Fanoos chatted with the Legendary Judy Reda about her time in Egypt, her recordings and her memoirs. Oriana: Judy! It's such a privelege to speak with you! I'm really excited to talk about all of your experiences. Judy: First of all, I must say, I appreciate this interview, because at the “Milestone Age”of 80….I’M ABOUT AS VINTAGE AS YOU CAN GET! (Soon I will be a valuable “antique!” LOL) O: Tell Fanoos Readers how you got started in bellydance. You've had some well known instructors! J: (circa1968) I am/was a dancer from the NYC area. While I was still teaching kindergarten in New Rochelle NY, I heard about the legendary SERENA and was fascinated! I took one 30 minute private lesson with her and was immediately hooked for life! (Eventually, years later, I left teaching.)
I was also fortunate to study with “Master instructors” Bobby Farrah and Elena Lentine (taking many privates as well as group lessons) for more than eight years. They were also my very dear friends. I was able to travel extensively to take workshops/lessons with most of the best instructors in the U.S. : Morocco was certainly one of my favorites; Jamila Salimpour, Bert Balladine, Mary Ellen Donald, Ma'Shuqa, Nakish, Darlena Genova and others.
I feel that after getting a firm foundation from one instructor, it is beneficial to study with as many others as possible. This is helpful to enhance and develop your “own” style. NEVER BE A COPY OF ANYONE ELSE!
Way back in the 70’s and even later…..BEFORE THE INTERNET, YOUTUBE, VIDEOS, “ZOOM”, etc….we actually had to TRAVEL to study with instructors in person! Now it is possible to learn from anyone in the world! (This is still amaaaazing to me and I wish I had this “miracle” when I first began to study.) I WANT TO ALWAYS KEEP LEARNING!
O: WOW! Now I know you for one really important fact: you were the FIRST American Dancer to be licensed in Cairo! Tell us all about that process at that time. J: Here are some early memories of my experiences: In 1978, I had a crazy dream to become a dancer in Cairo--I had no idea, how, where or what it would entail! I was the most 'unprepared/naive' dancer to ever attempt this 'irrational' desire! I did not know anything about Egyptian 'style' dance, music, musicians, costumes, nightclub 'systems', and I knew nothing about the language, religion, culture, or way of life in Egypt. At that time, there was no internet, Google, videos, 'how-to' books or people in the U.S. to prepare me. N-O-T-H-I-N-G!
The only advice I received upon arriving in Cairo was from the natives. They were very friendly and curious, but they explained that they had 'enough belly dancers and did not need me!' (This was the last 'golden age' of dance with iconic 'stars' such as Negwa Fuad, Suheir Zaki, Azza Sherif, Fifi Abdu, Mona Said and a young Lucy.)
When people realized that I was determined to pursue my 'dream,' I did get some good advice: first I needed to get my 'artist's license' and secondly, I needed some 'reliable' people to help me, especially being a foreigner, a woman alone and not speaking much Arabic.
The procedure for getting my licence was very different from the arduous, time-consuming, expensive process that foreign dancers had to go through in recent years. Since I was the ***first*** one to get a license to work 'full time' (not just a few weeks), there were no complex rules or restrictions established yet.
Of course it was necessary for me to have an audition in front of a 'board of curious examiners.' This took place in a huge night club, the famous 'Sahara City,' complete with a 'house band' and a large audience. I have vague memories of a big stage, blaring music and blurry images. To my enormous relief, it seemed to go well! I was approved and eventually got my license! 'Alhamdulilah!'
Then someone told me about an agent who got me some jobs and one thing led to another. I even got to work with the star, Lucy at her nightclub 'The Parisiana.' (She was very kind, so much fun to work with and we really enjoyed our time together.)
I had to 'learn on the job' and totally unlearn my years of 'Turkish/Greek' East Coast 70’s vintage style. Just picture me, arriving in Cairo expecting to do a 9/8 Kashlimar (Rompi Rompi) with be-ribboned tambourine and veils (lol). Luckily, I got along well with musicians who were cooperative and gave me helpful hints (greatly appreciated).
Learning to survive on my own was my most important life lesson, no matter how difficult (or scary) the situation. Even now at 80 years young, I often say to myself, 'What a difference my life as a dancer in Egypt was from my previous very comfortable, secure, predictable life as a 'shy, sheltered' kindergarten teacher from New Rochelle, N.Y.!'"
(Judy wrote: Notice pic of me (too skinny for egyptians) as I first came to Cairo with be-ribboned tambourine, ready to do Turkish style dance OMG!) Oriana: I cannot even imagine going to Cairo like that with no idea of anything! But you certainly made some special friends. You were also close to Mahmoud Reda, yes? J: WHAT A SPECIAL PHOTO---ME BETWEEN THE LEGENDARY MASTER
MAHMOUD REDA AND FARIDA FAHIMY ! (1978) BTW: THEY WERE ALSO
THE TWO MOST POPULAR FILM STARS IN THE MIDDLE EAST!
I WAS THE FIRST DANCER TO HAVE A PHOTO BETWEEN THESE TWO
BELOVED ICONS. (Lucky me) I was amused that many Egyptians had tried to
compliment me by saying I “look like Farida.” She is very beautiful, but as you can
see ….no resemblance . Mahmoud had arranged for Farida to give me a tour of the
famous Balloon Theater and to watch the extraordinary Folkloric performance.
WOW! THE TROUPE WAS AT IT’S PEAK AND FARIDA WAS THE STAR!
WHAT A MEMORY!
Mahmoud had also arranged for me to temporarily live with Farida’s parents,
the beloved “mother and father” of the troupe. They were the kindest, most
generous, delightful people, and made me feel very comfortable. Eventually,
Mahmoud recommended that I live in the “residence hotel” Kasr el Nil. This was
very safe for a single woman like me, and it was conveniently located a few blocks
down the street from Mahmoud’s studio. We had many delightful conversations,
filled with his jokes and sometimes advice.
The salary that the Egyptian government paid it’s most popular emissary of their
culture was not even enough to support his wife and child! Luckily, Mahmoud was a
brilliant photographer and could supplement his income. You can see examples of his artistry in the photos he took of me. (included). What a great “eye” he had! I NEVER IMAGINED I WOULD GET TO DANCE IN A SCENE IN AN EGYPTIAN FILM! My friend Mahmoud arranged that also. WHAT AN EXCITING AND UNFORGETABLE EXPERIENCE! It was almost like a dream and I was loving (almost) every minute! I can still hardly believe it when I watch the scene---a “pinch me” moment!
Indeed, I was so fortunate to have MASTER MAHMOUD REDA as a friend. O: Just Incredible! And you mentioned on the phone with me that you are particulary proud of your music recording? J: Creating my JUDY REDA’S EGYPTIAN NIGHTCLUB music recording was like “creating a baby! It was that important to me.
Here’s how it happened. (1981)
After dancing in Cairo since 1978, I knew I would be going back home for a visit to Yonkers, USA. I realized that this would be a good time to record my personal nightclub music. It was my Egyptian drummer/bandleader’s job to arrange for all ten of my musicians to
meet in a recording studio. Organizing a group of “Mohammed Ali St.” musicians who are used to sleeping late during the day, was NOT an easy task! We had to drive around in our van searching for them, hoping they were not “high” on hash! After much STRESSSSSS, we
finally rounded up our band of bleary-eyed musicians all of whom I had grown very fond of after working together as a TEAM! (WHEW!)
Previously, my drummer (the HEARTBEAT of the band) and I had very carefully “arranged” each piece of music to perfectly suit my personal specifications, and most importantly to ENHANCE THE SKILLS OF A DANCER (NOT to show off the skills of the musicians).
This is especially evident in the MASTERPIECE OF A DRUM SOLO (that I helped create.) It still give s me chills after all these years!
Because we had done the show together countless times, my own drummer was able to lead the musicians through the recording ONLY ONCE WITH NO DO-OVERS! THAT SURE WAS A BIG SURPRISE TO ME! I really would have loved for them to keep on recording. (I
was in a state of bliss.) But much to my dismay, at a certain point, they decided enough was accomplished and virtually CHARGED OUT OF THE STUDIO Oh well, I was a bit stunned but also extremely grateful to achieve this much!
MY “MUSICAL CREATION” WAS BORN AND CHANGED MY LIFE FOREVER!
Later, in the U.S., (1984) I had recordings produced. I specifically arranged to have a very slight pause between each track so that the music would be easy to edit according to each dancer’s individual needs. Eventually, in 2001, I sold the rights to HOLLYWOOD MUSIC
CENTER so they could distribute my music all over the world. It is an honor to have some of the most brilliant and legendary dancers in the field agree that it should be a “part of everyone’s library and teaching tools!”
According to them,”It is the next best thing to REAL MUSIC….authentic, vintage and raw!”
I am so proud and grateful that I have been able to make such an IMPORTANT CONTRIBUTION TO THE ART WE LOVE! Part of my heart and soul goes into each recording and I love to share my joyous experience and “touch” lives. This entire process, beginning in a humble Cairo recording studio, and eventually spreading out to the
entire Belly Dance world is the MOST LASTING OF ALL MY ACOMPLISHMENT. IT IS MY PRICELESS LEGACY!
O: And let's be honest, good music NEVER goes out of style! Now let me ask you this, would you change anything about your experience if you could go back and do it again? J: NO, I WOULD NOT! I “FOLLOWED MY BLISS” and it turned out better than I could ever have dreamed. To think that a shy kindergarten teacher, like me, could just suddenly change direction and take “the path less traveled!” I did the best I could with what I had and that meant NO REAL PREPARATION OR VALUABLE EXPERIENCE!! I had no one to help or protect me from physical harm; In those years there were NO CELL PHONES OR INTERNET; THERE WAS NO ONE TO KEEP TRACK OF ME! MY WORRIED PARENTS HAD NO
WAY OF KNOWING MY CONDITION EXCEPT FOR SNAIL MAIL AND AN
INFREQUENT EXPENSIVE OVERSEAS CALL!
I often wondered :” Did I have a GUARDIAN ANGEL LOOKING AFTER ME? I did escape from some pretty “close calls!” WHEW!!!!
My experiences in Egypt turned out to be the most important in my life and led me to where I am right now: lucky to have a “life well-lived” ….AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, I SHARE MY WORLD WITH MY “SOULMATE HUSBAND,” JERRY BECKER.. BTW: He loves everything about the art of Mid-East Dance and is quite educated on the subject. Jerry especially loves macho “tahtib/stick” and sometimes practices in our living room!!! OH MY!
See photos of me as a school teacher, my “worried” parents, blooming into a dancer, and me with “soulmate!”
O: Now my favorite question ever: Tell us your favorite memories! J: IT IS CERTAINLY TOO MANY TO MENTION AFTER 4 YEARS IN EGYPT! (1978-82) But in general, I think of the old saying: “LIVING THE DREAM!” (I HAD SO MANY BLESSINGS.) When I would look at my group of musicians sitting on stage or in our van, wearing the “uniform” shirts I had bought them (white with a black marking), my heart would fill with joy! The guys were also very pleased. “Now everyone will know we work with Madame Judy,” they said with pride. It may not seem like very much, but to me it meant more than I could express! I was very friendly with my band and liked to joke around with them, because that is my natural manner. They often complimented me on my show, which I greatly appreciated. The only person who did not approve of all this camaraderie, was my band leader. He felt I should be more “aloof/removed.” (He was always concerned with my “image” and was very protective.)
AAAHHHHH! More heart-warming memories: WORKING WITH MY TWO “REDA-TRAINED” FOLKLORIC DANCERS FOR MY “TABLEAU” SECTION! This was the second part of my show where we danced a story/theme with three swords (I had brought from the U.S.) While I did a quick change into my “tobe (long dress),” Mamduah and Ali had a great time leaping around in a wonderful “swashbuckling” manner. When I joined in, with my sword special effects (often ad-libbed), it was so much fun we had to keep from laughing! This could not be considered “work!” (At this time, I was the ONLY dancer doing a
“sword” show.) Even after many decades gone by, I still remember them sooooo fondly . Yes, they were also part of my “DREAM.”
Judy Reda is an American Belly Dancer from the NYC area. She started to study in 1968 with the
foremost instructors throughout the United States. She is considered to be an “Inspirational Trailblazer!“
In her long career, she has accomplished many “FIRSTS”:
- Getting a “license” to dance in Egypt (1978-82)
-Having her own band of 10 musicians to travel with her from job to job
- Having 2 former Mahmoud Reda Troupe folkloric dancers to perform with her in the second part of her show (“Tableau”) with swords
- First female dancer to perform a sword dance in Egyptian nightclubs
- Having her own band record her exact nightclub music (that she “arranged”) for her shows
- Was the first to offer ‘her version” of Egyptian-style dance at workshop tours throughout the U.S. and Europe (mid-80’s) offering her own music recording (with notes) to help all students
- This “personal” version of her music,”JUDY (JIHAN) REDA’S EGYPTIAN CABARET MUSIC was later mass-produced and distributed internationally by Hollywood Music center (2004)
-Was the first American to dance in a scene in an Egyptian movie (1982)
-Was interviewed by many Egyptian magazines, newspapers and TV shows
- Wrote extensively about her Egyptian dancing for the original “HABIBI” publication (mid-80s)
-Set up a “Scholarship Fund” to encourage deserving dancers and instructors