Pinky Selim is a successful banker, mother and folk dance teacher. During his undergraduate studies at the American University in Cairo (AUC), Selim took an active part in the university’s folk club, which was committed to preserving folk dance and performance. After graduating from college, she found herself unwilling to part ways with dancing. So, as she climbs the ranks of the banking industry, she continues to fan the planes of her passion for folklore and folk dancing. Through coordination with the AUC Alumni Office and with their unwavering support, the AUC Alumni Folk Group came into existence in 2013 with the sole purpose of “reviving the art”.
BANKER BY DAY, DANCER BY NIGHT
Balancing the demands of motherhood, climbing the corporate ladder and reviving a dying art form is an exercise in meticulous planning and a reflection of the inspiring reserves of energy and passion she brings to all aspects of his life. She starts her day at 6 a.m. to get her daughter Clara ready for school, spends a full day at the bank, returns home around 6 p.m. for dinner, homework, and bedtime with her daughter. And then, while others are putting on their pajamas, she puts on dance leggings and heads to one of the various dance studios where she teaches to spread the love of folk dancing. On weekends, Selim spends hours with the AUC Alumni Folklore Group in a rented studio to space out their choreography and practice for their upcoming shows.
REVIEW OF THE HISTORY OF CONTEMPORARY FOLKLORIC DANCE
When Selim speaks of folklore, she does so in a suave tone; his usually energetic voice softens with admiration and reverence. In the same way that one would talk about the birth of a nation, Selim tells us about the beginning of contemporary Egyptian folk dance, first popularized by dancer Mahmoud Reda after the creation of the Reda troupe in 1959.
“All over the world, nation states have dedicated national projects to the practice and, by extension, to the preservation of the country’s heritage through folklore,” Selim told CairoScene. “Folk dance and music, lessons in folk tales, and even making folk clothes are some of the concentrations offered at these schools, and upon graduation from these institutions, the most successful students become part of the folk troupe. who travels the world to play and proudly represent the heritage of their country.
After joining an Argentine folk dance group in his youth, Reda realized that not only such an organization or school did not exist in Egypt, but there was no unified “Egyptian” folk dance. strictly speaking. Egypt is almost exceedingly rich in culture and heritage; each street has its own traditions and identity, not to mention each village, town or governorate. How do you represent such a diverse nation with just one dance routine?
To answer this question, Mahmoud Reda made a tour of Egypt, spending weeks and sometimes months in dilapidated alleys and incredible villages, from Sinai to Matrouh, from Cairo to Luxor. He covered most of Egypt in his search for folk tales and folk dancing. Reda learned everything from tahteeb, a fusion of martial art and dance that the Upper Egyptians inherited and preserved from ancient Egypt, to fallahi, a form of dance practiced by women farmers in the Nile Delta. Once Reda felt he had collected enough hereditary and cultural dances, he returned to Cairo to found the Reda Troupe.
“For you, as an audience, to be attracted to dance is difficult. When performed poorly, dance can be very alienating and repetitive,” says Selim. see that as two people hitting each other with sticks without understanding its context.Mahmoud Reda’s genius stemmed from his ability to merge the movements that represented each governorate and make a dance out of them.The most distinctive element of Mahmoud’s folk dictionary Reda, which we all follow to this day, is classical ballet, closely followed by raqs sharqi, so he created this dictionary that respected, taught, celebrated and loved folklore and is still used to create a precedent all over the world.
“REVIVING THE ART” THROUGH THE AUC ALUMNI FOLKLORE GROUP
“I started the group by contacting other AUC alumni who were dancing,” Pinky recalls. “Then the group grew and I also started reaching out to dancers outside of AUC. We’re an amateur group but that’s part of the charm. I have people from so many different generations. I can put dancers as young as 15 and as old as 52 on the same stage, all they want is to perform the dance they love and have other people fall in love with it too.
The AUC Alumni Folklore Group is not funded by any entity. Her various bills are paid by Pinky Selim herself, while the AUC Alumni Office lends the AUC Tahrir Campus studios as practice space before major performances. The group mainly rents out different studios across Cairo for more laid back workouts. The folk group regularly holds full two-and-a-half-hour shows at the Ewart Memorial Hall in the AUC Tahrir Cultural Center.
Everyone in the band has to take care of school, college, work or the kids, but they are so intensely passionate about preserving this Egyptian heritage that they take the time to attend practices and to happen, all without any expectation of profit. The money that comes from their performances is used to balance rental and costume costs, while the actual revenue goes to the AUC Scholarship Fund to help students study at AUC, like this has been the case for the past nine years.
“I’ve danced through every genre you can think of for 12 years. Classical ballet, hip hop, Latin, jazz, contemporary, Argentine tango, I’ve done it all,” says Selim. these dance genres, but I think folk dance is under enough threat right now that it will soon decline unaided, along with other forms of authentic Egyptian arts and heritage. Regardless of social class or education, the younger generation as a whole is growing up not knowing what our art is, and I mean all of our art. There are centers out there trying in vain to preserve our heritage crafts. For example, one of the costumes worn in a specific folk dance is made using something called tal asyouti, which is created by embroidering silver into the fabric. Before, it was accessible and easy to find, but today, I can’t find it anymore. The device was turned off.
Like a flame, the spirit of folk dancing needs to be nurtured; By rehearsing, recording and promoting their performances, the AUC alumni folk group combats the threat of oblivion that this art form would otherwise face. As long as people are watching and talking about it, the fledgling dance troupe knows they’re doing everything they can to carry on the torch.