Eilat festival is currently considered to be one of the world’s highest quality festivals, and the one that has the best atmosphere.
Since the first festival in 2005, it has grown and developed into a big family of dance and music lovers who come to share their passion with each other and to recharge their inspiration every year in January.
With the 8th festival on the horizon, January 18-21 in 2012, Orit is deeply involved in every detail of the event, from graphic design of the flyers to the lights and sound of the shows.
The festival website has all the information about the event: the teachers, program, competition, show, prices and transportation, built in the Q&A system that anyone can understand.
But how did it all start?
Orit tells in her own words how she came up with the idea and made it a reality with a growing fan base worldwide.
How did the festival start?
I was working very intensely at the hotels and events in Eilat. It's a resort city in the most southern point of Israel located on the beautiful north shore of the red sea with Egypt on the west border and Jordan on the east. You can cross both by foot and visit those countries.
At that time, my career was not teaching worldwide, and I always dreamed of having a quality event with many classes and a huge Gala show to create a real oriental dance environment for dancers.
I had a good experience with events and stage shows, and already had a few big shows at the theaters in Israel with my orchestra and dancers, so I did see what kind of event I wanted. I had a good idea of how to design and create the atmosphere, including adding Bazaar and decorations.
I called my friend Yael Moav, whom I cooperated with earlier in a few shows, and asked her to go with me on this adventure. She offered the Palmira hotel in Eilat., that was a privately-owned hotel arranged like a huge patio with amazing palm trees in the center, and right then we both knew how to use the different spaces for the event with the big, central open space as the main Bazaar
When was that?
The whole idea and planning was in the fall of 2004, and we had decided to make the first festival be in January 2005.
How many people were there?
We both expected to have about 70 students, thinking about our own students, but after 3 weeks of registration all 160 rooms were sold out. We couldn't allow more people to register, so the first event had about 300 dancers, a huge number, and definitely the first bellydance festival in Israel with so many participants.
What were the key elements there that still exists today?
The program is based on the same idea- it has a one price ticket where you can get as many workshops and activities as you want without pre registration for any of them. It's basically like an all-you-can-eat buffet in a restaurant, and it's still the same today.
So it's all inclusive?
It's all in the one price you pay- hotel accommodations, foods, drinks, classes, shows, competition, and everything.
What changed over the years?
The second festival was growing to the massive 750 students and dancers, so we had to move to another hotel. Again, after 3 weeks of registration, the 250 rooms of that hotel were sold out so we took another hotel across the road and had 130 rooms there too.
The following events were always in two hotels, until 2010, when we moved to the biggest hotel in Eilat with the biggest show auditorium, The Club Hotel suites resort. We now have about 850 people every year and this hotel is perfect for us as the festival's home.
We also added the competition and gave more and more spots to teachers and performers during the festival.
Last year we had to add another day to allow all the dancers who came from long flights to adjust and rest, and started the opening party already on Wednesday evening.
How did it become international?
I started to tour and teach worldwide and told my students and fellow dancers about it. Since 2008, the year I first hosted Mayodi from France, Natalia Faddah from Russia, and Helena from Korea- and dancers from Poland, France, Korea, Russia and USA showed up- it became more known to the international community of dancers.
Today, with numerous videos on YouTube and active facebook and online communities, it is so exposed that even if I don't travel to a specific country dancers come from there.
The massive amount of visitors from abroad are the ones I met in workshops I taught there, and it's also the way I meet the teachers that I invite.
The good reviews and the rich program, the relatively cheap price, and the huge value attracts dancers from all over the world, so today it is a high quality international festival that both professional dancers and those who dance just for fun can find in it what they want, and the feeling is of a strong happy family.
Over the years who were the teachers?
We have hosted many big names, and also dancers which I spotted and thought they were fresh and genuinely talented even though they were not so famous. And don't forget that the majority of the participants are Israeli women who don't know anyone but their own teacher, so big names are not necessarily what they are looking for. We always have the Israeli teachers, such as Asi Haskal, Saleh Heby, Yael, and I as the main teachers and different teachers every year. From abroad I have had the honor of hosting Kamelia (Japan/France), Mayodi (France/ Morocco), Aziza (Canada), Natalia Faddah, Marina Oganian (Russia), Helena (Korea), Yael Zarca (France), Bozenka (USA), Ashraf Hassan (Egypt), Sharon (France), Alla Kushnir (Ukraine), Lolie (France), Kalina (Russia), Amira Mor (USA), Amalia Maya (USA), Alexey Riaboshabka (Ukraine),Serkan Tutar (Turkey/Belgium), Nawarra (Morocco/ UK), Ihlan (France) and in 2012 will also have Lulu Sabongi (Brazil), Nata Fari (Russia), who won 2011 competition, Kaidi (Estonia), Shereen (Czech Republic), Mercedes Nieto (Hungary), Daria Mitskevithch (Ukraine), Khalida (Germany) Sophie (Israel), and more artists who will perform.
What were your favorite moments in the festival?
There are so many, it's been 7 festivals already and I met thousands of people during the years. The first day is always so emotional when I see old friends and there are so many hugs, my mouth is aking after hours of smiles but I can't stop. But I can tell you the really heartbeats starts few days before as I am decorating the hotel. It's the creative hours I spend with my staff to make the hotel look like a bellydance paradise, with the Bedouin tent in the center, all the big banners and the special chandelier I have designed made by photos of the dancers in the event, the big plants I am renting every year to put more oasis feel in the lobby, the colored fabrics decorating the scene- this is very exciting. Seeing it few days after with so many people running around this sets, feels my heart with joy. The graphic design I work on is a well thought craft to make everyone know their way this multi – activities event.
I perform and teach in the festival, but also design it and taking care of many logistic things, so I have a lot of things that I am proud of. Many of them are not mine- it's watching other people having such a good time and feeling so good, that I feel I did something that have the power to transform people and it's a good feeling. People are very appreciative and every year the responses can be really emotional.
A special moment was last year in my Tarab workshop when about 200 students or more in the classes were tearing… it somehow was so powerful and crossed all nations and languages, and we all were in tears and hugs were wet after the class, that was a unique memory.
How do you know when the festival is good?
Until the 2011 festival, only after the opening show on Thursday night did I feel relieved that this event was started and all the first day mega excitements had become a good festival and everybody are happy. It was this show that I felt needed to fulfill the people expectations, and only after it, when the midnight party started, I felt that "this is it- I did it again." But last year was special- last year I didn't need this approval. Already on the Wednesday party with the live music and the fancy dinner I knew that the festival was going to out shine all the others, and indeed the atmosphere was crazy and so energetic for 4 fantastic days. So I can clearly say that the 2011 festival was the one with the best moments and memories. I performed with my troupe in the Gala with many new dances. Many of my students were performing solo in the Friday show and made me very proud. The competition was so strong and interesting, I didn’t focus on who would win, because all the girls gave their hearts and were so good and talented. The live music was beyond amazing, and since everything worked like a clock and was so well organized I had my hair designer pampering me every day with no rush. Even the Saturday dinner, which held only a few of the teachers and friends who stayed the extra night was funny. It was sad to say goodbye.
After that festival, the responses through personal mail as well as on facebook were very positive and supporting.
How long does it take to produce the event?
Yael and I worked around the clock one year ahead, and normally while planning the next event we also work on the other after it at the same time.
The event is so complicated and has so many elements, both artistic and logistic, and we have to arrange, host, perform, and teach and do all that with a huge smile. But I guess that's what makes it special.
What do you think makes this event relevant and attractive now that so many festivals and teachers are touring?
I still remember what it was like when I came to the weekly classes just to enjoy the dance, the music, and the friendly atmosphere- not even thinking that someday I would be deeply involved in this as a professional dancer. These feelings are always inside me when I dance, and I always talk about how this dance belongs to people. It was not formed for a stage to begin with. So that's why I had a vision of the festival as the meeting point for dance lovers and the whole idea is to allow everyone to enjoy this dance and the music all the time. That's why we have classes for all levels at the same time in five different halls with live music and the Bedouin tent with spontaneous parties all day and night. This event takes you back to the days where you were dancing for fun. I have never been at an event like this where teachers and artists are visiting the classes of other teachers; everyone is eating together, and laughing together.. Old women who can be your grandmother are dancing like goddesses in the center of the pool deck. The musicians can't stop playing because they have so much fun. . Of course it’s a reasonable price of about $600 for these four days of full activity, including the hotel and all the events. So this festival clearly is different in its concept and the great energies of the people.
What is planned for the future?
The concept of the festival is "Bellydance Paradise" so you can feel it is a great vacation where all your needs of bellydance are taken care of. You have good food, lots of activities, live music all day with amazing musicians, great program of artists and styles, fantastic location on the beach with warm sunshine in middle of January, and we always pamper our guests with presents in the festival kit- a bag with a cd of the workshop songs, chocolate cake in the afternoon in your room waiting for you, snacks, and cocktails. It's a really well thought event, and I am very thankful to people that they come every year.
Every year, people tell us it was the best event ever, and we still manage to top that with the year after. People come for fun and vacation, not just professional dancers, but women who want to have bellydance for their soul.