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Great article on Belly dance in Turkey

by Courtney
Photos and video by Andre Elbing
posted November 19, 2013
With the rise of YouTube, dancers can learn from master belly dancers from the comfort of their living rooms. The ability to watch and absorb the unique variations and styles of bellydance from all over the world is only a mouse click away. However, in spite of technology bringing the world to us, there is nothing like studying with dancers in person. Festivals provide an opportunity to bring belly dancers together, not only to meet other dancers from different communities, but also to see what styles are popular in different parts of the world and to study with master instructors.

I was fortunate to attend Tarazade Festival in Istanbul, Turkey this September. It was the first festival I had attended outside of the United States and I am pleased to have had the experience of traveling to a festival where dozens of dancers had gathered with, in some cases, only the dance in common. On the opening night, promoter Tara told a well attended room that there were dancers present from 24 countries. The dancer who had come the farthest was from Alaska, but there were dancers from India, Japan, Morocco, France, Germany, Brazil – I could go on.

Zafirah of Canada performs Turkish Roma at the Welcome Party
I first became aware of the Tarazade Festival from Aziza of Canada, who had attended Tarazade in 2012. I had been to Istanbul before and was excited to have a great reason to go back. After I saw the list of instructors who would be offering workshops, I had all the reason I needed to commit to going: Sema Yildiz, Didem, Azad Kaan, Aziza & Issam Houshan, Jillina, Lulu Sabongi and so many more.

From a participant’s point of view, the set-up was the following: for a flat fee dancers got a hotel room, ten hours of workshops, and entrance into three shows (one of which served dinner). One of the shows was an open stage, where dancers who were attending the festival could sign up to dance in an evening show. Any of the individual elements could be purchased a la carte, including additional hours of workshop time. My husband traveled with me and Tara offered a package for travel companions. There were two hotel options: dancers could stay at the Barcelo Eresin Topkapi, which was where the shows and workshops were held or they could stay at a hotel in Sultanahmet if they wanted to be closer to the old city and tourist attractions. In total, 60 hours of workshops were offered, including topics from Turkish folklore, Oriental, Egyptian to fusion.

I chose to sign up for 10 hours of workshops, opting to do 5 workshops that were 2 hours each to maximize the number of teachers with whom I could dance. I left the rest of my schedule free so that I could have some down time and go see the city. At any point during the festival, I could have visited the registration table to purchase more workshop hours if I had wanted.

The five workshops I attended over four days were challenging and fun, which is what I had hoped. I love workshopping. It’s so much fun to dance to someone else’s rhythm and it’s hard to walk away not feeling inspired.

Azad Kaan performs at the Turkish Night Gala
My workshop assortment was with Lulu Sabongi, Azad Kaan, Aziza & Issam, Didem, and Jillina. The workshop menu included a description of the topic as well as a level indication, so that dancers could choose their challenge level. The instructors kept the level of dancing high and in line with the advertised level.

The focus at this festival was not only the joy of dancing, but also learning and growing as an artist! Tarazade offered an opportunity to get performance feedback without the added pressure of competition through the “Train With the Stars” option, which I wish I had done. Dancers who signed up and paid the extra fee would perform for Aziza, Jillina, and Azad Kaan for detailed and personalized performance feedback and critique. As a student dancer or really any level of dancer, the feedback from world-renowned artists is invaluable, and it’s a unique feature of Tarazade to give student dancers close access to established dancers and a vehicle to improve in a personalized setting. In addition to this specific workshop, other instructors offered in-depth feedback to attendees of their workshops.

The evening shows were great and well balanced in terms of content. Although they sometimes ran a bit late into the evening given the long days and early mornings, the level of dancing was high. The opening night gala and Turkish night show featured performances from many of the instructors who had come to Istanbul from all over the world. Every performance, from the elegant style of Lulu Sabongi of Brazil to the energetic bravado of Luxor of Russia, was a reflection of each dancer’s art and individual influence. At the Turkish Night Gala, Tara honored Sema Yildiz and Didem with the “Belly” award, which was to show gratitude for their contributions to the art form of belly dance.

Nicole Group from Japan performs at the Opening Gala
Tara also organized an optional dinner cruise down the Bosphorus on the evening that there was not a show. I did not attend, but the feedback from the other dancers was that it was a memorable evening with folkloric dance and, of course, belly dancing.

No belly dance festival would be complete without shopping! Several Istanbul-based designers came to the festival to sell their costumes and many dancers took the opportunity to try on and buy something sparkly.

Not to be overlooked was the inclusion of Turkish music and folklore in all of the shows. At the welcome event, the opening gala and the Turkish night gala, spectacular musicians and Turkish dancers entertained the audience. Seeing such fantastic Turkish Roma dancing was truly inspiring and my biggest regret from attending this festival was that I didn’t attend a Turkish folklore workshop.

In addition to the amazing instructors, the energy amongst the other dancers was welcoming, energetic and inspiring and I felt that I left the festival with many new friends. I enjoyed watching the other dancers and troupes who came from around the world to learn and perform. The open stage is a great aspect of Tarazade. Any dancer who wanted to perform while in Istanbul had the opportunity to sign up to dance on the open stage. Many dancers wanted to dance and I understand that there was a waiting list. While it may be tempting to add more open stage dancing during the day in future festivals, as a performer in this show, it was quite nice that the open stage was an evening show where attention was not taken away from the performances by other workshops or vending. All levels of dancer performed from experienced professionals to one lovely woman who performed her first solo on the open stage.

My experience at Tarazade was overwhelmingly positive – I found the level of organization and the high level of instruction and performance to be extremely appealing to me. As a teacher, I would recommend Tarazade to any level of dancer because of the wide variety of stylistic offerings and also the inclusion of leveling information in the workshop descriptions, allowing for dancers to study at his or her appropriate pace.

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Great article on Ethics and pricing

Undercutting the Competition
A Problem of Ethics or Practicality?

by Terry Del Giorno

I think we can be assured that Randa, Dina and Asmahan do not have a dialogue about what to charge (after they pay their teams of musicians, dressers, managers etc). Nor did Nagwa, Mona, or Fifi share tea over the subject. They charged what they wanted, what their fans would pay. If they didn’t get what they wanted, I doubt seriously that any of those fanan, current or past, would fall below their own established rates.

I grew up in a time where we didn’t discuss our fees; it was a time when you didn’t talk politics with people you didn’t know or even ask them about it. It was also a time before one could look on line and find out incomes and pensions of county workers. It was long before you could look online at a menu of prices on a dancer’s website. In theory, I concur with others who have written about this before: yes, we should agree on a starting price. Undercutting happens, and it is wrong!

However, in the real world, I think that, as professionals, we shouldn’t dance for less. In fact, maybe we should charge more!

Consider the budding student of dance who undercuts the professional at a restaurant gig. If the restaurant or club stays open long enough, and she works there long enough, it will become obvious that she’s not a professional in so many ways. She may pick the wrong music (such as using Debke for a Greek audience or a Loreena McKennitt song for the Lebanese Association Valentine’s dinner) …you get my drift. She might call in at the last minute and cancel, or worse, not show-up, because something else “came up”. She won’t know how to cover for the mishap that often can happen early in a performer’s career, making it part of her show …costume malfunctions, customers who are out-of-line, music mishaps, musician misunderstandings. (Don’t ask; I won’t tell!) God forbid, she might even perform a second set without charging! She won’t be able to respond in a cultural context to her audience, etc. Eventually, it will become obvious. Even the costumers will be able to tell. If the establishment has a reputation of any kind, she won’t be there long. In comparison, a professional dancer will help an establishment! Her performance will encourage repeat business for the owners as well as develop her following of fans.

Undercutting also occurs within the general public.

I recall an agency with which I used to contract. There was a fee schedule for women who looked like Belly dancers (They just dressed up like one and added to the atmosphere!) and a different one for “real” dancers. The agent was sensitive and savvy enough to realize there was a difference! With the vast amount of online advertising that promotes Belly dancers today, I think the sharpest web-page layouts and top search results, along with a cheaper price (and of course, the visual appeal) are what will appeal to mainstream. For some dancers, this might be their most effective gig generator. In contrast, the performer of yesteryear developed her following and reputation by working a lot, and hence, word-of-mouth was how her reputation was developed; it was not created by a website. This was the time (for me anyway) during which a dancer could charge and receive what she charged with ease–without “shopping around” or “Googling” for a cheaper price that occurs today.

The Internet presence has created a whole new style of “elitism” in the dance world.

Its standards are Photoshop, high-end graphics, certification, and merchandise. All of this requires an amount of assertiveness for a dancer who has relied previously on talent, ethics, and authenticity to be considered valuable and command the attention of the general public as it surfs the web.

Like other industries–music, musicians, singers, comedians, sports and athletes (especially)–name their price and get it (…amazingly, even though more than half the world’s population lives in poverty). You can engage a cover-band for approximately two thousand dollars to appear at a wedding and play Rolling Stones tunes, but you can’t get the Stones to come for that small amount!

In the San Francisco Bay Area particularly, yes, there has been undercutting. For 20 plus years, I have not only had my own, long-established gigs, but I have “subbed” for my dancer friends and club owner friends. My dance buddies like my track record because I would never steal their gigs, and club owners like it because they know they will get what they pay for. There are some places for which I will no longer substitute; they are paying dancers the same (if not less) than what I have previously charged them. (This is not just last year’s price, but the price of a dance a decade ago.)

Advanced students and budding professionals will work occasionally for significantly less money than established dance personalities. The consumer will pay what he wants, and will receive what he pays for. There are some consumers with discriminating tastes who are happy to pay a professional dancer.

I think the “fananas” out there who have been working their art for some time and have cultivated long standing relationships with their clients, would be reluctant to keep within an “agreed industry standard”.

You don’t want to rob anyone of his or her hard earned dollars, but your art shouldn’t be given away. Your prices for real dancing shouldn’t be less than “a walk-around” from an agency, or less than what you have charged in the past. Therefore, teachers, tell your students. Dancers, talk to other professionals in your area (…or check their websites)! Check the current rates.

Nowadays, there are a variety of venues to perform, with a variety of distinctions in the dance and the dancer.

I say let the consumer beware….you get what you pay for. If you want a 20 thousand dollar Scion Toyota, you can get one; if you want to pay more for a BMW you can get one of those.