My First Bellydance Festival: Rakkasah’s Spring Caravan 2011

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.

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5 thoughts on “My First Bellydance Festival: Rakkasah’s Spring Caravan 2011

  1. First – I loved your piece! You have great isolations and excellent stage presence. Your costume, moves and music all worked together perfectly. 🙂

    Now, my take on Spring Caravan. I live in Boston, so it was the closest festival to me. I attend in 2007 w/ my BFF and fellow bellydancer. Since we both had to take time off work to drive down, we decided to attend all the workshops too. At the time I liked it and I had an OK time. I found the dancers very cliquey and felt out of place in classes where teachers had lingo I didn’t know. I performed (one of my first performances ever!) and I was pleased with how it came out. Overall I’d give it a B-/C+.

    I’ve since attended Tribal Fest, and my heart belongs there. The festival is *top-notch*, the workshops are ala carte and the dancing is stellar. I wish the east coast had something equally as cool!

    Just my 2 pennies!
    Shimmies,
    *S

    1. So glad you enjoyed my performance! Thank you for your sweet comments! I definitely know what you mean about the cliquey dancers who sometimes seem to dominate these events. In my experience, their bark is always worse than their bite. If you surf above it all and throw down quality performances, they’ll make themselves scarce. Also, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why the East Coast hasn’t managed to put together an event like Tribal Fest. While a lot of it definitely has to do with the fact that we’re a much smaller community overall, I’ve also noticed a lack of support from local and non-local top-quality dancers. The teaching staff at Spring Caravan this year had a few notables (Ranya Renee, Asharah, and Sera Solstice), but otherwise, I didn’t find the staff inspiring. Yet there are so many more amazing dancers in the area! I wonder if the festival actively pursues them or not? Also, I’d like to see a few more big names come out and support our festivals even if the pay isn’t the greatest. I know they’ve got to eat, but what you put into your community you’ll always receive back ten-fold. But that’s just my opinion. 😀

      BTW, how was your Zoe Jakes workshop?!?!?!?!?! Give me the deets!

  2. Your solo was great! Something that I loved about the Rakkasah festivals when I did my first one last October was how well-organized they were backstage for the performers, and how nice the vids and pics were. It was really a joy to perform at the event because they had it together (which doesn’t always happen at BD events…). Re: audience…it does seem weird when people get up, but I think that happens at the vast majority of dance events that don’t have ticketed, assigned seating; either way, you end up with a bigger audience online since you now have a professional quality video of your number.

    PS. Isn’t it amazing how boyfriends can be some of our best sources of critique for dance? You think they stop watching after a while, but somehow they’re able to hone in on the important things. Totally uncanny.

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment! So true about the high level of organization. It was deeply refreshing compared to many other bellydance events I’ve attended. And you’re absolutely right that the real audience value is found in the online community, not in the one that’s physically present. I guess I had just hoped that people would be a little more subtle about whether or not they liked something. I literally had a girl next to me go, “Ew! Cabaret!” when a perfectly good dancer walked on stage. I’m not used too seeing that kind of reaction from our community. And boyfriends are truly the best dance critics. Couldn’t agree more!

  3. Finally got around to watching your performance and it was very good! Obviously, due to my lack of background in the field I can’t give specific compliments/constructive criticism, but I think the best part was the quick part — I know you told me previously that choreographing the slow part could be excruciating and the fast part, conversely, was much more fun, and I think on some level you channeled that into your dancing — the quicker paced half showed more enthusiasm.

    Also, I knew that song was by Kruno. I feel very pleased that this is confirmed.

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