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Dance Festival or

by Nisima

I have always loved attending and performing at the Rakkasah Festival over the years, feeling that even as a “working” dancer I wanted do my part by performing there to support the festival (the call-in used to take about an hour) and the dance community. Contrast that with my Rakkasah experience this year:

First of all, it should not take SIX HOURS of redialing to get a performing slot at ANY festival, but that’s how long I and many other dancers/directors had to spend on the phone this year before getting through on the domestic call-in number

Here’s the point: each year it has taken longer and longer to get through, so, obviously, Rakkasah has outgrown the capabilities of the staff that's trying to field all the calls. Shukriya, can you hear me now? Please, if you are keeping the same sign-up format, get more phone lines and more staff to help on the domestic call-in day!

Second, I just received the flyer for the Rakkasah “Summer Caravan” which explains all about how the “call-in” works: that dancers are chosen “by the phone company” but I know this year a dancer performed in three slots at Rakkassah West. This was despite the requirement for paperwork for the performing dancers to be submitted to Rakkasah in advance so it could be cross-checked on the computer to prevent this very situation. I could understand a mistake where a dancer performs twice, but three times? This is terribly unfair to all the dancers who spent hours calling in for their one dance slot.

Third, we again are informed in the Rakkasah Summer Caravan flyer that one can be provided a performing slot by paying for the entire package of workshops by a deadline, just as with Rakkasah West. This is obviously all about marketing workshops, and not at all about a reasonably fair method of divvying up a limited number of performing slots among dancers. Further, this encouragement to workshop students to essentially “buy” their performing slot at Rakkasah lowers the caliber of the performing immeasurably; Rakkasah is fast becoming a “student showcase”. So, what’s the problem?

Well, a paying public expects and deserves to see a lot more performances from experienced dancers at Rakkasah than is happening.

And, sorry, but the “headliner” performances sprinkled through Rakkasah don’t compensate for showcasing so many beginner dancers. Friday night’s main stage at Rakkasah was a prime example of this endless procession of obviously beginning soloists with that “deer in the headlights” stage persona and/or clone-like troupes incapable of commanding the audience’s attention from a concert stage. Truly, the audience at the Friday night main stage would have been far happier with live musicians and open stage dancing rather than be subjected to so many painfully beginner dancer performances!

And a word about the performing conditions: the Cabaret Stage at Rakkasah had a distinctly nightmarish quality – no stage entrance, so dancers had to line up along the side, poor stage lighting, and the dressing rooms were unassigned and chaotic.

Plus, one security guard Friday refused to allow troupe dancers to re-enter the dressing room, forcing them to walk all the way around in the parking lot in the dark, on their bare feet through broken glass! Now, I’m no stranger to difficult performing conditions, “challenging” stages and cramped dressing rooms, but this broken glass incident struck me as particularly heinous and unnecessary!

Unless future Rakkasah festivals include some sort of screening/audition process for Rakkasah performers/troupes, or at least the requirement that dancers who do sign up for a slot send in a resume and a RECENT picture in costume, it would be more valuable to have only the workshop teachers perform at Rakkasah.

Otherwise, let’s just all recognize that Rakkasah is a beautiful and fun festival for shopping, eating and schmoozing with friends, and is largely a student showcase that has ballooned into three festivals a year - two of them in the Bay Area.

What Rakkasah organizers need to recognize is that with all this growth comes the responsibility of managing issues that go with the territory. And that the current popularity of belly dance that is supporting Rakkasah is now providing lots of other performing vehicles, troupes, community fundraisers, restaurants, and dance studios that dancers will migrate to because a) they can, and because b) the performing conditions at Rakkasah have become just too difficult.

I was reminded recently what an “icon” of American belly dance the Rakkasah festival actually is - it is even internationally recognized. But icons need to be cherished as the treasures they are - not in some superficial sentimental way, but with the hard work of taking a look at issues and working to resolve them to preserve the standards and therefore caliber of Rakkasah, which has enriched my dance experience so much over the years.

Yours in dance,

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