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(1st profile and analysis of the three famous Egyptian dancers of the 1980s and 1990s)
Fifi Abdou Background
Fifi Abdou (فيفى عبده) was born in 1953 (Shams, 2016) and started dancing at the age of 12 (Shams, 2016), becoming a soloist in a folklore troupe at the age of 13 (Selene, no date).
In 1968, at the age of 15, she was already performing a dance scene in the movie Lestu Mostahtira (I’m not responsible) (TheCaroVan, 2014e).
However, the peak of her career was in the 1980s and 1990s. She stopped performing in 2004 (Selene, no date), but today she is still very active in the international festivals circuit where she teaches and performs for raqs sharqi practitioners all over the world, for example, at The Global Bellydance Conference in 2013 in China (Dance for Unity, 2013).
Fifi Abdou is, just ahead of Samia Gamal, is the most googled belly dancer from worldwide searches, according to the Google keyword planner results.
This amount of popularity is not just due to her dance ability, but mostly to her acting career.
She decided to become an actress so that people would recognise her (Adum, 2011b) and ‘in Egypt . . . she has made dozens of movies and TV series, often in the lead role’ (Sullivan, 2009, paras 10, 11). Fifi Abdou is also famous for her feisty and strong personality and for her colourful private life.
The dancer Selene (no date, para. 6) writes about her:
Glamorous as Fifi is, she remains at heart the typical “Bint Al Balad,” . . . Fifi certainly has broken ground in both the media and with the authorities, having gotten away with stage routines for which a less famous dancer would surely face problems with the morality police . . . many Middle Eastern women look up to her because of her boldness . . . on the stage in Dallas . . . her smile radiated to the back corners of the room, along with her legendary sense of humor.Selene (no date, para. 6)
Movement Analysis of Fifi Abdou’s Dance Style
Table 28 summarises my analysis of Fifi Abdou’s style.
The most salient characteristic of her style is being relaxed, grounded and yet strong, with a distinct baladi feeling, as other practitioners also point out (Marita Fahlén, no date; profilerk, no date; Maya, 2011).
As Joana Saahirah stated in her interview: ‘Some dancers embody a specific style. Fifi Abdou’s baladi’. Her style is also minimalistic.
She does very few movements but extremely well and without moving much in space (although on occasions she can be more dynamic).
As Selene argues ‘Fifi Abdo is often criticized for her limited repertoire of movements, but she makes the most of them’ (Selene, no date, para. 7).
In 5.6.4, I will analyse Fifi Abdou’s choices using theories from my conceptual framework and I will compare her to the other most relevant dancers from this timeframe.
Videos Samples Used and Analysis of Fifi Abdou
I have selected three video samples of her dance and these are
- A live performance from a show in 1986 at Mena House, a hotel in Cairo (Marita Fahlén, 2009).
- The 2000 movie Zane’t el Setat (Women’s Market) (TheCaroVan, 2015a). In this film, Fifi plays the part of a woman who wants revenge on the men who were involved in the death of her sister. I have chosen this scene, as the character epitomises Fifi’s dance persona, sexy, self-confident and baladi.
- A live show in the Sheraton Hotel in Cairo, in which she is performing her iconic shisha dance. Fifi Abdo is the first dancer who used the shisha pipe as part of her dance/comedy routines.
In the first video, she is wearing a bedlah and it is a raqs sharqi performance, but with a strong baladi feeling.
In addition to her style as described earlier, it is possible to notice that she mimics the words of the songs while she dances and uses hand gestures that hint at meaning in the songs.
She is the first dancer I have noticed doing that. This is a trend that she seems to have started and which was continued by Dina, Randa and other modern dancers.
Also, Fifi dances with big orchestras and sometimes there are male dancers in the background to accompany the start of her performance, a trend which started in Nagwa Fouad’s productions.
As noted before for Nagwa Fouad and Soheir Zaki, having a big orchestra to back a dancer up increases his/her symbolic capital or prestige, the resources at his/her disposal and influences their presentation of self-identity.
Fifi’s strong personality is reflected in the way she dances and in her very powerful stage presence, she is ‘passionately earthy, energetic’ (El Safy, 1993b, para. 4).
Several practitioners, I have interviewed for this research express quite similar opinions about Fifi:
From Fifi Abdou [I got] the power, the strength, the ‘I don’t care what anyone else thinks, this is me, take it or leave it’, that kind of ‘don’t mess with me’, ‘this is who I am, this is what I am’. (Lorna)
She’s very earthy and does very little, but everybody gets drawn, you just have to look at her face and you are there with her. (Ann)
You can’t help watching her, she is pretty mesmeric, isn’t she? (Helen)
I like Fifi because . . . she is quite confident and relaxed at the same time. (Elindia)
Research Participants (PhD of Dr Valeria Lo Iacono)
For Selene (no date, para. 11) Fifi Abdou is not just a dancer but ‘she’s a total entertainer. . . . She is about stage presence and showmanship and smiling. . . . She has great feeling and audience interaction’. Lorius (1996, pp. 286, 287) comments that Fifi Abdou is:
Skilled at expressing moods, musical motifs and words with consummate bodily movements and playful gestures, Abdou incorporates the latest manifestations of popular musical culture, components of baladi and jeel (youth) style, such as rap, wit and street humour to entertain her audience.Lorius (1996 )
Audience Interaction and Confidence
Smiling, having fun, joy, audience interaction, confidence are keywords that appear continuously in the Egyptian raqs sharqi discourse.
In addition, with Fifi Abdou, the ideas of charisma and stage presence emerge in the discourse, since she mastered those skills.
The importance of the dancer/audience interaction and of kinaesthetic empathy comes to the fore once again.
As highlighted through the quotation below by Joana, charisma is also a matter of self-identity presentation and of increasing a dancer’s symbolic capital and prestige in the field:
Egyptian audiences appreciate, very much . . . charisma . . . you can be the greatest dancer in the world. If that charisma, if that presence, if that energy, is not there, you’re going to have a hard time . . . using your charisma has to do with self-confidence. And warmth.Research Participant (PhD of Dr Valeria Lo Iacono)
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