Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Survey Results, Part 4!

Here's the final installment of the results of the Great 2011 Belly Dance Student Survey.  

First off, I want to offer my sincere thanks to the 89 respondents who participated!  I hope the experience of completing the survey was and enjoyable and rewarding (if minor) part of your experience as a belly dancer.  The next survey will be even better -- please participate again!

I hope the results are helpful to teachers, event producers, and others who care about this beautiful community.  My goal with this blog is to help everyone succeed and help the community thrive by keeping everyone informed and bridging gaps.

Below are responses to the open-ended last question on the survey, where respondents were invited to share any thoughts or suggestions.  Think of this as an online focus group, where students and community members engage in open discussion about what they want, what they need, and what they don't like.  I've edited some of these a little, but this is the voice of the community!

Most community-related comments were critiques of what respondents perceived as a lack of inclusiveness in the belly dance world, and a desire to have a more closely united community.  Hey, that's what this blog is all about!  What are you doing to bring the community together -- whether it's your own group of students and supporters or the larger belly dance subculture in your area?
  • “I just want to say that this is a great idea. I hope that all in the community will take these comments and suggestions under consideration. I would love to see the community as a whole performing together; like Shimmy Mob and the Little Five Points Halloween Parade. When we (the community) come together across style lines, and forms, it creates unity and strength within this art that we love sooo much!!"
  • “I wish we would all just luv the art and respect each other"
  • “Would love to know more about the Atlanta area belly dance sisterhood, not just the folks at my studio. Maybe some joint events between different studios?”
  • “It would be nice for community members to not spread false rumors or outright lies about other members.
  • "Too much Belly Dance Wars here not a sisterhood :(“
  • “Sometimes I feel the belly dance community gets too clique-y and it makes it difficult to start dancing again in a new city.”
  • “I study from a professional teacher weekly, and I have been studying belly dance for ten years.  I also have been teaching fitness belly dance for several years, and I feel that in general, fitness belly dance gets a bad rap.  I wish that weren't the case.  I wish that there were more support from the community for the fitness instructors.”

Some of the responses in the quantitative part of the survey are reflected in respondents' comments about the kinds of classes they would like to be able to take.
  • “It would be great for to have more instructors who teach Lebanese, Persian, and Bollywood in Metro Atlanta.”
  • “I am CRAVING a teacher who knowledgeable on body mechanics and is strict on technique and precision (but fun too!) who also teachers after 7:30 p.m. Oi."
  • "I've been away from the dance scene for a bit, and am looking to get back.  I know that fusion is the big thing right now, but I want to find a teacher that is more into traditional stuff and less fusion."
  • “I would love to see belly dance classes/workshops that concentrated on a historical style."
  • "More ATS And theatrical fusion in Athens!"
  • "I would love for teachers to offer advanced technique classes. Most technique classes cater to beginners or advanced beginners."
  • “Need more musicality information... how to play drums, zils, performing on drums, etc.  PLAYING Middle Eastern music.  I zil A LOT but want to learn how to play dumbek, etc. or my oboe in a performance band that works with other dancers!”
  • “If there's a reasonably priced Middle Eastern music class/ group in the ATL I would probably jizz in my harem pants.”

Some respondents offered strong critiques of teacher behavior and qualifications.
  • “A teacher needs to remember that your potential client base is large...your troupe(s) and  your students are ALL clients. How you treat these clients can determine how your business grows... put your ego aside.”
  • "I want a class/troupe to progress with and perform with. I have tried a few teachers, but though they may be very active and very supportive in the community, I don' think the one had enough experience to actually be teaching and the other timing was bad for me.”
  • “Teachers in the area need to stop teaching and take more classes. If you want to teach, mentor with a seasoned teacher first.”
  • “My teacher doesn't actively discourage taking classes in other styles...but she doesn't exactly approve of it either. I really feel like I have to be loyal to her style or I'm not part of the ‘in crowd.’  If I ever want to be in the troupe …I have to join a personality cult. I'm not sure if this is normal or not.”

Performance Opportunities
As indicated by the survey, students would like more casual performance opportunities.  Watch the Calendar page for events like the "Open Stage" series produced by Kira in 2011, drum circles, and other events that are open to casual performances and/or social dancing.
  • I'd like to see some more 'casual' performance opportunities for students that may not be affiliated with a large studio or troupe; i.e., student (some pro or semi-pro performers too) haflas in an inviting, non-competitive, safe space for sharing the dance w/each other.”
  • “I would love to see more non-restaurant based performance opportunities/shows.”

  • "I love this art form: it's become more than just a hobby for me. I would probably be much more involved if workshops and extras' were a little more affordable for my student budget."
  • “Would like to see more dance teachers, classes and performance opportunities outside of 285 in the Northeast corridor.”
  • “Greater perceived availability of resources would be wonderful - better advertising for classes in the area, more frequent vendor visits (or a one-to-two-day road trip a la shopping caravan), better access to and pairing with local drummers for classes and workshops.”
  • "Start more classes outside the Atlanta area, so that the community will grow. Maybe to start new troupes and find new talent in outside the Atlanta area as well. I am willing to travel 1 to 2 hours a week for classes, but I have found that no one else can make the sacrifice due to time and gas prices."

  • “Honestly, the big thing I'd love to do is put on competition here. As a host, organizer and performer. I'd love to see a yearly show (like a themed event) …it would be something I'd love to accomplish IF I could get the community to embrace it.”
  • “If it's not Raqs Sharki please don't use it in the advertisement for studio or performance.  Too much fusion…. and people don't understand if it is their first exposure to Raqs Sharki.”

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bellydance by Samora Show at Nicola's Tonight!

Samora (Photo by Jaki Hawthorne Photography)
This show has been on the calendar for a while, but I'm really late in featuring it in a post!  Tonight at Nicola's Lebanese Restaurant, Bellydance by Samora will present its Post-Holiday Extravaganza! This event will feature performances by Samora, Amoraat Dance Ensemble, Samora's students, and special guests Âya of Istanbul and Suzanne! This is a chance to see some really talented performers and enjoy the warm, family-friendly atmosphere of Nicola's.

The show will will start promptly at 6:30.  You don't need to buy a ticket, but you will need to purchase dinner.  Please call the restaurant at: (404) 325-2524 for reservations, and plan to arrive well before 6:30 so you can order dinner and be comfortable when the show starts (dinner service will begin at 5:00). There will be a variety of menu options available at $15 each.  Click here for more details!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Survey Results, Part 3!

Welcome to the penultimate post summarizing the results of the 2011 Great Bellydance Student Survey!

What do students want more of?  Less of?
We revisited our master list of belly dance activities and asked respondents to let us know what they'd like to see more of... where they might be oversaturated... and where the availability of each activity in their area is about right for their needs.

What do students want more of?  The top three responses were one-day workshops, academic lectures (with 55 respondents saying they want more), and costuming/sewing instruction.  Students are also interested in more makeup and hair tips, as well as music classes, concerts, and haflas.

Few respondents indicated "enough already!" on any activity.  A few felt that we don't need more bellydance fitness classes, choreography classes, or restaurant performances -- but most felt that the availability of all these is "just right."

The implications for teachers and event producers are obvious on this one.  Students are clearly hungry to learn more about the culture and music behind this art form, and to have more opportunities to listen to music and get together for more casual social events.  And there's a big opportunity for teachers to share their costuming, sewing, hair styling, and performance makeup skills, whether in standalone workshops or as part of a weekend workshop.

What are students' goals for 2012?
In the interest of helping teachers support their students in and out of the class setting, we asked respondents for their belly dance-related goals in the coming year.  Many of the most popular goals are closely linked to the topic we just covered -- learning more about culture, history, music, and costuming.  But the top three goals were to practice more, perform more frequently, and attend more workshops.  In addition, 39% are interested in trying a new style.

Again, the implications for teachers and event producers are fairly obvious.  Providing performance opportunities is key to attracting and retaining students.  But how can teachers help students with the most popular goal -- "practice more?"  Every student knows that practicing between classes is essential in getting the most out of the class and growing as a dance.  And most teachers can tell which students have been practicing.  So why is it hard for students to make time for practice?  Perhaps teachers could offer regular tips on how, what, when, and where to practice, so it's not so intimidating.  Encouragement via e-mail or other online communications between classes might also be appreciated.  And performances always drive practice -- so as performance opportunities increase, practice should also increase.

Why do students love belly dance?
Really just for fun -- but also because it may spark some ideas for teachers and event producers -- we asked respondents what it is they love most about this art form.  Not surprisingly, what keeps most students engaged is the outlet for creative or artistic expression that belly dance provides. Many also said they love entertaining people.  And quite a few mentioned the bonds and feeling of sisterhood that they feel with other enthusiasts.

Several respondents offered verbatim responses to the effect of "all of the above!"  And one simply said "This is who I am."

Stay tuned for Part 4
Our final installment will cover the verbatim responses to the final, open-ended question on the survey.  These include comments on the accessibility of classes and events, the belly dance community, instruction, music, and performing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Alicia is Coming This Weekend!

Alicia (photo: Lotus Dance Studio)
This weekend, Alicia of BellyCraft is in town for workshops and a show brought to us by World Belly Dance Alliance.  Hailing from south Florida, Alicia is a second-generation belly dancer who has become fluent in the darker side of tribal fusion. 

Alicia will bring her skills to Pera this weekend with a series of workshops, and she'll be performing in a show Saturday night that is shaping up to be a big event for the metro Atlanta community!  Lots of local performers will be strutting their stuff, including Jenny of WBDA, Amani Jabril, Heleshia, Tamara, Jendayi Dance Company, Holly, Mina, Tamar, Kumari, Mariana, Nawar Azhara, Amina, and Lacy Perry.

Visit the WBDA Web site for more information and to purchase workshop registrations or show tickets!  RSVP to the workshop Facebook event for all the latest updates!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Classes with Amani Jabril in Alpharetta/Roswell

It's difficult to announce every new class session here on Yalla Y'all.  However, periodically we will feature information about various instructors around town.

Based on the results of our recent survey, a fair number of local students are interested in learning more about Lebanese-style belly dance.  Amani Jabril is currently building a Lebanese-style class... if you are interested in attending, please contact her!

If you've seen Amani perform, you know that she captures the earthiness and sensuality of this art form oh-so-beautifully (she will be performing in this Saturday's Alicia workshop show at Pera).  As both a working anthropologist and a professional dancer, Amani offers a practical, street-smart view of  not only the technical aspects of music and movement, but also the culture and the motives from which the dance as cultural expression is created. 

Taken from her own experiences in the field in Egypt, Lebanon and the U.A.E., in addition to ex-pat groups in the United States, Amani's classes include favored combinations as seen on the contemporary dance scene as well as movement from her own signature style.

Amani currently has ongoing classes in Alpharetta and Roswell:
  • Advanced Technique & Choreography:  Mondays 7:30 - 9:30 p.m. at Amani's home studio in Alpharetta
  • Open Level Egyptian Bellydance:  Tuesdays 7:00 - 8:00 p.m. at Street Studio & Fitness in Roswell
For more information on classes and workshops with Amani Jabril, visit her web site or call 404-550-4692

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Best of Bellydance Competition This Saturday at Pera Dance

Just a reminder that this Saturday, Pera Dance will be hosting a belly dance competition called "The Best of Bellydance."  Doors open at 6:30 and the contest begins at 7:00.

I haven't heard a whole lot of chatter about who will be judging, but I would expect to see some of Atlanta's most discerning performers and community members at the judges' table.  Tickets for watching the show are just $12 at the door.  Click here for more info!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Survey Results, Part 2!

Activities & Participation
We wanted to find out what belly dance-related activities are students participating in, and how often.  Not surprisingly, most respondents attend some sort of class on a weekly basis, with 67% taking technique classes, 63% participating in choreography classes, and 41% enjoying belly dance fitness classes at least once a week.  (Interestingly, there was a percentage of respondents who rarely or never take classes.)  Watching and learning from videos is also a popular activity.

Attendance at performances of various types was a less frequent activity for most respondents.  Most attend studio shows and workshop shows only a few times a year.  Which brings us to a question that gets discussed constantly in this community... what can event producers do to drive attendance at performances?  So much work goes into putting on a show -- the producers, the performers, and the teachers and troupe members preparing for student performances put in hours of practice and spend lots of money on costumes.  It's always a shame to see a small audience at an event.  As a marketing person, I would strongly encourage event producers to leverage every tool at their disposal to get the word out about the show and "sell" the most interesting elements of it.  Here are some tips based on what I have noticed over the years:
  • Be careful about when you schedule an event.  Check my Calendar page, for starters!  Be sure it's not competing with other big events (belly dance-related or not).
  • Think about the location.  I went to several great shows last year that were well outside I-285 and well worth the drive -- but not very well-attended.
  • Team up with other studios.  There's a lot of "coopetition" in the belly dance community, and even if you're competing for the same student base, everyone can win if you work together.
  • Marketing, marketing, marketing.  Use Facebook, Twitter, posters, e-mails -- get the word out to everyone as far in advance of the show as possible.  Creating a Facebook event is a must.  Consider using Facebook pay-per-click ads -- they can be very targeted (e.g., users in a particular metro area who are interested in belly dance).  You only pay if someone clicks through, but if they don't, they'll see your copy and image for free!  Have a landing page on your web site that is informative and compelling.
  • A big part of marketing is not just the tactics, but the content.  These tips seen very simple, but remember that you don't have much time to capture someone's interest.  If your information is confusing, incomplete, inaccurate -- or appears less than professional -- you may lose their interest right away.  Be sure your messaging is clear, complete, and accurate.  Check the details like spelling and dates before you publish your communications.  Use professional-quality photographs whenever you can (with credit to the photographer where it's needed).  Get the details right the first time so you don't have to try to re-educate your audience if you make a mistake.  And really think about what it is about your event that is going to make people want to see it.  Any special guest performers?  Is it a fundraiser for a good cause?  Live music?  Emphasize the differentiators!  

Changes in Frequency
One of the most surprising results of this survey was the response to the question (referencing the above activities), "Overall, in the past year, have you been participating in these activities more, less, or about the same as the previous year?"  With the obvious declines in class and event attendance that most teachers and event producers have been experiencing, we would expect that a majority of respondents would answer "less."  However, only 28% of respondents said "less."  A strong majority, 73%, said they are participating more or at about the same frequency as in 2010.  

So what does this mean?  The metro Atlanta market is fairly saturated with options for belly dance classes and events.  Our Links page lists a whopping 40 instructors and studios, most of whom were actively offering classes and private instruction in 2011.   Several new studios have opened in the past few years, and several new teachers have entered the scene.  My hypothesis is that the belly dance student population is not growing substantially, but the growing number of options is diluting the market. New studios in new locations may be drawing business from more established studios.  The good news is that belly dance enthusiasts continue to participate in classes and events.

A Closer Look at Students Who Are Participating Less
We asked those respondents who said they spent less time on belly dance activities in 2011 to list the reasons for this decline.  Not surprisingly, most said that financial issues kept them from being more involved.  Many also indicated that they were just too busy.  Some respondents from areas outside metro Atlanta and the outlying suburbs expressed frustration at the lack of options in the area where they live.  

The open-ended responses to this question shed some light on specific challenges students are facing.  These included...
  • I need a class that is after 7:30 p.m. on any weeknight
  • I had a few years of much lighter bellydance activities in the past... due to now ex-husband's disapproval, and also smaller children commitments 
  • There are NO opportunities in my area, other than one... which is not my chosen style
  • Most of the activities listed do not exist in my area at all!
  • I feel like the options I have are not the best fit for me
  • Haven't found a teacher that fits what I am looking for
  • Have been incorporating Belly Dance into my new primary style of Burlesque
  • Wanting to expand away from my belly dance life
  • Divorce (going through one now)

Coming In Part 3...
Stay tuned for more great insights from the Great 2011 Belly Dance Student Survey!  Part 3 will include the answers to some important questions...
  • What do students want more of?
  • What makes students love belly dance?
  • What are students' goals for this year?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Survey Results, Part 1!

Welcome to the first installment of the results of the 2011 Bellydance Student Survey! We had a total of 89 respondents, and their input provides some great directional input for instructors and event producers on the state of the belly dance "consumer" market.

I wanted to do this survey because I've heard so many questions and hypotheses about what students and even attendees want, and why class, workshop, and performance attendance seems to have declined. Everyone is well aware that many people are out of work or working longer hours to get by in the current economy.

So what can those who produce products and services for the belly dance community offer to attract and retain more business? My day job is in marketing, and the best marketing is always based on an understanding of what the market really wants (and most importantly, what they will pay for). Many companies can't afford to do the kind of research that will give them these insights. My goal was to combine my marketing capabilities with my access to the belly dance community and begin to provide some insights that will make the community stronger by making the "producers" more successful and get the "consumers" more involved.

I'll be sharing the insights from the survey in several installments. The first will focus on the profile of the respondents and the styles of dance in which they either currently participate or would like to try. Please feel free to ask any questions about the results.

Finally, I want to thank everyone who responded to the survey for their honest and thoughtful input. And thanks to the people who got involved and shared this survey, especially the teachers who encouraged their students to participate!

Respondent Profile 

This survey was intended to focus on the area served by Yalla Y'all, which includes metro Atlanta and north Georgia, though it was open to respondents in any location. Most respondents (68%) were from the metro Atlanta region, though the remainder of the state was well-represented, and 15 of the 89 total respondents live outside the state of Georgia. All but two were from the Southeast, including North Carolina (4), Tennessee (2), Alabama (2), Florida, and Texas.

You'll find that some responses have specific meaning in the metro Atlanta area, but many of the insights from this survey are likely to be widely applicable.

Dominant Style
In listing the dance style they primarily study and perform, respondents were split pretty evenly between what most of us classify as "cabaret" and "tribal" styles. About 40% identified themselves as primarily Tribal Fusion or ATS dancers, and American Cabaret, Classical Egyptian, and Egyptian Pop styles total about 36%. Several other dancers identified themselves as primary folkloric, theatrical,or Turkish Romany performers.

I'm pleased that the survey includes a healthy mix of styles, with respondents representing many facets of our diverse community. 

Troupe/Studio Affiliation 
We were curious to learn how many respondents consider themselves connected to a studio, teacher, or troupe. Over half of respondents indicate that they have such a connection, while the other 45% study with multiple teachers, consider themselves "free agents," or are not sure how to label themselves.

What are the implications for teachers? Almost every teacher's goal is to build long-term relationships and loyalty among students; it's possible that up to 30% of the student market may be seeking a teacher, studio, or troupe as their belly dance "home."

 Interest in Dance Styles 
What styles do students want to learn more about? 
Responses to this question may give teachers and event producers some ideas for new classes and workshops. Almost 30% of respondents would like to learn more about Bollywood-style dance. Persian dance also seems to be enjoying a surge in interest, with 25% of respondents interested in trying it. Classes or workshops in Turkish Romany and Greek dance may also attract students, as well as ATS, Classical Egyptian, and folkloric styles in general.  Overall, there was not a single style listed that did not generate some interest.

What styles did we leave off the list? 
Several students identified themselves as students or performers of styles not listed in the survey, including Gothic (5), African (2), Debke, Tunisian, other Romany styles, Modern Fusion, Bhangra, historical reconstruction dances, other group improv styles, Balkan dance, and international folk dance.

All Responses to Question #1 
Here are the full results to the first question on the survey, in which respondents were asked to indicate their experiences with a variety of styles: