Belly Dance

River City Raqs Dance Festival, Florida

River City Raqs

Location: Jacksonville, Florida, USA.

Date: March every year for three days, Friday to Sunday.

This yearly three days long event takes place in one of my favourite parts of the world, the Sunshine State of Florida, USA. Stunning beaches down the Gulf of Mexico coastline and on the Atlantic coastline (with the likes of Miami and Fort Lauderdale where I normally fly into), if you do not live locally, you can combine this festival with a break in Florida. Enjoy the 3 days of intensive belly dance workshops and follow it up with a tour around Florida, to see attractions such as Cape Canaveral or Disneyworld. Another great option, and which I tried in the past, was to take one of the 4 day cruises to the Bahamas that leaves from Miami. Put simply, Florida is a great place to visit for belly dance in my opinion.

The River City Raqs Festival in Jacksonville was held for the first time in 2015 and is now held annually. The workshops are taught by a variety of very good teachers and include a range of diverse styles from tribal fusion to more traditional Egyptian or American cabaret. One of the teachers, for the 2016 edition, is Moira Chappell. She has travelled to India and invented a new fusion style called Odissi fusion, which could be interesting to try for those of you who love tribal fusion. At the time of writing, Moira Chappell is also the artistic director of the famous group Bellydance Superstars, which performs and teaches all over the world and you might have seen in your home town. I saw them a couple of times a few years ago in the UK and their shows were really worth going to see.

Jacksonville, the location of the festival, is located in the north part of Florida and it has in itself some interesting attractions, such as Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary and Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens or The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens for those who love art. You could also go for a walk on Atlantic Beach.

About the Event

As northern Florida’s only annual belly dance festival, River City Raqs has become a hub for local, national, and international instructors and performers. Organised by the staff and students of the Anais Belly Dance Studio in Jacksonville, the festival strives to bring together instructors and vendors that reflect the rich variety of bellydance styles that are practiced in Florida. Workshops feature both traditional and fusion styles, as well as classes designed to assist burgeoning belly dance business owners and free warm-up classes each day. Workshops normally feature dancers including Ahmed Hussien, Najmah Nour, Arielle, Moira Chappell, Daniela Evseeva, Rosa Noreen, Yana Maxwell, and event organisers Anais Fatale and Lacy Alexandra. The festival also hosts after-workshop events each night. On Friday, participants usually also have the opportunity to perform in a competition in either the Professional Oriental, Rising Star, or Troupe categories. On Saturday, instructors perform for the festival participants at the Gala Show. The weekend wraps up with Sunday night’s after party.

Packages vary from a la carte workshops to Elite VIP entry. Warm up classes and bazaar are free to attend. Jacksonville, has an international airport and is located on I-95, which makes it easily accessible. A great destination year round, the venue and most hotels are approximately 20 minutes’ drive from the local beaches.

Location: Ramona Pavillion Ballroom, 7166 Ramona Blvd., Jacksonville FL 32257, USA (free parking on site).

Fort Lauderdale Florida


  • The associated hotel, to be booked separately from the festival, is the Quality Inn Conference Center, 6802 Commonwealth Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32254, 904-781-6000, which offers special rates for those attending the event of $69-$79 per night. This hotel lists an indoor pool and free Wi-Fi among its facilities.
  • Another property nearby, which is very good, is the Country Inn and Suites, located in 7035 Commonwealth Avenue, Jacksonville, FL 32220, USA. This hotel also has free Wi-Fi, an outdoor pool and coffee-making facilities in each room.
  • Very close to the festival venue and affordable is the Sleep Inn and Suites, 6535 Ramona Blvd, Jacksonville, FL 32205, USA. More basic than the other two hotels, but still offering free high speed Wi-Fi  and coffee-making facilities in the rooms.
  • Cheaper options nearby, but still with free Wi-Fi and swimming pool, are the Knights Inn Jacksonville Downtown (460 Lane Avenue South, Jacksonville, 32254, USA) and The Stars Rest Inn, 510 Lane Ave South, Jacksonville, FL 32254, USA.
  • Alternatively, you may want to try Airbnb to find a cosy guesthouse or B&B in Jacksonville. Click this link for a £14 credit to book with Airbnb.

Links and Resources

Below: Anais Fatale – One of the event’s organisers performing in Jacksonville.

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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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