Somewhere around 2016, I found out I was part-Irish. Since that day, visiting Ireland became a priority.
When I started Belly Dance Network back in 2017, I made it my goal that all future trips would be belly dance related and, therefore, a tax write-off. Thank you, tax law!
This year, I decided that it was finally time to go to Ireland. To my surprise, there was a belly dance festival in the same month I had hoped to go. That festival was Raqs Ireland, hosted by Katya Kiipli, in the city of Limerick. I messaged their Instagram page and started asking questions about the festival. They were so helpful and I decided to purchase the VIP pass right away.
With the festival pass purchased, I was officially excited. Planning the details of my hotel, flight and transportation did prove a tiny bit time-intensive since Limerick itself is a two and a half hour bus ride from the Dublin airport. I was planning to be in London right before my flight to Dublin and assumed that flights would be very affordable because both cities were in the UK. Girl, was I wrong. I ended up spending $500 on round trip flights from London to Dublin and back a few days before the festival. Never book flights last minute under the assumption it will be cheap because the cities are geographically close! I knew better, too. But it still happened. Ouch. Also there were no hostels in Limerick, so I dished out extra cash to get a hotel.
Oh well, I made it to Limerick! I had a bit of time before my first workshop so I checked into my hotel and relaxed a bit before taking a city bus to the festival location. As I found out later, the bus schedule is unreliable, but luckily I wasn’t late!
For those unfamiliar with the belly dance festival scene, most of them include three components:
- Workshops (a.k.a, intensive classes with professional teachers);
- Competitions (amateur, professional, troupe, etc.); and
- Shows (professional and open level stage).
Because I purchased the VIP pass, everything was included in my 215 USD (190 Euros) purchase. My personal favorite part of the festivals? The workshops!
Shortly before the start of the festival, we were notified that one of the instructors was unable to get her visa to the UK and therefore she would not be teaching. We were given a refund immediately. Thank you, Katya!
I walked into the room and what was my first thought? I am the only redhead! Irony of ironies. How did this happen? I finally came all the way to Ireland, the only place where I so obviously fit in, and I still stick out. Well, okay then! Can I be the spokesperson? 🙂
Saturday afternoon I arrived for the first workshop, which was taking place inside a health club. I loved the location. If I had been better prepared, I would have enjoyed a post-workout sauna or dip in the hot tub. Next time. 🙂
The first workshop was called Tarab: Emotional Interpretation, taught by Catarina Branco (Portugal). I particularly liked that we were given a translation of the song we were dancing too. Learning the translation of a song truly provides context for your movements, even though belly dance is not necessarily a literal form of expression. We wouldn’t want to smile too intensely when the song is expressing loss of love, for example, as Arabic songs often do.
Speaking of emoting… this is a big area I still struggle with publicly. I tend to get the robot face, even after training for over nine years in this style. I tried to get out of my shell in this class and I think I did! No matter how long you have been dancing, there is always something to learn from all of the international teachers at our disposal.
The next day, I took a workshop called Improvisation: Learning and Teaching Methods with the organizer, Katya (Ireland). This workshop focused on techniques to help you break down a song into pieces to be better able to choreograph. For example, we did an exercise that focused just on moving your arms during a section. Then, we experimented with dancing only to the rhythm & not to the melody. Being a Type A person, this actually helped me relax around the concept of improvising by dividing into sections. Personally, learning other people’s choreography is my strength and improvisation has always been a huge obstacle, something I have tended to avoid… But, as they say, never give up! These techniques really helped me progress.
It was now time for the competitions, which many belly dancers say is their favorite part! Some spend up to a year working on an original choreography that is somewhere between 3-8 minutes in length with the hope to achieve that first place trophy and a tiara (yes, there are tiaras in belly dance!). I did a few competitions in 2015 and quickly found out just how stressful and involved they truly were! Props to all of the ladies who took a chance and entered.
The festival had a good mix of categories for dancers to compete in, with many dancers actually competing in multiple categories. I attempted to guess who would win first and second place in each category and it was a fun game.
The show happened on the same night as the competitions. Being able to watch the teachers perform was a highlight for me! It is so cool to see the change when an instructor performs…
From classroom to stage there is a very distinct change in the way a teacher teaches to the way they perform. During a workshop, the environment is more casual and of course more focused on helping the student learn. During a performance, they get dressed to the nines, get their faces on and bring out the bling!
When I first started belly dancing, my experience was exclusively with a troupe. I did not perform my first solo until 2015, and I have to say to this day, I prefer troupes! Going out there on your own and being able to hold the audience’s attention is an immense skill. Watching Catarina perform, I could immediately see she had that skill.
One of my favorite parts of this festival was actually… the dinner! Why? I was traveling alone, to a country I had never been before, and I didn’t know anyone there! A lot of festivals can be so big that for an introvert, like myself, it can be difficult to reach out to other dancers in between all of the activities. These events are often very busy, with close timelines and goal-focused tasks. Therefore, having some pre-set time to meet teachers, organizers and other dancers in a relaxed context with delicious food and actually getting to talk to them was invaluable! I’m in the back! 🙂
I can’t end this blog post and not mention just how stunning Ireland really is. If you have heard the rumors of fog-engulfed, green, mystical lands, they are not wrong. It is the greenest place I have ever seen with my own two eyes (and I am living in the Pacific Northwest)! I made a solo trip to John’s Castle between the workshop and the dinner and got lost on purpose across the water. Oh yes, I will be back.
Until my next post…
Amanda is the founder of Belly Dance Network. For over 9 years, she has been studying the art of belly dance. She began her training in Orlando, FL & now resides in Portland, OR. In 2015, she began traveling regularly to attend workshops from teachers including Alla Kushnir, Ahmed Hussien, Marta Korzun, Jillina, & many more. It was shortly after this time that the idea for Belly Dance Network was born.
Although trained as an economist, she knew at a young age that dance held her heart. After much experimentation, she found a way to turn her passion into a career. She now dedicates herself full-time to connecting dancers, sharing content, making dance videos, and more.