[also spelled “Abdou” or “Abdu”]
Dancer, Actress, and Celebrity
“Sometimes the most beautiful poetry is only four lines long”
by Fifi Selene
(from the DVD case of Fifi Abdo, The Egyptian Star, an interview with the star and from “Fifi Abdou: A legend in her own right,” Insight Magazine, September 2000)
Fifi Abdo is in her late fifties (she is a Taurus, but her exact date of birth is unknown). She is about 5 feet 5 inches tall, although she seems taller. Her birth name was Atiaat. She grew up in a village outside Cairo, where her father was a policeman. Her mother stayed at home taking care of Fifi, her five brothers and sisters, and six other children of her father’s. As a child, Fifi watched films featuring Tahia Carioca, Naima Akef, and Samia Gamal and imitated their every move. (Fifi’s favorite was Naima Akef. She also admired Tahia Carioca, whom she plans to play in an upcoming movie.)
Fifi Abdo was determined to become a dancer. At the age of 12, she ran away from home with a neighbor’s daughter who was a dancer in a folklore troupe. Her parents eventually gave in to her resolution to dance, and after Fifi worked with the troupe for awhile, she became a soloist at the age of 13. She was tall for her age and well developed, and had the looks of a model; people called her “The Filly.” She began dancing at weddings and performing at five-star hotels with her mother in tow.
Fifi Abdo claims that no dance teacher ever taught her a step; every movement she has comes from inside. She never attended school but has taught herself to read and write and to speak English (her broken English was very understandable during the workshop in Dallas TX May 2007). Fifi has a strong personality, on stage and off, which has earned her a reputation for toughness. She has had no less than six managers. She spends as much time in the courtroom as on the dance floor and never goes anywhere without her bodyguards. But Fifi’s business sense and willingness to work hard for what she wants has paid off: She earned approximately 1.1 million euros between 1993 and 1996; she has certainly made more than $400,000 dollars a year. She owns more than 5,000 costumes, several Mercedes, and two apartments on the Nile.
Fifi Abdo has been married five times. The first time was an arranged marriage when she was 14 years old. As of 2000, she was still with her fifth husband, a Palestinian businessman whom she married in 1985. She has three daughters: the oldest is grown up and married; Hanadi, the second, is by her present husband and is studying political science at the American University of Cairo; and the youngest, who was 3 years old in 2000, is adopted. (The adoption was in all the papers, as the child had first been adopted by Tahia Carioka. But Tahia died when the child was a baby and Fifi agreed to take the girl in as her own. She is being sent to the best English speaking school in Cairo.)
Fifi Abdo stopped dancing 2004, yet at the end of her dance career she was considered the best of the “Big Three,” along with Dina and Lucy. She is certainly one of the most well-known Egyptian dancers of our time. Glamorous as Fifi is, she remains at heart the typical “Bint Al Balad,” the village girl in the big city, as those lucky enough to talk with her during the Dallas workshop can attest to. Beginning in the 1990s, he has also gained acclaim for her theater, television, and movie acting. Her work has often been provocative, leading to frequent controversy and making her one of the most talked-about Egyptian celebrities. 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. Although some frown on Fifi because of the frequent controversy she stirs up, many Middle Eastern women look up to her because of her boldness. Fifi’s success has made her one of the wealthiest women in Cairo, yet she is known for helping those less fortunate (see “Fifi in the News” below). Fifi Abdo says, “Dance is the one thing in my life I’ve really loved….It has given me everything.” Certainly one look at her on the stage in Dallas is testimony to that. Her smile radiated to the back corners of the room, along with her legendary sense of humor.
Fifi Abdo is often criticized for her limited repertoire of movements, but she makes the most of them:
Amazing alternating shimmy. She moves her knees when she wants it to be extra big, but the movement does not originate from her legs ("No legs!").
Hand movements. There are many, that were taught at the workshop. Slapping her head and her hip at the same time is probably the most well known.
Cane. Her most famous move is the backbend with the double-sided twirl, also kicking the cane into a spin.
Jewel (snake with a “hook” in the middle).
Jumps/hops/foot taps. She does a little jump before she starts spinning (especially for her ending).
Hiking up of her skirt or fiddling with her bra straps (more of a nervous habit?).
Pelvic circles. Of all sizes and intensities.
Dance Characteristics She’s a total entertainer. Usually she is flirtatious or playful rather than sexy, although she has a colorful reputation. Her style is very loose and improvisational ("I don't know how to do choreography"), and is much more about interpreting the music than about presenting perfect dance combinations – her moves are very simple; now that she is older she walks around charming the audience and occasionally busts out a shimmy; in her drum solos she doesn’t hit every beat. She is about stage presence and showmanship and smiling. It is very important to her that everyone in the room has a good time. She mostly sticks to the same favorite moves (relies on her shimmy a lot to interpret the music) but occasionally shows her range. Her hands usually don’t do much (her fingers are usually apart), but they can be graceful when she wants to be; her feet are the same. She has great posture and arm carriage. She has incredible control of her hip and stomach movements and great jiggle. She does spins. She has great feeling and audience interaction; she usually takes the microphone and talks to the audience during her show; and she makes sure everyone is paying attention. She mouths lyrics to songs, and sometimes she even sings herself (not while dancing). She looks down at her belly for a long time when she’s shimmying. She plays finger cymbals during part of her show; if she drops them, she turns it into a funny moment. Props: She is also known for her famous shisha pipe dance. She also uses a cane. In one show she was playing with the bow of an oud; she occasionally uses a veil (swish, swish, drop). She has a huge band of 20–45 musicians backing her up (some are women), and one guy whose job it is to hand her a little towel when she wants to wipe sweat off. In one performance on DVD, her musicians formed a makeshift screen when she took off her beledi dress, She sometimes has male backup dancers.
Costumes & Makeup Fifi is rumored to own 5,000 costumes; she herself claims that she owns more than 5,000 dresses alone. Sometimes she dances in high heels and sometimes barefoot. Her costume bras are poorly fitted, according to the American esthetic; they have molded cups but probably no underwire (until the most recent DVD). In general, her breasts don’t get much support from her costumes (many are open-backed). Her shoulder shimmies aren’t really fast—she gets plenty of jiggle without moving her shoulders fast. She wears two to four costumes per show: In one show, she did an intro and a couple of songs with finger cymbals in a cabaret costume; then she changed into a saidi costume and did a saidi number playing finger cymbals; then she appeared in an evening dress for her beledi and cane numbers; then another costume change for another couple of numbers and her finale.
Fifi in the Movies
She is a movie, television, and stage actress. Her film roles (as of 2005) have included: Nour al ayoun, written by Naguib Mahfouz El Ferqa 12 (1991) Al Mazag (1991) El Setat (1992) Al Qatela (1992) Maganino (1993) Qadara (1994) Lilat El Qatl (1994) Darbet Gazaa (1995) Al Sagha (1996) Zanqit al-Sittat (2000) Hazemni-Ya (translated as: “Tie the Scarf,” “Get Me Ready to Dance, Daddy, and “Bind Me”) Iddala’i Ya Dousa
Fifi in the News
Fifi Abdo’s celebrity personality has garnered her a wealth of press coverage, a lot of it rumor and speculation. Here is a sampling of media stories about Fifi: 2006: The provision of free food to the poor by professional female entertainers (including Fifi Abdo) during Ramadan is bedeviled by controversy. Some religious leaders have declared that it is haram for the poor to eat from mercy tables provided by belly dancers and other “debauched entertainers” and “seductresses” during Ramadan. August 2005: Fifi’s wig catches fire during the filming of a baby shower scene in one of her TV dramas Ta’er al Hub (Love Bird). 2005: Fifi Abdo has strongly denied rumors that her youngest daughter Hanadi plans to become an actor. Hanadi is currently studying political science at the American University of Cairo. Hanadi has declined numerous offers to star in productions because she does not wish to lead a life in the spotlight. 2005: Egyptian television network has banned Fifi Abdo from the air. Network censors were apparently angered by Abdo’s roles in two films aired during the holy month of Ramadan on Arab satellite channels. Fifi has said she will focus on theater productions instead. 2003: Wages of Egyptian Actors and Actresses Hit Sky High. Fifi Abdo received one million Egyptian pounds for her role in the drama “Al Hakika wa al Sarab” (“Truth and Reality”). Abdo plays the role of a businesswoman who sells wood furniture. Fifi was allegedly furious that the drama was not broadcast during Ramadan. 2001: Maniac asks Fifi Abdo to Announce Their Marriage. A 50-year old tailor from Beni Suef tried to rush the stage where Fifi was performing to ask her whether she had married him without his knowledge. He says he received a letter from a stranger containing news that he had married Fifi and allegedly containing a check for 10,000 pounds from Fifi Abdo. He has been sent for a psychiatric examination.