how I feel. Conflicted. Weird.

What's the book you all were citing earlier? I'd like to get that.
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
Forgive my cynicism, but any government agency would be the last place I'd look for a definition of culture, folklore, or dance, and I don't care what the government department choses to call itself.QUOTE]

You aren't allowed to present the truth unless it complies with the "official" record? But that's been standard operating procedure for thousands and thousands of years, all over the world. The Egyptian government believed, in this case, that maintaining certain "half-truths" or at least not upsetting certain widely-held beliefs, was in the best interest of both the Egyptian populace and the Egyptian government itself.

Is it right? That's a question of ethics, and we've been pondering THAT since at least the time of ancient Greece. ?
Exactly my point- governments cannot be trusted to tell the truth about anything, from politics to art, so government agencies are not the place to look for cultural definitions.
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Fakelore, etc.

Dear Aziyade,
I am not sure how accurately the Iraqi group was protraying the actual dances of Iraq either, having studied with outside peole to present them. Nonetheless, something of great value is lost each time any native source is censored. Whether or not they are presenting the dances as they come from the people, their cultural background will lend ethnic flavor to what is created. It can not be helped.
I was not surprised at what I read in the article, but I also wondered at the irony of it all....a group that was active under the terrible Saddam Hossein, that was not allowed to perfrom under the "democratic" leaders that are being supported by the United States government...???
Regards,
A'isha
 

Tarik Sultan

New member
A'isha and Tarik:

You know, I was pretty firm in how I felt about this yesterday, but this morning I woke up to a New York Times article about how dance in Iraq is becoming scarce and dangerous (Asim posted it to the MEDance list -- I don't have the link here) and I just got OUTRAGED!

I'm not sure why I should feel Reda has the authority to rewrite history and the new Iraqi government DOESN'T, but that's how I feel. Conflicted. Weird.

What's the book you all were citing earlier? I'd like to get that.
I loved your post yesterday as well as A'isha's and am in the process of replying

I don't begrudge Redda because he is HONEST about what he had created. I do have very big issues with the so-called folklore troupe and the elitist elements in that society who ignore and devalue the very people that give Egypt its identity.

I see no reason to have half assed Cairo dudes, (who wouldn't know a real Nubian if he kicked him in the ass), pretending to be Nubians when there are REAL Nubians who could be hired to recreate their own songs and dances for the stage.

A'isha, I understand your perspective that the natives of the country infuse their work with that countries essence to a degree. However, I think it is more complicated than this. Egypt is not a uniform society any more than we are. The Nubians, Saidis and fellahin all have their individual essences that is just as illusive for a Caireen to absorbe as it is for an American to absorbe that Egyptian essence. Not that its impossible, but they would have to either go there and study with those people as we would, or hire and train people from those communities. It would be like an upper middle class suburban black guy trying to portray an urban working class black man without first trying to study the subject. Just not the same thing....and it sucks when you know the real thing.
 
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