(Founder and Artistic Director: Susie White)

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.

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.