“Hafla” is the Arabic word for party. Within the bellydance community it usually refers to a party mainly attended by bellydancers and including performances as well as social dancing.

Beyond that haflas vary wildly…

Haflas take place in studios, leisure centres, pub function rooms, theatres, social clubs, front rooms and restaurants. I think I’m still the only person who holds haflas in a church 🙂  I’m lucky to live in a progressive town with a church looked after by people who don’t believe it should sit empty and unused outside of Sunday mornings.

The number of people attending a hafla might be 20, might be 200, might be even more!

The venue and the number of guests determine the catering: just bar snacks, pot luck, hot catered buffet, full restaurant meal. I’d be disappointed if I went to a hafla with no food or drink at all – that’s not a party!

Music could be courtesy of a DJ, a band, a laptop playlist or whatever CDs everyone happens to have brought. You’re more likely to hear pop and shaabi than the classics, tunes that get everyone up and dancing – even non-bellydancers! Maybe the odd bit of Western pop as well. You’ll see people doing simple dances they’ve learned in class, ATS dancers improvising together but mostly people just dancing away however they like.

Of course there will be dancing, but often there will be shopping as well. Mobile bazaars can sell you hipscarves, music, costumes and accessories and you can try them out straight away 🙂

You’ll find all ages attending, and how many parties is that true of outside of family events? Most people who come are dancers, the rest tend to be their friends and family who have come along to support them as they perform, or just to see exactly what it is that they get up to on a Tuesday night! I think friends and family often aren’t sure what to expect, and every year I have to reassure my new students “Yes, you can bring men, yes you can bring children” although I’m sure some haflas limit themselves to bellydancers only. You rarely find anyone there who isn’t part of the bellydance community, even if they are on the periphery as a long-suffering partner :), haflas aren’t shows we put on for the general public, they are a time for us to have fun together.

This is also reflected in the performances at haflas. Some haflas verge on shows, with line ups exclusively made up of teachers and professionals, but most of the ones I’ve been to (and organised) have welcomed dancers of all levels of experience. For new dancers it’s a chance to show off what they’ve learned, for aspiring professionals the hafla is a valuable training ground. You can learn and practice your performance skills in front of a supportive audience before thinking about venturing out in front of the general public. In fact plenty of dancers only ever perform at haflas and that’s just fine – it’s nice to dance for people who really understand and appreciate what you’re doing. I think it’s fantastic that bellydancers have created a space in which they can all share and enjoy each other’s creative efforts. There are all kinds of projects and schemes and grants to get people to participate in the arts and we’re just getting on and doing it.

With so many possible variations it can be difficult to discuss what we mean by a hafla. One person’s “hafla” might be another person’s “performance platform” or “show”. Every community can shape its hafla to suit the people who go, after all, a party is nothing without guests!

What are your haflas like?

2 thoughts on “Hafla!

  1. I suppose ours (the OMEDS hafla) is more of a performance platform these days, really – the theatre that we use has no bar and we’re not allowed food, which sadly dampens the party atmosphere a bit. It has evolved a bit over the years, as we had to leave our old venue which was more relaxed. I’m thinking of renaming it next time, and having a more party-like hafla as well for our students!

  2. Events can evolve so slowly that we don’t realise that they’ve become something new. When I first organised a hafla I wanted it to be a fun night out for my students – previously we’d all gone out for an end of term meal but there were too many of them to do that any more. After a couple of years my haflas involved live bands, dancers from all around the UK and 150+ people! Very different to what I originally planned. Now I’m deliberately scaling things back to make my hafla an event that celebrates my local dance community.

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