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Troupe Dancing

Suli Adams

Dance has been a part of human culture from the most primitive times as seen in cave

paintings, all over the world. Cave paintings depict dancing used primarily for ceremonial

purposes or to communicate stories. No singular country can be credited with inventing dance, however, the earliest records showing the origin of dance are cave paintings in India about 9000 years ago, depicting scenes of hunting, childbirth, religious rite, burials and communal drinking and dancing.

Stated in the Times of India April 26 2009: Historians consider belly dance the oldest form of

dance, originated 6,000 years ago, and was practised by many ancient cultures.

The first written records of dance date back to the ancient Egyptians, 3300 BCE. Dance was a

crucial element in festivals for their gods.

Throughout history people have danced for social, cultural and theatrical reasons. Circle and

line are considered to be the oldest formation of dance. Sticks, bones and hand sounds were

used for music and expression. This could be considered as the oldest form of troupe

dancing. Most likely costuming (feathers, hide etc) was similar amongst dancers but

individualized as would have been the dancing, similar but synchronized rather than


Debke, for instance, is a form of social troupe dance. Historians think debke evolved in the

14th century, from the process of house building. Houses were built by stomping on mud and branches. Legend has it that when weather would change, the mud would crack. Family and community would come and help patch it by forming a line, joining hands and stomping the mud into place. This folk dance originated from the Levantine regions, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon. In present times, debke is performed on stage choreographed and costumed as a troupe. Debke is also a popular social dance for weddings and other gatherings. Typically danced in line form, where the first 3 or so dancers perform more energetically (acrobatic, jumps etc) and farther along the line dancers modify according to dress (eg high heels) and abilities (eg mobility, age) however, the stomping is synchronized.

Dance by indigenous Egyptians was and still is primarily improvisation, as this allows the

expression of emotion, physically in the moment. This is the essence of Egyptian dance and

therefore can be danced differently every time. When dancing in groups, such as in folk

dancing, hip and accent movements are generally synchronized.

Mahmoud Reda formalized Egyptian dance with troupes and choreography. Mahmoud Reda

who was a gymnast, trained in ballet, and a dancer with an Argentinian group, that performed and toured the western world. Being Egyptian, Reda envisioned bringing Egyptian dance to the western world. He studied Egyptian folk dances at the source, and formed the Reda Troupe in 1959. Reda’s perspective was that the folk dances would look odd and monotonous to the western world. He refined and brought structure to the Egyptian dance form such that it would appeal to the western world. His choreography combined traditional Egyptian folk dances with western styles such as ballet. Costumes were designed in a similar fashion. The Reda troupe toured the world, 5 international tours and performing for various world leaders. It was due to these efforts, that Egyptian dance has made a great presence worldwide. Heather Ward (Egyptian Belly Dance in Transition, The Raqs Sharqi Revolution 1890-1930) summarizes well in the conclusion of her book:

In general, raqs sharqi was performed solo until the innovation of choreographed group dance and chorus lines sometime prior to the mid-1930s.

The early performers of raqs sharqi were open to incorporating features of non-Egyptian dance genres into their repertoires. It is clear that raqs sharqi absorbed certain technical elements from European and American music and dance. By the mid-1930s, Egyptian raqs sharqi had integrated the western features of choreographed group dance and chorus lines. Additionally, consistent with contemporary trends in Egyptian music, dancers were increasingly accompanied by a large musical ensemble that included a mix of indigenous and western instrumentation. Western influences on dance posture and alignment also became apparent in the 1930s. Other non-native elements that eventually became part of raqs sharqi include elaborate travelling steps and complex arm movements; these are generally considered to be derived from ballet and ballroom dance technique. However, these features are not immediately evident in footage of raqs sharqi performers from the 1930s.

Performers from all over the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey appeared on the stages of

Egypt’s turn-of-the-century entertainment halls, and dance styles from throughout the region

were presented as part of an evening’s program. The important implication is that divergence of raqs sharqi from the dances of the awalim and ghawazi may owe as much to the incorporation of elements of Turkish and other Middle Eastern/North African dance styles as to the assimilation of western dance technique.

As with other aspects of the origin and development of the dance, the history of costuming for raqs sharqi reveals a deliberate integration of foreign elements into an existing indigenous costuming aesthetic, rather than Egyptians simply copying a pre-existing western fantasy costume. An examination of primary source materials from the dawn of the nineteenth century until the end of the 1930s suggests that the basic template of the modern-day raqs sharqi costume, known as the badlah, evolved from an indigenous (though Ottoman-influenced) costuming style, while absorbing foreign innovations, such as European shoes, stockings, and new fabric choices and design elements. This evolution of costuming is consistent with the broader trend of adapting and integrating foreign ideas and influences into a native Egyptian aesthetic.

Egyptian oriental or raqs sharqi is referred to as a woman’s solo by nature, distinguished from traditional folk dance such as debke or hagallah. There are partner dances and supporting dancers behind a principal dancer as seen in some of Samia Gamal movies, and is very common in Bollywood dancing.

A dance troupe is an ensemble of dancers rather than individual soloist, the dance can be

choreographed or group improvisation. A troupe can have a few or many dancers, it can be a student, social or professional troupe. Costuming is usually cheaper and simpler due to the

cost of matching outfits.

Forming a troupe or a dance team takes planning and careful execution. A successful troupe/ dance team is aligned in purpose, focus and priorities. A dance team can be compromised due to conflicting expectations arising from dance personality and/or behavioural personality issues. Some dancers may have strong soloist dance tendencies, in which case perhaps it may be advisable to choreograph a solo section, preferably near the beginning so that the dancer can then relax into the rest of the choreography. Some dancers may have mobility issues that need to be accommodated in the choreography. Dancers come in various shapes and sizes and may have strong preferences in costume styles and colours. Accommodating the dancers, stage movements and choreography can be challenging, and if not managed can lead to conflicts and difficult situations.

For a dance team to be successful, it requires good leadership, be well organized and have

effective communication. A good team leader will address conflicts as soon as possible, be

time efficient and acknowledge everyones accomplishments. Desirable team leader qualities

include demonstrating appreciation, listening, communicating, accommodating, investing in

the team, leading with empathy, demonstrating integrity and commitment, and embracing

failure with dignity.

The dance team should be focused, have a shared vision, where everyone contributes and

supports and encourages each other. Being respectful of everyone, providing constructive

feedback, dancers knowing their part and having a deep connection to the dance, having fun together and celebrating accomplishments helps bond the team.

Qualities that contribute towards a good team member include being flexible which may

require compromising to collaborate. Active listening, sociable, share ideas, problem solving, effective communication and positive attitude are desirable qualities. Lack of motivation and negativity can compromise a dance team.

The selection of a dance team is not always an option, but in cases where an audition is used,the criteria for selection maybe a balance between dance technique and personality.

A troupe has many advantages, it builds a community, friendships and a sense of belonging. It provides a great opportunity for students to partner and learn from more experienced dancers, builds confidence as there is safety in numbers.

Troupe dancing extends creativity in drama and contrast beyond what a soloists can achieve

for example the attached videos of the Mayyas, a Lebanese female dance troupe that won at

America’s Got Talent

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