Tuesday, April 29, 2014


 Sahra Saeeda is an international treasure, one of the grande dames of oriental dance. She is to Egyptian dance what Howard Carter and his discovery of King Tut's tomb were to the world of archaeology.

She’s taught and inspired thousands of dancers all over the globe during the course of her incredible career.  She is a generous and giving instructor, passionately sharing wealth of knowledge of raqs sharqi and Egyptian folklore, in both her international dance workshops as well as her popular four -part intensive, Journey Through Egypt, which she also presents around the world.  Her incredibly elegant, soft and thoroughly Egyptian style of belly dance is gorgeous, and she performs with command and grace, reflecting an almost otherworldly passion for the dance that is extremely rare. She has always been a huge influence on me, not only as a baby dancer, but also to this very day…and I’m sure many other dancers can say the same thing!

  Sahra is quite possibly one of the world’s leading authorities on Egyptian dance, and her position is unique: though scholarly and thorough in her approach, her writing and field research is never dry or boring because she adores her work.  And unlike almost any other scholars, Sahra didn’t just study the dance in its myriad forms, she lived it.

Sahra at UCLA with Mahmoud Reda & Farida Fahmy
  She is one of a small handful of foreign dancers to have really “made it” in Egypt, becoming a star.  In 1983, a fortuitous chance meeting with The Reda Troupe’s legendary diva Farida Fahmy at UCLA’s Dance Ethnology Masters program where they were both studying, lead to a longstanding and close friendship, which ultimately facilitated Sahra’s move to Cairo.

 Sahra recalls,
“I was doing my Masters Theses on the zeffah – the Egyptian bridal procession- and was asking questions but getting all sorts of different answers. When I asked (Farida Fahmy) about this, she asked me if I knew what cities, villages or areas the people I was talking to were from; or if knew anything about their class, socio-economical group, or that sort of thing.  She told me that the only way I would really find out the answers was to come to Egypt…so I did!”

Sahra with Sayyed Al Joker, in the Le Meriedien days
  In 1989, Sahra departed for Egypt, on what was supposed to be a three month long research trip. Instead, from an audition Fahmy set up, Sahra wound up living and working in Cairo for nearly six years, performing nightly at the chic Le Meridien Hotel doing countless shows with her own orchestra and back up dancers.

  As if that wasn’t enough of an accomplishment on it’s own, in between rehearsals and shows, she used her time to put her extensive scholarly background in Athrolopology and Dance Ethnology to work.   Throughout the years, Sahra’s creative output has been as significant as it is prolific- there are few artists whose body of work can compare to hers. Aside from making terrific performance  & instructional videos and recording music CDs while in Cairo, she also did extensive field research, filming all over Egypt.

Saidi Wedding, shot during a JTE research trip
 Journey Through Egypt is based on her work, study and lifestyle, and has been an absolute must for dancers of all levels for years. Recently, JTE has gone online, providing a much-needed resource   for dancers who really want to understand where these unique folkloric traditions stem from.

 And even more recently, Sahra has started a Kickstarter fundraiser to convert her   extensive library of over thirty years worth research to digital file before they disintegrate- and so they can be put on line.  She has hundreds of audio cassettes and video tapes to digital, so they can be put online, preserved as a resource for anybody- dancers, musicians, scholars, costumers, dance aficionados- to study and enjoy into the future.

“During my time in Egypt, I sought out people to interview about the various dances found throughout the country and more…. from stars to  “lower class” dancers- it doesn’t matter to me, it’s all valid, and all of it needs to be preserved!”,
Sahra says. Taking a breath, she continues,
“Recently I rounded up all of the old tapes that had been scattered about my office and storage unit and my assistant and I found over two hundred cassette tapes packed with research footage on the various dance zones of Egypt!”

Sahra with superstar Fifi Abdou, Cairo, 1990's

There are books in the works, too, which will be presented in both online and hardcopy format.
“ The way I am doing the series of books is similar to my Zeffah Primer. It will be a series, with each book about fifty pages,” she says,

 “The first "volume" of each region will be an overview of the area and the dances within it.  I like to structure my research this way:
1. To note which dances are of the indigenous (non-professional) population in their daily lives

 2. The local professional dancers & musicians and how they dance

 3. How the regional group represents the dances of each area of the country

 4. How Mahmoud Reda and the Reda Troupe represent this region's dances on the theatrical stage

 5. The way the Kowmeyya Troupe does the same

 6. How Cairo entertainers (particularly belly dancers) represent each region’s dances in the professional context of their shows. “

 Though this is a massive undertaking, clearly Sahra is more than enthused   to continue   her important work, her life’s work. The incredible response to her Kickstarter funding project has been more than she could have ever hoped for.

“ Now I can keep returning to Egypt to do even more research!”                               
Bedoiun girls from the Siwa Oasis

  She adds, “And I can also hire a professional videographer and sound person, instead of taking film on my crappy little camera, with the sounds getting drowned out by Cairo traffic! I’ve secured a fantastic interpreter from Aswan who used to work with National Geographic, too!’

 She stops for a moment before admitting,

“I’m so overwhelmed an honored that I get to do this… we’ve reached above and beyond even our Stretch Goals, and everyone has been so generous…. the comments and the things people are saying…well, I’ve actually been sitting here crying with happiness for the past three days!”

 If you would like to make Sahra cry even harder- and help preserve the history of our art for future generations by contributing to this important project, please visit this link, which will be live for only FIVE MORE DAYS:

Keep up with all of the news on Sahra’s JTE Facebook Page here:

In Situ: Sahra in Aswan, Egypt, 2013

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