A bellydancer’s best week of the year: JWAAD Summer School 2013

I’m aware that I’ve been a bit quiet for a while – sorry! I tend to have grandiose ideas for blog posts that end up more like massive essays, and then feel bad about posting anything else until I finish them. I’m still working on part 2 of my rather epic article on bellydance and ballet, but in the mean time, I’ve decided to try writing some shorter and less weighty posts (although I also feel a terrible compulsion to actually write a post on bellydance and cultural appropriation soon, which will, no doubt, turn into some sort of monstrous mini-doctoral thesis…).

English: View of Wellington College main build...
Wellington College (image credit: Wikipedia)

Anyway… I spent the week before last secluded in the Berkshire countryside at the 23rd JWAAD Summer School, which was held at Wellington College this year for the first time, after the old venue decided they’d rather hold ballet summer schools for small children than have the school taken over by 100 rampaging bellydancers! Another first, for me, was going as an ‘angel’ – one of the helpers who keeps the whole event running smoothly – along with my good friend Sarah, who had travelled all the way from Bergen, Norway.

Rasha dancing in the Summer School show
Rasha dancing in the Summer School show

The thing that makes Summer School so different from attending a normal dance festival or workshop weekend is the complete immersion in the dance world – for a week, a hundred-odd bellydancers (or indeed, a hundred odd bellydancers!) live together, eat together, dance together and party together. The number of dancers in each class is rarely more than 20, which also helps. It’s quite a unique atmosphere to be in a class with dancers you’ve become friends with at Summer Schools over the years, and indeed with teachers who have had a chance to get to know you and your dancing.

By the end of the week, most people will have made new friends, and there is a real feeling of community. It’s also easy to forget the outside world, and focus completely on dance, in a way that’s rarely possible for most of us. This means that it’s not uncommon to make real leaps in your dancing whilst at Summer School, that may have taken many months back in the outside world…  This year, I don’t feel that I’ve absorbed quite as much new information as in previous years, but I’ve definitely come back with some useful insights, and in particular, greatly enjoyed the opportunity to dance with one of my favourite tabla players, Adam Warne.

Rasha in Angel mode
In Angel mode. Yes, they do make us wear those…

As for the Angel experience, well… It was definitely tiring, but also fun. Arrival day was something of a baptism of fire, as busloads of dancers appeared and had to be shepherded to their rooms in the new and unfamiliar venue, amidst a sort of controlled chaos of flamboyantly dressed women and enormous suitcases. Later in the week, things calmed down a lot, with our main tasks being getting rooms set up for our various evening activities (i.e. covering everything in sparkly fabric and fairy lights!). Not particularly hard work, but even as a non-Angel most people start to succumb to exhaustion after a few days, and our duties meant we rarely had time for a sneaky pre-dinner nap to recover… Towards the end of the week, Sarah and I were both becoming quite unhinged through sheer tiredness, and could be sent into helpless giggling fits by the most seemingly innocuous comments – if I’m honest, we didn’t mind this too much. But I did sleep for almost 12 hours straight on my first night back at home…

And the parties? Well, what happens at Summer School stays at Summer School. You’ll just have to come next year to find out what we get up to 😉

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