(Founder and Artistic Director: Susie White)


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.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Drum solo workshop

A couple of Ya Raqs girls found themselves back in Manchester on Saturday. This time Kebi and Phoenece found themselves taking part in a sell-out drum workshop run by Jane Wass Mazazik and accompanied by Guy Shalom. Drum solos are one of the most popular aspects of Arabic dance, where a dancer uses her skill with hips and shimmies to work with the drummer, and sometimes lead the drummer. Jane encouraged them to develop the creative side of a drum solo, playing with different energies to change tempo and use different parts of their body in their dance.

Kebi, Jane Wass, Guy Shalom and Phoenece

Besides dancing to live music, they learned about different drum rhythms, which was really helpful as they have both been taking drumming lessons from Meroe and Rhythmic Ginger.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Henley Here We Come!

Well that is it, our last group rehearsal for the Sheikh It! show in Henley. Those of you who follow our blog regularly, you may remember that back in February we were invited to East Grinstead to perform at Club Baklava for Hossam and Serena Ramzy. Members of the audience were clearly impressed by our performance of a Bedouin routine as it led to an invitation to take part in the Sheikh It! show.

Show time is just a couple of weeks away and we have been working on two folkloric routines - a Bedouin piece based on a choreography by Serena Ramzy, but adapted for Ya Raqs by our very own Meroe, and a Tunisian piece which Meroe is 100% responsible for. Both are very different, but very high energy.

Aisha, Mish Mish, Kebi, Phoenece and Naima in rehearsal

Saturday was our last group rehearsal and it all went really well. Kebi stepped in to Meroe’s spot for the purposes of the rehearsal, just so she could watch what was going on. It’s very difficult to dance in a routine and be aware of what is going on with all the other performers - even with mirrors - so it’s sometime best just to look at how rehearsals are going from the audience perspective!

video

And how is it going, you may ask - pretty good I would say. All that is left to do now is for the individual dancers within group to iron out the minor wrinkles in their performance and we are good to go!

So look out Henley - Ya Raqs are on their way!

If you want to come and see us, and lots of other amazing dancers, we’ll be at the Kenton Theatre, Henley on Thames on Wednesday 22nd October. Proceeds from the show will be going to support the care provided by Sue Ryder. So not only do you get to see a great show, but you get to support a great cause too - win win!

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!