Afra al Kahira is the founder of Celebrating Dance and was its’ creative director for 16 years. She created the festival with her husband John F Hancock after moving to North Devon in 2000 as a means of providing quality workshops with premier instructors in the Southwest of the UK. Over the years the festival has grown into one of the UK’s most popular events, known for its’ friendly, non-competitive atmosphere. In 2016 Afra & John handed over the reins of festival to Nikki Livermore and her husband Neil, happy knowledge that the festival is in very safe hands. They still play an active role in the festival and attending it is one of the highlights of their year.
A dancer since childhood Afra has training in a wide range of dance styles including Ballet, Jazz, Tap, Contemporary, Flamenco and especially Ballroom and Latin American dance in which she qualified as a teacher & coach. In fact she has turned her hand to many areas of the entertainment industry including working as an actress and a singer and training as a make-up artist!
Afra began her belly dance career almost 40 years ago and during that time she has seen the UK grow and evolve into something very different from when she was just a novice dancer. Afra built up a strong reputation as both a teacher and performer in the UK as well as internationally, where foreign engagements included two very successful teaching/performing trips to the USA. She has also had an exciting and varied career outside of the belly dance community with performances ranging from private functions and celebrations, to large corporate events. She has had the privilege of dancing for top politicians, members of the British royal family and many other VIPs and dignitaries, including the Turkish Consul General who said he was so deeply impressed with her authentic presentation of his home country’s dance it made him feel homesick 🙂 . Over the years Afra also received many compliments on the authenticity of her Egyptian-style Oriental performances, with some audience members expressing surprise that she was English not Egyptian – compliments that Afra is incredibly proud of given how hard she had studied in this style of dance.
It was not all Oriental dance though, as Afra was a UK pioneer in the area of Experimental/Theatre Dance and Fusion using her skills in other dance genres and acting to create some exciting and very different performance work. Her experimental numbers were always a greatly anticipated part of Celebrating Dance’s Gala Show when she debuted new works exclusively to the festival’s delegates. Many years on delegates still talk about her show-stopping performances of ‘The Siren’, when she danced with double wings, covered in gold paint, the very moving ‘Black’ and the very entertaining moment when she was ‘shot’ by John at the end of ‘The Bride’!
Afra was the first UK dancer to perform with single and double Isis wings, which she studied in depth in NYC with the leading expert in wings Ayshe of New York. For many years Afra was considered the UK’s expert in dancing with this prop, she even gave private tuition on both this and veil fans to members of the Bellydance Superstars in advance of them incorporating the props into their next show. It’s fair to say that Afra was addicted to props including not just the more traditional ones like the cane, veil, shammadan etc, but also multiple veils, double sword and finger cymbals and even gymnastic ribbon!
Afra will be giving a lecture entitled “10 Songs Every Dancer Should Know.” This will cover a variety of songs both classic and modern and will include different arrangements of each song to help you develop your knowledge and confidence regarding the music we dance to. This lecture is ideal for the less experienced dancer but all levels are welcome.
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In 2017 Afra was deeply honoured to be voted ‘Most Inspirational Figure’ in the National Arabic Dance Association’s annual Glitter Ball Awards and whilst she has had to retire from performing, she still has a wealth of information and knowledge accrued from her long career in Oriental Dance/Belly Dance and is available for talks, lectures and practical workshops to share this with the dance community. Her lectures and talks at Celebrating Dance are informative, fun and always a popular part of the festival. As a fully trained Theatre/Film/TV/Photographic Make Up Artist Afra also offers workshops in the art of performance make up for all levels of dancer and dance environments. Filled with tips and advice on everything from choosing the right products and tools, understanding how to make the very best of your looks, down to how to apply those pesky false eyelashes, these workshops are huge fun as well as being highly informative! Why not book Afra on the day of your haflah/show and go straight from the workshop to the stage, all glammed up and ready to dance?