Meeting the legend

Some told me her workshops were not worth it; that as wonderful a dancer as she is, she does not really teach. The were right – but they were also wrong.

In late September I went to Rimini for the sole purpose of taking workshops with Fifi Abdo. She’s a living legend, and one who doesn’t come too often to Europe, so I simply had to go, no matter the distance, the cost or the above-mentioned warnings.

She does not teach like Western teachers, or even as the Egyptian masters who often teach in the West. She offers little correction, less explanation (of movements) and no set combinations or choreographies at all. She teaches as – I assume – she once learnt: by example. She stands up, dances, and expects you to observe and imitate. She might offer some corrections; what she might explain is never how to execute a movement or another, what muscles you need to use, but rather the attitudes, stories and cultural background related to that music and that style of dance.

It has to be said that this style of teaching is less suited for larger groups and two- or three-hour workshops: learning by observation would require more time, preferably one-on-one or in small groups. It also puts much more responsibility on the learner: you need to observe keenly and read between the lines, you have to wring out your knowledge from what she offers – rather than almost being spoon-fed as you might be by a Western-style teacher.

In most workshops, you have a number of new moves, combinations, or even a whole choreography to take home; Madame Fifi will not give you such pre-packaged knowledge. But I can assure you, learning from her will enrich your dance in a lot of small, subtle ways.

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