A Big Scoop of Emirati Culture

Qasr Al Hosn Festival

A nosy camel at Qasr Al Hosn Festival ;)

A curious camel who almost ate my phone 😉

I love living in the Emirates, but the thing in Dubai is that you really don’t experience a lot of local culture. Actually, you don’t even see that many locals around here. Your best shot at learning something about the Emirati culture is to attend the events by Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, which I highly recommend, but I have not found much more besides that.

So, when I found out about the Qasr Al Hosn Festival, an annual event celebrating Emirati heritage in Abu Dhabi, I just had to see it. I must admit, when I first checked the amazing photos and videos they had posted on their Instagram, I was a bit skeptical. I mean, nowadays, anyone can come up with a clever marketing campaign, but it does not always mean quality content. But let me tell you, the Festival was exactly as awesome as shown in their social media!

The thing that first impressed me was the amount of Emirati families attending the Festival! I would say the locals made up 95% of the visitors, which shows how proud they are of their heritage. I think it is nice that despite of the crazy development the region has been through over the last 60 years, they still appreciate where they come from.

A desert scene a the Qasr Al Hosn Festival

A desert scene

You can imagine how powerful the visual of masses of local men in kanduras and local women in abayas is. But can you imagine masses of little boys in white kanduras and girls in colourful khaleegi thobes running around!? (For cuteness, check the end of the post!) It was not just a regular outing to them, it was a celebration. And, there were a lot of ways to celebrate! Like rolling themselves off the piles of sand, or digging holes the size of themselves! Kids will be kids, they don’t need much to be entertained 😀

But actually, there is so much more to the Qasr Al Hosn Festival than the sandpits! The festival grounds cover all aspects of traditional life – the desert, the oasis, the villages at the coast. They even have their own school and a police force!

Beautiful ladies at Qasr Al Hosn Festival

Beautiful ladies

You can try climbing up a palm, watch a saluki (a desert hound) do tricks, decorate your hands with henna, attempt to weave a straw mat, learn how to dye fabrics with natural components, smell different types of bukhoor (inscence), take a camel ride, attend an archaeology workshop, eat chebabs (Emirati pancakes), browse through a souk (and try to resist buying yet another khaleegi-thobe 😉 ), hug a baby goat, listen to poetry recitations, take an Emirati cooking class, and so much more! And for kids, there is a special crafts’ centre where they can do all sorts of crafts ranging from ceramics and doll-making to building toy cars!

Niqab-maker at the Qasr Al Hosn Festival


And if you get tired of walking around, you can just grab a cup of karak tea (sweet milk tea), sit down and just observe people around you. The Festival also seems a place where young locals come and check each other out 😉 All in all, there is so much to see and do that we spent almost three hours there without even noticing the time passing!

And, of course, to my great joy, there was a lot of music and dance! During my visit I was lucky to see two of the traditional dances. Al-yawlah is where the men show their skill by spinning and throwing a rifle, and dancing at the same time. They are good at what they do, but I am still glad dummy guns are used mostly 🙂 Check out the video below, and pay attention to how good some of the boys are!

The other dance I saw is Al-Ardah, which is basically a battle dance. The men form two lines, and dance with cans and swords. They also chant, being accompanied by drums and tambourines.

And I left the sweetest dance video to the last. Just watch this and tell me it isn’t the cutest thing ever!?


“They don’t train their bodies, they train their souls!”*

“They don’t train their bodies, they train their souls!”*

Zumba, vol 2

Zumba perfectly balances oriental dance in my life. While bellydance is full of different emotions, different levels of energy and very much dependent on one’s mood, surroundings etc., Zumba is pre-formatted, crazy, intense and 100% fun.

It had been almost a year since my last Zumba training in Delhi, so I signed up for Zumba Basic 2 in Dubai, taught by Zumba Education Specialist Steve Boedt. The training itself consists of six basic rhythms (belly dance, flamenco, tango, samba, soca and quebradita), plus there is a lot of instructor-centred discussion on topics such passion, burnout and self-confidence.

Now, if you are fluent in any of the above-mentioned dance styles, and have taken a Zumba-class, you know that we are talking of completely different planets there. To be fair, they do not try to claim that what they do is authentic, but inspired. Nevertheless, some of the stuff what gets presented as bellydance in Zumba, made me chuckle (think of tomb-painting arms, for example ;))

What also made me laugh was Steve going round and apologizing multiple times for what the format has done to bellydance! I guess he does it at every training, but being in UAE where bellydance is quite visible, he had to put an extra effort into it. Actually, we even got down to disussing where the term hagallah comes from!

It wasn’t just laughs and (sweaty!) dance sessions though. I love how the Zumba trainings also focus on the instructor – how too much passion can lead to burnout, and how to deal with it; what characteristics are important for an instructor; and how to overcome self-doubts in class. I found the latter topic very interesting – we often address that issue when coaching people to perform, but I haven’t seen much discussion when it comes to teaching classes. The moral that I took from the training was that you should never make up stories in your head. It is always better to get the facts.

And if you ever get the dance to take a Zumba class with Steve, grab the chance. He’ll make you laugh, he’ll make you sweat, and he’ll probably make sure there are parts of you hurting the next day!!!

* Steve’s impression of the first time he saw Zumba. However, I’d say it would also apply for oriental dance! 🙂  

City Break in Dubai

Safran at Dubai Creek

Having fun with the artwork at the Dubai Creek 🙂

City Break in Dubai

Let’s be honest, India can get pretty overwhelming sometimes… And with a dozen flights between Delhi and Dubai each day, it only makes sense to take little breaks in the Emirates!

I love the UAE because it makes both sides of my split personality happy. 😉 The dancer/traveller in me enjoys the Oriental feeling – the Emirates is a true melange of Arabic and Asian cultures, involving everything between Morocco and Vietnam. And at the same time the Northerner/Excel-table side of me is very satisfied with how clean, organised and safe it is there.

Sculpture in Al Bastakiya

From a gallery in Al Bastakiya

During my most recent trip I was a true tourist – I spent most of my time exploring the galleries and cafes at the Bastakiya Heritage Village, had my meals at the restaurants by the Creek, and even went to see the fountain show at the Dubai Mall!

And what would a trip to Dubai be without bellydancers? On my last night there we had a  truly global reunion with Sabriye, Athena, Selina and Kamillah.  And what do bellydancers do for fun? Of course we went to Sewar, a Lebanese restaurant, to enjoy live Arabic music and see a bellydancer perform!!! 😀 It was a beautiful end to my little trip, but I know I won’t stay away from the Emirates for too long! 😉

Safran, Selina, Athena, Sabriye and Kamillah at Sewar

The bellydancers’ reunion: Safran, Selina, Athena, Sabriye and Kamillah at Sewar.