Impressions of dance camp Aotearoa from a UK perspective

by Renate Lalloo

Waking up in the cosy camper van…..  it’s sunny again, but the air is still cool in the morning; having travelled in New Zealand for nearly 2 weeks, I can now recognize Tui birds’ unusual calls. Yes, I missed Sufi practice again, but I am ready for tea and yummy porridge with tasty cooked fruit sourced from local dancers’ gardens. Kiwi dancers brought so many scrummy fruits to share: different types of small plums and tangelos (mixture of tangerine and pomelo), and we also enjoyed picking wild fruits just around the corner of Dance Camp Aotearoa.

Aotearoa camp

We had such a wonderful camp, filled with beautiful open hearted Kiwis and international folk, like us!

Every morning newcomers were welcomed with a special song and people leaving were given a big Good-bye and appreciation for their participation. Each morning meeting we had wonderful plays, some about the marvellous Maori creation stories and one about Samuel Lewis deciding to teach the Hippies to dance. Prem was starring in the main role and he really looked liked Sam! It was the 10th anniversary of the Dance Camp Aotearoa and Prem was especially honoured for creating this wonderful camp, which is now growing in numbers, attracting people from New Zealand, Australia, Tasmania  and all over the world. It was 120 of us, 40 more than last year, and all was managed very effectively by Prem, Sally and their competent team with the cooking of delicious foods, queuing up for eating and saving water in the conveniences; as they call it the other side of the world.

The Karma Yoga was divided into ‘social’ and ‘time out from people’ activities and my beloved Bill and I participated in the veggie cutting team of 20 every morning after breakfast, peeling, chopping and slicing while being entertained by a spontaneous band and joining in the songs we all love and knew well. What fun! What a joy to share a communal task with people; I felt so good being part of it. Everybody seemed to be really enjoying their Karma Yoga and it reminded me of the time when I started attending dance camps in the UK when everything felt so fresh and new and people were so eager to be part of it.

While the camp was so efficiently run, it was not too structured, leaving time to connect with all those interesting dancers, sharing life stories and making heartfelt connections. Fascinating lives we all live in different parts of the world!

In the last 9 years, people danced in a big hall. This year we had the too early Sufi practices there, a fun concert with great contributions from so many and a lively auction with an expert auction leader, Helen of Joy, who made it such fun and great models displaying this year’s fashion.

And now for our wonderful Dances! We had a brand new marquee with a beautiful altar and great musicians to support the dances. Not only did we have Kiwi dance leaders, but many others felt called to lead, too.

Shafia led her special Maori dances; very powerful with words hard for us newcomers to remember but we shared the inner vibrations that we will never forget.

We had a Gospel Zikr, led by Perry Pike from the Mentorgarten , California, which was such fun.

Prem , Sally and Wendy, the local artist whose beautiful pictures hung in the hall, led a wonderful variety of Universal Peace dances while Tara Andrea and Mahboud, from New Mexico, brought their own lively dances in relation to the 99 beautiful names.

Up and coming dance leaders, from Aotearoa, Tasmania and other parts of the world also had the opportunity to lead a bigger group during some of the week’s sessions.

The Dances were the focus of the camp and other workshops and offers were kept to a minimum, so that we got a taster of non- violent communication, Kirtan, 7 Words,  to mention just a few.

Or people enjoyed swimming in the waterhole of the river; it sure was hot enough. Sunshine every day, a few mozzies in the evening….. what a beautiful part of New Zealand’s North island, Hawke’s Bay was chosen  for the Camp.

Genevieve, who emigrated to NZ from UK 10 years ago and used to attend the UK camps, described New Zealand as a teenager, growing up fast and bold and strong, full of colour and life and vibrancy. That’s exactly as I experienced the beautiful countryside we encountered every day. There is a line in one of Hazrat Inayat Khan’s prayers: ‘thou my master makest earth a paradise’ and in my practice every morning, I now have a paradise I have experienced and can visualize.

After Camp we travelled another week to Coromandel and the 90-mile beach. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this country. Why does it have to be so so far away, half-way round the world? I sat with a very heavy heart in the plane, tears running down… it was a hard good-bye… In my next life, I am planning to be a Kiwi (the human sort) to be able to live in such natural beauty. Aotearoa with it’s heart-warming Dance camp sure has captivated our hearts.