Shimmy on down to the Majma

In the first in a new series on Somerset's thriving dance scene, Caroline Sherwood spotlights some stars of the vibrant Majma Festival, taking place in Glastonbury

The Middle Eastern, North African and World Dance Festival (Majma) returns to Glastonbury from 4-6 March. With this year’s theme, ‘Celebrating the Self’, Majma offers an enticing choice of shows, workshops, meals, discos, and the chance to browse the bazaars for jewel-encrusted clothing and fabulous accessories, while Sunday’s Shimmy-On finale invites the audience to take to the stage and dance.

Topping the bill are world-famous Egyptian percussionist and dancer, Hossam and Serena Ramzy. Hossam has 18 albums to his name, including a Platinum disc for his work with former Led Zeppelin members Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, and Serena is Brazilian and has danced since she was eight. Carla Gale, known in the dance world as Raheesha, took over the Majma organisation (an offshoot of the very popular Glastonbury Dance Festival) in 2008. As a child, she longed to be a Hawaiian-style hula dancer. “However, there wasn’t a great calling for hula dancers in Alabama, so belly dancing was the next best thing,” she says. She has danced professionally for more than a decade and last year opted for redundancy from 20 years in newspapers as a writer and editor. The earliest image of belly dancing dates from 3000 BC in India. The spice and silk trade routes fostered exchanges between dancers of different styles and traditions. Gypsy migrations also contributed to the spread of the dances through Persia, Egypt and Morocco into Spain and also north into Turkey.Raheesha and her Desert Divas perform at events and parties. “People do have a misconception that the dance is performed to allure men,” she said. “However, in the Middle East women dance for each other. The dance is done by all generations, handed down from mother to daughter. One of the great things about belly dance is that all ages and abilities can do it. “Since there is no impact, it’s gentle on the body and the range of movements increases your flexibility and suppleness. It also helps you appreciate your body and boosts your confidence. Belly dance allows women to celebrate having curves… you have to have something to shake and thin women have to work twice as hard as their curvaceous sisters!”

However, there is also a long history of men belly dancing, as it was often illegal for women to dance. Raheesha considers she is fortunate to have studied with two great male Egyptian dancers – Mahmoud Reda and Farida Fahmy, who brought village dances to a world stage. Amel Tafsout (‘Hopes of Spring’) was born in Algeria. Amel is a deeply admired and knowledgeable exponent of North African Maghreb Dance, which unites elements of Berber, African, Arabic and Mediterranean styles. Tunisian forms contain hip twists, Moroccan ones feature hip and belly drops, while in Algeria the hips are circled in figures of eight. Raksan was born in Hamburg and, because of her parents work, grew up immersed in travel, the theatre and circus. She trained in oriental dance in Berlin with the famous Feyrouz and has been working as an outstanding solo performer for more than 15 years.Samantha Emanuel was the first European to join the Bellydance Superstars, in 2007. Known as Vagabond Princess, she is an exponent of the American Tribal Style, which, she says, fuses “Victorian costume aesthetics, hip hop/modern dance movement, a respectful take on World Folk dances and a professional versatility”. Katie Holland, who has danced since she was three, founded the Magic Health and Fitness Studio in Goa and leads dance holidays in India and Morocco. Through her Dance Asylum she offers intensive training in Arabic dance for new and experienced instructors. Meanwhile Barefoot (descalzo) Flamenco will be taught by Val�rie Romanin. Returning to its Moorish and Gypsy roots, it combines Flamenco, Belly and Gypsy movements.The Majma Festival supports the UK charity Respite and Recovery, offering free places to carers and those who have suffered a life-changing illness.

A full weekend ticket costs �170 and includes entrance to shows on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, as well as parties on Friday and Saturday and all the workshops. Information and booking: Majma Taster – Sunday 6 MarchRaheesha is offering a Free Majma Taster Workshop in the Main Hall on Sunday 6 March from noon-1.30pm and there will be a Show from 2.30-4pm.Raheesha’s classes in SomersetMondays: Avalon Conservative Club, Glastonbury, 7.30-9pm Tuesdays: St John’s Church, Midsomer Norton, 7-8.30pm Wednesdays: Norton Sub Hamdon Village Hall, 6.30-9pm Thursdays: Old Town Hall, Midsomer Norton,

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