(Founder and Artistic Director: Susie White)


Monday, 15 September 2014

Our Weekend with the Ramzys

What a treat some the Ya Raqs girls had this weekend - well not just us but everyone in the North West - a weekend of amazing workshops with none other than Hossam and Serena Ramzy.

Meroe, Kebi and Phoenece headed to the Trinity Sports Centre in Manchester, the chosen venue for this weekend of pure Ramzy-ness. The Saturday found us all in Classical mode with Serena guiding us through an amazing routine to a track from Hossam’s album Ruby – The Black Opal. Kebi was a bit unsure about this one at first, she doesn’t usually “do” Classical – but by the end of the day she was a complete convert. The routine was challenging but gave us all the opportunity to perfect some points of technique, to learn some new moves and to do a bit of improvisation by really translating the music.

Kebi, Meroe and Phoenece with Hossam and Serena

Our very own Meroe is currently enrolled with the Drumzy Dance School on their Advanced Dancer course. So she took the opportunity to catch up with Hossam and Serena over dinner on the Saturday evening. Living up to true Ya Raqs reputation she did cake – well sticky toffee and chocolate volcano pudding to be precise, so not quite cake but close enough. Don’t worry she’d didn’t eat them all herself – both Hossam and Serena have a sweet tooth that almost rivals that of Meroe’s, but only almost!

On the Sunday and we were into new territory and a new twist on Saaidi – a modern fusion with some Persian and Indian moves. On paper this shouldn’t work – but it did! Unlike many fusions this remained true to the Saaidi base to give it a real Egyptian feel. Again, very challenging, but with plenty of opportunity for a bit of improvisation.

Meroe was put on the spot a bit this weekend when Hossam got her to show off some of her new found drumming skills that she has been learning whilst on the Advanced Dancer course. He asked her to join him and Serena to drum for the rest of the students in the workshop. No rehearsal time, no music, just a piece from memory - no pressure then! But she did it and it helped to demonstrate that someone like Meroe, who has never read music before in her life, could be sat in a dance studio in Manchester drumming with Hossam and Serena!!

On the subject of drums - Phoenece decided that now would be a good time to start her Christmas shopping. So someone out there is in line to get one of Hossam’s beautiful new lady's tablas for Christmas - lucky thing.

Phoenece's Christmas shopping

Our thanks - and thank you on behalf of all the other students who came to Manchester - to the amazing Hossam and Serena Ramzy for a wonderful weekend.

Watch this space folks. This isn’t the first and it certainly won’t be the last Drumzy School weekend in the North West!

To find out more about the courses and workshops that Hossam and Serena run check out their website and if you want to know about lessons with Meroe click here, or email us for details on yaraqs@hotmail.co.uk

Friday, 12 September 2014

St Leger Roman Weekend

The weekend of the 6th and 7th September saw us back in sunny Doncaster - or should that be Danum! Actually the Saturday wasn’t so sunny, in fact there was talk of us all joining the Roman navy at one point! We seriously thought our luck with the weather this year had finally run out, because it poured!

We spent Saturday in our Tunisian costumes trying to convince our audience, and ourselves, that it really wasn’t as cold and wet as it felt. I have to say we were very grateful that we were able to share the shelter of the command tent with the Deva Victrix women.

Meroe and Phoenece take shelter

But thankfully, just after lunchtime, the rain stopped and not only were we able do a bit of dancing, we even got some of the Romans up to join us.

Meroe teaching one of the Romans to dance

Of course the only problem with a cold wet day, where dancing is difficult, is that often there is nothing else to do but eat cake! We surprised ourselves on the Saturday by managing to get not one, not two, but three helpings of cake in before 4 o’clock!

Phoenece and Tameri tuck in

But despite the weather, the good folk of Doncaster turned out in force to see us and what dancing we were able to do was to a reasonably sized and very appreciative audience.

One of the nice things about our events in Doncaster is that we get to stay in town on the Saturday night and therefore have a chance to let our hair down. This year was a bit of a busman’s holiday because we ended up in a Turkish Restaurant - Turkuaz. We had a great meal and got to dance with the resident dancer.

Kebi and the dancer

We then went on to a pub in town to dance the night away - well we had missed out on dancing during the day, so what could we do? Now before you ask, there is photograph and even video evidence of what we got up to. However, it’s probably best you are spared that. Let’s just say that what happened in Doncaster is best left in Doncaster!

So on to day two - a brilliant, bright, sunny Sunday - what a contrast. We were able to get our little home from home set up and even managed some mini-me dress up and some henna. Sunday in Doncaster is always a very gentle day, but once the troops were back from marching round town we greeted the following crowds with our first dance set and even managed to get some of them up and dancing.

Performing the Nubian set

From that point on, it was all systems go. The Romans followed our set with a military display, then we followed them with our second dance set. That led straight into the kids’ army and before we knew it, it was 2:30 in the afternoon and .... you guessed, it time for tea and cake. Well come on! We had missed lunch!

This afternoon we took our tea in the amazing Doncaster Minster which is currently raising funds for some much needed restoration - if you’ve not been inside the minster you should go - the windows are beautiful. Although it has to be said that on Sunday I’m not quite sure that the ladies serving the tea had had quite so many Roman goddesses in the minster in one go!

Tea in the minster - Naima, Meroe, Phoenece, Temari and Kebi

Having been suitably revived by tea and cake we came to the main event of the weekend - the Gladiator Show - and for the first time in the history of Ya Raqs’ involvement with the St Leger Festival, it wasn’t blowing a hooley so we were able to dance with the veils without them getting wrapped round our heads!

We had a great time working with Deva Victrix and the VIII Augusta.

Group photo at the end of the day

Our thanks to Colin Joy and his team from Doncaster Tourism, to the staff at the Premier Inn and the St Leger Festival – we had a great time and hope to do it all again next year.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

World Museum Liverpool, posted by Tameri

Ya Raqs were delighted to be invited to the wonderful World Museum in Liverpool for the second time this year.

Our plan on this visit was to take the audience on a little tour across North Africa; introducing them to the different costumes and dances as we went.

Day one started off in Tunisia and our first set gave us the opportunity to show off one of our favourite costumes and all our ornate jewellery.

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

We then moved on to a Moroccan dance. The scarves that we used in this dance inspired the Mini-me dancers from the crowd to join in. Scarves where twirled around like helicopters. I don’t think the Easter Island figure or dinosaur quite knew what to make of it!

Meroe leads the scarf dancers round the museum exhibits

For our second set of day one we moved up the Nile to Nubia to celebrate two weddings, which are, of course, are joyful occasions with lots of clapping and singing. This set was so well received that we repeated it on the Sunday but added in a solo from Meroe. It was nice to have a contrast of a traditional group dance with a modern solo routine. Meroe was able to use her beautiful Nubian costume that she had specially made for the Funoon wa Alwane show in Liverpool, which we’d taken part in earlier this year. It was certainly a hit with the museum crowds!

Tameri, Mish Mish and Meroe performing a traditional Nubian dance

Meroe performing her solo

Our third set saw us staying in Egypt with a Saaidi routine from Luxor, followed by a fun dance from the farming community of the Nile Delta. The dance mimicked winnowing and water collection, and we got to wear our colourful headscarves.

Meroe and Phoenece mimic winnowing, with Naima and Mish Mish behind them

We had planned to get the whole museum dancing to a Lebanese Debke at the end of this set, but it very rapidly became apparent that the Ya Raqs ladies are a lot fitter than your average museum goer! (It must be all of that cake!) Everyone started off brilliantly, but as the energy levels rose, testing folks’ stamina to the limits, it was only Ya Raqs, a few hardy youngsters, and one member of the museum staff who made it to the end of the dance - but it was a great try!

The Debke - towards the end!

For the final set of each day we headed to the nightclubs of to Cairo to let our hair down and to show off our more glamorous costumes finishing up with a free for all dance with the audience!

Naima, Tameri, Phoenece and Meroe show their glamorous side

We only did one workshop on the first day which went down really well – we certainly saw some very good mini-me dancers. The workshops are always a hit as they give the children a chance to dress up to look like little Egyptians. And of course there is always that promise of the now famous Ya Raqs Certificates!

This bought us to the end of a very successful day one with an audience of 490 – not bad, but could we top that on day two?

For the second day we decided to change things round a little, so stayed firmly in Egypt for the day’s performances. The first set was a Ghawazee set, and our costumes were based on those worn by the dancers from the nineteenth century around Luxor. This set led into the first of two workshops for the day. Both were very well attended and we even got some of the museum staff to join in. And in case you are wondering – yes they got certificates too!

All in all it was a wonderful weekend – and the time went so quickly. An excellent venue with a super audience who weren’t afraid to have a go. The atmosphere, the participation of the crowd, and the wonderfully vibrant energy bouncing off our mini-me dancers, who proudly went away with their certificates, meant that we all came away feeling quite elated!

Ya Raqs would like to say a big THANK YOU to the World Museum Liverpool staff for making us so welcome!

Oh! And if you are wondering whether or not we beat the audience total from day one – we did. We reached 580 on day two giving us a grand total of 1,070 for the weekend!

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.