We need to talk - was in short the idea behind creating Al Raqs conference we could enjoy last September. Having five days full of amazing and experienced speakers sharing their knowledge and talks was really special. There was a huge pile of inspiration, motivation, skills and even emotions shared across the globe - literally. Speakers and attendees joined online from Brazil, U.S., Japan, Germany, Egypt, Czech republic, Saudi Arabia, India, Singapore, Mexico, Spain, and more. But the subjects were not about oriental dance styles, rhythms or movement workshops… we talked about inclusivity, LGBTQIA+, history of raqs sharqi, folklore research, building the website, coaching, competitions, mental health importance, self-care tips, body positivity, how to get invited to events, differences in performing for crowds in countries of origin and much more!
Behind the idea
Conference format was not new to me, I had been organizing a conference for dancers in Czech republic since 2013 and it was always a huge success. Suddenly, there was a place to talk about things that couldn't be discussed at classes or festivals that were full of “just” dancing. As it is quite common for other dance formats, Raqs Sharqi never had a stable and international conference, not a kind where everybody was welcome (this is my personal opinion).
After about a year of having this idea I took a chance and dared to plan a pilot of Al Raqs conference starting with a program drawing. I was having an idea of different “umbrella” subjects I would like to include such as inclusivity, marketing, well-being… I also knew it is not gonna be just a one day conference and with virtual possibilities I decided to run a 5 days maraton of lectures with one, very affordable price and scholarships. I want to highlight scholarship options as every field is having such opportunities but I have never seen it at raqs sharqi/oriental/fusion festivals (but I am sure there are some!) and I highly suggest that every organizer reserve some spots in their program for people that cannot afford it but are eager to learn!
What have we learnt
I would love to highlight what was shared at the conference, cos wow! I was inspired! And considering the feedback from attendees, not just me. Since there were six lectures a day I will talk about just some of them to keep you focused but I want to say that EVERY EACH of the lectures were wonderful and useful and I have a lot to say about all of them!
The History & Research day was the first day of the conference and I really loved that we talked about how we can learn from the past and actually - how some things are repeating! Sigrid Van Roode shared her expertise about jewelry and its stories that they carry. Because guess what, they are not just pretty decorations but for the people of culture they are healing amulets, the jingle anklets can be practical to know where you kid is running and coins applied in headpieces, kind of wallets, were used to pay at markets and had a sense of portable wealth. Jessica Préstes held a lecture about Domari society that is present in the Middle East and its connection to Egypt, where they are known for entertainment, ghawazee dance or even fortune telling. Yet they are marginalized and ignored by many, leaving them on the outskirt of cities and society as well. Nisaa took us to the past and talked about the importance of historical research. She highlighted the hypocrisy of judging dancers for being vulgar “these days” compared to the “proper” dancing in the Golden Era, when we know that Golden Era dancers were criticized the same way at their times. Very useful was when she talked about the history of sexuality and eroticism that is present in Egyptian dance since dance existed.
Other speakers of the day - Karina Chistova, Badriyah, Shining
For Marketing & Business day I want to mention Katie’s very practical lecture about how to create REELS and what common mistakes are, like posting the same content all over again or keeping the video too long. Highlighting the fact that we all scroll quite fast through our feed and it is necessary to keep the reels short and on point cos you get maybe 3 seconds to attract. Samantha Karim was sharing tips that helped her to identify and then successfully run her business, for example setting the mission, vision and values. We all could try the simple exercise she led us through to deep dive into what matters when creating the business. Have you ever thought about what values you want to base your business offer? Cera Byer’s lecture was well on point for every dancer struggling with money and a rabbit hole of having tons of classes and side hustles that are still not getting us where we want o be. The importance of having more offers and products beside classes where we have to physically be or how tricky it is when we do everything by ourselves thinking we are saving money. The money you pay to hire out services saves your time - that has a value too!
Other speakers of the day - Sheyla, Anoukh, Jrisi & Tristan
I was looking forward to Well-being & Psyche day because I truly believe that mental health care should be equal to our physical practice routines as dancers. Sharon’s talk was about her very personal story of a professional dancer growing up in an unstable home and later falling into an eating disorder being under performance pressure. Sharing such a story is eye opening for everybody who thought dance career is just butterflies and rainbows, but often we cannot imagine what is happening behind the curtain. Dhara’s lecture reminded us why mental health is so important brining us emotional stability, enhancing the quality of our life or bringing us a sense of safety to our life. Prioritize, delegate, set boundaries and needs - this resonated a lot with us with other tips from a therapeutic and self-care toolbox she prepared for us. Ebony’s talk gave as all practical tips for everyday routine from a dancer’s experience such as intentional mornings, work on being organized to help trusting yourself and how to make a plan for a day - for some listing of tasks is very helpful especially if you don't forget to plan some self-care and doing nothing time!
Other speakers of the day - Amanda, Shruti, Christine
Inclusivity & Culture day was another highlight day of the conference! Kamrah were sharing the importance of LGBTQIA+ inclusivity in dance spaces starting with explaining the important terms. I liked the talk about how wrong excluding someone based on gender from the dance space is and we might not even realize how problematic it is, giving us a lot of tips on how to really be inclusive and address issues. Lei told us what is behind the invisibility of North African dancers and how problematic it is to be a professional dancer coming from the countries of origin. Another issue that was addressed was not giving chances to native teachers at festivals or credit them properly. All covered by non-native dancers using arab names, for those many native people are discriminated against. Karim Nagi was well on point that naming a dance after a body part is silly as the whole body dance! In his lecture we went through all the used names for raqs sharqi, what they mean and why they are problematic. We all should want to keep orientalism in the past and one of the things we can do is to call things the right way!
Other speakers of the day - Panayiota, Aubre, Khadijah
The last day was dedicated to Being a professional subjects and what it means. Jasirah talked about how to be prepared and how to get invited. Do you have your portfolio ready or is the event organizer waiting for our bio and photos one month? You might not be invited again. She mentioned how important it is to communicate your conditions and needs to organizers ahead to make your cooperation smooth. Siobhan’s lecture was about injury prevention, a subject many dancers take for granted because we “only dance”. I liked that she brought the physical training and importance of rest to the light and explained how important it is to keep our bodies strong for better movement, staying healthy and being able to dance at all ages if we want to dance professionally. Shahrzad's talk was all about her own experience coming to the country of origin to perform and how she learnt to entertain Egyptian crowds. I enjoyed her honesty sharing what went wrong and giving us very specific tips on how to be a good entertainer, because in Egypt you are not there to show all your fancy moves but to entertain people, dance with crowds and communicate with them the way they are used to.
Other speakers of the day - Mercedes Nieto, Julia Farid, Esmeralda Colabone
Lectures were not all that happened at the conference
Each day ended with a round table moderated by Badriyah who was with me since the beginning of organizing this conference helping me brainstorm ideas. The panel discussion with speakers was a chance to discuss the subjects from the day and get even deeper. Also, another part of the conference were contributions, the idea of Badriyah who wanted to motivate our attendees to present their research or subject of studies in a 7 min long video. All videos are available on the conference site and the subjects are hot - khaleeji, Little Egypt, orientalism, dance didactics, anatomy and dancing with a low income. Go ahead, watch them and support their work!
What is next?
The conference is aiming to be an annual event and I already have a date for the next one which is 20-24th September 2023! With new speakers, new subjects that didn't make it to the pilot and hopefully more people from culture which is my aim - connecting all of us and bringing the discussion that matters to a safe space. This event is meant to grow! See you then.
And what attendees say?
This conference exceeded my expectations!!! A huge thank you to the organizers and speakers who made this happen. It was really well organized in terms of the marketing of the event, the communications, materials provided, technical aspects, subjects discussed and participants involvement. It is important to be a skilled dancer, teacher and artist. But such events are as important in bringing awareness to certain topic, share knowledge and experiences within the community, and to network. - Alla Saleh
Al Raqs gave me SO much information to work with! Everything from how to run my business, how to take care of my mental health as a dancer, to how to engage with different cultures as an artist. I highly recommend this conference to dancers at every level! - anonymous
I lost track of how many times I was watching a lecture and thinking, "I wish every dancer would learn this!" The conference was overflowing with helpful and vital information for anyone at any level who participates in this art. It was a tremendous value for the price. I wish dancers who think nothing of spending hundreds of dollars on a costume would realize that the information in this conference is a much more worthwhile investment. - anonymous
A much needed conference that spoke about different areas in dancing and beyond. Loved how every lecture was so informative and shone light on many topics that were not spoken before. - anonymous
https://alraqsconference.com/ - event website
https://alraqsconference.com/contributions/ - contributions to watch