Bellydance festivals and intensives have massively grown in popularity over the past few years. Its quite amazing to see how prevalent these festivals have become - you can attend a festival almost every week anywhere in the world! Festivals are an excellent way to immerse yourself into a dance bubble for up to a week, meeting international dancers, getting exposure to specialty styles and studying with masters of this amazing dance form. As a first timer looking to attend a festival - how should you prepare... and survive?!
1) Teachers & Location
When I am looking for a festival, I first seek out the teachers who I am currently studying with, or who I wish to study with. Many master teachers travel on a very regular basis, so looking up their schedule is fairly easy. Once I find out where the instructors are teaching, I then look at the festival locations. I then start to ask myself some questions: What places would I like to visit? Would I want to return to a city I have already been before? How much will it cost for me to fly? Do I need a visa? What is the culture like? What are the other things to do outside of the festival?
As I mainly travel now only for dance, I use this trip as a way to sneak in a bit of a holiday outside of the festival. I always try to stay a few extra days to get out and enjoy the city so that I can experience some local culture outside of the festival setting. I also look up the hotel and / or venue to see where it is located, what services they offer, if they have fridges and coffee machines / kettles in the room, if there is an onsite restaurant or something close by, and if there is a swimming pool / hot tub (so great after a long day training).
Once I have decided on a festival, I start my research. I look at the featured instructors and the content of what they plan to teach during the festival. If I am unfamiliar with the instructor, I turn to Youtube, websites and social media to learn more about this instructor and their style to see if what they teach would be a good fit for me. I usually print out the schedule (if it is posted in advance) and color code my preferences with highlighters - yellow is a priority, orange is a possibility and blue is things that I am interested in but not a priority at this moment. Depending on the festival package I select, I then arrange my schedule.
In my early days of attending festivals, I used to select the package that offered the most classes (3 - 4 a day). What I soon realized was that I was only really able to make 2 workshops a day - my brain and body could only handle so much! With all the nightly events and shows, catching up with friends, shopping and possible excursions, you are exhausted! I now know that realistically I will attend a maximum of 2 3 hour workshops a day, and try to curb my enthusiasm in trying to do it all. Many festivals also allow you to add on a class for a fee, so if there is a class you really want to take that if not already included in your schedule this may be a great option. You want to really maximize your learning and take as much as you can from the festival, so remember not to over do it and make sure you allow yourself time to rest and sleep.
If you plan on competing or dancing on the open stage, make sure to find out what nights these events will happen and if there may be a conflict between your last workshop and your performance.
Plan on packing lots of training clothes (and lots of travel soap!), Also, find out if there are nights out, opening and closing galas (typically quite dressy events) so that you can bring some fancier clothes and accessories. If you are planning on performing, make sure to pack your costumes and accessories all in one go so that you do not forget anything. I also bring a lot of loose long sleeve shirts and hoodies to wear during warm ups, breaks and in transit between classes. You may also want to pack ballet slippers, half soles or athletic tape to protect your feet against carpet burns or slippery floors. If you plan on going on excursions, do some research into what to wear while outside of the festival venue. Dress appropriately for the culture, activity, and climate. Remember to be culturally sensitive, and respectful. I always travel with loose clothing, a scarf and long dresses as they are usually more comfortable in hot climates, and also modest. The scarf comes in handy whether you wrap it loosely over your shoulders, or for head protection from the sun.
If you have dietary restrictions or preferences, I would advise you to bring your own food or plan on going to a grocery store upon your arrival so that you have a supply of food in your room. Some hotels offer a continental breakfast or buffet, so this is a great way to fill up before your classes. If there is a only a short break in between workshops you may not have enough time to go get food. Energy bars, nuts, fruit and snacks that you brought from your room are excellent ways to refuel. I always carry extra protein bars, powdered smoothie blends, nuts and chocolate in my bag to keep me going during the day. I also travel with a knife, cutting board, Tupperware-type container, and a can opener so that I can set up camp in my room and prepare food comfortably. The last time I traveled, I brought a mini crock pot which allowed me to have meals like soup which was a major time saver!
You will want to bring your medications and any pharmacy items you may need: malaria tablets, anti-diarrhea/nausea medication, band-aides, health supplements, muscle rubs, ibuprofen, bug spray, epsom salts, essential oils. Earplugs and eye masks are also good if you are sharing a room. Finding out what electrical plug adapters and and volt converters you will need are also essential - I once set my travel blender on fire because I did not use a volt converter! You should also find out the preferred currency and make sure you have enough money on hand to pay any balances owing, tips for the hotel staff etc. Some vendors take credit card, and most hotels will have cash machines but remember that there could be a few hundred people that will be using these machines so try to bring as much cash as you can. There are safes inside most hotel rooms, and so you can safely keep your cash secure. Also remember that vendors might add blackmarket exchange rates if you are paying with local currencies (many places use US dollars as their base currency) so it is best to come prepared.
I also print out an extra copy of the schedule, any information sent to me by the organizer, flight and hotel information, insurance details and any other confirmations I may need to have to hand.
4) The festival
So now you are there! After weeks of preparation, you have arrived! It is a very exciting time!
It is always good to practice common courtesy both in class and at the events- It makes the event so much smoother and enjoyable for everyone. Try to arrive to class early and give yourself time to put your stuff on the side, stretch, warm up - whatever you need to get yourself primed for the class. If the instructor calls to rotate rows, make sure you give other people a chance to move up into your spot so that they have a chance to see. Engage with your fellow classmates - smile, talk, and dance with each other! There is so much joy felt and expressed when people connect through training!
If you get tired or injured during the class, try to stay and watch the rest of the class on the side. Refrain from talking to others so that you don't distract your classmates. Sometimes the teacher will allow you to film the material, so you can take this opportunity and practice when you are feeling up to it later on.
Get as much sleep as you can - festivals are notorious for running late into the night and starting early the next day around breakfast time. If you know that you have an early workshop in the morning, try to get to bed as early as you can the night before so that you are on time for the class. Festivals run on a clockwork like schedule, and if the instructor has to wait til enough people show up, their class may run overtime into someone's class. Sleep helps with memory, rejuvenation, stress release and mood so really try to optimize your sleeping time! Naps are also a great way to get a quick pick me up and reset your energy levels.
Remember to thank the people who are working at the event - they have a very overwhelming job dealing with potentially hundreds of dancers and they are often under-recognized. And remember to participate in the events - clap, cheer and be supportive for all the dancers who are performing. As you can probably relate - there is nothing worse than performing for an under enthusiastic audience. Be supportive to all dancers regardless of their level. It takes a lot of guts to get onstage, especially in a festival setting which is a higher pressure event. If you are competing, make sure to take a moment and wish your fellow competitors good luck.
And don't forget to HAVE FUN! Enjoy working hard in classes, making new friends, broadening your education and buying new, shiny costumes. The main reason you chose to travel is to dance, and so really enjoy every moment of your experience.