The hafla how-to
Is there just “no place to dance” in your dance community? Maybe there are three or four shows a year with themes you don’t like, or styles you don’t dance, or a queue of 50 dancers for 14 show spots? Well… if you want to dance, you’ll have to make your own place. Have a hafla!
A “hafla” just means a party. How you interpret what that means is pretty much up to you. I’ve been at some darn elaborate haflas and I’ve been at tiny friendly haflas. So here are some flavors of hafla, just to get you going:
What are the bare bones basics of holding a hafla? You need:
- a space to dance in
- something to play music
- a place to sit when you aren’t dancing
- some water and maybe a plate of cookies
And that’s it. Not so bad, eh? Do you (or your best dance friend or your aunt or your dance teacher) have a house with a pretty big living room or basement? You could start there. A warm, inviting space is all you need. Call or email your dance friends with direct invitations; you could suggest they bring their favorite CDs along. Maybe some snacks, too. Performances or social dancing? Why not a few of both? Costumes or casual? Turkish pop or Egyptian classics? keep things a bit loose. You will find out shortly whether your crowd is into social dancing or not… some groups of dancers just won’t do it.
A dance studio can be a great place for a hafla. It offers:
- more room for social dancing or performances
- handy sound system
- a great floor
- ability to invite more people in your dance community
In this case you will have to spend money on room rental. You might like to ask the people attending to each pitch in a few dollars; I have generally covered my room rental cost in this way. A dance studio may request no food or drink in the studio itself, so ask whether you can set up a table in the lobby for snacks and drinks. The attendees may have to discard their street shoes, as well, but that can be part of the fun. If the hafla is mostly about the performances, try to arrange for a lot of seating; if not, turn down the lights a bit and put chairs around the perimeter for tired dancers. It’s a good idea to put together a pre-recorded play list to run when performers are not on stage.
Wrangling your performers
As your haflas become more formal, managing the dancers becomes more complicated. Who is allowed to dance? Is it “anybody”, or is it “people of a certain skill level/ dance style/ astrological sign”? For a hafla, I am generally a fan of “anybody”, because this is where amateur dancers hone performance skills. Put out a call. Get them to commit; have them send intros; find out whether they prefer to go on early or late. What music are they dancing to? And do NOT fail to get their contact information, including a cell phone number if possible. Last minute things happen.
Consider also what your dancers need: where can they change? Is there a mirror? Is there a safe place to leave their stuff? Most dance studios can accommodate this, but some can’t.
Do you need an MC?
All you really need is someone who can speak clearly, loudly, and succinctly… and who is willing to ask performers how to pronounce their dance names in advance. Really.
Social media is a must these days, and direct emails to dancers you know wouldn’t hurt either. Flyers at local dance schools… contacting teachers to suggest student troupe performances… dropping a line to someone you saw perform recently that you’d like to see again… you need enough audience to create good energy in your room. (Although if a big enough student troupe signs up, just their relatives will make up half your spectators!)
Small stage hafla
When you get upwards of 50 spectators for performances, if you can come up with a raised stage at your venue, everyone will be happier. Does your area have a community playhouse or small civic center? If you are stumped on locations to check out, try checking out where the small weddings in town have receptions! But be aware… the bigger your hafla, the bigger your venue, the more competition you will have for a given location. Not to mention the cost beginning to skyrocket at certain times of year and certain days of the week. You may find that some venues are very restrictive about some aspects of their events–for example, they may ban food or drink brought in from outside, or forbid any decorations. You might find yourself paying extra to use their sound system or having to rent one and bring it in yourself. You might have to set up all the chairs. It’s time to rally that army of volunteers.
Restaurant or club hafla
If you can make some kind of an alliance with a local club or restaurant and arrange periodic haflas there, you are sitting pretty. The seating and music systems are all taken care of. People can buy their own food and drink. Will the venue want a cover charge? Sometimes venues like to hold such events and ask for donations to a local charity rather than an admission fee. The only problem with restaurant haflas is that if attendance is light, you may lose that option for a future event. You will have to put much more effort into promotion for this type of hafla, or develop a cadre of regulars who would never consider missing your event.
Live music hafla
Let’s say that again… Live. Music. Hafla. If there is a good band performing live Middle Eastern music near you, try to make an alliance. Get people to turn out for their shows. Maybe they will play a hafla for you. The most fearless dancers of your community will jump at the chance to try performing to a live band, and you’ll have a show to remember. Just remember that musicians get paid and make a clear agreement in advance.
If there is a professional dancer from out of town who is attending your hafla, invite her to dance. Don’t be offended if she asks to be paid for such a performance… your hafla may be your local party, but she is a pro. If you really want her, you may need to pay her. If you can’t, just invite her to attend the party and have a good time.
Have fun! It is a party, after all. If you can delegate a few tasks (who is the food organizer? who is the sound person?) then YOU can enjoy your party too.