(Founder and Artistic Director: Susie White)

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Wellingborough Medieval Festival – 27th and 28th June, posted by Meroe

Late June and we find ourselves back at one of our favourite gigs of the year – Wellingborough in Northamptonshire for the Medieval Festival. This festival is really going from strength to strength and every year there seems to be more happening - more re-enactors, bigger audiences and more fun for the whole family.

As usual the festival had a storyline running through the weekend. This year that story centred around a booze cruise that was being planned by King Henry in around 1415 and it involved a certain Edmund of Norwich, from Fotheringay, coming into town to find enough people to go to France to help carry the kings haul of cheap booze back home! I can’t vouch for the historical accuracy of this event but it certainly kept everyone entertained.

Now those of you who follow our blog regularly may remember that in previous years we’ve had a spot of bother for not having a licence to dance on the Sabbath, but this year we were covered. Aisha was ahead of the game and negotiated a very good deal for us, so we didn’t get into trouble.

All legit – our licence to dance!

This weekend is always very busy for us with no fewer than four dance sets each day, including workshops and free dance, where we invite the public to join in. That is before we start dressing up all the children in Wellingborough in sparkly belts and embroidered waistcoats, and before we start applying our gorgeous henna and glitter tattoos. And, as if that isn’t enough, we also had the opportunity to dance with Serpentyne again – both days! Phew! I’m exhausted just thinking about it all.

Almost before we’d got our little home-from-home set up the mini-me dancers had started to arrive. Our first was Olympia and I promised her and her mum to put her picture up on our blog – so here you go Olympia…….fame at last.

Meroe with our first mini-me dancer of the weekend – Olympia

The weather was really kind to us again this year and despite a minor hiccup in the form of heavy rain for the first hour of the Sunday morning, we were blessed with blue skies and wall-to-wall sunshine. On the Saturday one of our sets took place in the churchyard which for the 2015 event had been transformed into a medieval market. This meant that not only did we get to dance, but we got a bit of medieval retail therapy too!

Our first set before a spot of shopping!

Despite having lots of "official" dance sets to do we just couldn’t help ourselves and even when we were supposed to be having some down-time we danced – well this is Ya Raqs! So there were quite a few impromptu performances in front of our tent.

A routine in full swing in front of the tent.

We also got a chance to do a bit of drumming – something new that we’ve added to the Ya Raqs repertoire – I tell you, there is no stopping us!

Phoenece and Alma getting in some drumming practice.

The crowds were much bigger this year and so welcoming – we were even visited on Sunday by a couple who almost had as much bling as us! I may be wrong but I’m pretty sure if we’d have pressed a bit harder we might even have been able to sign them up – they were certainly game.

Graham and Lora Lawman pay us a visit.

Although we weren't quite so keen for all our visitors to join us! We did have a small problem with a monk trying to sell us dodgy relics!!! Given how worried we were about dancing on the Sabbath, the last thing we wanted to do was get in to trouble buying things we shouldn’t – particularly as the court was just next door - so we quickly sent him on his way!

Meroe, Phoenece and Mish Mish resisting the temptation of dodgy relics!!

Our final set on both days included a workshop in the main arena and a chance for our mini-me dancers to show off their new found dance skills. Very few knights were brave enough to join us this year, but one hardy soul – Greg from Condensed Histories – donned a sparkly hip belt (specially selected to colour co-ordinate with his medieval attire). He certainly managed to connect with his inner-dancer. Well done Greg – and well done to all our mini-me dancers – you were all brilliant.

Final Sunday afternoon workshop well underway.

We had a fantastic time – as always – but all too soon it was time to pack up our little tent and head back home. A big thank you to all the event organisers and particularly to David Smith, for making Wellingborough Medieval Festival such a pleasure to be part off. And thanks to the good folk of Wellingborough – you made us incredibly welcome once again – hope to see you all next year.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Midsummer Watch Parade Chester, posted by Phoenece

Once again Ya Raqs were invited to join this spectacular procession, a joyous and colourful celebration of Midsummer's Eve on the 20th and 21st June.

The Midsummer Watch Parade dates back to Tudor times and Chester’s parade is renowned throughout the country with records dating back to 1498. It was abandoned in the 1670s and revived in 1989. Today’s floats are loosely based on records of the original parade and include a unicorn, elephant, camel, and dragon. There is also a huge ship; a reminder that Chester was once an important port.


The procession was led by Karamba Samba, a Community Samba Band from Chester. School children processed proudly with their handmade offerings.

Karamaba Samba entertaining the crowds outside the town hall.

We met up with the caravan outside the town hall. This year we had an addition to our caravan, besides Balaam`s Ass, and not one but two camels – a dromedary and a bactrian!

Aisha, Kebi and Phoenece leading the camel train!

On Saturday the weather was a bit unsettled but it wasn’t going to stop us from having some fun – Kebi, Naima and I processed whilst playing our sagat.

Naima and Phoenece with the mayor’s chariot – maybe we’ll leave this to the professionals!

On Sunday the weather brightened up so Kebi decided to give her new frame drum an airing and Aisha played the riq. We got the chance to do some dancing to the beat of the drums outside the town hall.

Dancing outside the town hall – yes that is Aisha behind the drum!

It was a lovely weekend. Thank you to the organisers for inviting us to join them again this year - I hope we get invited back to this historic event next year.

If you want to find out more about this history of Chester’s Midsummer Watch Parade check out their website.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

All dressed up and nowhere to go!

Well it’s not often we write about an event that didn’t happen - but there is a first for everything.

Ya Raqs were all geared up for a performance in Liverpool city centre on Saturday 25th April - all part of Merseyside Dance Initiative’s (MDI) celebrations of the 2015 International Dance Day. It was supposed to show off the vast array of cultures that make Liverpool’s dance scene so vibrant. But dear old Mother Nature had other ideas - and rain stopped play!

Now those of you who follow our blog on a regular basis know that a little bit of rain doesn’t stop us - we’ve danced in torrential downpours and when it has been blowing an absolute hoolie! So we turned up to the event just in case - ever hopeful!

But alas it was not to be - so what do the Ya Raqs crew do in a moment of crisis? Yes you guessed it - cake! We settled in to the café at the Bluecoat Chambers to sample their very best tea, coffee and cake and took the opportunity for a rather unscheduled, but very pleasant, catch up.

Tameri, Kebi, Aisha, Phoenece, Naima and Mish Mish in the cafe

It is a great shame that the event didn’t come off as planned, that is the nature of outdoor events in the UK unfortunately, but watch this space - we will be back!

Ya Raqs selfie!

Monday, 30 March 2015

World Museum, Liverpool

Our first event for 2015 took place the weekend of 28th/29th March at one of our favourite venues; the World Museum, Liverpool. It was a great success with over 1,100 visitors getting the full Ya Raqs experience over the two days.

We were delighted to be joined by our new member Alma, who added a new dimension to our performance with her live drumming to some dances. She was later joined by Meroe, Phoenece and Kebi to play a piece of music written by Hossam Ramzy. The drumming is clearly a big hit so watch out for it at future events – because there is much more where that came from!

Alma, Meroe, Kebi and Phoenece drumming

We performed four short dance sets each day taking the museum visitors on a journey through Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Nubia. Each set was followed by some audience participation.

Nubian dance

Kebi, Meroe, Phoenece and Naima perform a Bedouin dance

Nubian dance with Phoenece, Tameri and Kebi

Kebi, Phoenece, Tameri, Mish Mish, Naima and Meroe in their Tunisian finery

All ages were represented from children the age of two to a grand lady who will be 89 years young next week! We even got members of the World Museum staff to join in! They were all delighted to receive a certificate for participating in the workshops.

Dancing with members of the public . . .

. . . and with the museum staff

The certificate has been re-designed for our 2015 season to include a cute camel. This new certificate was designed for the benefit of those children who collect them at our events each year.

It was a really busy weekend, but being Ya Raqs we still managed to squeeze in enough time for tea and cake!

Mish Mish and Phoenece introduce Alma (L) to the Ya Raqs cake tradition!

We had a great time and want to thank everyone who came along to support us, but especially the staff at World Museum, Liverpool - we are looking forward to our second visit in August.

Kebi, Alma, Naima, Phoenece, Tameri, Mish Mish and Meroe with a new friend!

Saturday, 14 March 2015

All Drumming, All Dancing

Start of a new dance season and everyone at Ya Raqs HQ is raring to go. Not so much “All singing, all dancing” but more “All drumming, all dancing”.

Ya Raqs are very pleased to have a new member of the troupe for the 2015 season – Alma – not just because she’s a great person and a fantastic dancer – but boy can she drum!

So we took this opportunity to branch out into something a little different for the new season – we are going to introduce some live drumming to our performances.

After we’d got over the teething problems of exactly who was going to drum which parts, everyone picked up this new found talent really quickly. Before you knew it we were really starting to sound musical!

Alma and Kebi

We’re using two types of drums – Alma and Phoenece were playing the Egyptian “goblet” shaped drum called a tabla. Meroe and Kebi were playing large frame called a duff.

Will it work? Well who knows, but if the first rehearsal is anything to go by it just might. Meroe was literally punching the air for joy by the end of the session – it was just fantastic and so much better than she could possibly have hoped for.

Meroe, Phoenece, Alma and Kebi

So watch out! Not only will we be dancing our socks off, but at most of our future events it looks like we’ll be drumming our hearts out too. We’re going to see how this all goes at our first event of the season, which is at the World Museum in Liverpool the weekend of 28th and 29th March.

This is all pointing towards 2015 being a FAN-TAS-TIC year for Ya Raqs.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Io Ho Ho! Saturnalia

Well this is it - our final event of the year and what better way to round off a fantastic performance year than a Roman Christmas - or Saturnalia celebration - with the amazing boys and girls from Deva Victrix in Deva (that’s Chester to you!).

This is one of the few events we do during the year where we don’t actually dance, but we just LOVE it - it certainly makes us feel as though Christmas is well on its way. Phoenece and Meroe went for the Roman look for this event and joined the soldiers and civilians of Deva to escort Caesar through the streets of the city.

Meroe and Phoenece with Caesar

Saturnalia was a very popular festival in Roman times in honour of the god Saturn and was marked by the switching of roles - so slaves traded places with their masters and it was OK to do all the things you wouldn’t normally do - but just for 7 days! As in good Roman tradition we had the Lord of Misrule who presided over this world of chaos! But this year he met his match in the form of the ladies of the Handbag of Harmonies who were also out and about in Chester! Well done ladies for holding your own – your rendition of Io Saturnalia was certainly a tad more tuneful that the Roman version!

Once the lord of Misrule had been set free and Caesar had tried - but failed - to regain control of his glorious legions, we marched back through the streets of Chester to a chorus of IO HO HO SATURNALIA! Not quite sure what Saturn made of all of this but we clearly didn’t disappoint the gods too much because they saw fit to ensure a very mild and dry evening - despite the weather forecast!

The evening was rounded off with offerings and thanks to Saturn and a superb meal at Convivio’s.

At Convivio's

Thank you to Deva Victrix for a wonderful evening and a fantastic end to our 2014 dance season.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Sheikh It! in Henley on Thames

What a month it has been! For those of you who have been following our blog you’ll know that we’ve been rehearsing hard for a show in Henley On Thames called Sheikh It! And did we sheikh it in Henley? You bet we did! What’s more it was all in aid of the Sue Ryder charity – so win win.

We didn’t quite arrive in Henley by train, boat and plane – but almost.

Henley On Thames

Meroe had arrived back from her trip to France less than 12 hours before, so that is the boat bit, and the rest of the Ya Raqs crew travelled down by train. We all met up at the Catherine Wheel hotel in Henley for a quick lunch before heading off to Kenton Theatre for the sound and lighting checks.

The theatre was a lovely and by the time we arrived it had already been taken over by the glitter and glam of the rest of the Sheikh It cast. We were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to run through our Tunisian number in full on stage – not a bad idea given that we’d had two weeks apart and really needed to just do the last minute fine tuning to the performance.

I have to say that Henley was a real treat for us in more ways than one. We got to stay in a great hotel – so no need to camp out in our Bedouin tent this time. We got to perform on a real stage – not the wind-swept field somewhere remote. We even had our very own dressing room – with mirrors and everything!

Phoenece and Aisha backstage

Show time was 7:30 and our first routine was the Bedouin. It wasn’t long before we’d got not only the audience but also some of the other performers, who were waiting in the wings, clapping along with us. It was great.

Aisha and Meroe

Naima, Aisha, Meroe, Mish Mish and Phoenece

Aisha and Meroe

Phoenece and Mish Mish

Then a rather leisurely costume change before out Tunisian routine in the second half. We even had time for snacks!!

Mish Mish refuels between dances

This was quite a contrast to the Bedouin with lots of very strong hip movements to get our Tunisian tassels flying - another amazing reception from the audience.

Phoenece, Aisha, Meroe, Naima and Mish Mish

Mish Mish, Naima and Meroe

Then came the big test – the finale. The finale had been quite carefully choreographed but because of the distance between us and the rest of the cast we hadn’t had a chance to dance it all the way through – until now! We had choreographed our little bit independently, and hoped it would fit, thankfully it did.

We had a great time in Henley and met some amazing dancers – dancers who we very much hope we will share a stage with again sometime soon. Our thanks go to the masterminds behind this whole show Louise Brooks and Natasha Bradley – thank you for inviting us to join you ladies and for all your hard work in making it such a huge success - it was a pleasure working with you. We must also make special mention of Mark Chattington for his amazing photographs from the evening - thank you too Mark.