Put on your dancing shoes and join the over 400 dancers from 40 different countries this weekend at the 5th annual Dubai International Dance Festival  (DIDF). The festival, which is being held at the Holiday Inn in Barsha and DUCTAC in the Mall of the Emirates takes place until Saturday and is open to experienced dancers as well as curious observers with events including performances, workshops, parties and guest DJs.
DIDF started in 2007 simply built around salsa, is a Latin dance that has become immensely popular worldwide due to its commercial appeal. Now, five years later, DIDF has evolved into a comprehensive dance festival featuring many different types of Latin dance, including bachata, cha-cha and tango. It also has expanded to include contemporary dance, hip-hop, belly dance and even Bollywood — to give it a unique UAE flavour.
“In 2007 we started with 50 dancers and now we have over 400,” festival producer Ahmad Abdullah said. Originally from Somalia but born and raised in the UAE , Abdullah — better known as “Ahmad Salsa” by his peers — is something of a pioneer. There from the beginning, he took his first salsa classes in 1997 with British dancer Tami Fowler.
“I just loved Latin music. Salsa music moves me and the passion drove me to pursue dancing,” he told tabloid!. Before DIDF, Abdullah would travel around the world with his friends to attend various salsa congresses. However in 2007 he decided that it was time to put Dubai on the salsa map. After putting together several successful festivals, Abdullah says more and more people began to take notice and follow Dubai’s lead. Now, salsa has expanded to other GCC countries, but it was Dubai which started it all, Abdullah said.
“In the early days if you wanted to dance salsa, you had to go to Savage Garden in Bur Dubai [at the Capitol Hotel]. Now, on any given day there are several different places you can dance.”
“In the past five years particularly, we have seen salsa flourish and even expand to Abu Dhabi and most recently to Fujairah.”
But what explains this rapid growth? “As Dubai grows and attracts more and more expatriates, they bring with them the exposure to Latin dance from their home countries. We have many international dancers now in Dubai, including BNF, a group of dancers from Colombia who are the world champions of the International Salsa Cup in America,” Abdullah explains. “As more and more dance schools open up, the local talent has grown rapidly. We are proud when our own local talent, for example, is featured in dance festivals around the world. This shows how much we have grown,” he said. 31-year-old Dmitri Matalka is just one example of Dubai’s local talent. Originally from Jordan, Matalka’s passion for salsa grew when he came to Dubai. He started off collecting music for his own pleasure. Now, he is joining other international and local DJs for the first time at the festival after several people pointed out his unique ear for salsa music. “Salsa music is full of passion. I’m addicted to it. When I’m not working I search for music and expand my collection,” Matalka says. He has been asked to DJ at the Salsa Congress in Prague later this year. Of course, learning the dance is not easy, but just like everything else it just takes time to master.
“People often get intimidated because it seems complicated and hard to learn,” Sara Sharrouf, event coordinator for the festival. said. “Some people think ‘oh that will never be me’. But the newly-joined dancers that stick to it and don’t give up end up being some of the best dancers in our community. Its incredibly inspiring,” she says. Matalka agrees. “It takes time but once you learn, it’s addictive and so much fun,” he says. “That is why I am so excited for the festival. Anyone, no matter their age or level, can take workshops with our featured artists. Every year the festival inspires more and more people to take up dance. The world has already taken notice of Dubai for being a pioneer of innovation and excellence. We hope to do the same for Dubai — with dance.