Earthy joy of women dancers

PUBLISHED: 12:55 01 June 2006 | UPDATED: 10:14 06 May 2010

Claire Morgan practises Raqs Sharqi

Claire Morgan practises Raqs Sharqi

COLOUR, movement and joy lie at the heart of Raqs Sharqi Egyptian dance, rarely performed in this country but a regular feature of events in North Herts. Teachers from around the South East will be getting together on June 11 to stage a spectacular show t

COLOUR, movement and joy lie at the heart of Raqs Sharqi Egyptian dance, rarely performed in this country but a regular feature of events in North Herts.

Teachers from around the South East will be getting together on June 11 to stage a spectacular show to raise money for Rhythms of the World, the largest free music festival in the country which takes place in Hitchin on July 15 and 16.

Claire Morgan, who will be performing at both events, is rehearsing hard. She has been an enthusiastic dancer since she moved to Hitchin with a toddler 10 years ago and saw the group performing in the Market Place.

"I wanted something to do that would help me get fit and was for me rather than babies. I like dancing and performing and when I saw these women I thought it was fantastic, the costumes and the rhythm and the movement just suited me and what I wanted.

"I picked it up really easily, as if I had always done it, and it's become a complete obsession. My background was in training and teaching adults so I started teaching it about five years ago."

Claire, who lives in Hitchin and works as a community development officer for the Over 50s at North Hertfordshire District Council, loves the group and her students. "There's such a nice rapport because it's a woman's dance.

"You can go out in the evening feeling really tired and thinking you don't want to do anything and by the end you are full of energy."

Through Raqs Sharqi, Claire has travelled widely, including to Egypt where she has studied, and she has learned a lot about exotic cultures. She knows the history of the colourful costumes the dancers wear, the origins of what was once a gipsy folk dance and how it has developed into its present form.

Surprisingly it is a dance that suits a wide range of people. "We're all shapes, ages and levels of fitness," she said. "Some people have got dodgy knees and have to take it easy. It's such a natural dance form that you can do it to the best of your ability and fit in. It's about feeling the music and expressing yourself."

The full skirts, beads and coins on the scarves wound around the dancers' hips and their bare feet all add to the colourful, shimmering effect.

"We want a rounded earthy feel. It's not all hips, we use our legs and knees, feet and ankles," said Claire. "Belly dancers don't do such sharp hip movements as we do."

Costumes, which come from Turkey and the Nile, can be expensive but women need to spend very little to start. As they get more enthusiastic they often want to embellish their clothes and use Egyptian scarves and Oriental fabrics. "Part of the fun is dressing up," Claire said.

She has a long dress made from antique Egyptian wedding veils with wire woven into the fabric to shimmer as she moves.

See the stunning Raqs Sharqi dancers for yourself and support Hitchin's amazing Rhythms of the World festival by going along to Woodside Hall in Walsworth Road, Hitchin, on Sunday, June 11 at 7.30pm.

For tickets, costing £9 in advance or £12 on the bar, call Claire on 07984 423033. She will also be starting a new beginners' class at the North Herts Minority Ethnic Forum headquarters in Unity House, Whinbush Road, Hitchin, in the autumn.

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