Belly Dance

Belly Dance Trip Morocco – Rabat with Nawarra & Funoon Dance

Following the first belly dance trip I went to with Nawarra in Fes, Morocco, I liked it so much that I decided to go again and this time the trip was to Rabat.

Royal Palace Rabat

Outside the Royal Palace, Rabat, Morocco

Nawarra organises a dance camp in Morocco every year and I think that she has already organised four or five dance camps in Morocco, at the time of writing, and some people I know have been to all of them or more than one, which shows how good her trips are.

One of the positive things about them, is that the dance camp takes place every year in a different city in Morocco, so you have the possibility to explore a new part of the country every year. Likewise, every year there are different teachers running workshops on a variety of different topics and Northern African/Middle Eastern dance genres. In Fes we learnt Algerian and Moroccan dances among others; this time in Rabat there were more workshops on Egyptian dances, including oriental, shaabi, Nubian and Saidi. So, whatever dance style you prefer, you will be catered for.

These dance camps are quite intense, with six days out of seven featuring four different workshops for a total of six hours dance a day. In the middle of the week there is a day off from dance, during which you can go sightseeing or shopping. If you are a dance-addict like me, you will want to do all the workshops, but you do not have to. You can choose your favourites to attend and take it easy by skipping some.

Alternatively, you can just sit down and watch the workshops if you are too exhausted (however, the temptation to get up and dance is always very strong). Whether you want to dance all day or not though, you will have a great time with Nawarra’s trips, if anything because of the lovely people you will meet, some of whom you will meet every year, thus building friendships. Below, I will talk to you about my experience of the dance camp in Rabat.

The Dance Workshops

Ahmed and Nawarra

Ahmed and Nawarra

The main reason for going to these dance camps is of course dancing. You can learn more about the styles of dance you already know, or have some tasters of genres that you would not have the chance to try at home otherwise. In Rabat, we attended the following:

  • Very energetic workshops with Nawarra on Moroccan Shikhat and Egyptian Nubian dance.
  • Turkish Roma and Arab Andalous with Beverley Smith from Leeds, who is also a talented costume maker and designer (check her creations on her Facebook page).
  • A series of Egyptian dance workshops with the very knowledgeable Maria Dourountaki from Athens, which included Baladi, ghawazee, shaabi, Golden Era and dancing to Oum Khaltoum songs. Maria runs the Hamsa Oriental Art House in Athens, which you can check here).
  • Modern Egyptian dance workshops, including saidi and modern oriental, with Fereshtesh, a very good dancer and teacher from Edinburgh.
  • Mahmoud Reda oriental dance style and technique with Ahmed Fekry, an Egyptian dancer who was part of the Reda Troupe and is now based in Berlin, Germany.

I managed to find the stamina to attend all the workshops and I loved them all, as all the teachers were very knowledgeable and friendly.

The Entertainment

During Nawarra’s dance camps, you will have at least three nights of entertainment organised especially for you, in the hotel where you are staying, with live music. Usually, two out of the three nights involve live Moroccan folkloric music and one will be with a band, and the dance camp participants can, if they want, perform a dance solo of their choice.

In Rabat, for two nights, the Equipe Ifriquia, a group of Moroccan folkloric musicians performed for us. You can check their Facebook page here. While they were playing, we all stood up and danced together. Not many of us knew how to dance Moroccan folkloric, but we just improvised and had a lot of fun!

On the Saturday night we had a hafla (Arabic for party) with a live band, in which some of us performed solo, but we also danced socially together a lot to both Moroccan and Egyptian music. On the last night, we had fun by dancing socially to music on CDs, just to mark the end of our holiday. For the duration of our holiday, we had a big hall within the hotel which was reserved for our group only, 24 hours a day for the whole week, and in which we had our dance classes and most of the evening entertainment.

Moroccan Band Equipe Ifriquia

Equipe Ifriquia with one of the ladies from our group dancing.

The City of Rabat and Its Attractions

Rabat is not a very touristy place. It is the administrative capital of Morocco, but it is not one of the main destinations for tourists in Morocco. However, there are some hidden jewels to be discovered there. For a start, it is a very compact city, so you can easily move on foot and walk to places of interest, especially if you stay in the Hassan quarter of the city. Also, because Rabat is not very touristic, the main attractions are not particularly crowded. There are some tourists at the attractions, but no crowds. Finally, Rabat feels safe and, even in the Medina, tourists are not hassled at all.

The Medina

Like every historic Moroccan city, Rabat has a Medina, which is the old part of the town, surrounded by walls, and with a maze of narrow alleys and a variety of shops and stalls. In Rabat, the Medina is not very big and there are fewer shops than there are, for example, in Fes. On the plus side though, it is more difficult to get lost and the feeling in there is quite relaxed.

As a tourist you do not feel under pressure to buy and also the locals seems much more relaxed comparing to other locations such as, for example, Marrakech, where the Medina is chaotic and you risk being run over by motorbikes or donkeys at every corner if you are not careful. In Rabat you cannot bargain too much in the shops, as often shopkeepers will stick to a price or lower it only by a small amount. Nevertheless, in Rabat shopkeepers are very pleasant and polite and do not usually pressure you into buying.

The Casbah of the Oudaias

The Casbah of the Oudaias is near the Medina. A casbah is a citadel, or fortified area, in the old part of a Northern African city. The main attractions of the casbah in Rabat are the small houses all painted in white and blue and the view of the river and the sea. In particular, there is a café from which you can admire beautiful views, while sipping Moroccan mint tea (or other drinks such as coffee) and eat traditional almond biscuits. That’s where we went before visiting the Medina. It is called Café Maure and it is very popular with tourists and locals alike.

Mohammed V Mausoleum

Mohammed V Mausoleum

Chellah Ruins and Gardens

This is an area with old ruins from Phoenician, Roman and Muslim medieval eras. It is a beautiful and relaxing place, with a lot of green. Although Chellah was granted world heritage status by UNESCO in 2012, is still not widely known and very few tourists go there (which is also part of its charm). Every year, at the end of September, a jazz festival takes place there, called Jazz au Chellah.

Royal Palace

We went to see it during our dance free day, and this is the residence of the King of Morocco, as well as the place where many governmental buildings are located. It is very impressive, in particular, the long avenues with trees leading to the palace. We did not go inside the palace, as I do not think visitors are allowed in, but it is possible to take a look from the outside and take photos of the entrance and the guards.

It is not allowed normally to take photos of military people in Morocco, but the only exceptions are the guards outside the Royal Palace in Rabat and those at the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, which I describe below.

Hassan Tower and Mohammed V Mausoleum

This site is really one of the hidden jewels of Rabat and it was only 5-minute walk away from our hotel. The Hassan Tower is part of an unfinished project from the 12th century, which was supposed to be a spectacular big mosque but was never completed. Opposite the tower, there is the Mausoleum of King Mohammed V, built in 1950.

That was really worth seeing, in particular, because of the complicated Arabic designs and tile, stone and metal works, which are really magnificent and I could have spent all day admiring them. Next, to the tower there are gardens and the site, as well as the garden, is a popular place for locals to go for a walk and relax.

The Accommodation and Food

Hotel Rihab

Hotel Rihab

For this trip, we stayed in the Hotel Rihab, in the Hassan quarter of Rabat. Although the hotel is 4 stars, the quality is really 3 stars and, to be honest, it was not the best hotel ever. However, the staff were friendly and helpful and, although the hotel was basic, it did the job. The most important things were the company and the dancing, which were both great. My favourite part of the hotel was the terrace, where we used to relax and chat in the evenings, refreshed by the cool sea breeze (Rabat at the beginning of September, when we went, is hot and humid, but in the evening it cools down thank to the sea breeze).

Nawarra’s trips are usually half board, with breakfast and evening meal included in the package. Overall, I was very happy with the food in the hotel. In the mornings we had a buffet breakfast, with a choice of bread, a variety of Moroccan biscuits and pancakes (such as msemen, flat and square fried pancakes, and harcha, round and small semolina bread), cereals, milk, yogurts, hard boiled eggs, fruit salad, soft cheese, tomatoes, jams, dried fruit, savoury dishes and more. My absolute top favourite items were the pistachio flavoured yogurts (which I had not seen anywhere else before) and msemen, which are flat, fried pancakes, which I ate with honey and jben, the fresh Moroccan sheep cheese.

In the evenings, since there were not enough people eating in the hotel to make a buffet viable (I think that was because Rabat is not really a touristy place in Morocco and tourists usually stay one night only at the most, on the way to other destinations), the chefs cooked Moroccan meals especially for us. I was very happy with this solution because I really like Moroccan food and, when I go to Morocco, all I want to eat are Moroccan dishes such as couscous and tagines, of which I never get bored.

In the hotel we had a different dish every night, such as chicken and lemon tagine, with preserved lemons and olives (one of my favourite Moroccan dishes); couscous with vegetables and meat; fish tagine; turkey kebabs and kefta kebabs. If you are a vegetarian, you will also be catered for (Morocco is not a particularly vegetarian-friendly place, but there are plenty of vegetable dishes you can try). This time, for example, there were some vegetarians in our group and they were served dishes such as vegetable couscous, omelettes and salads.

Chicken Tagine

Chicken tagine with lemons and olives

One great advantage of Hotel Rihab is its location, very central, with grocery shops nearby (such as a Carrefour across the street) and tourist attractions, including the Medina, within walking distance. The hotel is in the Hassan area, which is the modern area of Rabat, where the majority of hotels are located. Below are some of my suggestions as where to stay if you decide to visit Rabat:

Hotel Rihab – This is the hotel where we stayed. It is in a very central location and good value for money, but do not expect 4 star standards. It has free WiFi connection, which works well but only up to the third floor. So, if you need to access WiFi from your room, make sure not to get a room above the third floor.

Malak Hotel – This hotel is also in the Hassan area and it is a three star, but it has good reviews. Basic but clean and with free WiFi and within walking distance from the main attractions.

Le Diwan Rabat by Sofitel – This is in the same area as the other two hotels and it is also good, near the train station, with free WiFi and a spa and wellness centre.

If you want to stay inside the Medina, instead, there are some lovely riad. I really like riad, because of the cosy atmosphere in them, but for dance camps we stay in hotels as there are many of us and we need a conference room for the workshops, so it makes sense to stay in a bigger structure.

However, if you are travelling independently, riad are a good option in Morocco. In Rabat, for example, you can stay in Riad ZyoRiad Kalaa 2 or Riad Azahara among others, all beautiful riad with a lot of character.

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Find out More About Nawarra’s Trips

You can find out more about Nawarra’s trips on her Facebook Community called Funoon Dance Camp and you can contact Nawarra directly through Facebook.

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Valeria is a dance researcher completing a PhD in dance and heritage. Valeria also teaches and performs as a belly dance but also enjoys learning ballet, jazz dance and other dance genres.

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