FIFI ABDOU

 

 

 (All the quotes from Fifi in this article are from Francesca Sullivan's interview with her - see bottom of article for details)

 

Fifi Abdou when was she born? I’m sure like most women Fifi doesn’t answer that question. Her exact date of birth is unknown; she’s in her late 50’s.Like a lot of dancers Fifi isn’t her birth name.  She was called Atiaat. She grew up just outside Cairo. Fifi's family were not very well off. Living with a large family made up of more than 12 brother and sisters half of whom where from her father's previous marriage.

 

Fifi was brought up at a time when the great dancers like Samia Gamal, Naima Akef and Tahia Carioca were always on TV and at the box office (how I wish I was around then). Fifi’s mother would take her to the cinema. Fifi wouldn’t stay in her seat long; she would be up dancing along with the films. Her favourite dancers were Tahia Carioca and Naima Akef. Later in life Fifi became very good friends with Tahia.

 

Fifi knew she wanted to dance and it was her calling in life. “My decision to become a dancer was God’s choice. It was absolutely my fate. I had a gift, and knew from a very early age I wanted to be a performer – I was meant to be Fifi Abdou, right from the very beginning.” At 12 Fifi ran away from home with a local folkloric troupe. She was gone from home for a few months until her family finally gave in and allowed her to dance. At only 13, Fifi would dance at weddings in the surrounding villages. Her parents became quite supportive and would take and pick her up from her gigs. The money Fifi earned was a great help to her large family. At only 14, she was forced into an arranged marriage. This didn't stop her in her tracks as the wedding didn't last long!

 

As she got a little older, her good looks grew more beautiful and she started working in five-star hotels and nightclubs. The era of belly dance in clubs had died down, yet Fifi's popularity as a dancer grew. It wasn't long before she was getting more gigs.

 

In her twenties Fifi performed in big solo dance shows with large live orchestras. These shows would attract lots of rich Saudi and Kuwaiti audiences, visiting Egypt on holiday.The shows were a massive success.

 

Also Fifi was working on stage in theatre: dancing, acting and occasionally singing in plays. She did star in some films in the 90's, but by then, the film culture had changed. Films were no longer made about or with dancers. Below are some of the films she starred in. In later life, soap operas, which are very popular in Egypt, is where Fifi excelled.

 

 

 

Click here to see a clip of Fifi in one of her early films dancing along side Nagwa Fouad I love this clip of Fifi dancing.  She is so young and different to how her dance is now. It reminds me of when I first performed (but of course she’s a lot better) and that want of trying your very hardest to impress and show everyone exactly what you can do. When Fifi dances now you can see how much she’s improved and how more relaxed and at one with her dance she is. Now Fifi knows that her dancing is amazing and she has nothing to prove.  

 

1990    Nour al Ayoun, written by Naguib Mahfouz

 

 

1991    El Ferqa

 

1991    Al Mazag

 

 

1992    El Setat

 

1992    Al Qatela

 

 

1993    Maganino

 

 

1994    Qadara

 

1994    Lilat El Qatl

 

 

1995    Darbet Gazaa

 

 

1996    Al Sagha

 

 

2000    Zanqit al-Sittat

 

2001    Hazemni-Ya

 

 

2002    Iddala’i Ya Dousa

 

Fifi is a natural dancer. “No dance teacher ever taught me a step: every movement I have comes from inside.” She's taken the dance and made it her own. Fifi has her own very distinctive individual style of movements, something which I'm very envious of. Dancing with a cane; no one can be better than her. She's a brilliant baladi dancer.

 

Fifi is self-taught in every way; starting dance so young, she never went to school. She taught herself to read and write and also speak English to help her career abroad. Also Fifi is self made. She's an extremely good business woman (she never has less than 6 managers at a time). She was determined to succeed and that she has. Just this determination and refusal to do what a woman is expected to do in an Arab country should automatically make her someone to look up to and respect. I know she's one of my idols. People respect Fifi for being a strong  woman; business minded as well as a the amazing artist that she is.

 

Fifi is an entertainer. She always socialises with her audiences. Originality is key to her shows; one of her more famous dance sketches was a dance with a shisha pipe . However, being known to dance very sexy and flirtatiously has caused conflict with the Islamic side of Egyptian culture.

 

The timing which Fifi became a dancer wasn't the easiest. In the early 70's, a wave of Islamic fundamentalism hit Egypt. This was induced by the affairs and war with Israel. Before then Egypt took a more relaxed approach to religion. Dancing was just taken to be part of the culture. Despite this being the view of the world Fifi Abdou herself claims that she thinks dance is as popular in Egypt as ever. The reason she feels that night clubs aren’t as popular as they used to be is because they don’t employ dancers that the public enjoy or want to see, for example foreign dancers, who lack a real understanding of the dance. Fifi has never had trouble filling her shows with people.

 

This wave of Islam came down hard on dance claiming it to be haram (against Allah (God)). In 1977, nightclubs, where dancers performed, were attacked, and twelve of the fourteen nightclubs of Pyramid Street were burnt down by Islamic extremists. 

 

In 1997, the extremists came down on Fifi. In the month of Ramadan, a time when Muslims fast during sunlight and give offerings of money and help to the poor, known as an Iftar.   It's considered a good deed to offer  Iftar to the poor-except when the charity comes from the likes of Fifi Abdou. Fifi had given a considerably large donation to the poor. But some religious leaders objected saying that "her behaviour shakes the foundations of Islam, and her Iftar offerings are tainted." They also preached that accepting  Iftar or charity from a belly dancer is a sin (despite being poor and starving). This sparked a massive debate in Egypt. Luckily Fifi being the strong woman she is didn't take much care to the criticism. It was something she was used to, having worked as a dancer for many years.

 

Fifi is always in the news, due to confrontations with the police. In 1992 she was accused of hitting a police officer in the face when he tried to book her for speeding. Fifi never leaves home without her body guards. Playing the media is something Fifi knows benefits her career.

 

Regardless of all these difficulties Fifi is one of the richest women in Egypt. She earns approximately ~£200 000 a year now, but at the height of her career she could earn £660 000. Fifi always would invest her earnings back into her dance, Buying costumes, making sure she had the best orchestras and managers. Owning more than 5,000 costumes (lucky), several expensive cars and two much sort after apartments on the Nile.  It's a great achievement for someone from such a poor background.

 

Fifi Abdou has been married five times. She married her present husband, a Palestinian businessman, in 1985. She has three daughters: the oldest is grown up and married; the second, is by her present husband and the youngest, who was 10 years old this year was adopted. The child had first been adopted by Tahia Carioca. But Tahia died when the child was a baby and Fifi agreed to take the girl in as her own. As I said before, Fifi and Tahia Carioca where good friends. Fifi looked up to her.

 

Fifi Abdou retired from dancing in 2004. She is certainly one of the most well-known Egyptian dancers of our time. Fifi has changed the face of the dance. However no one can do it like her when asked about how she felt about the countless dancers who imitate and copy her dance and style, she replied “They do it because they love me. I am a school in myself.  People look at me to learn. …They try their best to imitate me but there can only be one Fifi Abdou." How right because by imitating her you lose everything her dance is about: - originality!

 

I certainly look up to her. Her dance is beautiful, fluid and mesmerising. She's a powerful woman yet extremely kind and giving. Those who criticise her are, I'm sure,  jealous of her power due to fame; her wealth; strength; womanhood and let's face it her unbeatable sexy dancing!

 

Sources: Francesca Sullivan, Fifi Abdou A Legend In Her Own Right, Insight Magazine, 09/2000

CNN, Sin eaters: Sheiks condemn charity meals from bellydance, February 2, 1997

 

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