Sun, Sea, Sand and Shimmies: RockIt’s Adventure Abroad!
7 dancers, 5 menfolk, 6 flights and 29 degree heat. What could go wrong? Absolutely nothing, as it happened; RockIt have just returned from a fabulous working holiday to Kyrenia, North Cyprus. And it was a blast.
In an amazingly seamless feat of organisation, we travelled across Europe, to meet up with Shifan Ôzseza, the organiser of Kyrenia Belly Dance Fusion Festival, to teach a dance workshop on the Saturday and perform at the gala show on the Sunday. Everybody was incredibly enthusiastic about the trip – our first RockIt working holiday – but also had plenty of questions too. How would our unique style of dance be received in another country? What would we learn from other dancers and performers? And, after training for years in the Rainy City, could we dance in such high temperatures?
Everything went brilliantly; the troop took a workshop with international dancer Elis Pinheiro on the Saturday, learning Samba steps, and other Brazilian dance concepts. Our own teachers Em and Sas taught their own 3-hour workshop, RockIt style. Sunday was the big day, the chance for us to showcase our talents amongst other professional and student performers. I found the introduction to the festival really thought-provoking; the presenters explained that over the years the art and skill involved in belly dance have been overlooked, and as such it has been viewed reductively as nothing more than sleaze, something performed primarily for the benefit of men. It’s an interesting point; I know that many of our dancers (and other belly dancers too) have had the raised-eyebrowed, ‘Oh that’s what you do’ kind of reaction when trying to explain RockIt’s style of dance. And it’s very frustrating!
Our Cypriot hosts went on to describe their view of dance and also of the festival generally; it was about reclaiming dance (in particular) for women, but also about appreciating the years of work and dedication performers have committed to their art. They used the analogy of ‘rebirth’; perhaps suggesting that the idea of belly dance and other forms of art could be viewed differently from now on. There was also a strong message of peace throughout the day; our hosts mentioned that they hoped mediums such as art and dance could eventually reunite North and South Cyprus. There was certainly more to this festival than simply just another Hafla.
The day’s performance took us through a diverse range of styles: from some traditional folklore dance (involving some impressive balancing skills) to belly dance fusion (such as belly dance flamenco) and contemporary. There were also performances from men – and children! The contemporary piece was one of my favourites; a purely physical piece that took my breath away with the amount of skill involved, and showed the dancers’ strength, agility and poise. Em and Sas were also VIPS for the afternoon, as they were part of the judging panel for the later competition – a tough job, but our ladies know good dancing when they see it!
And then – it was our turn. As is so often the case, after the performance we received lots of compliments from strangers – telling us how unique, energetic and sometimes intimidating we can be. Quote of the day came from an audience member who said she’d ‘love RockIt to dance at (her) funeral’! (Which interestingly is not the first time we’ve received that unique compliment!)
Over the last five years, I’ve danced with RockIt all over the country: at festivals, at haflas, in a parade, at a tattoo festival and even on a boat swaying down a river! We’ve been on many road trips and I’ve enjoyed them all. I love the way heads turn when people see our costumes. I love the way mouths drop open when we start to dance. I love the questions and comments from the audience and other performers. In Cyprus, this even extended to requests for photos, so perhaps we really did wow Kyrenia with something very different. Doing all this abroad gave it, for me, something a little extra too; a chance to be even more proud of my part in RockIt. It also got me thinking about the friendships I’ve made during the last few years; some of my most brilliant memories have been made with my fellow performers, people I am privileged to call my friends.
And then, with the performance over, it was off out to celebrate. But first, we had to get back to town. So a local kindly called us a taxi. It arrived, with a smiley driver. We all got in. Nothing bizarre about that, until halfway to town, the driver stopped, let in a few random strangers and kept on driving. I’m not sure who was the most surprised – us or the new passengers. Turns out it wasn’t really a taxi, just a very small bus… with a driver taking us on a magical mystery tour somewhere, and who wasn’t sure how much bus fare to charge us. I love holidays!
Us RockIteers (and our menfolk) have much in common, but in particular is our love good food and booze (oh and cats). There was no shortage of either in Kyrenia (there were also plenty of kittens for us to coo over) – imagine our delight on day one as the hotel bartender announced, in all seriousness, ‘this bar never closes.’ So we all went off to a fantastic (and inexplicably cheap) restaurant to eat as much as possible. We really did stuff ourselves, before literally waddling off back to our hotels. This set the tone for the rest of the holiday – eat, drink, snooze in the sun. Repeat.
I began RockIt as a complete beginner, with no dance or performance experience. Now I can camel, shimmy, butt scoop and weeble. I can do chest rolls, slinks, tilts and the human condom. I never thought one day I’d be invited to dance at a festival abroad with eleven other amazing people.
I love RockIt and all those in it. You’re all truly awesome.