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Belly Dancing in Northern Africa
As a belly dancer, I like traveling to the countries of origin of the Middle Eastern and Northern African dances that gave birth to what many people today know as belly dance.
I like doing this in order to rediscover the roots of these dances in their original cultural settings, thus understanding the dances more deeply. It is a good way for me to combine my passion for dance with my passion for travel and to get good quality dance training.
In doing so, I have also discovered dance genres that I would have not tried at home.
In general, I prefer to travel with a group of other dancers and with trips organised by specialists who know the countries well.
Once you have already been, it is fine to travel on your own I think, but at least the first time it is always better to travel with a reputable company.
There are many reasons for this. First, if you do not know the language and the culture of the place, it is useful to be guided by someone who does know.
Second, if you travel with a group of like-minded people, you can share the experience and have more fun in the process.
What I usually like are dance camps with daily dance classes and intensive immersion in the dance, with some time in between for excursions and exploration.
Dance Workshops in Egypt
For belly dancing, I have been to Egypt twice (Luxor and Cairo) and to Morocco (Fez). I have yet to travel to discover other types of dance, but I do not rule it out in the future.
For a variety of dance genres, a company that runs different trips that I have heard of is Club Dance Holidays.
I have never been to one of the trips they organize, so I cannot comment on them, but they seem to specialize on dance-related trips only.
However, these UK-based companies seem to only run holidays in the UK. If you happen to know of any good company that runs specialized dance holidays in various countries, even specific to a certain genre, please contact me as I am keen to know.
I have heard that you can do the rumba and salsa trips to Cuba, for example, dedicated to dance rather than normal trips with a couple of dance classes thrown in.
Farida Adventures and Nawarra
They both organize dance-centered holidays, with a very authentic feel, using local dance teachers and they have a very good understanding of the cultures of the places.
Nawarra is from Morocco and she is a professional dancer who has an MBA in drama and performance studies from the university in Casablanca; while the owner of Farida Adventures, Kay Taylor, is a professional belly dancer who has been organising trips to Egypt for many years and knows pretty much anyone involved in belly dance in Cairo.
The first time I went to Egypt, it was to Luxor with a trip organized by Farida Adventures.
It was a dance camp, very intensive, with a lot of daily classes in Egyptian dance styles such as oriental, saidi, and Nubian.
We were staying in a beautiful hotel, which was quite a distance from Luxor center, but it was on the shores of the Nile and very nice. We had dedicated dance rooms within the hotel and the use of a lovely swimming pool.
The teachers were Egyptian: Ghazafi, who danced with the Reda Troupe, Dandesha, and Eman Zaki. These names may not mean much if you are not into belly dance, but they are very famous amongst serious Egyptian dance lovers.
We also managed to view the temples near Luxor, go on a hot air balloon ride and go shopping.
I went after the first revolution, so Luxor was already very quiet with very few tourists, a shame for a country that relies on tourism so much.
The icing on the cake was performing with a live band of Egyptian musicians on the last night, an opportunity that every dancer loves to have, as the energy and the vibe that you can get from live music is infinitely better than what you experience dancing to recorded music.
The trip was called Farha Festival and was organized by Farida Adventures for a few years in a row.
Unfortunately, 2013 was the last time they organized the trip due to the low number of participants; even they were affected by the decline in tourism in Egypt in the last few years.
Farida Adventures though still organize trips to Egypt, to Cairo mainly, both for groups and also individually tailored holidays.
Cairo is the place to be for belly dancers from all over the world, with amazing shopping opportunities for belly dance costumes and accessories in every price range (from stalls in the market to expensive designer costumes).
When I went to Cairo it was with Farida Adventures but with a small group, to study Arabic music interpretation. We were also shown some interesting attractions off the beaten track, such as the Oum Kalthoum Museum and the Opera House.
I stayed in a B&B specifically aimed at belly dancers, run by an English belly dancer who has lived and performed in Cairo for over 20 years, Yasmina of Cairo.
If you go to Cairo on your own and you are a dancer, this is the place to go as Yasmina has many contacts with local dancers and musicians and she can put you in contact with them to take private classes.
So far, in Morocco, I have only been to Fez at a dance camp called Funoon Dance Camp (funoon means art in Arabic), which was an amazing experience.
This trip was not specifically about Egyptian dance as the previous ones in Egypt, but about a lot of different types of Northern African and Middle Eastern dances.
The dances include Moroccan Shaabi, Turkish Romani dance, Persian classical, Tunisian, Algerian dances such as rai and Andalusian scarf dance (taught by Amel Tafsout an Algerian dancer and teacher well known in the belly dance community), Moroccan trance dances, and Tunisian folkloric dance.
It was the perfect opportunity to sample many different genres. Nawarra organizes one of these trips every year to a different city in Morocco and also the classes differ, involving different genres and teachers every year.
Just like the Farha Festival in Luxor, the Funoon Dance Camp is very intensive and it usually takes place in a hotel, which has conference rooms used for dancing classes.
Even during this trip participants had the opportunity to perform to live music and to go sightseeing and have time for shopping and relaxing in addition to dancing.
I found both the Farha Festival and the Funoon Dance Camp great holidays and perfect for people who love dance, culture and the camaraderie between dancers (participants in both trips all got on very well and shared wonderful memories of dance and laughter).
The main difference was the types of dance studied and of course the location.
In Fez you cannot find the same belly dance costumes you can find in Cairo, nor the same accessories.
However, you can find a lot of beautiful and colourful kaftans, Moroccan style hip-scarves (the ones worn by shikhat, who are professional traditional Moroccan dancers), many traditional musical instruments and beautiful jewelry and fabrics.
The main place to go for shopping in Fez is the Medina (the historic city centre), which is rich not only of shops selling traditional merchandise but also of interesting and stunning architecture.
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