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Fifi Abdo
Gilded Serpent presents...
Fifi Reloaded!
Review of Fifi Abdo Workshop and Show
Sponsored by Little Egypt
Holiday Inn Select, Dallas, Texas 
May 18-20, 2007

by Catherine Barros
photos by Monica Berini
Except where indicated

A condensed version of this article has been previously published by the Papyrus Newsletter

From the first time I saw Fifi Abdo on video, I liked what I saw.   My first video purchase of Fifi is the one where she is lowered onto the stage at a big concert in Al Ismailia, Egypt. In fact, I bought this video at a long-ago version of the Little Egypt shop in Vikon Village, which was so small that if two people were in there that you would practically have to squeeze by each other.  I was amazed at how Fifi would run across the stage to jump into the splits then a cross- legged position and execute some of her shoulder/chest shaking movements.  She had a megawatt smile, masses of long black hair, a bold sassiness to her movements, and such an easy and relaxed style of performing. I knew that I should watch a lot of her, in hopes that some of Fifi would rub off on me. 

What I did learn from watching Fifi is that "less is more".  Her repertoire of movements might not have been a long exhaustive list, but her ability to execute them was what drew me in to watch them over and over.

 I would stand for hours it seems (and still do) trying to get that loose ease in my hips that she has when she shimmies.  I have also been fortunate to study with Vashti (Dallas) for many years and her fascination with Fifi meant that we spent a lot of time working on some of the great Fifi moves.  I purchased videos of other concerts and parties at which she performed over the years because I wanted more of Fifi. I was able to see her "shisha" routine along with getting to see her many unique costumes as she goes through multiple costume changes at each show.  I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to see her “up close and personal,” and thought that I would have to be satisfied with my videos.

Fast forward many years to 2007, to the workshop and show presented by Little Egypt the weekend of May 18-20 in Dallas.  Fifi has been retired from dancing for three years and has been very busy pursuing a career in films and theater. She finally decided to accept Little Egypt's offer to come to the States after Dee Dee and Ahmed visited her many times and she found time in her schedule when she could come.  All that video-watching doesn't compare to experiencing her real personality.  I might have learned a lot through my years of study, but it didn't tell all I needed know about dancing “a la Fifi” and Fifi as a person. The best reason to have gone to the workshops was to experience the full-blown, 3-dimensional version of Fifi - "Fifi RE-LOADED".

classroomThe Workshop

Fifi doesn't teach choreography. You learn from watching her in the rapidly disappearing "follow the bouncing butt" method and you prepare yourself for the class by doing your own warm ups.

She mentioned several times that she didn't learn by "1-2-3-4" and she doesn't like to dance that way at all.   She didn't really spend time breaking down the movements, but would ask "Again?" whenever the song finished.  When people would ask questions about specific movements she would go over the movement for them.  Of course, sometimes this required the person to come up on the stage with her.  Then there were the people that she saw doing things that she wanted to help them to do "correctly".   This had some hilarious results such as when she was showing Drakon how to do shoulder shimmies.   She had to point out that he couldn't do "breast" shimmies as he didn't have them, but a well executed shoulder shimmy looked just fine on him. This was emphasized by comments such as "You this way, Fifi this way".  Another one of her oft-repeated comments was to make it different every time - "The same, but different".  And we must always remember to SMILE and show our personality!

On Saturday, we started off with "Tamra Henna" but spent most of the 3 hours of the workshop following along with her to many repetitions of a song by Saad El Soghayar, "El Hantour (The Carriage)", dancing in the Shaabi style.   She had us prancing like horses as the song starts off with the sound of horse hooves.  She used a lot of hand movements (did anyone else think "itsy-bitsy spider" when she did the flipping hand movements where she touched her thumbs?), touching herself at times (more than we are used to as many times we have had our dance teachers tell us to never touch ourselves while dancing), hugging herself, putting her finger in her mouth as she gave a coy look at us, playing with her hair and flipping it around.  She was very much a flirt as she danced.  She did mention that this playful style was fine for her balady and shaabi, but never when dancing to Om Kalthoum.

I have to say that it was so crowded on Saturday that when we were rotated, I found it quite difficult to see.

Miasia & Fifi
I tried to follow along as best I could, relying on my knowledge of her typical movements. As the repetitions of the dance changed each time (remember "Same, but different"?), I felt that was OK.  I was there more to absorb the essence of Fifi, have some fun and get some sorely needed Author?? and Fifi inspiration for my own dancing as my personal physical woes (banged up knee from accident) had me feeling a bit discouraged with dance.  I did get a tad grumpy when I could only see the top of her head.  One time during the day, when we took a break for Fifi to chat about various things, somehow the topic of large breasts came up.  I was standing up in the back of the room while others were sitting, so I think I was a bit oblivious as I didn't realize she was talking to me until she said "Orange".  I was wearing an orange t-shirt  (and  Fifi had on a long orange tunic-type t-shirt with Egyptians motifs) so I guess I stood out a bit and this attracted Fifi's attention. I didn't catch the words of her follow-up comment about me, but caught the drift when she started to repeat some of the sam things to Miasia (who had prodigious "pillows" as Fifi called them at some point).  Miasia was a good sport and went up on the stage where Fifi laid her head on Miasia's "pillows".   This was funny and entertaining but got repeated a bit too much on both Saturday and Sunday.  I think Miasia liked the attention, but I was a bit shy myself to be jumping up on the stage like Miasia.  On Sunday during one of our few photo ops, I did get a rather blurry photo of me with Fifi where she laid her head on my "pillows".

Fifi and Mark
This photo only by Nora, click for larger copy

The Show
The Saturday night show with Fifi started off with the buffet dinner that we have come to enjoy on our big night out at the Little Egypt events.  It didn't take us long to demolish the buffet as we were all hungry by the time we formed lines to load up our plates.   To get the evening started a group of male debke dancers presented the fun, show-off style of debke that you see when the men start to strut their stuff.  After they raised the energy level of the room several notches, we were treated to some live music with Husam Abdullah as the singer.  This went on for awhile with Husam walking through the crowd to find women to invite up on the stage to dance.   At some point, it seemed like most of the room was up on the stage.  After we had all managed to work off most of our dinners, we were more than ready for Fifi to come out!!

Fifi knows how to make an entrance.  She doesn't need any fancy costume either, as the audience roared their approval when she made her appearance wearing a simple white gallabeya and with zills a-blazing.

OK, I stole the "zills a-blazing" comment from someone else, as it was so apropos for the moment.  Everyone was clapping and yelling from excitement during most of the show.  I think I almost went deaf myself from all the yelling over the loud music.  Fifi had the audience eating out of her hand, and didn't disappoint anyone.   Along with dancing to "Ana Fi Intizarak" and performing some cool cane moves, she treated us to a rendition of her Shisha "dance".  This means she basically wandered through the audience, with Mark Balahadia submissively following her around as her "shisha boy", and blowing smoke out her nose (I think she was alternating her nostrils).  This took up quite a bit of time, but I think that Fifi was probably tired from the workshop so this was probably a good way to conserve her energy.  For most people, this was a good opportunity to get to see her close-up as she really did try to visit with every table in the room.   In addition to all of that, she had to get the whole room up to dance to "Al Hantour" as we had that music so burned into our brains after working on it most of the afternoon that we couldn't help but want to dance along with her.

Even though the show was a little "short" on Fifi, I think most people were happy with the evening so we went home still excited and ready to get started again on Sunday afternoon.

Author's photo of Desdemona's signed butt!
Sunday had a bit of a slow start but the class opened with some more high energy dancing.   We started out the day with some cane technique while dancing to "Mdallah Ya Hilou" (Fatme Serhan from "Best of Saidi").  Fifi demonstrated her twirling technique (she swings it back instead of forward) along with how to balance the cane on our heads, but mostly she was trying to get us to balance it on the breasts.   She also showed us a cute way of tossing the cane to the floor in front of us, then bending over slowly to pick it up.  When we started to really work with the music, it got a little bit hazardous with all those swinging canes.   The "security" crew tried to manage the room by having part of us dance, then move to the back, so the remaining people could move up to dance.  

This should have given us enough room, while we took turns dancing, but some people didn't appear to understand what was going on.   We all made the best effort we could to dance and not get whacked.  Thankfully, we all seemed to be in agreement that we would move to another dance after lunch.  Once again, we got treated to a song from Saad el Soghayar.  This time it was a cheeky little number about lots of fruit!  Yes, "El Einab" - "Grapes".   I first heard this song on a video that I saw where Dina was dancing with Saad.  This was such a fun song that I decided to get the music, so I had been listening to it a lot since March (and "El Hantour" too).   I felt like the remainder of the afternoon just breezed by as we were dancing to such fun music.  We got another taste of Fifi's signature moves and her fun-loving personality, while we did several run throughs of this song.

So the weekend ended on an exhausted but high note.   There was a last minute crowding into the shopping areas for many of the workshop participants trying to make up their minds on final purchases and, after Fifi sat through her last photo session and signed posters (and butt, in the case of Desdemona), she followed along after them to check out what was being sold.   Everyone left with a lot to think about in regards to what they learned and what they would do with all the information. 

My weekend went a bit longer, as I volunteered my services to take Shaynaz (SF) to the airport by way of downtown Dallas.  She wanted to go up the tower at the Hyatt Regency, so that's where we went.  I got some nice photos from the cocktail lounge while Shaynaz bought a souvenir penny in one of those "engraving" machines.  While we were driving back and forth from the hotel, to downtown, to Richardson, then on to the airport, we talked the whole time about the "Fifi" experience.   I know many of the other workshop participants were probably doing the same thing that night during the post-workshop festivities arranged by Tamra Henna at Al Amir.  The excitement spilled over into various on-line forums the next week or so as people discussed different aspects of steps that Fifi does (jewel, foot tap on steps), the music she used, the Saturday night show, how much charisma she has, her sense of humor and her larger than life personality with that mega-watt SMILE!  I know that I have pulled out some of my videos so I have been watching Fifi being lowered onto the stage again and dancing with the shisha one more time.

More Photos

Husam Abdullah & The Layali el Sharq Band

? Debke Group


Soraya Al Musri from Oklahoma City



Lotus Niraja and the Niraja Dance company


Thea of Salt Lake City

Roxanne of Los Angeles

Khadija Jabiry's troup Christina & Fouzia of Montreal

Jewels of the Desert from Texas

Layla's troupe the lotus dancers

Desdomona's 10 year old niece
Katie Stewart danced with her mom


Dee Dee and Mark follow Fifi

Tammer Henna, Debbie, Bahaia

Roxxanne and Bahaia, Drakon is in back to right

Akmed Assad with his wife Dee Dee, Fifi, then the Assad daughters- Nelly and Nora


Have a comment? Send us a letter!
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