Monday, January 28, 2013

Survey Results, Part 4

Here's the results installment you've all been waiting for... open-ended commentary!  I have edited some of the responses to ensure anonymity and for spelling, etc.

Thanks so much to everyone who participated in the survey and shared your thoughts and feelings about the raqs community!
  • Our area is small but there are several factions of belly dancers.  I wish we could all get together for at least one event.
  • Scheduling dancers at restaurants black balling other better dancers.  I see a lot of that.  Teachers not teaching performance etiquette (i.e., not wearing cover-ups)
  • Gigs are declining due to the economy. The economy in general is not good and that in turn prohibits me from attending most shows/workshops for financial reasons. There are very few consistent, regular classes at a level suitable for the professional or advanced dancer.
  • More haflas and less politics please
  • I really have no complaints...I'm a newbie and just soaking it all in...
  • There is a huge number of beginners teaching.  Not ready for prime time.
  • I've found my local dance scene to be really fragmented, which is odd because we are such a small state. I wish we had a stronger network going, and I'm trying to help develop one by taking my students to other groups' events and trying to get to know other instructors.
  • The community needs to work collaboratively and be more welcoming.
  • Too many cliques as usual, like every community.  There is so much credit given to dancers who have been dancing a long time but the former newbies who are no longer newbies but have put in their time, practice, money, etc. also deserve the proper respect.  But that seems to be the norm year after year after year.
  • I love when a teacher has handouts that cover the topics being taught that day.  I have been seeing this more but not enough.
  • There is an excess of DivaTudes locally and a mentality that there "can be only one top dog."  It would be refreshing to see a change in this mentality and an acceptance that different viewpoints matter and have value, and an appreciation that different troupes excel in different performances and styles.
  • My Christmas wish is for the dancers in this community to come together in the spirit of promoting the art form. The self promotion and the "mean-girl" exclusionary tactics should be left in the halls of whatever high school you graduated from.
  • As I'm originally from the NVA/DC area, I go to workshops & events there whenever I can.  (Which usually means once or twice a year, as I'm visually impaired and finding transport there can be difficult.)  However the people and venues available there are GREAT.  On the other hand, my current area has noooooothing.  Literally, no classes, no workshops, no events, no performances, nooooothing.  Not even the dance studios in the area which feature other forms offer bellydance, nor do any of the fitness centers that I could find.  This area is wooooefully lacking in belly-culture, so I miss taking classes and my belly-sisters in the NRV & NVA/DC/MD -dearly.-  Lastly, I'm a girl on a MAJOR budget (like, choosing which bills I can pay each month budget), so anything to make the dance more affordable (and more local) is a HUGE plus. :)
  • Thanks for offering this survey!  Here's to improving our belly-munity! :)"
  • Workshop instructors need to be willing to change up their plans according to the skill level of the crowd.  I've seen way too many people shove a choreography that's way too advanced at a crowd
  • My community is new and growing, I am excited to see the results of the survey so I can help improve my own area.
  • Wish dance would focus more on the art and less on "hot"" ... If I wanted an aerobic class, I would go to the gym.
  • I want to see more men and women of color teaching workshops and performing in major shows.
  • Instructors need to discuss the history.
  • I recently started attending workshops in Charlotte, NC and I keep going back because they are so well organized, the organizer is extremely personable, and the dancers are wonderfully welcoming.
  • I live in an area where there is tons of belly dance stuff every weekend.  Sometimes it's a matter of choosing between multiple events. There is a lot of work for professionals and there are a lot of hafla opportunities for students. There are tons of workshops.
  • Although we are improving our ability to balance events there are still companies/producers that have more events scheduled in comparison to the rest of the community.  If we knew that each studio/director/producer/etc. would have a minimum of 3-4 events a year versus 6 that would allow room for other events whether planned far in advance or offered in a short period of time.  It would allow people to participate in events that are the best bang for their buck. 
  • For our restaurant/party dancers, I think an agreement should be made amongst the entire community to agree to certain (lets call them) terms and conditions so that the treatment of all dancers is consistent.  This would help prevent undercutting because the rule would be (for example) no restaurant dancing for less than....$$.This would make owners/managers pay for quality versus who is the lowest and available. It would prevent them from taking advantage.  I think it would also protect the dancers and the quality of their work. There is some mess going on in our local restaurants and parties that is unacceptable across the board.
  • NO more BS!  To say we are students, teachers, etc but we allow incredible artists to come to Atlanta and we don't support because we don't like such and such is crap if you care about dance.  Point blank.  We either put up or shut up as a community.  There is never an excuse to allow talent to not bless your mind and body.
  • An international trip. We have enough experienced teacher and travelers that I think we can come up with a great price for an international trip.  That way we get to have a shared experience, get some ""realness"" and have fun. 
  • The manner in which the community use social media  to attack others, lack of professional courtesy, sense of entitlement, lack of originality and creativity yet we have so many events but we continue to fall behind in excellence produced in many other states.
  • Community  there is very little feeling of community in our area with other studios & dancers outside our studio, which is disappointing.  It has improved over the last year though.
  • I feel very lucky to live where I do. My own level of commitment is minimal at the moment (I am an eternal "beginner" just dancing strictly for me) but my area offers something for everyone.
  • I'm in South Africa. Our community is growing but our money is worth much less than dollars or pounds which means that only the lucky few who an afford to travel locally and abroad can really grow their dance.
  • Personally, I would like to see more positive promotion for events and more local support for both teachers and performers. There is a more tangible thread of negativity this year than I've experienced in the past. This negativity is often passive-aggressive in the sense that it describes a "safe" place to dance or perhaps a more "authentic" show.  Is this to imply that other events are unsafe or not authentic?  In a perfect world, we would support each other, celebrate seasoned dancers, encourage new dancers, collaborate with others in the dance community, and shine a brighter light on our art form.
  • More live music shows in Atlanta please :)
  • I am grateful for the Yalla Y'all calendar that keeps me in the loop ;) (thanks!)
  • As much as I love Nicola's, I don't want to eat there 3 Sundays in a row. Please think about this when you're planning shows. Also, I understand that there are only so many weeks in a year, but we can probably eliminate some of the double up if teachers didn't have shows once a quarter.
  • My biggest complaint is that the Atlanta dancers are more than happy to have the South GA dancers drive and stay in Atlanta but are rarely ever willing to drive the same distance South for events.
  • I have no interest in fighting/ taking sides/who's mad at who. We need to work together, Together we achieve more as a community. The only reason I do not get to events is life situations, money, job and health.
  • Honestly, I think that the amount of events has grown in the last year and that is good, what is bad however is the fact that these producers are unwilling to contact one another and actually either co-mingle the events or not step on others' toes.  They make it hard to want to do more for the community when most of us just want to make things better for the whole.  Start working on making events more accessible to everyone not just one group or another.  They need to work on building a better area and stop just trying to make big bucks for themselves.
  • I think the community has done a pretty good job considering the economy.
  • I think an invaluable tool for the community would be a ride share forum. I'm not able to attend classes on a weekly basis so I don't have many dance friends. I also don't drive so when I'm able to make it to a workshop, I take MARTA. For Suhaila in January, I'll be taking 2 trains and 2 buses to get in town from Memorial Drive. If I knew anyone who was going, it would make the weekend much more enjoyable. I'm sure I'm not the only dancer with this problem.
  • Locations of events and classes are too far on the north side of Atlanta.
  • It is very difficult to get things organized in my area
  • I know this is difficult to coordinate, but some times of year get extraordinarily packed out with shows, while other times are relatively light. I love the dance and supporting my sisters in dance, but it is difficult to do so when there are three weekends in a row of community events that all cost a not inconsequential amount.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Weekend Preview

Several exciting events coming up this weekend, including a "surprise" opportunity to study with the fabulous Ranya Renee!

Friday - Sunday
Concert & Sufi Workshops with Sufi Master Adnan Sarhan
Adnan is a Sufi master of five orders and director of the Sufi Foundation of America. Friday at 7:00, he will present a meditative drum concert at Muse for Life in Sandy Springs. Adnan will also conduct Sufi dance and meditation workshops on Saturday and Sunday, in which exercises, meditation, drumming, movement, chanting, spiritual dance, breathing work and whirling are used to develop the higher intelligence of the heart. If you're interested in Sufism, this is a great way to experience it! Cost: $10 for Friday evenings, $100 for both Sat. & Sun. or $60 for one day. Click here for more information, or call 678-596-8396.

Saturday, January 26

Mini-Workshop with Kalinka Mahaila, 10:30 -12:30
Amani Jabril Middle Eastern & World Dance will host a session with Brazilian/Lebanese belly dancer Kalinka, who recently traveled to her native country and will share the latest Brazilian raqs moves!  RSVP to the Facebook event for more information.

Romantic Valentine's Day Choreography Workshop, 1:00
Nazeem Allayl Studios hosts a session with Schadia at their Little Five Points Studio focused on a fusion choreography to "When You're Good to Mama" as performed by Queen Latifah on the "Chicago" soundtrack. Click here for more info.

Sunday, January 27

Ranya Renee
Ranya Renee -- Atlanta Stopover
Just announced -- a workshop and private lessons with Ranya Renee, who is stopping in Atlanta on her way back from Dubai.  Atlanta Fusion Belly Dance hosts Ranya from 1:00 to 7:00 p.m., with a workshop 2:30 - 5:30. Samora is coordinating the private lesson schedule. RSVP to the Facebook event for more details!

Hurricane Sandy Benefit at Pera Dance & Events
Sunday night at 7:30, the community comes together to support the victims of hurricane Sandy. Enjoy performances by metro Atlanta's leading lights while supporting a great cause, in this event organized by the lovely Galina. Admission is $16. Visit the Facebook event for details.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Survey Results, Part 3

The third part of our survey results will focus on opportunities to make workshops and shows more satisfying for attendees.

NOTE:  With 107 responses, this survey is not a statistically significant profile of the community's needs.  However, especially where the response is substantial (i.e., where the numbers are big), the results should provide direction for decisions in planning your offerings and communications to this market.

We all know that putting on a workshop takes a lot of time, a lot of energy, and typically a significant financial investment.  To help event producers deliver workshops that delight their attendees and make them want to sign up for the next event, we simply asked what factors have made recent workshops less than satisfying.

 Not surprisingly, most respondents who were disappointed with a recent workshop found it less than relevant or simply not a good value. However, the next several responses are interesting... a quarter of respondents had issues with uncomfortable venues, and almost as many found that the workshop they attended was not the same as the workshop they were expecting based on the marketing materials. A significant percentage also felt that the workshop required a degree of physical stamina that they do not possess.

Verbatim responses to this question include some interesting specific points about how workshops could be improved:

Subject Matter
  • "I'm sick of choreography workshops.  More advanced technique is needed."
  • "I've either had amazing luck, or made very wise workshop decisions this past year! I was only disappointed once, and it was because the workshop was just too far out of my skill set. It was a different style than the one I dance, and although it was billed as 'for all levels,' it was quite advanced from the get-go. I just couldn't keep up. That was one workshop out of 20+, though. The others were all great."
  • "I do not like attending festivals with two hours of Instructor A, then three hours of Instructor B. I would rather see a longer time frame or an intensive with one instructor."
  • "Same studio same instructors teaching same stuff with a twist on themes."
  • "I am frustrated with beginners taking master-level workshops. This dumbs down the workshop for everybody."
  • "When I do choreography workshops, I often feel a DVD is much more valuable.  I require repetition to learn combinations and find that I walk away from a choreo workshop with very little. I am grateful to instructors who allow video of the choreography or who hand out notes."
Consistency With Description
  • "Some of us specifically take workshops based on topic/curriculum offered. On rare occasions after clearing my schedule and looking forward to a certain topic taught by a certain instructor, at the last minute they decide to teach something entirely different. This is greatly frustrating." 
  • "The workshops not actually matching the description or workshops that were overbooked for the space."
  • "A performer was booked locally and the sell was her style and fluidity. When the three-day workshop occurred, none of that was covered. I was very disappointed for the amount of money spent. I do not go to dance events by that producer as a result - music, yes."
  • "Some workshop descriptions are quite over-inflated about what they will be teaching and lack information about the skill level required.  Rarely, can I find an advanced level workshop class because the participants are all over the map with skill.  The instructor is then reduced to reviewing basic technique for those who cannot keep up."
Instructor Skills & Quality
  • "Instructors need to be more fluent in English, otherwise hard to understand."
  • "Teaching experience and instructor not being able to explain what she is doing physically or musically.  Watch and's up to the student to figure it out."
  • "Lack of attendance from students, teacher, groups, etc. when the subject matter is obviously geared toward them.  'Rumors' that workshops/events were poo-pooed by others rather than encouraged."
  • "Too many attendees for space available."
  • "Overbooking"

Respondents who have had less-than-stellar experiences watching shows or performances were asked to indicate why they were disappointed.

I was slightly surprised to see that over half of respondents have been disappointed at the quality of seating and the ability to see the performers.  Finding a good, affordable venue can be a challenge, but producers should carefully consider whether their ticket purchasers will be able to clearly see the stage, and whether every attendee is getting a fair shot at enjoying the performances.  (Some of the verbatim comments below imply that restaurants venues are often the cause of this problem.)  Respondents also noted that shows are sometimes too long, with too many performances.  About a third of respondents were also dissatisfied with the quality of the music or sound -- or of the performers in general.

Verbatim responses provide a more in-depth look at these issues and more specific suggestions:

Length of Show/Number of Performances
  • "Overall, most of the shows have been too long and too bloated with performances. I know it's hard to turn potential acts down, but if you MUST have everyone you know perform, please shorten set lengths and keep everyone to one set only."
  • "Shows with over 25 performances are simply too long. Combine that with lengthy MC introductions, and it's almost unbearable.  Put the info in the program and leave out the chatter.  And please, please no curtain call where the dancers are called up one by one.  The music should never be an issue and when it is, the show feels completely unprofessional."
  • "One distant event two hours travel time. Started one and a half hours late, had over 20 performers uhggg. Some were the same performers with multiple numbers double uhggg." 
Quality & Lineup
  • "Only booking performers who were friends so it ends up being the same show over and over again, or not labeling a show correctly (i.e. student performance recital labeled as a professional bellydance event.)"
  • "I know a lot of people invite their friends to perform but when the lineup for a show if the same for three years in a row it's time to shake things up."
  • "If events are sponsored frequently by the same sponsor, do not put the same dancer in the same lineup spot all the time (i.e., in the beginning as it does tend to sometimes make that dancer feel like she's being viewed as inadequate).  This is only when it's the same all the time."
  • "Repeat of performances that are several, several years old. Performances that technically do not require one to take a bellydance class."
  • "Bad venues"
  • "Location (restaurant, etc.)"
  • "If you're going to charge everyone the same price for tickets, you cannot reserve the best seats for family and friends. If your marketing material says, 'doors open at 6:00,' I should not show up at 5:50 and find the venue packed and no decent seats."
  • "I went to a show with wonderful dancers that had horribly distracting lights.  Keep them bright and the color constant -- I want to see the dancers, not the DJ's technology."
Communication & Organization (note:  these responses relate to performing vs. attending as an audience member)

  • "Lack of organization and front end planning has been a huge issue.  Poor communication from event planner.  Sometime instructions are not always clear and questions are asked.  I hate it when people ask questions and they get responses that don't address the question."
  • "Overall poor organization.  Lack of clear information for the performers.  I should not have to case an organizer to find out what time as a performer I need to be there by."

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Survey Results, Part 2

This installment of the survey results will focus on how people learn about workshops and shows and why they choose to attend (or not attend) them.  There are some valuable directional insights here for anyone who's engaged in planning and promoting events.

Please note the word "directional" -- with 107 responses, this survey is not a statistically significant profile of the community's needs.  However, especially where the response is substantial (i.e., where the numbers are big), the results should provide direction for decisions in planning your offerings and communications to this market.

Decision Factors
With all the events available in many markets, how does a raqs enthusiast choose where to spend his or her precious time and hard-earned dollars?  We asked respondents to rank a number of  decision factors in order of importance.

Not surprisingly, the most important factors were who the instructors or performers will be and whether the event promises to be a good investment.  And of course, respondents also seek events that fit the style(s) of dance they currently practice.  Many prefer events that don't require a lot of travel and (not surprisingly) don't conflict with other events on their personal calendars.

Less important factors include the type of location where the event is held (whether it's a hotel, dance studio, etc.) -- most participants ranked this at #6.  Availability and clarity of information is important, of course, but not an important factor to most respondents in actually deciding whether or not to attend.  And though a number of people ranked it at #4 or #5, most are not extremely concerned with whether their friends, teacher, or troupe members will be there.

The least important factor, by a wide margin, was how respondents feel personally about the event producer (i.e., whether they might decide to attend because they like the producer or whether they avoid the event because they don't care for that person). Very few respondents felt this was an important consideration.  In many cases, newer community members are most likely not very familiar with the personalities behind events; and these responses indicate that it's the event offering, pricing, timing and location that really matter.

Sources of Information
What's the most effective way to get the word out about your event?  Overwhelmingly, our respondents say Facebook.  With a large and active population of dancers, musicians, and other enthusiasts, Facebook has replaced raqs-specific sites like Bhuz and Tribe as the place to go for news about events.  To reach this audience, event producers simply must create business pages for their companies, create Facebook events, monitor the conversations on their pages, and maintain an active presence on Facebook.

E-mails from event producers are another important source of event information, followed by various types of word-of-mouth communications.  Event calendars (like Yalla Y'all) are also widely used.  Less critical are posters or postcards at other events.  And at the bottom of the list are the web sites of the event producers.

In my day job, I've been seeing data that says an increasing number of consumers are going directly to a company's Facebook page instead of their web site for information.  Web sites can be time-consuming to maintain; event producers might be wise to focus their time and energy on creating compelling Facebook content.  You will, however, see an interesting conflict on this point with the #1 response to the next question... perhaps if web sites were more up-to-date, they would be considered a more important source of information.

Other sources of information cited by survey respondents include, "posters and flyers around town," and belly dance magazines in print or online (e.g., Gilded Serpent, Fuse, etc.).

Quality & Availability of Information
When asked how event producers and community resources could improve the availability and quality of information about events, most indicated that they would like to  have information further in advance.  Obviously, multi-day workshops in particular require some advance planning and in some cases money-saving.

Respondents also suggested that event producers could be more proactive about maintaining their web sites and making them easier to use. As mentioned in the question addressed above, web sites are considered one of the least valuable sources of information -- but responses to this question indicate that perhaps if they were kept more up-to-date, they might be a better option.  Remember that visitors to your site can learn about much more than just the event in question... once they get to your site they can learn about your classes, upcoming appearances, student troupe information, other upcoming events, and much more -- if your site is up-to-date!  Building your site in a content management system like WordPress can make it much easier to maintain than a traditional html site.

Verbatim suggestions in response to this question included:
  • Market to a wider audience
  • Look for better venues for the galas or performances
  • Post on social groups
  • In general I think they are doing an excellent job
  • More cooperation within bellydance community
  • Work with other producers to co-mingle events and make it less expensive.
Stay tuned for the next installment of our survey results, which will address what frustrates event attendees when they go to a workshop or show, with insights on how to make their experiences btter and keep them coming back to your events!