(Founder and Artistic Director: Susie White)

Saturday, 24 December 2016

The coming of the light, posted by Yasna

Meroe, Yasna, Phoenece, Myriam and Kebi
It was a dark and damp night when we parked our chariots below the castle, just inside the tall stone walls of Deva (Chester).   Having secured the chariots, Myriam, Meroe, Kebi, Phoenece and I made our way through the damp paved streets to the home of the XX Valeria Victrix legion.  It was almost the shortest day of the year – the winter solstice – and we were glad of our thick woollen cloaks.  As we approached the legion’s headquarters I saw by the light of their torches a group of rough-looking soldiers checking over each other’s equipment. Heavy curved shields, each nearly the height of a man, rested on the ground by each soldier. Polished short swords and tapering, guttering torches were passed from hand to hand as the men prepared for inspection by the legion Legatus – the commander.

It was starting to rain, and the laughter of the soldiers was becoming louder and more raucous when a sudden bustle of activity announced the arrival of the Emperor.  The Legatus emerged from the shelter of his war-room and ordered the men into position, berating those who were slovenly or slow to follow the orders.  The Emperor barely seemed to notice them, moving with stately pace to the head of the column, apparently oblivious to the gradually-increasing rain.

Suddenly we moved off.  I found myself walking beside Myriam as the Legatus shouted orders at the men behind us.  Just behind Myriam and I a soldier walked leading by his bound hands an old man dressed in long robes.  We crossed Bridgegate road and passed out through the walls at one of the new gates. For a few seconds I saw on our right the huge amphitheatre for which Deva Victrix is famous, and which marked the city out as being intended for Rome’s capital of Britannia province.
Saturn ready to go (thanks to Charlene for the photograph)
We turned towards the centre of the city, and began to pass more people. Peasants and nobility alike stopped to watch us pass, and I saw them talking to each other and pointing as we turned onto Eastgate to re-enter the walls of the city.

We came to a sudden halt. There was muttered conversation in front of us, and I peered around the people in front of me to see what was happening.  Someone had closed the Eastgate against the Emperor!  Undeterred, the Emperor walked forward to the gate and called out in a loud voice that it should be opened. There was laughter from the other side.  He turned towards the Legatus, and made a small motion with one hand.

“Testudo!” shouted the Legatus.  Abruptly the legion soldiers drew into a tight phalanx, their shields raised above them and to the sides, and they charged the gates which gave way before them.  With no change in his expression to indicate his minor victory, the Emperor led the column on into the city, and proceeded to address the gathered crowds before solemnly lighting torches to the four points of the compass.  Taking some lights ourselves, Myriam, Meroe, Kebi, Phoenece and I shared light with the people who had stopped to watch.

Then we were moving again, turning up Northgate, and followed by crowds of people with lights in their raised hands.  When we next halted, I saw the old man with the bound hands being led forward. Someone announced that this bearded old man was Saturn!  There was so much consternation in the crowd that I didn’t hear what was said next, but suddenly the old man’s hands were free, and he ripped off his long robe and white beard and leaped forward towards the watching crowd.  The Lord of Misrule was released!

Procession with the Lord of Misrule - all in red (thank you to Jonathan for the photograph)
Dressed all in red, he danced around like an imp and led us on through the city. Behind us a merry parade of revellers followed, playing music, dancing, and performing tricks.  We circled through the city again, ignoring our increasingly damp robes as the rain continued to fall, until the Lord of Misrule released the revellers, and the Legatus ordered the legion back to their camp.  Myriam and I were nervous about whether the soldiers would behave after all the excitement in the city, but Meroe said that we could trust them, and so we followed her, Kebi and Phoenece into the tavern alongside the legion’s camp, where the servers brought wine and mead, and good food for all of us.  By the time we made our way back to our chariots, the night seemed neither so dark nor so cold as it had when we arrived.

Phoenece, Myriam, Meroe and Kebi - enjoying the local mead!
Perhaps, after all, soldiers aren’t so bad.  I might not mind running into the legion again one day...   

Io Saturnalia!

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Swords, Fire, Mead and Dance, posted by Myriam

Having always been interested in history Folklore and mythology I was excited to join my fellow Troupe members to a Viking & Medieval event. Although it was only my second gig with the girls and I didn't quite know what to expect.
On arrival Phoenece and I treated ourselves to breakfast – we need to keep our strength up for dancing – so that was two ye olde worlde sausage sandwiches and  two cups of Viking tea! We'd managed to persuade Noor to come out of retirement and join us for the event.  She acted as our "tent sitter" while we were off fraternising with the vikings!  It also gave her an opportunity to show off her gorgeous Persian costume.
Myriam, Noor and Phoenece in our tent.
Everyone was in costume, putting up tents and setting up stalls. I was amazed by the unique creative and quirky items and trinkets that were for sale.  I have to confess to even buying some Viking horns later in the day!
Soon the place began to fill up with people and we started to attract attention from children, mums and dads.
Kebi and Naima handed out coin hip belts hats and headdresses for the children to try out and even got some of the mums and dads dressed up too. 
Phoenece, Kebi and Naima.
It wasn’t long before the knights were putting on an amazing sword battle re-enactment and had children up to participate, which looked quite fun and I secretly wished I could take part. Next up was a fantastic fire dance performance which was quite hypnotic and enjoyable to watch.
Then it was our turn to perform our routines and deliver a fun dance workshop. The crowd where very supportive, cheering us on and getting up to participate. The children really loved it and each of them left with one of our Ya Raqs certificates.
Myriam, Phoenece, Naima and Kebi performing.
As the day was drawing to an end I got the chance to wander round the market mingling and chatting to people whilst looking for things to buy. On my journey through the market I was greeted by Viking men and women; a very large raven and a tarot card reader, until I eventually stumbled into the mead tent and was treated to a sample of Loki's Mead which tasted like Crimbo pudding...Yum!
Naima, Myriam, Phoenece and Kebi with two Vikings.
All too soon we had to pack up our tent and say our goodbyes. A enjoyable day was had by all and thanks to the Viking gods, the rained stayed off and we were blessed with an abundance of cake and the cake stall match our costumes, so it was meant to be!
The cake stall in our corporate colours!

Saturday, 10 September 2016

“Bring your cloak” said Kebi, posted by Yasna

It was my first outdoor event with Ya Raqs, and I thought we would probably be the focus of a fair bit of staring as we arrived in Warrington on a gloomy Saturday morning with the forecast of heavy rain to come.  With our striped ghawazee coats, matching red and gold hip scarves, dark eyeliner and thick hooded black wool cloaks, I expected that we would rather stand out.
Naima, Phoenece, Yasna and Meroe
Cloaks, however, turned out to be all the rage in Warrington. Black was popular, but there were also red, green and purple. There were headdresses and chain-mail, corsets and kilts. And our kohl-lined eyes only made us fit in better. The Vikings welcomed us with open arms, and I was surprised and put at ease by the warm and friendly greetings we received.

The rain arrived shortly after we did, and we were very grateful that Meroe had managed to arrange for us to use a waterproof gazebo. Our regular tent evidently isn’t particularly waterproof, and some of our things don’t do too well in the rain…

Naima, Phoenece, Yasna and Meroe in our "new" home.
After decorating our tent to suit us, we distracted the early-bird shoppers in town from the arrival of the rain with a few dances. Our neighbours – busy selling broadband to passers-by from underneath large umbrellas – certainly seemed to enjoy it, and even joined in from time to time. I’m not sure how much use the Vikings had for broadband – but then again it might have only been the weather which kept the crowds from inundating our neighbours, who turned out to be the ones who looked out of place with their unlined eyes and smart clothes.  They were clearly intrigued by our dancing, and I think we might have managed to keep their thoughts off the weather.
Our super Warrington audience braving the elements.
Throughout the day there were three constants – the music, the ever-present rain, and the Ya Raqs girls’ anticipation of cake. We welcomed lots of people into our gazebo, where we made new friends and re-acquainted ourselves with old ones whilst they sheltered from the rain. Even the cave troll dropped by to say hello, fortunately for us deciding not to knock down our little shelter. And from time to time we slipped out to see what else was happening around the market… and to sample the local cake, of course! Kebi even helped out on one of the stalls. I was very grateful for my lovely black cloak, which kept the rain off me nicely whilst I bargained for trinkets at the jewellery stalls.
Phoenece and the troll!
We had some dancers join us during the day – special mention has to be made of four year old Eliza, who visited us in the afternoon, Helen and Chapman the bear (another first, apparently – Meroe said she’d never danced with a bear before!), and the amazing James, who took time from his stag do to join us for an energetic “Malfuf”, and did a very creditable job of it!
Mini-me dancers
Helen and Chapman with Yasna and Meroe.
As the day – and the rain – wound down, we shared a plate of chocolate churros in our gazebo before wringing the water from our sodden blankets, wall-hangings… shoes… and heading home.
Naima, Yasna and Kebi tucking in to well-earned churros!
I can’t wait for the next event where I can dance with Ya Raqs, and look forward to meeting my new Viking friends again soon!

P.S.  Don't tell Meroe but I managed to sneak in a slice of chocolate cake too!

Sneaky chocolate cake!

Monday, 5 September 2016

Let there be cake - and there was, posted by Meroe

After such a wonderful day on Saturday, and a wonderful write up from Noor, how could we top it?  Well sorry Noor, but Day Two was great too, AND there was cake!  The crowds were definitely smaller on Sunday, and we didn’t have all the Brownies to keep us on our toes with the workshop. Having said that we had another super day. 

This was the first event with our new Ya Raqs line up, as we were joined by Yasna and Myriam – two beautiful new dancers. 
Fabulous new line up - Meroe, Kebi, Naima, Myriam, Yasna and Phoenece.
They certainly got into the swing of things very quickly and were soon tucking in to a large slice of cake each during our lunchtime break!  So sorry Noor, but on Day 2 there WAS cake and we ate it!
Introducing Myriam - and cake!.

Introducing Yasna - and another piece of cake!
The routines on Day 2 pretty much mirrored those that we did on Day 1, with a few minor changes.  The Nubian and Saidi sets went down really well, as did the workshops.  Myriam, in particular, was a natural with our Mini-me dancers.

Naima, Kebi and Meroe performing one of our Nubian routines.
We finished off the day with another glam set and were pleased to hear that we topped 1100 visitors – a record for us – so thank you to everyone who came to support us and dance with us.  We also cannot let this event go without giving a special mention to Steve from the World Museum – he always looks after us so well and is great during the workshops helping us to encourage our little Mini-me dancers.
Our Hero - Steve!
So thank you Steve – the weekend just wouldn’t have been the same without you.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

I was told there would be cake! posted by Noor

As Meroe says, “Once a Ya Raqs girl, always a Ya Raqs girl”. Even though I’m not able to dance with them any more, I go along to watch the girls perform whenever I can. So when Meroe asked if I’d like to join them and demonstrate Tunisian costume at the World Museum Liverpool, of course I said yes. (The fact that cake was mentioned may have influenced me a little!)

The Tunisian costume was always one of my favourites, in part because it was an opportunity to wear lots (and I mean LOTS) of bling, but there’s no denying that it’s not a quick costume to get into and out of. In fact the brown and tan outfits which the girls usually wear are ‘stunt costumes’; partly sewn together for ease of dressing. What Meroe wanted to demonstrate was how a real Tunisian costume is worn.

This seemed like a good idea at the time, but then it came to Saturday morning and I suddenly realised that I was going to be standing in the museum atrium, in front of an audience, in my ‘underwear’. Actually in a blouse (called a qamisa), pantaloons (qalsoun or mizoo) and a waistcoat (yellek or boustou), but nonetheless . . . 

Noor in her ......underwear!
Indeed, Phoenece was scandalized by my appearance and told me to make myself decent at once! Fortunately Meroe was on hand to do just that, by enveloping me in a large Tunisian wrap, called a melia. This is fastened on the shoulders with large pins called fibulae, which are joined together with a decorative chain. Add a yarn belt, a headdress, and a little bit of bling, and I was ready to go.

Meroe pining Noor in to the Melia

Noor fully clothed again.
Once I’d been made respectable, the girls were able to perform their first set, which consisted of Tunisian and Moroccan dances. Then it was a quick change back into civvies for me and Nubian costumes for the girls, who performed a second set and gave a workshop. This turned out to be one of the biggest workshops Meroe has run, thanks to a very enthusiastic Brownie troupe who all joined in.  

Moroccan routine in full swing.
After the workshop it was time for a well-earned lunch. But oh no! The museum café had run out of cake!!! We had to make do with sandwiches. As we were leaving the café we noticed that more cakes had mysteriously appeared, but by then it was too late. Still, there was always later.

Wot! No Cake?
Next the girls travelled down the Nile and performed a Saidi set. Then to finish off the afternoon they went all-out glam, in their beautiful beaded dresses evoking the Golden Era of Egyptian bellydance. 

Meroe, Phoenece and Namia entertaining the crowds with the Saidi set.

Phoenece, Meroe, Naima and Kebi performing Aziza.
The museum staff reckoned that there were over 700 visitors throughout the day - that certainly deserved a cup of tea and a celebratory cake. But it was not to be; sadly by then the café was sold out again!

Despite being cruelly deprived of cake not once but twice I had a great day watching the girls perform and being dressed up - thanks to Meroe for inviting me.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Midsummer Watch Parade posted by Kebi

Every year Chester's Midsummer Watch Parade gets bigger and better. This year we were joined by a new recruit – Mia - who looked fantastic in her colourful galabeya and shook her tambourine like a professional!

Mia and her tamborine with Phoenece, Kebi and Lina

She was a little worried about the elephant, but we promised her that he would not get to her; he would have to go through us first. She was ok with that, although we did have a number of near misses. However, it proved to be the ass in front of us, who kept stopping unexpectedly, that was the real problem!
Kebi, Mia and Phoenece with the pushy elephant!

Mia keeping an eye on the ass!
The parade this year seemed to be even more colourful and noisier than in previous years. Behind the elephant there was a Viking horde. We couldn't quite make out what they were saying, but it had something to do with watch out the Vikings are coming. Lots of children were involved this year, which was nice.

There were angels and devils, and Saint Werburgh and her geese were also in evidence. She is Chester's patron saint and was an Anglo Saxon princess who was said to have resurrected a dead goose! You can find out all about her by following this link - Werburgh 

The dragon was also very much part of the show again. After the parade, one lady said that the best bit of the day was when the Ya Raqs girls ran screaming across the Town Hall Square whilst being chased by the dragon. We weren’t quite sure how to take that.

This is perhaps the most unusual video you will find of the parade. It isn't often that you get to see the city of Chester from the back of an elephant.

Everyone had a great time, and I think the tourists enjoyed it too. Thank you to Russel Kirk and his team for another fantastic parade. We are looking forward to meeting you all again for the Midwinter Watch. 

Monday, 11 July 2016

Thoughts on Eboracum, posted by Kebi

Summer has arrived with some wonderful warm, dry weather. Perfect for spending the weekend in Eboracum (York) . We packed up the tent and awning and headed off over the Pennines. I had not been to this wonderful fortress before and I was struck by how similar it is to Deva; the river, the walls, the cathedral, or in York's case the Minster; lots of shops and of course tea rooms. Although as it was we didn't get much time to explore as we were kept busy entertaining the crowds in the Yorkshire Museum Gardens. The museum sits in beautiful grounds just outside the city walls and we were camping with a number of legions in a corner of the gardens where there had been a bowling green. We put up our beautiful tent on Friday evening. We had been positioned with the café just behind us. Has our reputation for being fond of cake got about, I wonder?

Our home from home for the weekend.
The festival was officially opened by the Mayor with an inspection of the troops and a rousing speech from the Emperor Hadrian. We then had a parade into and around the streets of Eboracum. The emperor gave another stirring speech outside the Minster while standing on a Roman column. By now we were all getting rather hot so once we got back to the Gardens, we had time for a quick drink of water before our first performance outside the museum. It was nice to dance our Tunisian dances and the audience loved our costumes. It was very easy to encourage them to join in with a scarf dance. 

Kebi and one of the Romans.

Kebi, Phoenece, Naima and Meroe just after the Tunisian set.
Back at camp, Meroe set up her henna cushions and we were happy to chat to a number of locals and visitors to the city about where we fitted into the Roman period. We encouraged people to visit The Ivory Bangle lady who is in the museum. It has been shown she was a Berber, so it makes it easy to explain how people traveled vast distances across the Empire.

Meroe with a henna customer.
Our second dance set was an Egyptian one, and much as I love our Tunisian costume, it was a relief to change into our cooler galabeyas. 

Egyptian set in full swing.
The next day was even hotter. We had not put up our awning on the Saturday as there didn't seem to be quite enough room. But with a bit of lateral thinking and a certain amount of persuasion, we put up the awning in front of the tent, and boy were we glad of its shade. We noticed later that it was also popular with our Emperor as well when we were away dancing.

Emperor Hadrian just keeping an eye on our tent.....or cooling off perhaps!

For me, the festival was also about new experiences and this weekend I came perilously close to learning how to play a cornu.  Having been asked to look after it by our own Roman cornu player, I thought I'd give it a go - couldn't get a not out of it!

Kebi and the cornu - stick to the dancing Kebi!

The festival was a huge success. The feedback we were given by the museum staff and Visit York was excellent. The public were interested and happy to get involved. We managed to get both cake and ice cream.

It wouldn't be a Ya Raqs event with cake or icecream!
We were told 15,000 people came through the gates on the Saturday. Already there is talk of next year being bigger and even better.