“A tour of music drawn from across the history of the Ottoman Empire,” is how dancer Amina Beres describes the upcoming Rakkas Minneapolis Festival, which will bring internationally-known specialists in the many styles of Middle Eastern dance to Hopkins Center for the Arts, Aug. 26-28.
Rakkas is the first-ever event of its kind, hosted by the Dans Askina Ensemble, a Turkish Dance Ensemble based at the Center for the Arts, but with members and workshops through Minneapolis and the surrounding suburbs.
The ensemble, whose name translates to “love of the dance,” was formed by Beres in 2009, bringing together a collection of dance enthusiasts from across the metro area.
“We sat down together and decided that we wanted to keep going with this and see where it went,” Beres said.
The Center for the Arts, central for many metro residents involved in the troop, seemed a perfect fit for classes.
“It’s a beautiful facility, and the staff are incredible to work with,” Beres said.
Prior to founding the troop, Beres had been dancing for more than 20 years. She, like many of her students, was introduced to dance later in life. With a background in music, particularly percussion, Beres was fascinated by the unique meter and instruments involved when she watched a Middle Eastern dance troupe perform at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.
“I just got hooked,” Beres said. “The music drew me to it.”
The world of Middle Eastern dance is complex and varied, Beres said, including distinct styles from diverse cultures and origins. Beres began with Egyptian-style dance, but became especially interested in Turkish dance and started exploring as many styles and techniques as she could find.
“All I wanted was to get more of it, but nobody here was teaching it,” she said.
The journey took her to the East Coast, where she connected with world-class instructor Artemis Mourat, one of the professionals featured at the Rakkas event. Mourat specializes in Turkish dance, Beres said, and learning that style changed her whole perspective on dance.
“I found the style I wanted to be doing,” Beres said. She began focusing specifically on Turkish styles of dance, and her work, both personally and with the ensemble, took off from there.
In addition to teaching classes and organizing events for the troupe, Beres also has a full-time day job.
“There’s days I’m not sure how I manage to do it all,” Beres admitted. “Everyone in the troupe has a day job, but the dance is something that calls to us. It sounds cliche, but that’s why we do it.”
Rakkas Minneapolis, as well as the group’s other workshops, is made possible with the help of the St. Paul-based Springboard for the Arts’ incubator program, providing assistance for artists in a variety of mediums across Minnesota.
Beres said the event was also made possible with through an arts grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, as well as strong fundraising efforts.
“So many people stepped up to help us, and we’re so indebted to them for believing in us,” Beres said.
Previously, Dans Askina hosted a Turkish-Romani festival weekend in 2012 and 2013, both of were a big success, according to Beres.
Beres said that the upcoming dance festival, however, will be the group’s largest event and unique opportunity for Middle Eastern dance in the Twin Cities.
“It’s a really big deal,” Beres said. “These are world-class instructors, this is the first time some of them will be in the Midwest and it might be the last chance to see them here for a long time.”
One of the other widely popular internationals stars at Rakkas will be Serkan Tutar, winner of multiple awards in male bellydancing worldwide.
Beres said Tutar’s appearance will be unique since, although it’s not unusual for men to dance in the Middle East. In local circles, mostly women participate in bellydancing.
“It’s not that men can’t do it,” Beres said. “Unfortunately, there are preconceived notions that people have.”
Beres said that most people come to the dance with an open mind; however, stereotypes and oversexualization of the dance persist. Beres said that’s not what the dance is about.
“Anybody can do this,” she said. “There’s a belief that only a certain person or certain body type can do this dance. But a dance move is the same, no matter who does is. It looks different on everyone.”
The personalities involved in dance are as varied as the body types, she added, but a common factor is that learning to dance helps boost confidence, social skills and self-esteem.
“Everybody comes to it for different reasons,” Beres said. “But you become more confident in yourself. That’s the nature of it. It gives you such a sense of accomplishment, as you keep adding layers and do things you never thought you could do.”
Beres said that’s one of the most rewarding things about teaching dance, watching students blossom from shy beginners into vibrant, expressive dancers.
“I’ve seen students come in with low self-esteem, who won’t even look up during class,” Beres said. “At the end of the session, they’re holding their head high, their arms are up and they’re smiling. It just makes you feel fabulous to see that — it’s completely unexpected and completely wonderful.”
For this reason alone, Beres said, Rakkas is a great opportunity for Twin Cities residents, regardless of how much dance experience they might have.
“Even if you haven’t dance since high school, or if you haven’t danced at all, you can get something from these workshops,” Beres said. “And the performances will be incredible. There’s never been a Turkish show like this in the Twin Cities. If you’ve ever been interested in something like this, now is the time to see it.”
For more information about Rakkas Minneapolis, visit bellydanceamina.com/RakkasMinneapolis/
Contact Gabby Landsverk at [email protected]