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Interview with Dr. Mo Geddawi

by Salome

Dr. Mo Geddawi - Oriental dance star. Dr. Mo Geddawi began studying ballet at the age of ten in various Cairo ballet schools and abroad. His education in the arts was furthered by attending courses on the history of Egyptian and Arabian dances, oriental music and rhythms, ethnology, choreography, dramatic acting, mime, comedy, stage design, folklore and other related subjects.

Mo is the co-founder of the "Reda Dance Troupe". As a soloist and choreographer, he worked with Mahmoud Reda on new concepts and special styles that brought the "Reda Troupe" to its present standing.

He has performed and choreographed for Egyptian, German and Lebanese television including his 4 year involvement in the weekly TV show "Beirut by Night".

Mo taught Oriental Dances in Munich, Germany and founded the "Hathor Dance Troupe" in Berlin. He has produced many Oriental and folklore dance shows in Berlin theaters and other European cities. He also studied, performed and toured with the dance company "Casino De Paris", choreographed and performed in the musical "The Boyfriend" for the American Repertory Theatre, and in "Faust" for the Lebanese Modern Theatre.

Mo taught Egyptian folklore dances at the American University of Beirut and at the Beirut Collage for Women. He has been giving workshops, courses, seminars and lectures on Egyptian folklore and oriental dances in Europe, USA, Australia, Asia and the Middle East for many years.

Mo received the recognition award of art from the Egyptian ministry of culture for his contributions to the development and improvement of Egyptian dance, and the achievement award from the Royal Academy of Belly Dance in San Francisco. He is also an Honoree of the Hall of Fame (A.A.M.E.D.).

Salome: You were such an integral part of the Reda Dance troupe! You mention your participation as bringing new concepts and a special style to the troupe. Can you elaborate on that? Also, would you classify the Reda troupe and the work you did as (primarily) folk inspired theater or replications of folk dance?

DR. Mo Geddawi: Folklore includes dance, music, song, folkloric characters, fairytales and costumes etc. The Reda troupe presented all of these in dance form on the stage. For example: Bayaa El Erksous - presenting the licorice juice seller, a folkloric character; Milaya dance - presenting the behavior of Egyptian women, who wear the traditional milaya costume; El Nay El Sehry - the magic flute presenting a fairytale love story between a poor young peasant and the rich daughter of an influential village mayor.

Other typical folkloric dances like Saidi cane dance, Haggalla, Fallahi etc. were modified for stage performance. Mr. Mahmoud Reda, the founder of the Reda Troupe is a brilliant choreographer, who succeeded in presenting the above mentioned folklore in a way that reflected the real thing without loosing authenticity. The Egyptian audiences admired the Reda troupe especially for that reason. In that respect the Reda troupe could be categorized as folk inspired theater.

Since I am one of the co-founders of the Reda Troupe and was the first male dancer to join Mr. Mahmoud Reda, I had the privilege of being a part of the process in establishing the troupe. I contributed ideas and my authentic dance style, being a saidi. I had the pleasure to work with Mahmoud, who is a brilliant artist and a good friend.

I'd like to relate the following story in order to make readers aware of the facts, truth and ethics of dance. At a dance event I attended, in the capacity of a principal teacher, participants told me that another dance teacher taught them the Milaya as women dance it in the streets of Alexandria. I was shocked to hear this and tried not to loose my temper in order to avoid offending a colleague. I told the participants that they probably misunderstood the teacher because there is no 'Milaya dance', which women do in the streets. Milaya is the national dress of lower middle class Egyptian women in big cities like Cairo and Alexandria. A Milaya dance is a choreographic interpretation of the movement behavior of women wearing the milaya. A good choreographer will reflect this movement behavior and character of women wearing the milaya to look real.

Salome: You have done quite a bit of choreography for television shows and movies. When you are working within the context of TV and film how does the story line and director influence the dance piece you create and how much? Do the dancers have input? Does the director get involved in the essence, feeling, movement, costume etc.?

DR. Mo Geddawi: In television and film there is teamwork involved. The choreographer is an integral member of the team, which also includes the director, the scenarist, the editor, the producer, and many other figures.

In Egypt (not in Hollywood) there are three scenarios. With television shows, the director will brief the choreographer about the storyline and the dance concept. The choreographer will then have full freedom and time to choreograph the dance(s). The director may have, for the sake of shooting, some influence on the dance directions or focus but not on the steps or movement combinations.

In dance films, the choreographer is the most influential person; he can dictate shooting angles and influence the editing.

In feature films where there is a star dancer with dance scenes and an acting role the director is the big boss and he dictates everything. Usually in the older films, staring Tahia Carioca or Samia Gamal, there was no known choreographer. The dancers were instructed by the director to move from this point to that or to move in a circle. The dancer, however, did her own dance movements and steps. This was common for short scenes. In extreme cases the director will tell the dancer to do 3 steps to the right then execute a long shimmy until the director tells her to stop. Terrible! If there are group dances in the film the director will engage a choreographer.

Despite the influence of film directors, I believe that the dances of Carioca, Samia and other star dancers on film were authentic. Those dancers always danced their own individual style. Remember we are talking about oriental dance, which is an individual dance and which encompasses more than just steps and movement. There are feelings, expressions, presence, communication, dance tactics and other components that make the dance authentic. After all, what is authentic today is different from what was authentic a couple hundred years ago.

Salome: Having witnessed first hand, what do you think about the Egyptian dancers and music of Tahia Carioca's era compared to present day Cairo? Do like the direction it has gone? And what direction is that? How has the dance scene evolved over the years? Who are your current day favorites?

DR. Mo Geddawi: I was privileged to witness and experience Tahia Carioca's era or what we call the golden age (Late 20's to early 60's). During that period all of the arts flourished and produced stars in all forms: star authors, star composers, star dancers, star actors, painters etc. There was economic and political stability.

It was a particularly new era for dance because it was being performed for the first time on stage in music halls. This required the dancers to choreograph or at least to plan their dances in advance before performing them. Also there were dance pioneers like Badia Masabni, Samia Gamal and Naima Akif, who added new styles to oriental dance. There was competition, which improved the dance quality and costuming. Many stars had the opportunity to become known and popular to the masses through film.

The music and songs of the golden age were characterized by being slow and with many repetitions of music phrases. Audiences were relaxed and had time to enjoy it.

Like the rest of the world, things changed and we are in what I call the fast food period. A new lifestyle, which is not particularly healthy, has time pressure, materialism and speed. The music became faster, loud and with stronger accents and dancing has to follow. Every period, however, has its characteristics. If we accept this, we will enjoy it. I do not want to live in the past. I enjoy the present; however, some times I think of and miss the past. This is the beauty of oriental dance though, it is a dance for all periods and all ages.

On the top of my list of favorite present dancers are Fifi Abdou, Dina, and newer dancers Randa, Sorraya, Katia and Nancy.

Salome: You've developed and established your own oriental dance technique; tell us about that and your philosophies on the "basic laws of body expressiveness".

DR. Mo Geddawi: What does dance technique mean? Dance technique is a teaching technique. It is your approach to teach someone to do a step or movement. So a dancer cannot claim to have her own dance technique, however, she can claim to have her own dance style. A teacher can only claim that she or he has their own dance teaching technique if they are able to define it in detail and to explain it to the students in an understandable and comprehensive way.

I claim that Oriental Dance is very easy and very simple. People say wow, that is not true. I say "if you can walk, you can dance". Many people have forgotten how to walk naturally. This is because of stress, inhibitions, social and psychological problems etc. As a result people walk hunched over, with lifted shoulders or collapsed in the ribs. This means that many of us cannot walk naturally any more. So we have to correct our walking and return to natural movement.

My oriental dance technique is based on 5 components: Foot work, Breathing technique, Energy distribution and control, Basic movements and steps and Manipulation of movements and steps. This technique includes explanations and exercises to teach dancers how to coordinate the different components and to understand the individual freedom possible within this technique. It is a comprehensive training method, which developed over many years of observation and understanding. The introduction to my technique is already published in a DVD and will be published in a book in the near future.

Salome: The Hathor Dance Company: who are your principal dancers, what is the repertoire, how much do your dancers train? What are your future goals for the company?

DR. Mo Geddawi: The Hathor Dance Troupe is named after the ancient Egyptian Goddess of fertility, love, dance and music. The goals of the Hathor Dance Troupe are internationalisation of Egyptian and oriental dances. To teach and train Germans and other nationalities living in Germany, who are interested in Egyptian and Oriental culture. And to perform Egyptian and oriental dances to show the European public the beauty of these colourful dances, and also to give Egyptians and Arabs living abroad a piece of their own culture.

These goals have been successfully accomplished through many successful performances during cultural events and festivals. The Hathor Dance Troupe has performed in famous theatres like Urania theatre, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Max-Beckmann-Saal and Ernst-Reuter-Saal in Berlin. The Hathor Dance Troupe has also performed together with the Reda Troupe at Palast Hotel in Berlin (March 1990). Presently the members of the Hathor Dance Troupe are reckoned among the best dancers and dance teachers of Egyptian and oriental dances.

There were and are several principal dancers of different nationalities in the Hathor dance troupe. At the beginning (1986-1990) the principal dancers were Beate Ceffuentes (German), Lorraine Mutke (American), and Donna Reynold (American). In the 90ís, Silvia Klinge (German), Sabine Kube (German), Gabi Beege (German), Randa Asabgui (Egyptian), Odile Cachia (French), Carole Jossien (French). The current principal dancers are Ayten Xavier (Turkish), Manuela Prelicz (German), Gul Toranli (Turkish) and Nanae Kato (Japanese).

The Hathor dance troupe repertoire is very rich and presents all the varieties of Egyptian dance and some Arab dances. There are four DVDs available on the market of Hathor shows.

The troupe works every Sunday, however, before shows they work more often plus I work separately with the soloistís, especially on choreographies. The group is continuing although we have fewer shows now due to my other engagements. My concept, which is to train as many dancers as possible will continue.