Gilded Serpent presents...

The Festivals That Could Have Been

From the Point of View of an Organizer

Canceled Festival

by Katalin Schafer of Hungary
posted April 7, 2012

In the Summer of 2010, I decided to organise a huge Bellydance festival and world cup competition. I wanted to organise a festival that would show the world the variations and artistic levels of this genre of dance. I had many ideas concerning how to involve the media and attract the public with this program.

Finally, I would like to feel that just once, when someone asks me, "Hey, what are you doin’?" I will not have to answer deceptively that I’m a teacher of ballet and folklore or an Oriental Jazz dancer, so that people recognize the artistic side and do not confuse what I do with, for example, Go-Go dancing.

I would like to create a high-quality competition with the support of television, showing the artistic and theatrical side of Belly dance, and after that, I can say proudly that I’m an Oriental dancer and teacher!

From the beginning, I envisioned that I would need a business partner to accomplish the organisational aspects. I would add my name and creative intellectual work to this project, but the rest of the organisation, such as the business and marketing part, would be my partner’s duty.

For the location, I chose Turkey. Although it is one of the Middle Eastern countries, it is safe, and its capital, Istanbul, is called the “New York of the Middle East”. It seemed perfect!

The first partner I chose was a member of the Turkish political life. With his help, I hoped that we could qualify for subsidies from the state, if there were a framework for cultural events.

Soon of course, it became apparent that there would be absolutely no help from the government, and additionally (according to them) Belly dancing is not considered an art, and and they do not feel that it is part of their culture.

My second partner was a Turkish businessman, and the festival would have been organised in one of his hotels. Consequently, I travelled to there, and we agreed on a date in November of 2011. I worked intensively on the advertising and promotion, inviting such great dance stars as Randa Kamel and Didem. After 2 months of truly hard work, it became obvious that my organiser was not responding to my letters. He was not sending the official company information that would be necessary to start the website.

Later it turned out, that he thought I was “too pretty” to work together, and he would risk his family if he had a woman business partner… and other crazy thoughts…

The festival was cancelled 4 months before the event… but I didn’t give up. I cut the budget and found a Lebanese investor. He was not pleased that I wanted to have this festival in Turkey, but he showed enthusiasm anyway and encouraged me–until that time that he called me saying, "We could sleep together; don’t you think, Baby?"
That was the last straw! Honestly, with all of my heart, I wanted to have this festival! I would like to give a chance to the young, talented dancers. I thought that the Universe had to be with me in a mission like this!

Finally, I started again, alone. I sold my car and my apartment, and I booked the five star Beach Resort with that money, including supplies, the gala room, training rooms, and a whole floor for the exhibitors.

I needed help in marketing, so I looked for companies. From my previous experiences, I chose only those whose owners were women. I tried to create as best I could; I wanted to have a gorgeous festival and competition with unbelievable prizes like 1000 Euros cash, a copyrighted drum solo, a haute couture designer costume, video, photography, and in addition, I found dance managers and club owners to support the festival with dance contracts.

This sounds quite good, huh?

Last night, only 2 months before the scheduled time, I have officially cancelled my big, fat dream festival. There weren’t enough participants! To be exact, there were only 11! Despite the fact that the program and the website visits broke records!

Since then I have puzzled about where I made my mistakes:

1. I shouldn’t have started a huge project like this without beginning a business investment as a simple artist–just to show the world that a woman could do it.

2. I should have considered that (nowadays) there 2 festivals every weekend throughout the world. All of the teachers must travel to every venue sometimes even without compensation.

3. Organisers must remember that Belly dance festivals are not always run for business purposes, but for reasons of artistry, involving extensive and expensive attention to details. There are many entrepreneurs in the dance world who are hoping to create money-making festivals, and therefore, it is likely that heavy financial losses may be the reward for those (such as me) who are focused on the artistic requirements of the event.

April 28, Orientalesque Festival – Berlin
April 28, Cairo By Night Festival – Stockholm
May 2-6, International Bellydance Conference, Canada
May 4-6, Orient Express Festival – Vienna
May 10-14, Mediterranean Delight Festival – Marrakech
May 10-13, Cairo Festival – Budapest
May, Turkish Delight Festival – Istanbul
June, Ahlan Wa Sahlan, Cairo
June, Nilegroup Festival, Cairo
June, Habaib Festival – Cairo
June, Randa Of Course- Cairo

Why do I want to organize a festival?
In my opinion, with more and more festivals, the quality does not rise consistently but may actually decrease. Everywhere, people are trying to accomplish success within a small budget but the media is not interested in these amateur festivals that have been organized in community centers (even though they are international) and only involve a small number of people within the public.

When my festival’s website opened, in the first week, at least 15 teacher wrote to me, saying that he or she wanted to come to teach and would for free! However, those dancers who would like to improve, and learn the dance from a new side, were not demonstrating much interest. There would be many teachers without students to teach!

Most everyone wanted to belong to the stars and be designated and headlined as a “master teacher”, which is absolutely understandable; it was in my thoughts, too. I planned a theater show to be presented at the opening gala, which was supposed to impress the participants and feature me like a new shining star of the Oriental dancers!

If everybody plans and organises events such as this, the festival and workshop genre (which in the beginning was forged out of the love for the Oriental dance) will continue declining in public interest and in motivating and promoting artistry as well.

How can we save this dance and raise it to a worthy place in the eyes of society?
The answer is very simple. We must put aside our egos, even though it may be difficult or even impossible as an artist. The success we would like to experience may lie beneath our feet; we do not notice it because we have already crossed it, and because we are not satisfied, or happy, and always want more.

Some artists may come from a family where they don’t feel loved. That is the reason why we are hungry for success, hungry for the love, and hungry for the accolades! However, love is in us, and from others you will never get that what you can give to yourself. Change!

As Gandhi said: "Be the change you want to see in the world!"

As we accept and love ourselves, and recognise our unique qualities that only we possess (and no one else) then the world will change. There will be no need for an even bigger success because we will see it in our student’s eyes. There will be no need for a bigger reputation, because those who are priceless are already around us and they make our lives complete. We notice and respect each other’s individuality because there is no more or better, just different. Everyone has his or her own following and reputation, and that is amazing!


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  1. Zumarrad

    Apr 7, 2012 - 11:04:50

    I can’t help but feel that Katalin just did not do enough research before embarking on this. And a woman *has* done it before – Raqia Hassan. Yasmina Ramzy. Many many other women.
    Probably the biggest mistake was picking a foreign country. Organising a festival is hard enough without factoring a country you don’t know inside and out into the mix. 
    But I feel sorry Katrin lost so much in the deal!

  2. Zumarrad

    Apr 7, 2012 - 11:04:12

    I can’t help but feel that Katalin just did not do enough research before embarking on this. And a woman *has* done it before – Raqia Hassan. Yasmina Ramzy. Many many other women.
    Probably the biggest mistake was picking a foreign country. Organising a festival is hard enough without factoring a country you don’t know inside and out into the mix. 
    But I feel sorry Katalin lost so much in the deal!

  3. IsisDancer28

    Apr 8, 2012 - 07:04:34

    BRAVO, Katalin to your courage, perseverance. PLEASE keep on dreaming and dancing, you’re a beautiful artist with grand vision. 
    Business and arts are two polar mates that can create the most dynamic synergy but needs experienced hands in both. Finding a business partner in bellydance is like finding a diamond in the roughs. Perhaps, Katalin should try it in her home country to start, a more familiar territory to start.
    The current economic condition in the world has definitely put a big damper effect on the attendance. Additionally, competing with established international festivals is not easy. Perhaps, Katalin would like form a partnership with other dancers who have been organizing dance festival in this scale first before venturing on her own.

  4. Samira Tu'Ala

    Apr 8, 2012 - 09:04:22

    I take issue with #3 in her article.  Katalin is blaming other experienced organizers for setting standards that are too high for her to meet, when in truth it’s her lack of experience that was the major culprit here.

    I am so tired of artists blaming organizers for being money-mongers who don’t care about the art. That is so ridiculous. There is no reason that organizer can’t love the art AND make money with their time & effort.

    Additionally, I’ve found that it’s the inexperienced organizers who do more harm to our community than good.  It’s especially frustrating to hear the stories about organizers who don’t want to make a profit.  They just want to study with their favorite artist.  This is the equivalent of undercutting and makes it much more difficult for experienced organizers to set prices that will reasonably cover the cost of running a sustainable and quality event.

  5. Katalin Schafer

    Apr 9, 2012 - 12:04:11

    Dear Samira!
    Can you send me please where i blaming the organizers with anything in the article? I just wrote my experience and my mistakes and the situations with to many festivals which shares the dancers… I wrote also that this was not good time to organize a new one, mainly to that i am not a business women just an artist…
    I am sorry if you bought yourself anything, but it is just about me and my mistakes, i never want to judge anyone else, i have enough tasks with myself!
    Warm Regards

  6. Anthea (Kawakib)

    Apr 9, 2012 - 05:04:54

    I’m goggling at #2: teachers are traveling to teach at workshops without compensation? Is that true? Please go on – I’d love to hear more about that. 

  7. Barbara Grant

    Apr 12, 2012 - 07:04:04

    There is nothing wrong with dreaming big, putting your passion behind what you want to do, and putting all your effort behind it. Any entrepreneur in any field goes through this, but success is not assured. Most important thing is that you learn from your mistakes, which you seem to be doing here. In your next effort, I’m sure you will be wiser for what you have learned.

  8. Katalin

    Apr 13, 2012 - 10:04:06

    Thanks a lot for all encouraging words i am touched by the thought that artists from different countries and with different history understand and help each other! And yes this was the first plan for the title: “Lesson Learned!” 🙂
    It was just very good feeling to write about my mistakes to and during this i know more myself… (just more, not all…:)

  9. Amira

    Apr 17, 2012 - 02:04:03

    Dear Katalin,
    I understand what you have been going through. It is too difficult to open a festival without your own following. I have tried to do the same thing, failed, and not giving up. The big factor might be ego of local dancers who may feel omitted or undercutted. Please do not give up, work on organizing your event step by step, promoting, educating, looking for co-organizers. I will contact you through Facebook if you want some more ideas. Have a great day everybody!

  10. Coffee

    Apr 26, 2012 - 08:04:49

    Do I know you?  Seriously, you sound exactly like I imagine a friend of mine would sound if she wanted to do something like this.  She wouldn’t start small because she wanted to something “grand” and “attention worthy” even though she had never done anything like it before.
    1. She would only be thinking about how awesome it would be but never actually do any research to even see if what she wanted to do was viable, the place that she wanted to do it in was accommodating,  and what it would take to obtain trusted business partners.
    2. She wouldn’t even think to do a search on popular websites to see what other established events were happening at the same time or close to it.  Her’s would be so big that it wouldn’t matter what else was going on at the time. Everyone would want to go to her event even though it was a first time event, in another country, put on by an unknown.
    3. She would be doing it for the love of art!  For all those who wanted to do something but couldn’t!  People would be so moved by her vision that they would flock to her door!  Of course she wouldn’t be expecting a profit because money taints art and all those organizers who actually run a festival as a *gasp* business don’t understand true artistic vision.
    And it would fail miserably.  And she wouldn’t say something along the lines of “wow, I really messed up.  I need to learn from this and get my priorities in order.  Maybe there doesn’t need to be another festival and I should leave it to the pros.  Or maybe I could see about volunteering at a well known festival to see how they run it.  I could even start building contacts in the community and talk with other successful organizers to see how they did it.  Then in a few years or maybe a decade I could try again with something small.”  No, she would write a passive-aggressive article for an online site that would point the blame to others who took advantage of her vision and hope,  the people who wouldn’t give her their hard earned money to fly half-way around the world to some first time festival, and those other money-grubbing organizers who have the nerve to have successful events.  Oh, and throw in a side of “this wouldn’t have gone wrong if I was woman” ignoring the fact that most of the successful organizers are women.
    TLDR?  To sum up: Sour Grapes

    Kirsten Staton
    Dearborn Heights, Michigan
    United States

  11. Neferteri Baiddou

    Apr 26, 2012 - 10:04:24

    I understand your passion for wanting to present a program of belly dancers. I did  it for a small workshop years ago and what a job. I had more trouble with the aritst than anything else. So I wish you luck with it. It does take some luck and planning.
    I have also interviewed a few sponsors of big bellydance events and they too have had some bad experiences as well. They all say it is a lot of work and planning. So keep your head up and take away from this a lesson learn. Don’t let anyone talk you down or out of what you want to do! 

    Remember no one starts at the top!  

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