Tuesday, June 3, 2014

My dearest (Master Mahmoud Reda): how we met*

Mahmoud Reda as a little child. I have this photo printed and cut by Mahmoud´s hands. So precious! Love the pose, the "cravate", the melancholic look on his face...
It´s hard to speak - or write - rationaly when it comes to Mahmoud Reda. Anyone who´s into Egyptian Dance knows - by heart - who he is, what he represents and the legacy he has already left us.Yes, I know: Mahmoud Reda is a symbol of something great: an icon: The Father of Egyptian Folklore: all that and then some.
 Because of HIM, Egyptian Folclore was recognized as an ART form - good enough for the greatest stages in the world. That says it all.
Nonetheless, I am lucky to know the PERSON behind the Artist and the Teacher. Having received  his friendship, support, inspiration, company and teaching was one of the most precious gifts Egypt has given me. Many people ask me how we´ve met - and many others make up stories about it (as usual). I don´t care - especially when the subject is my dear Mahmoud.
Here´s the thing: I´m a black sheep - always been and always will be. Although I´ve learnt Egyptian Folclore directly from Mahmoud´s hands, I refused to copy him or teach according to his method (as other dancers who studied/worked with him do).That doesn´t mean I respect him less - it only means I have my own identity and I´ve learnt - from Mahmoud  - that discovering and sharing MY language is what makes me as an Artist and a Teacher. It also means I know copies won´t do the trick: there´s only ONE Mahmoud Reda. That, ladies and gentlemen, I call RESPECT.
Now: back to where we started:
I first met Mahmoud Reda at "Ahlan Wa Sahlan" Festival in Cairo but none of us connected at this time: he was too busy with hundreds of students begging for photos and kisses and I was too busy learning.
Then came Cairo and my first contract to dance with my own orchestra. I was alone (no manager, no empresario, no maps, support or guidance: nothing but me, my guts and God) and I needed to create daily shows (1 hour of solo performance) that were entertaining and rich for my audiences.
I already knew a bit of folclore but not enough to fill endless hours of daily shows for the upcoming years. So I headed directly to the lion´s mouth: Mahmoud Reda´s studio in downtown Cairo, an old building where the original "Reda Troupe" used to make rehearsals.
I applied for several private lessons - starting with "Tahtib" - and hoped to learn the best material from the BEST - simply the best. After we´ve finished the first lesson, I handed the payment to Mahmoud and he refused. He REFUSED (!) to be paid for his work. I couldn´t believe it! After all I´d already seen in Egypt, all the soulless ambition and greed, this great master was offering me a class for free. More...after he refused my money, he gently put his hand on my shoulder and told me:
-I cannot receive money from you. It´s an honour to teach you. My studio is your place: come whenever you wish and tell me what you want me to teach you.  
I think my mouth was open for days and nights after that. Someone offering me this gift and asking nothing in return ("Am I still in Egypt?! - I asked myself).
After that day, he was faithful to his word and offered me even more than he had promised.
I started to study and work with him but more important than that was the FRIEND and SUPPORTER I found in him. More than 50 years of age separate us and yet it feels like we´re twin brothers - we giggle, exchange jokes, share ideas and dance as new born babies: his brain is fresher than mine and his enthusiasm for dance, music, art and life is the brightest I´ve come across.
Mahmoud never promoted me (after all, I wasn´t following his style or pedagody, except when I assisted him in his workshops) or had any contact that could help me in my career but he was PRESENT whenever I needed him; he made me watch, listen, feel, learn precious diamonds that no money can buy; he sat silently (with the patience of a saint) watching me practice just because "he liked to see me move..."; he pushed me to choreograph ("I hate it, Mahmoud - I can´t do it!" - "Oh, yes, you CAN. Do it for me!"); he RECOGNIZED talent in me and never refrained to tell me so.
The luxury of watching him teach and choreograph just a few inches from him; the amazement of listening and feeling music through his ears and soul...the pleasure of working with a genius who also happens to be a fabulous human being...ah...
Above all: he loved me like a grandfather and never failed to deliver the tenderness and friendship that healed all wounds in my heart and rebuilt my hope.
Now that I´m travelling the whole world to perform and teach and don´t have the privilege of his frequent presence, I appreciate him even more and apply all I´ve learnt with him in my work and life.
Always in my dance and in my heart.

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