(Founder and Artistic Director: Susie White)

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Ya Raqs get a dose of Baladi Blues, posted by Meroe

The end of July and some of the Ya Raqs girls had an event with a difference. Rather than us performing we were back at school - so to speak - with a fantastic seminar on the mysteries of Ashra Baladi with the amazingly talented Guy Schalom.

Guy Shalom

The Ya Raqs girls had joined Meroe’s regular Thursday dance class for a special class that had been arranged with Guy and one that didn’t involve any dancing! Guy gave a quick introduction to the main differences between classical and folkloric music, which included introducing the group to a range of musical instruments. He made us all work, there were lots of questions and that was just from Guy!

He then went on to talk about Ashra Baladi and explain how it is structured, in order to help us have a better understanding of how it’s performed. We starting off learning all about the improvised introduction called a taxim. Then he moved on to explaining how the melody was introduced and told us about a song from the late 1930s titled Aminti Billah, that is often used. Guy then got the group to do something that was totally unexpected. To make his point, and to help the group get the melody of this song, he got us all to sing it! Everyone was a bit hesitant at first, but we did it and it even sounded musical in places - or was that just wishful thinking on my part! Anyway, the singing certainly helped although the reason why some of the group were dancers and not singers became a little more evident, but………… well, let’s just leave it at that and say no more!

I won’t bore you my own account of what Ashra Baladi is, particularly when Guy explains it so much better – check out his website and click on the Workshops page. It was a brilliant and very informative evening and I think everyone in the group learned something new at this seminar.

If you get a chance to attend a workshop by Guy - do it - we had a great time and learned so much. And we got to buy a copy of his latest CD too!

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Wellingborough Medieval Festival, posted by Meroe

The really busy summer season continued for Ya Raqs on the weekend of the 26th and 27th July with a trip to sunny Northamptonshire for Wellingborough’s Medieval Festival.

Now, we won’t bore you with yet more ice cream photographs – but rest assured we lived up to our reputation and not only was ice cream consumed on the journey to Wellingborough but so was cake, which meant our sugar levels were nicely topped up ready for what was going to be a very full and busy weekend.

The Medieval Festival is always one of our busiest events but somehow it never actually feels like hard work – it’s just great fun. We were staying at the Hind Hotel, which has a fascinating history and was – allegedly – where the generals met to discuss strategy before the battle of Naseby. Cromwell himself is reputed to have stayed there.

Phoenece in the Cromwell Room of the Hind Hotel

We set up our little home from home outside the 17th century tithe barn just behind the Hind Hotel, just like last year only this time we had neighbours! Some of these neighbours were more of a worry than others; in particular the Justicar (cue sinister sounding music!). We got in to a spot of trouble last year because our licence to dance clearly said we couldn’t dance on the Sabbath – but we did! Thankfully we weren’t caught, but this year Meroe made sure to apply for a full licence, just so we were properly covered!

The licence for Saturday AND Sunday

It was granted without too much trouble, which was a relief, but there was the suggestion that accusations of witchcraft might be flying around this year! This was a particular worry to us as our magic music box (aka our PA system) attracted a lot of attention last year – could this be construed as some kind of witchcraft? Well just to be safe Kebi somehow managed to convince the Justicar that the box wasn’t magic at all but simply contained a very small musician called Ahmed who was too shy to come out and talk to anyone!

Anyway, day one and we seem to be performing at spots all over town – when we weren’t dancing to our own music, we danced with some of the street entertainers including Squeak's Noyse, who we met last year. In between dance sets we managed to get what felt like most of the children of Wellingborough either dressed up as mini-me dancers, or covered in our new glitter tattoos!

Phoenece with trainee stick dancers

Meroe and Noor listening to Squeake's Noyse

Despite being so busy we still had time to make friends with some of Wellingborough’s four-legged beasties – including a wolf! Well not 100% wolf, but we were reliably informed that there was a certain amount of timber wolf DNA in there! Meroe really took a shine to her but couldn’t persuade the owners to part with her. Just as well really, otherwise poor Tameri would have to have sat on the roof of the car for the drive back home!

Meroe and the wolf

During the afternoon on both days we were very pleased to be performing with the amazing Serpentyne once again. Meroe performed two solo routines to tracks from their new album and the whole troupe danced to The Bramble And The Rose, which Meroe had choreographed for them. All the performances were very well received and we managed to get quite a number of people out of the audience to join in, including some of the medieval folk, once they’d recovered from the shock of the Ya Raqs girls showing their ankles - that’s a bit of a no-no in the medieval world!

Performing The Bramble And The Rose with Serpentyne

Audience participation

Our final set of each day was in the main arena in Croylands Park where we managed to put on one of our largest workshops of the year – the arena seemed to be full of children and knights!

Meroe teaching a knight to shimmy

Our treat on Saturday evening was a repeat visit to the Italian restaurant we fell in love with last year – La Rocca.

We had an amazing time in Wellingborough and our thanks go to David Smith for inviting us, to the good folk of Wellingborough for welcoming us so warmly, and to Serpentyne for the opportunity to dance to their amazing music once again. We hope to see you all again next year.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Guilden Sutton Village Fete, posted by Noor

Following our excursion to Wales, last Saturday we were invited to an event closer to home: Guilden Sutton, near Chester.

This was a new event for us, but as soon as we arrived we were made to feel very welcome. We set up our home-from-home in the ring of stalls around the arena; one of the organizers commented that our colourful gazebo made the other white tents look very plain indeed!

The girls performed two sets, ringing the changes in between by swapping their red and silver head wraps for their Nubian headdresses with long veils.

Meroe, Aisha, Kebi and Phoenece

Kebi, Phoenece, Aisha and Meroe perform a Nubian routine

The workshop after the second set marked a first for us - we had so many children keen to take part that we actually ran out of hip scarves and dress-up clothes!

In between dances, Meroe and Aisha were kept busy doing tattoos. Lots and lots of tattoos. In fact, they were so busy that disaster struck; by the time we managed a break to go for the traditional Ya Raqs tea and cake, the tea tent had closed! Fortunately the bar tent was still open, so we had to 'make do' with a jug of Pimms instead.

Kebi ready to pour

Even then, there were a couple of last-minute tattoo requests to attend to.

Meroe and Aisha manage a quick drink before doing the last tattoos . . .

. . . while Phoenece, Naima and Kebi take a more relaxed approach

We had a great day: the weather stayed fine, we were very well looked after by the organizers who came round all the stalls with cold drinks, and we had an enthusiastic audience who were keen to get involved - I don't think that anyone from the local school quite expected so many of the Year 5 boys to be so eager to have a go at dancing! Who could ask for more? A big thank you to the Fete Committee for inviting us.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Fun time had by all at the Hope, Caergwrle and Abermorddu Carnival, posted by Kebi

Saturday 5 July dawned warm and sunny – a brilliant day for a carnival. Off we went to North Wales, actually not at all far from our home base, but in a very different landscape. We were in a valley in the Welsh hills in a village called Hope.

The tent and awning went up in record time. It was wonderful to see the tent again, it has not been out for some time.

Tent pitched and awning being set up

The carnival field was quickly transformed into a magical place with fairground rides, birds of prey, Punch and Judy show, Vikings, Romans and, last but not least, us!

It was lovely to see Noor back with us again for this event. She wore a wonderful Tunisian costume she made herself. She had come back to look after the tent while we were away dancing; once a Ya Raqs girl, always a Ya Raqs girl!

We were just enjoying a lovely cup of tea and cake from the Parish Council tent, when the parade arrived, complete with brass band, of course. Then we were off and running (so to speak). Aisha and Meroe were soon busy with henna and our new glitter tattoos, and the Mini Me was as popular as ever.

Meroe and Aisha hard at work

Our first set was a bit off-piste – well off the programme anyway! Well what were we to do? The arena in front of us was just sitting there, empty! We threw in a couple of dances which soon drew a crowd and as soon as they had watched us, the Vikings took over!

Kebi, Meroe and Aisha, by DFlockton Photography

Our first official set was in front of the main stage. The audience were warm and friendly and a number of children came into the arena and danced with us. They then followed us back to the tent to dress up.

Kebi, Meroe, Aisha, Phoenece, Naima and Tameri

Our second set was also well received and we had an even bigger group join us for a workshop - even one of the Dads took part! He did really well. All our workshop dancers were given a certificate as a keepsake of their efforts – they all did brilliantly.

It was a really busy day which just flew by. The tug of war, which took place right in front of our tent, was hilarious. Absolutely no cheating took place, of course!

The Romans recruited some junior helpers for the tug of war

But the Vikings still won! Both photos by DFlockton Photography

The end of the day came all too quickly but we still had time to squeeze in an ice cream before we had to start packing up. It was a lovely, fun day with brilliant weather, delicious cakes and ice cream and very friendly natives.

Meroe, Noor, Aisha and Kebi (with 2 ice creams!)

Phoenece and Tameri

Our thanks to the Hope Caergwrle and Abermorddu Carnival committee for inviting us.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Ya Raqs in the news - again!

The recent post about the Funoon wa Alwane show in Liverpool mentioned that the event was being filmed by the BBC Arabic Network. And here it is, complete with Meroe's performance and interview!

Friday, 27 June 2014

Midsummer Watch Parade, Chester 2014, posted by Kebi

It was a beautiful sunny day as Phoenece and I wandered down behind the cathedral in Chester to meet up with the other participants in the Midsummer Watch Parade. Ya Raqs have been invited to this parade many times before, and have always been impressed by the noise and colour of it. What a surprise, as we walked around the corner, to find there were even more people there than in previous years. Midsummer Watch 2014 was set to be bigger and better than ever before.

Phoenece and the stilt walker before the parade

We went to find our friend the Camel - our regular partner on these parades - and on the way met a new friend, the Donkey. Phoenece was so taken with the donkey she kept petting it!

With our old friend the Camel

And our new friend the Donkey

We all lined up and we were off. There were large groups of children waving stars, angels and demons. There were Green Men, a Unicorn and a Stag, Angels, Demons, a ship and of course the Dragon. Phoenece and I were in front of the camel and we danced and played our sagat all the way around the town.

Phoenece and Kebi in Town Hall Square

The parade ended in front of the town hall. As we walked to take our place with the others, the master of ceremonies shouted at us “Dance!” so we did. Middle Eastern dancing to a Samba beat is quite fun. We did the usual Ya Raqs thing and encouraged the crowd to join in.

What I wasn’t expecting was for the dragon to try to eat me! All of a sudden I was enveloped in a colourful cloud of smoke.

Kebi and the dragon

I managed to escape, but the Master of Ceremonies was not so lucky. However, a brave child from the pirate ship stepped forward and slayed the dragon with her trusty sword.

Chester Midsummer Watch goes from strength to strength. It was a loud, colourful, joyous, fun event. I am already looking forward to next year. Thank you to Russell Kirk for inviting us to take part.

Have a look at these photos by DFlockton Photography, who captured the flavour of the event.

And if you want a bit more background to the parade then check out the website here.

Ya Raqs in the news

Brook Street Carnival featured in the local press recently. The article below appeared in the Chester and District Standard, complete with a picture of the girls taking part in the parade.