Belly dancers converge in Clovis for Hot Raqs festival

Hot Raqs, an annual belly dance festival held in Clovis, celebrates Middle Eastern culture with dance competitions, workshops, concerts and food. CONTRIBUTED BY HOT RAQS

Hot Raqs hosted its second annual belly dance festival in Old Town Clovis over the weekend of June 29-July 1. For those that are curious about the name, raqs translates to “dance” in Arabic.

The two-and-a-half-day festival is produced by Nicole “Andalee” Owens and her husband, Mike, as a way to celebrate Middle Eastern culture.

“I love this aspect of Middle Eastern and the culture being brought to Old Town Clovis,” Andalee said. “I love being able to show people who haven’t been exposed to the Middle East. [There’s more to it] than the parts we see in the media, which is not always accurate.”

This year’s community event attracted more than 200 guests and highlighted the talents of  many skilled performing artists including last year’s winners: drummer Ziyad Marcus and professional cabaret soloist, Basinah Martinez. There were also Middle Eastern concerts, vendors, professionally instructed workshops, gala shows and food catered by Yerevan Armenian Restaurant.

Saturday’s event featured an exceptional after party at The Lounge at DiCicco’s in Old Town Clovis, where party goers got to enjoy a Georges Lammam ensemble.

“This is one of the best organized events I’ve ever been to,” event headliner Maria Sokolova said “Andalee is great with giving attention to detail. Middle Eastern is a complicated style. Events like this help support and keep its original form.”

With a range of categories, competitors had an opportunity win a total of $4,500 in cash prizes. Last year’s first annual Hot Raqs competition drew guests from across the country interested in the unique competition. Martinez was the first winner in the cabaret soloist  category last year, winning a $1,500 prize. This year, she had the pleasure of passing down the “crown.”

Not being of Middle Eastern descent, Owens said she first discovered the art of Middle Eastern music and dance during her college years at Humboldt State University, where she took elective classes in theater while majoring in biology. It was there she had a change of heart about what she saw herself doing in her future.

“Instantly I felt this immediate connection,” she said. “After I graduated, I thought this is what I want to do full-time. There is something about the music that is so full of emotion, sometimes joy, sometimes sadness and despair, but always hopeful in a sense. There is something always so joyous and you don’t need to speak the language to connect.”

Owens emphasized the idea of building a community around belly dancing, while exposing locals and tourists to Middle Eastern culture. When organizing this year’s event, Owens and her husband wanted to create something that everyone could enjoy.    

“My hope is to bring people together by sharing this vibrant art form and sharing our beautiful area with the belly dance community,” Owens said.

Next year’s event is scheduled for June 29-30, 2019.