For the first time in many years, Etang and I are not dancing at Rakkasah. You might ask, what is Rakkasah, and why does it matter? Rakkasah Middle Eastern Folk Festival and Fantasy Bazaar bills itself as the largest bellydance festival in the world. Held in Richmond, California, hundreds of bellydancers from throughout California, the nation and even as far as Ludwiggstadt, Germany come to perform, attend workshops, enjoy the live bands and sample the wares of jewelry, costume and a variety of other merchants. As an audience member, you are treated to a cornucopia of bellydance styles, personalities, costumes and music choices.
Performing at Rakkasah has been an annual ritual for us. Hours of preparation were spent finding the right music, rehearsing new routines and altering costumes. The event was an opportunity to step up our game and ready ourselves for a year of dance challenges and triumphs. But this year we were unable to secure a performance slot through the festival’s lottery system. This felt like a curious start to a year full of new experiences and unknowns. Our mainstay was no longer there for us. Could this be an ominous omen?
We settled into this reality, deciding to embrace it as an opportunity. As the saying goes, the only constant in the world is change. So go with it! After all, we have changed. We are not walking into Rakkasah in 2012 as the same bellydancers that we were in 2011. Who we are, what we are doing and even how we dance have radically changed. As Raks Africa, we are still very much performers. We enjoy the energy that we give and get from an audience. But as owners of Your Body Raks, Rakkasah this year is a space for us to engage the bellydance community in a very different way.
Our conversations about the dance are from a new perspective. I got a taste of this at last year’s festival, when I chatted with a friend about the various responsibilities one takes on when teaching dance. And then there is the dance itself. I’m excited about watching many of my favorites, like San Francisco’s Oreet, Ranya Renee out of New York and Leila Haddad of France, as well as discovering up and coming dancers. And this year, Etang and I will be in the bellydancer’s version of a candy store. Surrounded by all that glitters, we will be assisting Sherri at the Shiny Sparkly Things booth. Can you say joy?