(Founder and Artistic Director: Susie White)

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 travelled 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 note out of it!

Kebi and the cornu - stick 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.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Viking Medieval Market, Botanic Gardens, Knotty Ash, Liverpool, posted by Naima

The 21st May 2016 found us at our second new venue of the season, and a first for the Vikings - Knotty Ash – but alas, not a single Diddyman in sight!

We had a slightly soggy start and were in fear of the whole day being a complete wash out, but the Ya Raqs girls are ever optimistic! We managed to put up our little tent and had it looking warm and inviting in no time at all.   The weather may have prevented us from performing at our allotted time in the program – but it didn’t dampen our spirits, despite now being almost ankle deep in water! After a mug of hot tea and a bacon butty we were raring to go!

Still slightly wet underfoot, but if it's good enough for the Vikings....

At one point we thought we were going to have to do our performances in our little home from home, but hey presto, all of a sudden the rain stopped and the sun actually appeared.  So we wrung out our very wet floor coverings and jingly belt, threw them over the bushes behind us to dry; got the music box going and started doing what we do best, performing for our adoring fans. There was a slow but steady stream of people now venturing out and making their way through the muddy gate.

Naima, Meroe and Phoenece - a bit soggy but still dancing!

We had a couple of extra dancers – the first was a lovely Viking lady, who we had met before at other festivals, the second was a young dancer enjoyed getting dressed up and had all the moves in her jingly belt.

Our new recruits

Our neighbour was Cartoonist George Brooks and Naima thought it would be lovely to have her portrait taken. It wasn’t quite what she had in mind, but oh how we laughed!  It was a very good ‘likeness’ you must admit. It is amazing how in just a few minutes he could capture your likeness even down to the curls in the hair and – dare I say it – the double chin! A very talented man.

Naima with her new portrait and artist, George

It is amazing how we always manage to find cake, even in the middle of a muddy field. Knotty Ash was no exception and we found a stall with a wonderful array of cakes and pastries for a hungry dancer to choose from.  We’ve met the lady who runs this stall before - I am sure she follows us around – but they were just what we needed.

As the sun shooed the clouds away and more people came to see what all the noise was about, we performed our next set of dances. And we still managed to fit in some beautiful glitter tattoos in between our performances.

Meroe doing glitter tattoos

As always there were plenty of photo opportunities and today was no exception. One interesting character was a very important looking man from vikingasaga.co.uk and his body guard Toki Miklasson (aka Shaun) from Travellers Through Time, who took the time out to talk to us.

Naima and Kebi with Viking Saga (aka Ian Uzzell) and Toki Milasson (aka Shaun)

All too soon another fantastic day was over. But, just when we thought we would be able to pack away our tent in the dry, it started to rain again. The joys of the great British Summer – but what is a little bit of water?  We all had a brilliant time and the rain didn’t manage to dampen our enthusiasm for entertaining.  We even had a very nice compliment from one of the stall holders, saying that we had brightened what could have been a very dull day.  Everything will soon dry and we’ll be ready for our next event before you know it.

 Thank you Knotty Ash Viking Medieval Market for having us.  See you all very soon.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Ya Raqs do Diversity!

Another new event for Ya Raqs and our first outing to Connahs Quay.  We were very pleased to have been invited to be part of a brand new festival celebrating diversity – North East Wales Diversity Festival.

Lina, Phoenece, Naima and Meroe
With a bag full of spare sparkly hip belts, lots of chiffon scarves and a hand full of Ya Raqs dance certificates we made our way to the Civic Hall for our first of two dance sessions. The first was a workshop and although there were only a few folk to dance with us, boy did they throw themselves in to it.  They all did brilliantly and we even managed to get some of the stewards up too!

Just time for a quick break to recharge our batteries as only Ya Raqs can – and yes, before you ask, that did involve tea and cake!

What cake?  you blinked so you missed it!
Our second set was a trip through the villages of Egypt with folkloric dances from the Delta right down in to Upper Egypt in the south.  We had a great time and it was quite a luxury for us to dance on a proper dance floor, inside – so no fear of getting cold and wet!

Set 2 in full swing with Meroe, Kebi, Lina and Naima
We met up with some old friends – Rob Davies and one of the Ravens from the Tower or London – and made some new ones – in the shape of Paul Shanley, Magician.  Paul wowed us with a private magic show and despite being under Phoenence and Naima’s beady eyes we still couldn’t work out how he did it!

Phoenece and Naima with Rob and the raven.

Phoenece with her 6 of Clubs, but can Paul guess it?  Naima's got the proof - yes he can!
Thanks to all those involved in making the 2016 Diversity festival such a success – and thank you for letting us be part of it.

Monday, 18 April 2016

World Museum Liverpool 10th April, posted by Phoenece

We kicked off our 2016 dance season on Sunday at one of my favourite venues – the World Museum Liverpool.   I was joined by Kebi, Meroe, Naima and one of our new dancers, Lina, whose name means ‘little palm tree’.
Kebi, Meroe, Naima, Pheonece and Lina
Despite only having one short afternoon of dance we still managed to entertain 386 visitors!  Not a bad total for what we were told was one of the quietest Sundays for some time.  On arrival we were warmly greeted by Steve who, as always, looked after us throughout the afternoon and even joined in the fun, dressing up and helping out with the children.

We performed four sets during the afternoon and included lots of audience participation. We started with Tunisian and Moroccan dances which were followed by a scarf dance with our mini-me dancers; one or two of the parents even joined in too.

Scarf dance
We followed this later on with Egyptian, Bedouin and Nubian sets. After the Egyptian set there was a formal workshop led by Meroe.  This is where we dress the children up to dance with us.  Everyone received one of our special Ya Raqs certificate to take home afterwards.

Budding dancers queuing up for the workshop!
Our Tunisian costumes drew the most attention from some of the ladies watching the performance. They were very impressed; no doubt due to the elaborately adorned headdresses and copious amounts of jewellery we wear with the costume!

Meroe's Tunisian Headdress
Our Tunisian costume consists of a full length skirt and shirt covered with an oversized tunic fastened at the shoulders with a pair of fibulae.  It is the bustle and cord hip tassels that accentuate the twisting hip movements in Tunisian dance. Our costumes were made by Meroe, but she drew the line at producing all of the distinctive hip tassels, so she gave us a pattern to work from and we made our own!

Meroe and Kebi adorned with jewellry, including some bought from our
many trips to Morocco and Egypt

Tunisian dancers wore mainly silver jewellery often inlaid with lapis, coral, turquoise and sometimes amber. We make the costumes our own by adding our own individual jewellery.

Fibuale to fix the costumes
Our fibulae were made for us in Morocco and they are all different, but equally as beautiful.We all have such a large collection of jewellery now, which we have added to over the years. I love the large collection of beautiful re-cycled beads, rings and bracelets that I have accumulated from my trips to India.

This is the jewellery I chose to wear on Sunday.
I’m spoilt for choice now when we dance Tunisian; the jewellery is quite heavy and we need to limit it so it doesn’t affect our dancing, particularly as the Tunisian is one of the more energetic of our routines!

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 café 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.