Hafla in Arabic means party and belly dancers around the world call their get together events hafla. Belly dance hafla are great opportunities for local dancing communities to meet, network, dance together, perform and have fun.
A hafla can be an informal gathering where people dance socially together or a showcase, where dancers perform in front of an audience. The majority of the hafla I have attended though have also tended to include some form of free dancing at the end of the night i.e. an open dance floor for anyone (whether you were in the audience or one of the performers) can dance.
If you are thinking of organising your own belly dance hafla, here are some tips that I have put together from talking to people who have attended hafla over the years and from my personal experience taking part in hafla. I have highlighted below the main things that you need to consider when organising a hafla.
Hafla are often organised to raise money for charity. Organising a hafla for charity, besides being good in itself because it helps a good cause, fosters the sense of community and makes people more willing to attend and/or perform. Dancers who perform at these events usually do it for the love of the dance and are not paid to dance and it is not uncommon for dancers still have to pay the ticket to attend given that it is all in a great cause. If the hafla is for charity, it will make dancers more willing to perform and their family and friends (who are often dragged along to support the dancers, such as the husband of a belly dancer), will be more likely to want to attend. You can raise money for any charity of your choice although some popular ones can be ones for women causes such as to raise awareness and money for breast cancer treatment. One such charity and which is specifically set up by belly dancers in the UK is Just Because. This charity helps raise money for women in Egypt who need screening and treatment for breast cancer.
Organisers who are well established and have a good following (such as dance teachers who have a lot of students who want to perform) do not always organise hafla for charity, but just as an opportunity to provide a performance platform for students and dancers in general. For many dancers this is a great opportunity to perform and this gives them something to work towards and the motivation to keep on practising their dance skills. Having a get together is also always a great opportunity for belly dancers to catch up with other like minded people and exchange ideas.
The majority of hafla I have attended were the ‘showcase type’, offering a performance platform. I would be equally happy to attend a hafla in which people just gather together and improvise dancing to the most popular belly dance music (disco style). However, the showcase platform is the most popular, at least in the UK. In any case, my favourite haflas have been those in which, after the performances have ended (or in between performance blocks), there was time for free dance where everybody joined together onto the dance floor improvising. This way you have the best of both worlds.
If you chose to have a social dance platform at the end though, make sure you have a good DJ and a good and varied collection of popular belly dance music. You can have a mixed selection of pop music, classics, fusion, slow pieces to recover and fast drums pieces to increase the energy levels. You can also have some live music with drums and other instruments, if you know some good musicians who can play. This will make your hafla really special, but it is also a good idea to mix in some recorded music for when musicians take a break.
From talking to dancers who like to attend hafla, many of them love the opportunity to perform and many like to see a variety of performances in different styles. The quality of the performance is also important, as well as encouraging people who are new to the belly dancing world to perform for the first time.
In terms of choosing who to include, the best idea can be a mix of groups and soloist, with different levels of experience (in order to encourage everyone to perform) and who perform different styles, for variety. Groups are those that sell the highest number of tickets (in addition to buying their own tickets, they usually bring along more friends and relatives). Soloist, especially the ones who have been performing for longer, often struggle to persuade family and friends to attend the umpteenth belly dance show. However, experienced soloist are usually the strongest performers who can raise the quality level of the show.
Choosing the right venue or failing to do so, can make or break your event. It is not always easy to find a good venue at an affordable price. However, here are some considerations to keep in mind when looking for a venue.
The location should preferably be in a place that is well connected with the a public transportation system, or at least ideally be in an urban setting, rather than in the middle of nowhere. A venue that is too hard to reach will put a lot of people off. Ideally there should be space to park for people going by car. It is often a difficult compromise to reach, because venues in city centres rarely have space for parking, while venues outside town often have parking space but are difficult to get to for those without a car.
The venue, even when it is out of town, should not be in an isolated place, for safety reasons. The surroundings should be well lit and in a non threatening environment. This is a special consideration for hafla, if you consider that the majority of people attending are women, sometimes going on their own.
The size of the venue depends on the number of people you are expecting. If you are confident that a lot of people will attend, go for a large venue so that people have enough space and do not feel crammed in. If you expect a smaller audience, go for an intimate venue that feels cosy and warm. A venue that is too large for the number of people attending will make it harder for people to connect and will make the event look as though it is has failed to draw enough people in. On the other hand, try not to oversell tickets and avoid cramming in too many people for the size of the venue, or it will become uncomfortable.
Some venues have stages, some do not and some have both a stage and some space in front of the stage to dance at the audience’s level. As a dancer, I prefer to dance at the audience’s level to get more connection (connection with the audience is very important in belly dance). As an organiser, I think that it depends on the size of the audience. If there are too many people and the venue is large, it may be difficult for member in the audience to see the dancers if they are not on a raised stage. For an intimate small venue, dancing at the audience’s level is very effective. Whatever layout the venue has, it is important that there is enough space for the performers to dance comfortably. The floor should smooth, with no pieces of glass, nor splinters (as many performers dance barefooted).
If there are stalls or places to get drinks or food, they should be kept separate from the main event. They can be in the same room, but in a separate section of the room, in the periphery, so they are not in the way. Having stalls, buffet and bar in separate areas creates different focal points and can make the venue more inviting. You can even decorate the venue with some Middle Eastern looking items, such as lanterns on tables and colourful fabrics on the walls or tables.
It is important that the venue is clean and cosy. Performers also appreciate if there is some space back stage where they can get changed, ideally with mirrors but if not at least having some space will be appreciated. I have performed sometimes in the past in places where the only place to get changed was the toilet and it is not very nice. Performers should have easy access to drinking water and ideally even light snacks.
Another issue that has been brought up by some people who attended hafla in the past, is that of gatecrashers. This may happen if the venue has other sections open to the general public and some uninvited people manage to get into the area where the hafla is. I have never had this problem myself, even when there was a different section in the venue open to the general public. However, it happened to other people who attended events where there were gatecrasher who were rowdy and disrespectful.
The sound and light systems are also very important and so is having good light and sound technicians available. We sometimes give these things for granted when they work well, but they are essential for a successful event. Finally, it is good if there is a bar or even a place to buy food, even just light snacks, so that the audience can make themselves comfortable.
How you price the tickets depends obviously on how much you need to cover the costs, but you need to make a profit on top of that, or raise as much as you can extra for charity. The price should also not be too expensive, after all hafla are usually friendly events for non professionals. I would check the prices that other organisers charge and keep within the same range. You could give discounts to performers but, considering that the majority of people attending are performers, you might end up selling the majority of the tickets at a discounted price.
If you are raising money for charity, you could organise a raffle, with prizes donated by participants, to raise some extra cash. Another way is to sell the DVD of the whole show after the event. A lot of people film themselves with their cameras nowadays, but it is nice to have a professional looking DVD to buy and keep as a memento with all the performances. Nowadays there are many easy to use computer programmes that allow to create a DVD. Even Windows Movie Maker, that comes with Windows operating system, is good enough. So, if you or someone you know has a good semi-professional camera to film the event, it should not be hard to put together a good DVD.
When organising not only a hafla, but any belly dance event, check if there are any events in the area that may clash with yours, which belly dancers are likely to attend . If there are, plan your event at a time when there are no other events going on. This way you will not compete with each other and will not risk having an empty event, or creating enemies in the belly dance community!
It is important that you and the people who will help you visit the venue in advance to become familiar with it. You will need to test the sound equipment, to make sure it is suitable and test it with the CDs or other music storage devices (such as iPod or memory stick) that you will use on the night. This is also useful to make sure you know how these systems work, so you are prepared on the night.
You will need some reliable and motivated people to help you out. You will need:
In addition to dancing you may want to have stalls, creating a small souk where people can purchase belly dance related items. This will add to the hafla and give people something more to be interested in. The stalls can be set up in a room adjacent to the main hall, if available, or in the same room if it is big enough, at the opposite side of the stage along the walls.
If you would like a buffet, if the venue does not have its own catering facilities, you can involve a local Arabic restaurant to sponsor the event, or you could ask participants to bring each some food to share with others. This option though only works for smaller gatherings where you know the majority of people who will attend.
Promoting the hafla is essential if you want audience and performers to attend. It is important to organise the event as early as possible, to give people plenty of notice. Many organisers start advertising up to 9 months or one year in advance. You might also want to promote your event on your own site (see my last post on marketing your dance website online).
You can create leaflets and indeed most organisers do, but make sure they look tidy and professional as a shabby leaflet will make people think that the hafla is low quality too. Leaflets are usually distributed at other belly dance events. So, if locally there is a similar event 9 months before yours, for example, make sure you attend and give out the leaflet for your event. So, planning early and attending other events to advertise yours is vital.
In addition to leaflets, nowadays organisers advertise over the internet. If you have a website you can create a page with the event details and add the URL to the leaflets. Even if you have a website, using social media is essential; at the time of writing, Facebook is the most used for belly dance events. If you are connected to as many belly dancers locally as possible on Facebook, posting an event and inviting the belly dancers you know, will allow you to reach a wide and targeted audience.
If you have the email addresses of many people who could be interested in taking part, you can send a mailshot. This is a good way to contact people directly. You can email them using mail merge in Microsoft Word (this option looks quite personal as you can address people individually by name, while writing and sending the mail just once to everybody), using a newsletter programme such as MailChimp or just sending one collective email. If you chose the last option, remember to write all the addresses in the blind carbon copy field (BCC) to protect privacy. It seems an obvious thing to do but some people still forget to do it.
Letting people know (and well in advance) of your event is not enough. You also need to give clear information. Date, location (with address and if needed map or directions), start and end time are essential. You need to inform people of any additional issues, such as for example advise them to bring drinks if they cannot buy any at the venue.
When inviting people to perform you also need to make your guidelines clear, for example regarding the maximum length allowed for each performance, or the style of dance they can perform. Also, you need to give performers clear guidance with regards to when and how they need to send their music to you, preferably with a deadline. This is useful, so you can plan and have the music ready for the night early enough without having to panic at the last minute.
At the end of the performance, before the event ends or before opening the dance floor to social dancing, make sure to thank all the people involved that have helped you make the event a success. You can even keep in touch with participants via updates on Facebook to thank them and gather some feedback. After the hafla, if you raised money for charity, it is nice to post an update to let people know the amount you have raised.
This is all I can think about at the moment for a successful hafla, but please feel free to contact me or post comments below if you have any further ideas!