Monday, 4 April 2011

Simply The Best : We love JoY!

And so it is over. The last strains of evocative music have faded into nothingness. The weary traders have packed away the final few shimmering, jingling hip scarves. The doors have closed on the last groups of tired but happy dancers.The stage is bare and the lofty stairways and ornate rooms of the magnificent Victoria Halls return to emptiness and echoes of what was. And another wonderful JoY festival comes to a close....

The great stone lions that guard the entrance are left once more to brood alone in silence. And together with them we too reflect, amidst a stash of sparkly souk prizes, a pile of workshop notes and a heart full of happy memories. Why do we love JoY so? What is it that brings us back, not year after year, but half-year after half-year? What strange magic does it hold that compels us to return again and again?

Oh, the drama and poetry of it all!

Still, why DO we love JoY so? Well, here are ten good reasons!

1)  THE ATMOSPHERE. Friendly, welcoming, intimate. Compared to some bellydance festivals JoY might be considered small - but perfectly formed. But hey, it isn't THAT small. It's large enough to attract renowned teachers from all over the world - of which more later! And yet despite its success it has never lost sight of its vision, has never succumbed to the lure of abandoning that sense of intimacy in favour of an expansion into anonymity. Quite simply, it is what it is - and it's a winning formula!

2) THE TEACHERS. Yasmina of Cairo, Eman Zaki, Sara Farouk, Khaled Mahmoud, Mohammed El Hosseny, Khalida - just a handful of the internationally acclaimed teachers who have graced the floors of the JoY festival recently. However, JoY never loses its commitment to home grown talent too - this time, amongst others we were treated to classes and performances from, amongst others, Chris Ogden, Beverley Spracklen, Tracey Gibbs and Nawarra. The merits of this stretch way beyond mere name-dropping. The care with which teachers are selected means that they really know their stuff. This weekend for example we enjoyed a fabulous workshop on Bollybellywood, led by Katie Holland. Katie spends much of her time in India and so was not only able to teach us the steps but could also give us reams of fascinating background information about both the dance and its meaning and about the bollywood and bellydance worlds out there too. And she isn't alone in this - JoY teachers are certainly up there amongst the best!

3) THE WORKSHOPS. There really is something for everyone. This time you could have studied ATS or Khaleegi, Costume Making or Stagecraft, Drumming or Qi Gong, Baladi or Gothic Tribal Fusion ... or indeed, made your choices from many more options. The only complaints we ever hear at JoY come from limping, worn out souls who groan soulfully, 'Why oh why did I book on so many workshops - AGAIN?!' As soon as the booking sheet for the next JoY comes out dancers can be seen all around the building, poring over it, making their choices and handing over their cash ... sometimes BEFORE they've actually done all their workshops at the current JoY! And there isn't just something for everyone in terms of topics being taught - from absolute beginners guides to masterclasses for more experienced and accomplished dancers, JoY can cater for you regardless of your level of expertise. And what's more, it won't do it by cramming 80 or more of you into one room ... classes are deliberately kept small to ensure that you get the level of instruction and attention that you're paying for. Oh - and you certainly can't complain about the cost. You pay for exactly what you choose, so can do as many - or as few - workshops as you want. Next time these range from £5 up to £25 depending on the length and topic of the workshop and on the teacher. So again they cater for us all.

4) THE LOCATION. Nestling just north of Bradford, Saltaire is a great place for a bellydance festival. OK, so it may be a way to travel from Cornwall or Caithness (although our friend Carol regularly makes the trek up from Padstow) but wherever you choose is going to be a fair distance from somebody, and Yorkshire isn't TOO bad as regards being central-ish. Travel links are very good in terms of both road and rail links  and the hall is literally only two minutes walk from the station - as evidenced by the hordes of dancers making their way up from the station every time a fresh train arrives during a JoY weekend! Accommodation nearby is good (and not too costly) and there are things to occupy non-dancing partners (for example the historic Salts Mill). What more could you want?

Well, how about a beautiful building with a magnificent hall where you can relax over a cuppa and browse the souk in between workshops? How about large airy rooms under the same roof, perfect for workshops? Gardens in front, complete with those stone lions, where the hardened smokers can chill and chat? Indeed,what more could you want?

5) THE SOUK. And so on to the serious subject of sparkly acquisition! Now, at some of the larger dance festivals you walk into a veritable town full of stalls - and the heady rush you feel as you are bombarded from all sides by colour and shimmers is indescribable. But inevitably once you start to browse you do find lots of duplication - and indeed  an extensive range in quality of goods on offer. JoY usually has around 7 or 8 stalls, nestled around the edges of the main hall, but that is actually quite enough to give you that sparkly rush! And those stalls are high quality - Whirling Dervish, Pauline Qu,  Tribezuza, Shimmy Shop, Aladdin's Cave, Katie Holland with her Shakti pants, Farida complete with Eman Zaki .... whatever your style of dance and related needs, whether they be for costuming, props or dvds, the world's your oyster at JoY! There's a real bustle about the souk too - and about the tables in the centre of the hall where dancers drool longingly over one another's purchases.

6) THE FOOD. You certainly won't starve at JoY! Just visit the cafe at the back of the main hall and you can graze to your heart's content - sandwiches, pies, jacket potatoes, salads, cakes, fruit, tea, coffee, water ... and all of it delicious! I can personally recommend the scrumptious cakes and the cheese and onion pie to die for. Oh, and I mustn't forget the delicious fried egg sandwiches with tomato sauce - the front of my nice black t-shirt can testify to their yumminess! (Guess who had to spend the whole of Chris' zil workshop yesterday with her top on inside out to hide the mucky mess she'd made of herself? Jokes about eggy muffins abounded ...)

7) THE ORGANISATION. It's just impeccable, from the timely  and plentiful information on the website to the super-efficient handling of bookings to the smooth but friendly way in which everything is run during the event itself. Even the volcanic ash incident which prevented some teachers getting to the event last April didn't visibly throw Chris and Mandy - calm and serene on the surface, though no doubt paddling away frantically beneath the ripples! And it's a bit of a Forth Bridge scenario --- before one event is even under way they are busy making arrangements for the next, so that when we arrive the booking forms and details for the following JoY are all there ready for us! Huge thanks need to go out to these ladies and all their helpers. They never cease to amaze - and never let us down!

8) THE TIMING. Twice a year. Only six months to wait until the next one. Nuff said.

9)  THE HAFLA. Held in the Main Hall on the Saturday night, this includes performances from the festival's teachers and from winners of the Friday night competition. This year there was also music from Arcomnia, a local band - Jo tell us that they went down really well, and soon had folk up and dancing! We did miss the hafla this time around, but fear not - we pumped Jo for information and got a few soundbites for you regarding some of this year's performances :

Khaled Mahmoud : " His glistening gold and bronze fishscales and shimmery, glittery pectoral shimmies nearly took out my retinas!"
Tracey Gibbs : " A beautiful, heartfelt veil dance"
Chris & Debbie : "Fabulous, tight formations"
Beverley Spracklen : "Spooky but cute!"
Khalida : " Elegant. classical Egyptian, with wonderful musicality"
Moirai Tribal : " Beautiful costumes, elegant dance"
Mohammed El Hosseny : "Great Nubian and Saidi stick"
Katie Holland : " Truly beautiful Indian solo"

There you go Jo! Now that wasn't so bad, was it?!

And to add to the whole glorious show, 400 Roses performed in their 'natural habitat' this year - outside the hall - delighting festival goers and passers-by alike!

10) THE PEOPLE. Last but not least, the people. That's what makes JoY the joy that it is! Super-welcoming organisers and helpers who, despite being run off their feet, are never too busy to stop for a quick chat to check that you're ok. Friendly traders, who not only know their stuff but are so helpful and always up for a bit of banter! They make shopping even more of a pleasure than it normally is! Teachers who, no matter how acclaimed, aren't too proud to join the rest of us over coffees in the hall and are always ready to chat and answer questions. And finally the dancers ---- friendships formed, renewed, cemented in corridors, souks, workshops, shows. There are the JoY regulars - so many 'Hello's to say and catching ups to do since last time. The people you see every week in class - workshop info and souk buys to catch up on. And the folk you've never met before - the strangers who are just friends you haven't made yet - and who will become part of your sea of 'Hello, how are you?'s at the next event. They all contribute to the whole wonderful JoY feeling -- which takes us right back to Number 1 - the atmosphere!

So THAT'S why we love JoY. Chris and Mandy - thank you for all that you do. Don't ever stop!!

If you want to find out more about JoY then check out their website.

Right, I'm off for a bit of post-JoY rest and recuperation! Until next time, happy dancing!

Thanks to the beautiful Jeanette Evans - a JoY 'regular' - for the performance photos.

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