fifi Abdo and truth about melaya leff

My biggest dance inspiration, out of all the dancers has to be Fifi Abdou. Her beledi dance style is so natural, moves just seem to flow off of her. She is bouncy and energetic, yet her movements are so subtle and refined. In this clip, she begins with a melaya piece.

The “Melaya Leff” is a common “character” piece performed by belly dancers. The basis for any Melaya Leff routine starts with the melaya itself. The melaya is large black rectangular wrap women once used to use cover themselves for modesty. The word “melaya” means “sheet” and the word “leff” (sometimes spelled “luff”) means “to wrap.”

When performed, the dancer will take on a very “beledi” (ie “country”, unrefined, flirty) persona, in both dance style, as well as the music chosen for the piece. The idea of the character is often describe as flirty and raw. The dancer will come onto stage wrapped in the melaya using it to conceal and reveal her face or upperbody. She will progress on to removing the melaya, often revealing a short (usually thigh high) dress, sometimes in a floral print, and in a form fitting fabric. The dress is commonly edged in ruffles and may be adorned with palettes or sequin. After unwrapping, the dancer will perform with the melaya, in a manner similar to a veil, twirling it, or wrapping her body or parts of her body in various ways. High heel slides known asĀ “ship-ship” and a weaved tote bag are also among the typical costuming for this character dance. Sometimes dancers may even chew gum, as an even greater symbol of “baladi-ness” [wink]

As far back as the 1950’s, we can see footage of Golden Era performers wrapped in a melaya, performing with beledi style and music, including a pom-pom head scarf, crocheted face veil.

Sometimes we find this dance termed as “folkloric”, but don’t misunderstand that. It’s based on an idea of folkloric. It’s more of a representation, than reality.

Many believe that Mahmoud Reda, the Egyptian choreographer was the first one present the melaya leff “character,” in his shows in the 1960’s/70’s, but you can find melaya leff type dances in Egyptian Golden Era films dating back to the early 1950’s. Perhaps you could say that Reda presented a unique version, in a unique way, that resonated strongly with his audience. Enough to become the quintessential representation of Iskandarani.

Clips are provided below for your research.

Click here to learn more About Fifi Abdou

Tahia Carioca, Fairuz with Melaya in 1954 film
Samia Gamal with Melaya in 1951 film
Mahmoud Reda version of melaya leff dance


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