Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Southern Fusion Fest 2008

(Pics to come when they are available. :))

Southern Fusion Fest 2008

I just had the perfect bellydance weekend. While that about sums up my experience at SFF this year, I want to tell you why, so that next year, you make sure that you are there to take part in this fantastic event.

First of all, what is Southern Fusion Fest? SFF is a new event that takes place in Athens, GA, sponsored by Southern Fusion Productions. This three-day festival of workshops, shows, and shopping began in 2007 in Atlanta, GA, but has now moved to a permanent home in Athens, and I think it’s a huge improvement; more on that later. With SFF, Fatina and Liora, the movers and shakers of Southern Fusion productions, offer something completely unique in the bellydance world: a festival that features Cabaret, Tribal and Master level tracks, allowing the attendees to pick and choose the classes that teach what they want to know.

So, you ask, why is that so great? Well, I’m here to tell you! Where else can you go and find classes that range from the incomparable Zafira’s Supah Saucy conveying their trademark high-energy Vaudeville style all the way to the venerated Tamalyn Dallal sharing secrets to Dancing Long Rhythms. From the feminine elegance of Tamara-Henna teaching the timeless spirit of Saidi to amazing strength, range and power of Moria Chappell teaching everything from Floorwork to Tunisian, Southern Fusion Fest is not only offering classes for those who want them, SFF is exposing entire communities to each other. The best way for us to build a better dance community is to see who’s living on the other side of the dance tracks, and you can do that at SFF. Cabaret dancers who’ve never known the fierce beauty of a Tribal grrl get a chance to chat with and get to know the women behind the facial markings. Fusion artists that have never set foot in a Cabaret class, get to see and appreciate the incredible strength beneath the delicate grace of the Cabaret dancer. We find that we all shop at the same vendors, we all love the same breathtaking shows, and at heart, we are all just dancers, without genre, definitions, or limits.

For those who are brave enough, you can blur the lines that we use to define bellydance styles and take the classes that interest you the most. Think of it like a big box of crayons: you have the deep, rich earth tones of Tribal, the bright, flashy colors of Folkloric, and the sparkly pastels of Cabaret. On their own, they are beautiful ranges exploring a style, but together, they paint a whole spectrum of complimentary shades. At SFF, you can pick up some new hues that will make your art pop. You may not decide that the communal Tribal life is for you, but you may just change your mind for the better about the women who dip their hips to the earth with their dance sisters. You may never don the gleaming bedlah and flowing skirts of Egyptian Cabaret, but you may find a new respect and reverence for the dancers that float across the stage, holding an entire audience in thrall all by themselves.

Using myself as an example, I can show why SFF really is the place to be if you want to become a well-rounded, educated dancer and you want to take classes with the best of the best in the bellydance world. I consider myself a Tribal Fusion dancer because I prefer dancing with a troupe (that’s the tribe in our Tribal) and I like to combine elements of theater and other dance styles into my bellydance (that’s the Fusion). My troupe does fully-choreographed shows as well as cue-based improvisational numbers, so we really get the best of all worlds. Because I identify as such, I’m in no way limited in the classes I take, so being at SFF, I was able to take classes in all tracks. However, everyone who attends SFF has the chance to see how the “other half” lives. You can take whatever classes you want! I took most of my classes in (GASP!) the Cabaret track.

Why? Am I defecting? Am I betraying my Tribal roots? No way! First of all, it’s not a betrayal in any sense; I’m exploring dance and movement, and I’m not so arrogant as to think that any dance is better than another or that anyone has all the answers, tricks, tips, and good ideas. Second, I never get to take these classes, and I want to take advantage of new concepts and movements whenever and wherever I get the chance. Third, the instructors were all just the best of the best, and I would be stupid to pass up the chance to study with someone who is really at the top of their game just because they don’t do the exact same kind of dance as I do. I mean, seriously, Tamalyn Dallal? She could have been teaching basic carpentry and I would have been there with my tool belt and nails! Even the classes that weren’t specifically dance were amazing; I can’t say enough good stuff about Cathy Jackson and her inspirational Yoga, without which I would never have gotten through the 26+ hours of dance instruction I took this weekend. I can honestly say that of the ELEVEN classes I took, I came out of each one excited and satisfied, saying “That was my favorite class!”

The classes sound great, don’t they? Well, you’re right, they are. Fatina and Liora have both danced in Cabaret and Tribal worlds, so they really know who to get for the festival. But, the classes are just one aspect of SFF. You get to see the instructors outside of the classroom as well. Maybe you run into Olivia of Zafira in the vendor area and you get to chat with her about the cool music she’s enjoying at the moment. Or, maybe it’s Moria before the show and she compliments you on your costuming just before you go onstage. It could be that you’re out getting a bite after the show and you run into two instructors that just blew you away onstage, and you end up laughing and joking on the sidewalk. It may even just be that you pass someone in the hallway at your hotel, and though you’re feeling too shy to say anything, you are overcome with excitement that you just saw Megha of Devyani and you run back to your room to tell your friends, in a frenzy that you get to take her class later that day. At Southern Fusion Fest, the instructors aren’t sequestered; they are available, shopping right next to you, or perusing the catered lunch. Pluck up the courage and give a smile or hello; if nothing else, you’ll get one back and have a story to tell when you get home.

Along with the great workshops, SFF features two shows. Friday’s show is a little smaller and the feel is less formal, being in a nightclub setting; but the dancers featured are in no way small or informal! It’s fun to kick back after your first day of workshops and have a meet-n-greet with other convention-goers, the local dance community, the instructors, and the staff of Southern Fusion Productions. Saturday’s show is a more formal stage show, featuring the instructors and a few additional guests, and has been really impressive both times I’ve been lucky enough to see it. When you have such great instructors, you’re bound to have a great show! I won’t go into details of the shows because we’d be here all day, but suffice it to say that you will be left with sore cheeks for all the smiling, stinging fingers from all the clapping and a glad heart from all the beautiful dancing.

So, I’ve talked about the classes, the instructors, and the shows. There are just a few more things I want to cover to demonstrate the brilliance of this fest. First, the vendors: Vendor’s Row was literally teeming with everything a dancer could want from the simplest bindi to the most elaborate Beledi dress, from kick-arse leather belts to three-finger carnelian rings. The selection was amazing, and the vendors were helpful and sincere, without trying to shove their stock down your throat. This year, there was a very talented henna artist available as well, and I was constantly jealous of the beautiful works of arts, both in traditional henna and glitter henna, adorning bodies throughout the weekend. Next time, I’m getting some glitter henna!!

The final point I want to mention is Athens itself. Last year, SFF was in Atlanta. While there are advantages to having a festival in a major metropolitan area (lots of hotels, mass transit and taxi availability, nearby airport, and the urban nightlife) there are also decided disadvantages (insane traffic, difficult navigation, tiring cross-town treks, and all the little things that come with being in a large, unfamiliar city). Sadly, the disadvantages outweighed the advantages for me last year, so the move to Athens was absolutely inspired. Everything, and I mean everything, was within walking distance: the hotel, the convention center where all vending, classes, and the Saturday show occurred, the nightclub that hosted the Friday show, lots of great places to shop and eat, nightlife, even convenience stores. The organic grocery was only a short mile away, so we were able to resist fast, processed food, and get really nourishing food for all the new muscles we were building. Being within walking distance meant not searching or paying for parking, and we could grab a coffee on the way if we needed it. The hotel was more like an apartment, which was perfect for the six women staying in our room, and the staff was friendly and helpful. The catering at the workshops and the Friday show was fantastic, provided by Dondero’s Kitchen. The Classic Center was impeccable: clean, well-maintained, and efficient with a staff that treated us all like we were their grandkids or sisters. It was really a nice change from the chilly reception you get at some festivals.

Speaking of chilly, I have to mention the one tiny complaint I had this year: the classrooms were very cold. So much so that I strained a calf muscle that seized up on the first day, in my first class, causing me to audit the rest of my classes for that day in an effort to be sure I could perform the next night. With some gentle stretching, Tylenol, sleep, planning and good sense, I got through the rest of the weekend just fine. Next year, could we turn up the thermostat just a tad? I wore a long-sleeved shirt during Moria’s entire Tunisian workshop, if that tells you anything! Ha!

I have to say, I’m hoping and praying that Fatina will continue this gorgeous event she has created for all of us to enjoy. I know how many commitments she has in her personal life, along with the responsibilities of running a troupe, teaching classes, performing, and just having a few moments to herself once in a while, so putting together and hosting SFF is a monumental task that she pulls off, with her army of students and volunteers along with her partner in crime, Liora. And, you know, I’ve never seen her without that beautiful smile on her face, though she might be too tired to eat, or running to put out all the little fires that come along with events like this, or teaching her own workshops at SFF. She always sincerely thanks everyone who attends, teaches, volunteers, dances, or just supports those of us who do, and ultimately, that is the heart and soul of SFF. There is a genuine desire to bring dancers together in one place to learn, laugh, dance and appreciate one another.

Do yourself a favor, get to Southern Fusion Fest. You’ll come away feeling refreshed, excited, and happy. You’ll meet new heroes and find wonderful new treasures. Most and best of all, you’ll make friends you wouldn’t at a single-discipline festival. I know I did!


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