Popular Let’s Dance festival returns for fifth year

Rachel Brice

The Let’s Dance Prague International Festival, focusing largely on oriental dance including genres such as tribal, and styles like funky jazz, flamenco, flirt or street dance, is an event unlike any other in the Czech capital. The reason? It offers not only performances by professionals but also by amateurs, and provides workshops with world-class performers. Let’s Dance, now in its fifth year, began this Thursday and will continue through to the end of the week. Even as it kicked off, I caught up with one of the main organizers, Karolina Idrisová, who told me more about the festival, both past & present.

Karolina Idrisová
“The first year that we organized it, in 2006, it was really organized for oriental dancers, for fans in the Czech Republic. And ever since, we realized the popularity in oriental dance was growing not just here but worldwide. It is still often referred to as belly dance and what is typical is that it’s very feminine and some people would say it is very sensuous. What’s really typical about it is also the two-piece costume, the upper part the bra and the skirt or pants, leaving the mid part of the body exposed to accentuate the movements, because you use the body a lot, the hips, in curvy wavy movements.”

Now it’s not just oriental dance that people will see but also other forms, is that right?

“No, that’s right. Let me point out that oriental dance is a sort of generic term: there are different forms: tribal and more. Other forms that we promote include flamenco, flirt dance which is the newest style that has become very popular in the Czech Republic, Zumba which is somewhere between dance and aerobics, then street dance which is very popular among teenagers and even Bollywood.”

There is also, I understand, going to be a class held on pole dance, like you would see in a strip club… Is that what it is?

“That’s what it is! (laughs) I don’t know if you know the history of pole dancing but it is a very interesting one: it originated in America during the Great Depression, when dancers had nowhere to practice or perform. So they would dance in tents, like in the circus, and of course tents have poles so they learned to work with them. It was only in the ‘70s and ‘80s in Canada that they became popular in night clubs, but it really didn’t originate there.”

How much has your festival grown over the years?

“It began very small and the first year only a few hundred people came. When we started it, we didn’t really intend for it to be such a big event, it happened almost by accident. Which is good. But it has of course grown and now two thousand people take part. The biggest change is in the interest by professional dancers from abroad, not just in Europe, but also from America.”

It’s probably difficult to choose just one thing to recommend but if there is one thing viewers in the audience shouldn’t miss this year, what would that be?

“I would say the gala performance on Saturday evening, featuring the international stars. I definitely wouldn’t miss that.”

Some of the performers visitors will be able to see are choreographer, dancer and teacher Yousry Sharif of Egypt, dancer Serkan Tutar, originally from Turkey but now based in Belgium and American dancer Rachel Brice, famous as one of the main artists working in the style known as tribal fusion, which she has helped popularize in performances and classes in the US and around the world. She told me more about tribal fusion when I met her on Thursday:

“The style that I do known as tribal fusion comes from a style known as American tribal style which was developed by my teacher Carolena Nericcio in the early ‘90s.There is a deep history that I won’t go into but basically American tribal is an improvisational style that has a vocabulary of around 55 movements and it blends belly dance movements from all different parts of the world and is rooted in folkloric rural styles and a flamenco posture. Those are some of the main differences: the costuming is more rural than nightclub style. There are facial tattoos and chunky old jewelry with the Turkish pants and the Spanish skirt and Indian on top. A fusion of all different cultures. I’ve gone from that style to tribal fusion, invented by Jill Parker. Tribal fusion takes American tribal and fuses it with other forms. In my case I fuse it with American cabaret belly dance style.”

How does it fit together with the music?

“Well tribal fusion is a little more prone to fads compared to maybe some more traditional styles. Right now the fashion seems to be jazz and vaudevillian remixed into electronic pieces. It has always been fueled by electronic music and in the last few years it has taken a turn to turn-of-the-century Americana or 1930s or ‘40s jazz.”

When you teach beginners, what are some of the difficulties for them?

“I think that the main tricks are just in the mind. Tribal fusion is similar to ballet only one way, in that the drills that you do to start your practice are the same 20 years later. If someone comes in off the street for their very first tribal fusion workshop I am happy to take them the same way I would someone who has been practicing five or six years. The only challenge I think is that after you have been in dance for a while you grow accustomed to frustration. Tribal fusion isn’t the sort of dance form where you are going to pick it up the first day. It takes years of drilling the movements that are extremely specific and almost contortionist in some ways. It is a fun and joyful form but takes a lot of practice.”

How do you deal with a situation when you get a student who is perhaps enthusiastic but lacks the ability or feeling for it?

“I haven’t largely encountered it but I can say that things largely depend on peoples’ goals. One of the amazing things about belly dance is that the goal is not necessarily to become a star on the stage. For a lot of people it is about building community, about expanding their social circle. For still others it is about sewing costumes, or enjoying music, or a workout or an outlet for theatrical expression. Usually when someone has an aptitude for a certain direction they tend to focus on that. So I haven’t come across that as being any kind of limitation at all.”

This year is the second time Rachel Brice has taken part in Let’s Dance, leading me to ask her what she thought of Prague as a site for the festival.

“It’s a wonderful location for this kind of festival and I am just completely stunned – as I am sure every visitor is – by the details of the city and architecture. Tribal fusion takes a lot of inspiration from Alphonse Mucha: the look is really inspired by his work so every time I come here I have to go to the museum again. I know for you guys it’s probably ugh!... more Mucha! But for an American it is so exciting to see all of the Art Nouveau details everywhere. Just amazing, drop-dead gorgeous and very inspiring!”

Find more information about Let’s Dance at www.letsdance.cz/2010.