Last weekend, I traveled the treacherous NJ highway system to attend my first ever bellydance festival: Rakkasah’s Spring Caravan. I’d built up a lot of anticipation for this event starting back in February with my panicked scramble to get a performance spot (read about it here) and by generally thinking of the event as my debut to the bellydance community proper (What can I say? I’m a little dramatic.).
Spring Caravan is one of four festivals hosted seasonally by the Rakkasah Festival system. One of the things I find most impressive about these festivals is that they span both coasts. Every year, the West Coast sees Rakkasah West (Summer) and Winter Moon, while the East Coast enjoys Rakkasah East (Fall) and Spring Caravan. Following these festivals on YouTube, etc. is a really great way to keep your finger on the pulse of community trends nationwide. According to a few people I talked to at the festival, Rakkasah East tends to have a higher emphasis on Cabaret style bellydance, and Spring Caravan is the domain of Tribal Fusion. I’m unsure whether this is one of those unspoken rules of our community or if there is an official Rakkasah sanction to this, but I’m in the process of investigating.
While it’s a bit pricey to attend once you factor in travel expenses, etc., Spring Caravan is well worth it. The selection of vendors alone will make your head spin. Literally, you walk right into a sea of sparkles and tribal jewelry (or hardware, as I like to call it). You can easily spend an entire paycheck while you’re there, and by the sound of it, that’s what most people did. Personally, I bought a cheap but very sparkly headband that matched my costume for my Gypsy Jazz solo perfectly. However, my search for a decent pair of fingerless gloves was unfruitful. The number and quality of Cabaret-oriented stores definitely outnumbered the Tribal Fusion stores, but I didn’t find that too surprising considering that Tribal Fusion is still developing on the East Coast compared to the West.
While I can’t speak to the workshops (not able to afford any a this juncture in time), the performances were largely hit or miss. It’s a very difficult venue in which to perform. Because of the huge amount of vending, there is a lot of incentive for the audience to drift away from the stage and toward the goodies. With each new song, everyone in the room perks up and looks for the new dancer, but their judgment as to whether or not the dancer is actually worth watching comes equally quick. If the dancer is subpar or not their style, audience members will literally get up and leave the seating area and shoppers will resume their work. However, if the dancer has something novel to offer or sports brilliant technique, they can draw quite a crowd. Unfortunately, the dancer won’t get a “full” audience until the end of her piece. Thus, if you’re dancing right after a teacher or well-known dancer, you’re in luck because the audience will already be in place for you, rather than you having to do all the work.
One a side note: Things were especially difficult this year for performers because the turnout for Spring Caravan was at an all time low. Due to Folk Tours and Tamalyn Dallal’s teacher training (hosted by Bellyqueen) that same weekend, our already small community was spread thin. Vendors and dancers alike were disappointed, and I can only imagine how those running the event felt.
Purely by chance, the song I’d selected, “Hora/Minor Swing” by Kruno Spisic (bloody amazing Gypsy Jazz guitarist), begins with a very slow and sultry Hora before going into a spunky Minor Swing. Thus, I was able to lure people in during the slow section, and then throw down my tricks to a full audience. I found that dancers who followed a similar format were also successful at collecting a crowd, and I’d highly recommend utilizing this structure if you’re thinking of performing in a future Rakkasah festival.
I was a bit scared going into my performance. Due to a new hectic schedule and my natural proclivity for procrastination, I was finishing my choreography the night before I was due to perform. My boyfriend, Ben, very wisely scolded me saying that it was no wonder I felt like I wasn’t improving lately. Each new dance should be an opportunity to test out new techniques and nail them down through practice. He said that by not giving myself enough time to drill anything, I was holding myself back. It was a humbling conversation. A part of me likes getting caught up in that stressed frenzy, but deep down, I know it’s a form of self-sabotage stemming from insecurity. I’m afraid that one day I will work night and day on a choreography only to have it fall flat rather than having faith in my own instincts and dedication as an artist. Luckily, things worked out. I finished my dance with time to do numerous run-throughs, and my performance went off without a hitch. My video (filmed by Candlelight Productions whom I highly recommend for capturing dance) is the first video of which I’ve ever been proud and found satisfying. Feel free to watch, share, and comment.
I know this has been a crazy long post, so thank you for bearing with me if you’ve made it this far. My one final comment would be, get thee to a Rakkasah festival! They are a bastion of the bellydance community, and if you consider yourself a bellydancer at all, you should make your contribution to these events through your participation.