Thursday, March 28, 2013

Becoming Fifi

Me as Fifi
It’s not often you get a chance to become Fifi Abdou – but that was what was handed to me by the organizer of a local hafla when Zumarrad suggested performers take the challenge of dancing in the style of a well known dancer.

Foolishly I thought it would be easy. Fifi has been one of my dance role models for many years due to her relaxed beledi styling and her attitude. I can do beledi and I have lots of attitude!

I started by gathering several hours of video I have of her performing. Then I watched them – and rewatched them. I danced along with them - mirroring her posture and moves. I sat and analysed – taking notes about characteristic moves and transitions.

After a month or so, I had found one part of her style that I thought I could do justice to – late career beledi. Now to select music and costume. I selected music that I could (in theory) maintain the loose beledi shimmy throughout that is one of her trademarks. I had already had a white, silk gallebaya from Aida Nour and a trip to a costume jewellery shop got me chunky, shiny anklets and bracelets. Red nail polish – of course!

Next I made a short list of characteristic moves that I would include. I had already noticed that Fifi was able to play with a single move for minutes at a time. The question was – could I? Did I have that much confidence? I was willing to try – I intended to improvise in her style hitting the three or four moves I had noted (loose, continuous shimmy, flat footed hip drop-swivel, bust shimmy and chest heave) – with typical manipulations.

The hardest aspect, though, seemed to be her arms and hands. Sorry, but they really are not attractive. The often static beledi second with splayed hands (palms forward) is a look I’m forever trying to train out of my students. My own dance also tends to use a lot of soft shoulder rolls, arm undulations and weight shifts with ribs. All scratched.

Time to go solo – and I froze. Instead of dancing I was thinking – “is this typical?”, “where can I fit that in?”, “mustn’t do that!”. The flow had gone. The connection with the music became mechanical. It was almost like learning to dance all over again. I briefly toyed with the idea of creating a choreography to smooth out the rough edges but in the end hung in there. Practice. That’s what it takes.

When I night finally arrived, I was glad I’d stuck with improvisation. That gave me the chance to interact with the audience in a way no choreography would have allowed. I mean, I’m sure if there had been cell phones in Fifi’s day she would have stopped and checked members of the audience’s text messages just like I did. Oh, and yes I did dance too. I suspect a little more busily that Fifi herself would have but not at all like how I would have performed as myself.

The whole experience was very challenging – but very valuable