Folklore Is Folklore Aint!

Aisha Azar

New member
I loved your post yesterday as well as A'isha's and am in the process of replying

I 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.

Dear Tarik,
I think I said pretty much that same thing in my post when I pointed out that Reda and others might be Egyptian, but they might know no more than we do about the specific cultures and dances of Nubia, the Saidi, etc, unless they go to study them.

Tarik Sultan

New member
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.
The ruling elite never agrees to this sort of thing. What the actual people feel and believe is a whole different story. They just don’t feel that they are empowered enough to say or do anything about it.

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.
An acquaintance of mine Dr. Magada Sallah, ex prima Ballerina of the Cairo Ballet created a documentary of Egypt’s folk dances in the 1970’s. It was the first such effort done. Why did she do it? Because there were many people around the world, including Egypt, who were saying that the Egyptian people had no real dance traditions. She didn’t know anything about Egyptian folk dance, but felt that it could not be true, so she set out to document it.
It took her 10 years to complete and the ministry of culture fought her every step of the way. They wanted her to hire professionals from the folk troupes but what she wanted was the real people doing their own dances.

When the film was debut it received terrible reviews. It was called a collection of barbaric traditions that should be left to die a quick death.

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.
This reminds me of another incident. It was a documentary Called Wonders of the African World. The host went to Nubia to ask the people how they felt about seeing their ancestral homeland disappear under the waters of the dam. He was interviewing a local Nubian woman in one of the new settlements in Aswan, but he could hardly get an answer from her because the government “escort” he was given was shouting at her to tell him how happy they all were now because they have electricity and education and they don’t have any regrets. You could tell she was intimidated by him. After the goon left she told him how they wept and how heart broken they were.

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

It F** ing sucks! I think we all realize that this sort of thing is NOT right, no matter who is doing it. However, we also realize that fighting it is very difficult, especially for people who live there and have less protection from government retaliation than we do.

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.
Yea, but it isn’t right and I for one can’t keep my mouth shut when I know someone is trying to blow smoke up my… know. I’m sorry, but shi* aint the same as sugar no matter what the label on the package says.

What really upsets me though, is the open and blatant contempt that the elite has for the ordinary people. They simply do not believe in them, nor believe that they have a right to exist. They simply would like these people to dry up and blow away, except as some idealist, romanticized non-threatening fantasy that won’t challenge the status quo. It reminds me very much of the happy little darkies you use to see in the movies back in the dayAs long as we can deny their reality, we don’t actually have to do anything to address the hardships they’re experiencing.

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.

I don’t think the specific folk dances will be lost because the government refuses to acknowledge them. The issue is claiming to present the real thing when in fact what they are doing is watered down bullshit! The dances are in danger of being lost because the people seem to think that being more “American”, or “Western” is better. This is disturbing also. Not because things change, but the reason they change. Evolution is one thing, being brain washed to dump it because its “inferior” is another thing.

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!


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 agree. Things do evolve. I’ve seen that just in the Urban environment of Cairo. I can see where they’ve incorporated aspects of old folk dances. Very interesting. In the 60’s the Banat Mazins shortened their skirts, created new head- dresses.

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.
With folk dances, obviously the “real thing”, is what happens in the social environments. Staging of those dances are just that, stage presentations. You can show the vocabulary, music, garb, but what can never be presented is the occasion. That has to be experienced in person. The stage is meant to give as close a glimpse as possible for those of us who can’t be there. Kind of like a photo can show you the scenery and details of an area, but can’t capture the smells, sounds and experience of actually being there.

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?
I think A’isha gave a very accurate explanation in her post.

Tarik Sultan

New member
This was what I was working on when I wrote the short post.

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!
Exactly! You have to be living it in the environment/community to be a part of it.

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.

Exactly. But this is what most people fail to realize and my anger is with those so-called folk dancers who really don’t know because they’ve never taken the time to just go there and see it for themselves and worse of all, have no interest in doing so.

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!!)
Exactly. It is authentic Egyptian theater dance, NOT folklore. Interesting to note Redda’s troupe is not called the Redda folk troupe, it’s the Redda troupe. Some of the things they do are great and others…….weeellll……
My thing is just be honest, and if you are going to do folklore, stop being lazy, get up off your ass, go research it and stop riding on someone else’s coattails and claiming its your own.


Interestingly, Denise Enan, who was in the National Folkloric Troupe, told us a couple of years ago that a) they had a Russian choregrapher/maitre de ballet BUT they did study with at least some native dancers as well, including one of the Maazins, and b) her husband, also a troupe member, was involved in going round Egypt filming dancers in all the different regions, in the late 60s. A while back they were in Egypt and attempted to get access to these films. They had all been wiped, either due to deterioration or some unseen hand.

Tragic, really.
Hi Group, very enlightening discussion as always I'm really learning a lot more than dance steps. As I read each post, it dawned on me that authenticity lies within the heart of the everyday person and not within the confines of a powerful few. In the Oriental dance community, we have the "authenticity" police that point fingers at other dancers and tell them what they believe to be right way to dance, where as they don't have a real clue on where to find authentic people who are living the dance. The beauty of the dance is marred by social strife, poverty, classism and even rascism in the countires of origin. I recently read an article that's posted on the Gilded Serpent (found on the lower half of the page), describing the heartache of the Nawar people in Palestine. The article points out how the Palestinian gov't is destroying the venues in which the Nawar traditionally perform and the social backlash that they endure.

Aziyade and Tarik has mentioned how gov't policies disrupted the lives of the Nubian people in which most of their cultural contribution to Egyptian society was almost erased. Even upper class people wish to believe and have us believe that the folkloric contribution of ordinary people are not worth learning. So in a certain extent I would agree that we should hold the power-mongers accountable to certain standards of authenticity when it comes to Oriental Dance. But how would we accomplish this goal as dancers?
Looking for the Real Deal

After my last post, I was wondering what would I do if I treveled to Turkey, Egypt or Lebanon, in search of finding real people expressing the culture?
So for those of you who well-traveled, what are some of the tips you would give to dancers?
How can we tell if what is presented is actually real?


chryssanthi sahar

New member
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 :)
Maria honey, I have to intervene here. What Dora Stratou dance theater is showing is partially original and partially the "school" version of our Greek folk dances. Many of our Greek dances have two versions, the version that people in the areas those dances come from dance and the official version which is taught at schools (and danced by Dora Stratou;) ). "Tsamiko" for example: in Thessalia where it is very spread, it is danced in a totally different way from what we learned at school (I know because my dad comes from a village in Thessalia and I've been watching original Tsamiko quite often). Nevertheless both versions are Greek folk dances. So, I suppose that something similar happens with the Egyptian folk dances of the Reda Troupe.

Tarik Sultan

New member
After my last post, I was wondering what would I do if I treveled to Turkey, Egypt or Lebanon, in search of finding real people expressing the culture?
So for those of you who well-traveled, what are some of the tips you would give to dancers?
How can we tell if what is presented is actually real?

Well in Egypt that's not hard. If it looks balletic or there's too much walking and strutting around it aint real. Saudi Arabia's folk dances are 100% authentic from what I've seen. In Leabanon what Carakalla does is very staged, but you can tell because of the balletic elements. I can't always tell with Debkas because there are so many different types. I think Turkey's folk dances are alson accurate, but i suppose if you asked musicians from the particular areas, or better yet the old folks, they could tell you how accurate the stuff is.

It is time consuming, but I think the best thing to do is follow the lead of other researchers in our field and go directly to the various communities and then compare it to what you see on the stage.

Morocco hires the actual people from the various communities to perform their own dances at their folk festival in Marakech. This is why I hang with the local people as much when I travel.