(Founder and Artistic Director: Susie White)

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Io Saturnalia! posted by Kebi

Yes it is that time of year again. Time for “unrestrained merrymaking and gift giving “ (sound familiar?). On or around the 17th of December Chester or Deva, hosts a celebration of Saturnalia with a march through town by the city’s resident Roman Legion Deva Victrix. This year was a little different as it saw this annual parade joining forces with another of Chester’s amazing pre-Christmas events, the Winter Watch. More on that in a bit. We met our Roman friends outside the Roman Tours shop in Grosvenor Street, and set off towards the Amphitheatre. It was a lovely evening with, joy of joys, no rain. And I must admit I loved my Roman dress and cloak. The dress is very forgiving and the wool cloak, really warm.

The wool cloak keeps out the winter chill

We approached the East Gate, to find it closed! I have never seen this before, so it was rather a shock. Who would try and bar entrance to the city of the Roman Emperor Domitian? Believe it or not, it was a group of Cavalier soldiers. They soon gave way before the might of the Roman Empire, I can tell you.

The Emperor Domitian leads the parade

We marched to the middle of Eastgate street where the Emperor addressed the crowds as only he can. You can see me standing behind the legionary.

After the ceremony where the light from the Emperor’s torch was shared between the legionaries, the Ya Raqs ladies passed out glow sticks to the children, and explained that now the fun can begin. It was lovely to chat to families who said they came every year to watch the Saturnalia parade. So with an even bigger crowd, and shouts of 'Io Saturnalia!', we set off to the Town Hall so the Lord of Misrule could be set free.

This is the point that Saturnalia really begins. Roles are reversed so masters become servants and serve their staff dinner and give gifts. Saturnalia was basically an excuse to party, and party hard. Originally it was one day, Dec 17th, but it grew to a week long festival. This was the point where the Winter Watch parade and Karamba Samba joined us. Chester was party central with samba rhythms and people dancing in the street.

It was a very unusual event, but oddly, I felt appropriate for a place as ancient as Chester. We had 1st century Romans, 17th century Cavaliers and a traditional parade dating from the 1400s up to today. Ya Raqs can happily fit into all of these periods, and we often do!

We left the Winter Watch to carry on partying and went for our own banquet at Convivios

Later on at the banquet I was chatting to a lady who I thought looked familiar but couldn’t place. It was Ruth Downie, the author of the Russo and Tilla mysteries. I am a huge fan and had just finished her latest book Tabula Rasa. Her hero, Ruso is a medic with the XX legion who, with his wife Tilla, a native woman, seems always to have a mystery to solve, this one at the building of Hadrian’s wall. Ruth had travelled up from her home in Devon just to take part in the Saturnalia event. She is a lovely lady and I can’t wait until her next book comes out in July. There was another author there too, Anthony Riches the author of the Empire Series. I had to admit I hadn’t read any of his, but as soon as I can get my hands on a scroll, I plan to remedy that.

It was an evening of good food, good wine and good company. All that is left to do is to get on with my Christmas shopping and to wish you all a very merry Yule and Christmas, hopes for a wonderful 2016 and of course IO SATURNALIA!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Medieval and Viking Stockport

Sorry for the delay in getting this post up online, but it has all been a bit manic here at Ya Raqs HQ and there doesn’t seem to have been a moment spare to write up the Stockport event.  We can now put that right.

The sunny weekend of 17th and 18th  October took us to Stockport and one of the latest events we’ve ever had in our dance season.  It has been some years since we had the pleasure of performing for the good folk of Stockport, so it was great to be back again.

We set up our little home from home in the shadow of St Mary’s church but it was this proximity to the church that was the source of a heart stopping moment during the course of the weekend.  As those of you who follow us will know, we have our own PA system – for the benefit of the sticklers for authenticity out there, it’s not really a PA system but a large black box on wheels in which our shy little musician Ahmed lives!  Well Ahmed, being the fantastic musician that he is, also has the ability to run a radio mic, which comes in quite handy when we do our workshops.  However, one side effect we hadn’t banked on was that he also picks up other radio mics in the vicinity.  So you can imagine our surprise when we switched Ahmed on, on Sunday morning, so that our little mini-me dancers could dance with us, only to blast out at full volume the sermon that was being given in the church at the time! It took Meroe a while to work out what was happening, thinking to herself “I’m sure that’s not normally part of Ahmed’s musical repertoire!”  This was rapidly followed by a look of sheer horror which flashed across her face as she wondered if this phenomenon was a two-way street and the congregation had just had a burst of the Musicians of the Nile mid sermon!  Thankfully we think not, but it did make for an interesting moment during the weekend that we’ve not had to deal with before.

Naima, Meroe and Phoenece.

Thankfully the rest of the weekend was memorable for all the right reasons. So what else did we get up to?  Well the whole weekend was just so much fun, despite being rather cold, and we have to say – just between us, these Medieval and Viking folk are really rather nice and very friendly – but don’t tell them we said so! 

We busked round the Medieval market in front of some amazing Viking tents and one point we even had one or two of the market traders joining in.  We browsed the craft stalls; checked out displays of swords; kept and eye on the knights training; we were even tempted by some wonderful home cooked food – those family favourites such as squirrel pie!  OK, so we didn’t actually eat squirrel pie, but we did manage to get through one or two cakes and some very welcome cups of tea courtesy of the little cafĂ© in the church.

We were very lucky to have the opportunity of performing with our friends Serpentyne not once but twice during the course of the weekend.  At the end of their final set on the Saturday afternoon, we even managed to get Kebi and Naima up and waltzing with members of the audience – not the type of dance we normally do, but great fun and to a wonderful track from their new album which is out soon, so keep a look out for that.

Naima and her waltz partner dancing to Serpentyne.

When not dancing with Serpentyne we drummed and busked round our tent as well as running some workshops in the centre of town. 

Tameri getting in some drum practise.
Phoenece, Meroe and Naima performing a set in the market centre.

Tameri with one of Stockport's fabulous dancers.

Our final workshop on the Sunday afternoon has got to go down in Ya Raqs history as being one of the biggest and best we’ve ever done – boy can the children in Stockport dance (the adults aren’t too bad either)!  We normally hand out sparkly hip belts for our mini-me dancers to wear during the workshops and this was one of those rare occasions when we ran out of belts!  Everyone was very good and the crowd was incredibly supportive.  At the end of the workshop we normally teach the mini-me dancers how to do a zaghereet.  This is a trilling sound that is made during weddings and festivals and is often associated with a celebration – some say it even dates back to pharaonic times.  What normally happens is the Ya Raqs dancers demonstrate, the mini-me dancers then give it their best shot and the audience – who are encouraged to respond to all of this – usually stand there in silence, or if we are lucky we get one or two brave souls who will have a go.  But not in Stockport – oh no!  We were completely bowled over by the wall of sound that came back at us as our audience zaghereet-ed (if there is such a word) like professionals - very impressive.

After a tea break and the taking of the now traditional “cake photograph” we headed back to our tent to discover a surprise gift.

Kebi and Phoenece with cake - of course!

Most of the set dressing that we haul around the country with us comprises of cushions, drums, brass trays and middle eastern coffee pots, but thanks to a very generous gift from one of the Medieval stall holders we are now the proud owners of a Saracen helmet!  Everyone we met at the event felt that although we had a lot of bling we didn’t quite have enough of the right sort of bling at the tent.  What we needed was something a touch more medieval – what better than the helmet of a Saracen.  Our story – and this is what we are sticking too – is that it belonged to none other than Saladin himself!  We are still working out a family friendly reason why he would have left his helmet with us, so watch this space for an update.

Our surprise gift - the helmet not the Medieval man!

Thank you so much to Mark Olly for the invite to join them in Stockport and to all our new friends in the Medieval and Viking world for welcoming us so warmly into their fold.  We very much look forward to working with you again in 2016.  And as for the people of Stockport – wow!  You were all great, thank you for dancing with us.

So that brings us to the end of a fantastic performance season – can’t believe it is over so soon, but it is not our final event of the year.  We still have Saturnalia in Chester in December – so there is still one more chance to come and see us in 2015.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Formby Medieval & Viking Festival, posted by Phoenece

Last month Ya Raqs were invited to join another Medieval and Viking Event, this time in Formby. This is the third year the event has taken place and we were pleased to be invited - it was a great success and attracted over 700 visitors. I was joined by Kebi, Mish Mish, Naima and Tameri. and we all had a great time - it was a really relaxed atmosphere.

As we entered the entrance to the Guild Hall where the event was held we were met by a magnificent Viking ship. The Vikings built fast ships for raiding and war. These ships were 'dragon-ships' or 'long ships'. The prows of the ships often featured a carved dragon or other creature. Its purpose was to protect the sailors from sea and to frighten their enemies.

The prow of the Viking long ship

We have got to know a lot of the re-enactors and stall holders over the past few months so it was good to catch up with them again.

Kebi teaching a knight to dance

We performed four sets throughout the day, which included lots of audience participation, young and old alike.

Audience participation with Kebi, Phoenece, Naima and Tameri

I danced a stick routine with John, a member of the scouts who was raising funds throughout the day, but he took time out for a spot of dancing. He was really keen and he picked it up really quickly.

Stick dance with John

We also did some impromptu dancing outside the tent.

Later on in the day we were asked by John (my young dancing partner) if we would go and watch a Viking show between some local children, they had arranged it among themselves; it was good fun watching them.

Tameri and Naima with some of the children from the Viking show

There was lots going on throughout the day, we circulated during the day in between dance sets.

Tameri and Naima joined in with the local children in a battle with the Knights

There was also a magnificent young raven whose parent’s offspring are used to keep the Tower of London stocked up. The presence of the ravens is traditionally believed to protect the Crown and the Tower; a superstition holds that "If the six resident Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it. There are seven resident ravens at the Tower today (the required six and one spare!).

The raven

We all fell in love with the Gypsy caravan belonging to the Tarot card reader. She had lovingly restored it herself.

Tameri, Naima and Phoenece outside the caravan

… and as always there was shopping. Just a couple of my many purchases - yes, yet another drum!!

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Gladiators in Southport, posted by Meroe

After all the medieval and Viking events we’ve had this year, the event on Saturday 12 September took us back to our roots in the Roman period.

We were thrilled to be asked to join our great friends Deva Victrix Legion XX, from Chester (or Deva in Roman speak!) for a special gladiator event at Connell Court Care Home in Southport.  We had a ball.

Meroe, Phoenece and Naima with the lovely ladies of Deva Victrix

Having been a bit worried by the weather forecast for the day we all gave a huge sigh of relief when the sun came out – the gods were clearly smiling on us.

Phoenece, Naima and Meroe did a short set of just two dances - the warm up act for the main event which was a number of scantily clad gladiators beating hell out of one another – but all great fun.  

Naima and Phoenece getting ready to dance

Naima and Meroe - just a few last minute adjustments!

Our audience was made up for the families and friends of the residents and they were all up for cheering on their favourite gladiator.

We did manage to get some of the staff and younger visitors up and dancing – one young lad in particular was very good.

Connell Court staff joining us as well as our "ace" dancer Alex.

We had just enough time to make a quick change from our Egyptian costumes in to our gladiator dancer outfits, while the head of the ludos (that’s the Roman name for a gladiator school) introduced his finest gladiators to the crowd.

These gladiator events are always quite moving because the oath that the gladiators make at the start of each show are the actual words that they would have used centuries ago …

“to be burnt by fire; to be bound in chains; to be beaten by iron; this I will endure!”

We then got to do our gladiator routine.  It’s been a while since we’ve done this so it seems appropriate to tell you a bit more about it.  The whole routine is to one of the tracks from the Gladiator film, and is done with veils – all very theatrical – but the idea being that the veils represent the souls of those, who may very well,  be about to die; looked after and held safe by the dancers. Each dancer offers a “favour” in the form of a coloured ribbon – one for each gladiator.  During the routine you can normally hear a pin drop and this event was no exception. 

Gladiator Dance (photo by Gill)

With our dancing done for the day we settled back with the rest of the crowd to enjoy the show.  The highlight was clearly a new recruit from the audience – the one who could really dance.  He was given a new name – something more fitting for a gladiator – Short Articus! He was pitted against the meanest looking one of the bunch Anti-Claus and certainly held his own.  You can check out how he got on by clicking this link  - Short Articus.

After show photo with some of the residents and staff

With the show at an end we chatted to the staff and residents and then returned to the 21st century.  Now we’ve been lucky enough to perform at a number of events who have looked after us well, but cups of tea on tap, a superb buffet – and yes that did include cake – for all the reennactors was over and above the call of duty, but very welcome.  So a big BIG ‘thank you’ to the staff at Connell Court; to all the residents and their family and friends, and especially Garry and Gill for inviting us to join them all.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Calling all Dancers – Ya Raqs is recruiting!

How many of you out there attend belly dance classes and LOVE it? Have you ever thought about joining a dance troupe so you can perform, in public, the dance that we all love? 

If you have, then this might just be for you.  Ya Raqs has been performing all over the UK for 10 years now and we love it too, and we are now looking for new members.  As those of you who follow our blog will know, we specialise in the folkloric styles of Egypt mainly, but there is a dash of Tunisian and a sprinkle of Moroccan too!  

Our Bedouin dancers in a show in East Grinstead, West Sussex

When we look back at where we have performed over the years it makes for a quite an impressive list – top of it has to be the Great Court at the British Museum, but not far behind we have the World Museum Liverpool, Rylands Library in Manchester; the amphitheatre and Grosvenor Museum in Chester, Lancaster, Carlisle, Stockport, Wellingborough, Godmanchester, Welwyn, Henley on Thames, Warrington, Northwich, Wrexham, Doncaster and even up on Hadrians Wall.  I could go on, but I think you get the gist.

Our Tunisian routine from a show in Henley on Thames

What Ya Raqs offers is more than just a performance team but also mini-me dress up for the children; workshops for all ages and abilities; real henna tattoos and wash off glitter tattoos in the style of henna for the children, all of which adds colour and fun to a wide range of events.  Everything from village fetes to charity events; birthday parties to corporate events.

Mini-me dancers at an event in Doncaster
Henna and glitter tattoos during an event in Caergwrle

Now the best bit – would you like to be part of this?  Have you got what it takes to be part of Ya Raqs?

We’ve got lots of ideas for a fabulous 2016 dance season including the introduction of a little bit of Turkish and just a hint of Algerian to add to our ever growing repertoire!  So we are looking for new dancers to join us.  Therefore if you have a love of folkloric style dance; if you enjoy performing and if you can commit to just one rehearsal a month then get in touch to find out more - yaraqs@hotmail.co.uk - we’d love to hear from you.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Warrington Medieval and Viking Market

So far this year we’ve had a medieval event down in sunny Wellingborough; a Viking event in even sunnier Godmanchester and now we've just had a Medieval AND Viking festival in Warrington – and for the record it was really sunny there too!

Billed as a Crusader Troupe, we joined the medieval knights and Viking hordes for Warrington’s Medieval and Viking Market.  It was a fantastic day.

After a quite early start we made our way to our site for the day.  This was an exciting moment for Ya Raqs because Meroe had spent the previous week beavering away with needle and thread and what felt like several hundred yards of chiffon, to turn a rather plain gazebo into a splendid new home for us. 

Our new "home from home"

All this because we were suddenly aware that our other tents – which require to use of guy-ropes and tent pegs - simply weren’t going to work on the paving slabs of Warrington town centre.  It all seemed to work really well – at least Naima and Phoenece certainly made themselves at home and settled right in to some drumming!

Naima and Phoenece settling in nicely!

Our brief for the day was busk, busk, busk.  So with our magic music box strapped on to a trolley we worked our way round market stalls of the town, weaving our way between mysterious knights in armour, the odd medieval nun (odd meaning on her own, not “odd” odd!) and Vikings who had somehow managed to park a mini-long ship right in the middle of the town centre!

Vikings arriving in style
Viking traders hard at work - this was the backdrop to one of our sets

Being a market there were of course shopping opportunities – I think the total haul for the day was a couple of necklaces, a ring, a bracelet, a bee shaped charm, several slices of delicious home-made cake and a fairy!  We certainly cannot be accused of failing to do our bit to keep the Medieval and Viking traders gainfully employed!  

Our day ended with an opportunity to dance with the wonderful band Serpentyne.  This is starting to become a very happy regular event. As any dancer will know, begin able to dance to live music is always very special and over recent years we have built up a very special relationship with the very talented members of Serpentyne.  The Ya Raqs ladies were certainly excited by the prospect. 

Naima, Phoenice and the thumbs-up from Kebi

So we settled down to watch and listen to the show and were very pleased to dance to some of the pieces and to get members of the audience up and dancing too.  Some were more enthusiastic than others.  Naima managed to pull a gentleman out of the audience who could do the most amazing back bends and certainly had all the right moves!

Naima with our fantastic mystery dancer - don't know who he was but he was great!

Meroe and Kebi enjoying the show

Meroe was feeling particularly pleased, because she had the opportunity of dancing to one of Serpentyne's latest pieces, called Game of Thrones.


All too soon the day came to an end and we had the challenge of packing away our new little home-from-home.  There was a certain amount of debate about which bit went in which bag in order to ensure that the next time we have to set up home it all goes smoothly! Still not convinced we got it right. We'll find out at our next event when we have to put the tent up again!

Aisha, Tameri, Kebi and Meroe - now which bit went where?

We should say a big 'Thank you' to Mark Olly for inviting us to join this event, which is now in its fifth year – it was a super event.  We had a great time and very much enjoyed meeting some great Medieval and Viking folk, not to mention the good folk of Warrington – we managed to henna and/or dance with quite a number of them!  We hope to see you all again very soon.  

And finally, a special thank you to the Mysticknight for allowing us to use some of his fabulous photographs of the event in this post.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

A First for Ya Raqs at World Museum Liverpool, posted by Naima

Mid August and we are back to one of our favourite venues for the second time this year – the World Museum Liverpool.   We performed here in March and thought we’d done well with an audience total for the weekend of 1,100 but this time we topped it.  An impressive 1,236 visitors over the two days!

When we arrived we were greeted by our lovely ‘minder’ Steve, who showed us to our very own dressing room. 

In with the bugs!

Over the years we’ve shared dressing rooms with some interesting people but never bugs!   We hoped they wouldn’t bite and they didn't - thank goodness!

We started our first day with a Tunisian routine followed by a Moroccan inspired dance with scarves, giving us yet another opportunity to wear all our lovely bling.  

Meroe, Kebi and Mish Mish all blinged up in their Tunisian costumes

We followed this set with a mini-me workshop for some of our small,  and not so small audience, who enjoyed joining us with a bit of swishing and twirling of colourful scarves.

Some rather fuzzy audience participation - it's a job to focus when there is quite so much swishing going on!

We had three more sets during the course of the afternoon- Ghawaazee, Bedouin and finally Nubian – and a more formal workshop with a chance for our mini-me dancers to earn their special Ya Raqs Certificates!  Meroe rounded off the day with a very colourful Nubian solo.
Aisha, Phoenece and Meroe in Ghawazee costume

Queuing up for the Ya Raqs Certificates!

As those of you who follow our blog regularly will know, we do try to keep our sugar levels up with some cake at some point during the course of an event - a must if you are dancing as much as we do! However, on this occasion we ended the day not with our now traditional tea and cake, but with ice cream.  

We're not quite sure what the ice-cream man thought as we all queued up in costume! But he took it in his stride - doesn't everyone dress like this in Liverpool?  OK, maybe not!

Forming an orderly queue - just blending in!

As nice as the ice cream was it was clear that some of the Ya Raqs dancers didn’t want to get caught!!

Naima and Aisha - camera shy, or just hiding their ice creams?

We sat out in the glorious sunshine after a super day for a well earned rest and were joined by a lovely gentleman called Billy, a 94 years young war veteran who entertained us with some of this war time stories.

Our new fan - Billy - with Aisha and Meroe

Our Sunday performances were just as enthusiastically received as our Saturday routines. We had some FAB dancers and our mini-me dancers enjoyed dressing up in the glittery and jingly costumes.   Those that didn't join us for the actual workshops were spotted swaying their hips and were quite happy dancing along to our music.  What was nice on the Sunday was that we had some grownups join us too - it is always a pleasure to have adults as well as children getting up and showing us their moves.

Our final performance of the weekend was a World Premier – by dint of the fact that it was in the World museum and it was the first time we’d performed it in public – a group stick routine. The original choreography was by Serena Ramzy, but she had very kindly given Meroe permission to tweak it a little so that it would work as a group dance.  We were very proud of our performance and it seemed to be very well received. 

We also got the opportunity to wear our new Turkish inspired costume, made specially by Meroe and Phoenece.  Watch out for a new routine that will be more appropriate for this new costume at a future event.

Phoenece, Meroe, Mish Mish and Naima in our new costumes

So, another wonderful weekend at the World Museum came to an end. Check out our video for a taste of what we got up to on the Saturday.


We would like to thank the good folk of Liverpool, who came to the museum on such a lovely summer’s weekend – they could so easily have gone to the beach - but they came to see us instead!  OK, so maybe we weren't the only reason they came to the museum.  

And last, but not least, a very BIG thank you to the lovely staff at the museum, especially Steve, who never fail to make us very welcome and always look after us so well.