European ‘Raqs Britannia’ Bellydance Festival in Sheffield

June 30, 2010 Updated: October 1, 2015

Part of the pre-selection stage of 'Miss Piranda' beauty and belly-dance contest in Bucharest, 28 January 2008. 'Miss Piranda' has become a popular contest especially among gypsy people, promoting their traditional and modern music. (Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images)
Part of the pre-selection stage of 'Miss Piranda' beauty and belly-dance contest in Bucharest, 28 January 2008. 'Miss Piranda' has become a popular contest especially among gypsy people, promoting their traditional and modern music. (Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images)
Europe’s largest bellydance festival came to Sheffield in the North of England for the first time over the weekend. With more than 60 different bellydance workshops, a brand new performance from the world acclaimed “Bellydance Superstars”, an authentic outside Tunisian market, and at least one extremely lively after-show party, it was a celebration to remember for all bellydancing fans.

Although a spellcheck might resist "bellydance" as one word, it is actually part of a movement to take the emphasis off "belly" which is a limited Western interpretation of an ancient dance form.

Among many highlights was the “Art of Bellydance” show performed by the “Bellydance Superstars”. Set up by Miles Copeland, brother to Stewart Copeland, founder of the rock band The Police, they showcase a wide variety of bellydance styles.

From the traditional forms of Egyptian Raqs Sharqi, to Cabaret and Indian Fusion, to more tribal movements influenced by electronic/Arabic Fusion, the scope was broad, roughly tracing the history of bellydance from ancient times until modern.

The digital backdrops were evocative and the effect rather powerful.

Most expressive were the pieces accompanied by live drumming, where the musician and dancer could respond to each other. One such stand out moment was an intense and controlled bellydance master class by solo artist Sonja. Using the whole stage in a breathtaking display, she suddenly, at the peak of contained energy, burst into expansive, fluid movements. Memorable indeed.

All of the dancers were also very accomplished drummers, and the audience responded enthusiastically throughout the show, expressing a genuine engagement with the performance. Balkan bellydancing is currently in fashion, and the violin on the Eastern European numbers was exquisite. The only shame is that, other than the drumming, the accompanying music was not live.

The weekend festival included numerous workshops given by teachers from as far apart as the USA, Egypt and Australia. You could chose from, among many others, Bollywood Fusion, Flamenco Fusion, Tribal Fusion, Indian Fusion, Bedouin Dance, Oriental Ballet, and even Iraqi Style, known as Kawliat.

Women speak of a sense of self-empowerment and a closer connection with their bodies. Although participants in the classes were mainly women, there is a growing movement to reclaim the traditions of male bellydancing. There is a carved relief, discovered near Cairo, which indicates that male bellydancing may date back to the time of the pharaohs.