When I scroll through my Facebook feed on a Monday morning I often get depressed at seeing posts from friends who were out having fun at weekend belly dance events and I feel like I hardly ever go to any. Poor Cinderella Rita. However, when you hear my husband sigh and say ‘going out again?’ it is apparent that I get my fair share of fun belly events.
I only go to those events that I think I’ll like and can afford. Not for me week-long ‘projects’ or ten-week intensives. What I like is a nice time away from home with dance options. Twenty years ago I would have revelled in events that stretched and challenged me mentally and physically, but these days the sight of some contorted, limber young thing on an event poster makes me think, “I don’t like the look of that”, “that’ll play hell with my back”, “I can’t remember choreos”. And so on. I don’t need that level of stress and worry when I set out to dance, I look for those events that enrich me and comfort me.
My favourite events are Farida Dance Shimmy up North at Borwick (I still call it Ford, and probably always will), the Jewel of Yorkshire Festival (run by Mandy Teasdale and Chris Ogden in Saltaire), Castlehead Residential (originally run by Anna Bisco/Loveday in South Lakeland) and Gothla (Leicester). Each is fun (or I wouldn’t go) and each is different.
I like dance residential events because you have three days to immerse yourself in the dance. I like that you could stay in your dance gear all day long and not have to change. I like the way you can try out new props or new dance styles without committing yourself. I like the fact that you can challenge yourself by working with a top-level teacher one moment or you can chill out in a non-dance workshop the next.
But the best bit about residentials is that you get to spend time with like-minded people and build friendships and relationships that otherwise only exist on Facebook.
I have friends that I hold dear and yet I’ve only ever met them at weekend dance events, or shared a dressing room with them. You just know that if you lived closer, had worked in the same firm, or gone to the same college you’d be friends for life. But you’ve only met through Facebook and the odd circumstances of enjoying the same hobby of belly dance. But that knowledge is there and when you meet again after 12 months the hugs and pleasure in each other’s company are real.
In my youth I used to go to Star Trek conventions (yes, I know) and whilst I only ever made one or two long term friends from that, the SF weekend-away-from-home was a chance to reinvent myself. No one knew me – I didn’t have to remain Plain Jane who was shy, or the 4th child, or the girl from that rough estate. At SF cons I could become a new woman and I wasn’t judged differently to anyone else.
The same is true of dance weekends. Once you book in, crack open that first bottle and pour a toast to the weekend, you are mary Jane the Dancer, not ‘Mum’, or ‘her indoors’ or ‘the boss’ or any other label that you suffer under. You leave all that behind and you are merely (merely I say!) a dancer who is willing to learn, improve and be part of the belly dance world.