I was 16 and it was summer vacation which meant I was hanging out at the community pool most of the time when Sahra called. She was on her way to meet with Farida Fahmy and a few other dancers to rehearse for a show they were going to perform at the 1st Arab-American Festival. The Reda Troupe was supposed to come from Egypt to perform but there was a problem with their visas. So Farida, who was living in Los Angeles and attending her Master’s Degree program at UCLA with Sahra, decided she was going to choreograph some dances for Sahra, Kamala Almanzar and a few other dancers to perform.
I had just come home from the pool for lunch like every other day of summer vacation when Sahra called. She said she was on her way to rehearse with Farida and asked if I wanted to go with her. She suggested that it would be a good time for me to finally meet Farida in person since I had only heard about her from Sahra’s many stories and it would give me something to do. Of course I decided to go with her!
Sahra passed by and picked me up at my house in Fullerton, (I was only 16 remember and didn’t drive yet!) and we drove up to Pasadena to meet with Kamala, Latifa, Amira and Farida. I hung out and watched Farida mount the choreo on them. At that point there were only 4 dancers and Farida wanted 5 because it looks better for the choreography. So I stood in for the 5th dancer while they were decided who to ask to fill that spot. The dance movement style that Farida uses is of course based in the Reda style and even though at the time I knew nothing about it, the style fit me like a glove- It felt so natural to me! I learned the dances quickly and so enjoyed dancing them. It felt like I was gliding around the dance studio.
We spent the rest of the day finishing up the choreography which I had memorized by then and Sahra took me home. The following day I get a phone call from Sahra, “I just got off the phone with Farida and we were talking about who the 5th dancer should be and she wants you to do it.” “But I’m not a professional dancer!” I responded to which Sahra replied, “Farida says you are a natural dancer and you move in a naturally Arabic way and she said that if she could clone you she would.”
That conversation began a 10-day whirlwind of learning 4 choreographies, staying up all night with Sahra making costumes, long drives to UCLA and Pasadena for rehearsals. I ended up on stage performing for the “First Arab American Festival” at the Beverly Hilton hotel. I performed in 4 dances and had less than 1 minute for costume changes (I had so many nightmares about being on stage in my underwear because I didn’t change in time-lol). I also got paid $150 which my dad just could believe. “Do you know how long I had to work before I got paid that much and you’re getting that for your first professional performance!
The show went we and I made it on stage fully dressed and didn’t mess up any of the dances!! If you look real close though you will note the ‘Deer in the Headlights’ look on my face. I got many compliments from Farida as well as her husband Ali Reda and Shareen Reda (Mahmoud’s daughter) who happened to be in town. Later Ali even invited me to come to Cairo and train with the Reda Troupe which I had no idea how powerful that was. Unfortunately, at the time I couldn’t image being away from my family and I certainly wasn’t expecting to be a professional dancer. Had I not gone to that rehearsal that day and jumped into the fire, I’d probably still be lying by the pool instead of writing this blog.
Check out the video which shows some of the dances we performed. You’ll see me enter at 5:46 in the green costume with short hair!