Belly Dancing In London Goes to Oxford

Victoria Egyptian style belly dance
London belly dancers Victoria and Sureya

At the weekend the London belly dance scene had a little road trip from London to Oxford for Hannah Newton’s Casbah Cafe and Turkish Spectacular. Before 9 am on Saturday five of us were crammed in Sureya’s car and on our way to Oxford. Our party was made up of myself, Sarah Malik, Samar, Sureya and Ozgen. Ozgen and Sureya were going to be teaching in Oxford that day. Some of us were already quite giddy on the way there with some singing and dancing in the car. I, however, was still feeling pretty lethargic after collecting my new costume from the other side of London and then painting my nails and sewing into the small hours the previous night.

Haflas and workshops outside of London are quite a different proposition to ones held in the metropolis as they are often held in community venues whereas in London there are very few community venues available for hire.   Also, its rare to find a hafla in London on a weekend evening; they are generally always on “school nights”. Hannah holds her hafla in Kidlington Green Social Club situated in a large village on the outskirts of Oxford. It was refreshing to have a change of scenery from London, though the rural setting exacerbated my hay fever somewhat.

Sureya taught the first workshop in the morning on the topic of Turkish Oryantal. She outlined the key differences between Turkish oryantal style and Egyptian style belly dance. I specialise mainly in Egyptian style belly dance, but get bookings for Turkish restaurants and parties so I was keen to learn more about the stylistic differences. It was a challenging workshop with some intricate layers and isolations and a frenetic tempo.

Then there was a break for lunch. Hannah’s events are extremely well organised as they include proper break times with refreshments provided so there’s no rushing around in a thirty minute break trying to find a nearby supermarket in a strange town. She also organises lots of fun diversions like a lucky dip, free gifts and raffles. All the participants received a hamsa keyring this time around. The gift last time was a lip balm/chapstick but unfortunately when they were wrapped up they looked rather like tampons.

The second workshop was taught by Ozgen on Turkish Romani style. This class had the challenge of the unusual 9/8 rhythm which is an asymmetrical rhythm with a bouncy feel. Asymmetric rhythms are relatively uncommon in western European music so it feels a little alien to dance to at first. We were taught some simple combinations to music but really it is something that you have to learn to feel. Once you start thinking about counting and what your feet are doing, you start to lose it. I can say that Ozgen was very patient with us!

Then there was another break whilst the room was prepared for the hafla. More food and cakes were served. The hafla was a three act show. Its impossible to talk about every act that performed but here are some of my personal highlights.

Early on there was a performance by Nicky to El Awazel from one of Yasmina’s CDs. Using music from Yasmina’s CDs is a sign of impeccable taste as far as I am concerned. Chrissy did a beautiful and expressive performance to Ya Msafer Wahdak. There was a double cane routine by Hanna to another of Yasmina’s recordings (Hassan Ya Ghouli). This reminded me that I really should pick up double cane again and choreograph something sometime soon. Another delight was fellow London dancer Samar, who danced to a version of Sert El Hob and almost brought a tear to my puffy hay fever-afflicted eyes. A final mention goes to Monica who was also dancing with cane and used a very nice piece of music that seemed to be a medley which ended with Zay El Hawa. And of course the guest stars Sureya and Ozgen performed their signature styles to close each set. I don’t need to tell you that they were good!

I also managed to do a little bit of shopping at the Bellydance Boutique and picked up a rare-ish ethnographical textbook on the Baladi Women of Cairo, which I am going to read and write about soon. I can’t wait! It was nice to see Gary and Krystina again as I don’t get to see them as much now that Arabesque Nights is no more.

I finally arrived home in London at about 1am, after leaving the house at 7.30am. It was a long but fulfilling day. Hannah runs a tight ship as far as event organisation goes and remained serene and calm throughout the day. It really was one of the best organised haflas I have ever been to and I would highly recommend it.

The next events in Oxford are Sara Shrapnell’s workshops on 14 July and Katie Holland’s on 22 September.  Like and follow the Casbah Cafe on Facebook to get all the updates.