Viva Las Vegas! From September 10-13, 2015, things will be shaking at the legendary Flamingo Hotel and Casino and at the Clark County Library Theater. The annual Las Vegas Bellydance Intensive & Festival is taking place with headlining instructors and entertainment.
In Las Vegas style, this event will be over the top with 44 instructors and 80 hours of dance instruction. Famous artists, like Carolina Nerriccio, Princess Farhana, Lee Ali, Issam Houshan, Maria Sokolova, Fahteim, Tamra Henna, and Tamalyn Dallal are featured. Other instructors include Amaya, Amel Tafsout, Amira of Las Vegas, Annette Federico, Antonia, Aradia of Las Vegas, Ariella, Ashtalea, Aslahan, Bahaia, Karin Jenson with Mandula Danceworks, Karma Karmelita, Divine Chaos Tribal Fusion, Draconis, Frank Farinaro, Hannah Romanowsky, Janie, Rom Deussen, Katayoun, Leslie Rosen, Megha Gavin, Nadira, Natalie Nazario, Phoenix of Denver, Ranya Renee, Rosa Noreen, Rossah, Sabrina, Tabu, Terry, Ustadza Azia, Valentina, Victoria Teel and Wildcard Bellydance.
“You probably can’t experience it all in one trip,” Founder and event producer, Samira Tu’Ala admits. “ I think that’s why people come back year after year. We have tried to make it accessible to everyone. So, if someone can’t afford the whole thing, they can just take a class here or there while still participating in the festival and the shopping areas. Or if someone wants to do the full weekend, we have a package that makes that possible. We want the event to be available to each dancer on their own terms.”
In addition to classes, there will be shopping galore, shows, a dance festival, a Las Vegas style cocktail party with hafla and live music and a “So, You Think You Can Bellydance” contest.Vendors include Magical Fashions, Sharifwear, Hollywood Music Center, Shiny Sparkly Things, Diva Dreads, Layla’s Boutique and the Swegal Costume Company. There will be two professional shows. Friday night is “A Night in the City of Riches.” Saturday night is “Viva Raks Vegas.” On Sunday, the cocktail party and hafla will be a farewell tribute to Samira with some surprises.
“It’s my last year producing the event. At the time of the original announcement I had been seeking a buyer for a while, but nobody really seemed to fit the bill in terms of skill set and desire. Since that time, I have found a buyer (Pasha Eve Ripley). I anticipate that there will be a 2016 Las Vegas Intensive & Festival,” Samira says. “The event is a fabulous and popular event. I have a terrific team and we’ve really built it well. I’m super proud of our accomplishments. However, I’ve been doing this for 13 years and I’ve decided it’s time for me to head in a new direction. There isn’t anything wrong with the event. I’m just tired.”
This is a bittersweet conference because it is the last year for founder and executive producer Samira Tu’Ala (Alisa McAffee). Samira began belly dancing at age seventeen in Salt Lake City, Utah. She went on to perform in Las Vegas at restaurants, Ceasar’s Palace and the MGM Grande. She found time to obtain a B.A. in Health Education with a minor in Women’s Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She served a stint in the Peace Corps and became a ballroom dance instructor. She was co-owner of Arthur Murray Dance Studios in Las Vegas. In 2003, she produced the first Las Vegas Bellydance Intensive with the idea of creating a community of dance.
“I think I started out as a dancer and transitioned into being a producer gradually. I don’t think people often see the producer role as being something very creative, and I often feel like it’s a very misunderstood thing that I do. I have really loved creating the space for the dancers. A good friend of mine once described it as a constructed accident. I build the space, but the people are the ones who fill that space. The magic doesn’t happen unless everyone shows up and plays their part.”
“The journey has been a pretty intense one for me. During the early years, I went through a divorce and was a single mom of two young kids. I couldn’t afford to do it wrong. I had to make sure the event was successful and I was driven by a very strong belief that it was my purpose to help bring our local community together. In many ways, I feel like I was the right person, at the right time to build the event. So many times things have gone terribly right when they could have gone terribly wrong. I’ve been blessed and guided in this process.”
As far as my background, I think that the ballroom industry influenced me a lot. I used to attend a lot of high-end competitions and events, so as I started producing my own I brought a lot of my own ideas to the belly dance industry. The belly dance world typically doesn’t bring as much disposable income to the table as the ballroom world does, so there were always limitations to what I could do within my budget; however, I have always worked towards being the best version of what we could be. That said, my fantasy even budget would offer many more bells and whistles.”
“I haven’t danced for a long time. I used to dance professionally and I think that I got burned out on that for awhile. But now that I’m retiring soon from producing, I have found that my love for dance is still there. I’ve been very selfish about this because at this point in my life, dance is for me. I don’t want to perform or compete or produce anymore. I just want to simplify my focus and dance for enjoyment,” Samira reflects. “Every dance style has its own nuances. Ballroom encompasses so many types of dance from different regions and backgrounds. And I love it all, but for very different reasons. Each dance has its own gifts to offer.”
“The event started from a conversation with a local dancer, Aradia. She and I were both lamenting that our local community had so much talent, but that there wasn’t really any events showcasing that talent. At the time, I had a dance studio. So I invited all the local teachers to come teach a single class. We had 14 teachers and 20 participants. The rest is history,” Samira recalls. “As a large four-day event with multiple layers of activities, it may be hard to imagine the humble beginnings of the Las Vegas Bellydance Intensive & Festival. Like so many projects, it started as a small affair and has grown to attract people from all over the world.”
“In its first year, 2003, there were a total of 14 instructors teaching 14 classes, 20 participants and a Saturday night hafla held at a local dance studio. This year, there are 44 instructors teaching over 80 hours of workshops. There are over 300 students, 500-plus performers, three professional shows, a large shopping bazaar and a festival being held at one of the more historic landmarks on the Las Vegas “Strip.” It’s been quite a journey, to say the least.”
“I have so many memorable moments that I wouldn’t even know where to begin. But some of the things I cherish most are being able to have worked with some of the legends in our industry before they passed away. I’m so eternally grateful I got to work with Oberon, John Compton, Uncle Armando Mafufo and the Las Vegas Queen of Belly Dance, Marliza Pons.”
What are Samira’s future plans? “In my other life, I am a financial educator with Primerica. I’ve been working in that capacity for almost three years now, helping families make more money and teaching them how to get out of debt, becoming properly protected and planning for financial freedom. The company literally changed my own life and circumstances so much that I felt compelled to share that information with the world. As soon as I am done with the event, I’ll be jumping into Primerica full-time, with plans to open my own office within the next year.”
The cost of Bellydance Intensive weekend (Thursday thought Sunday) varies. Classes range form $75-$115, with the best deal being the $625 for the full weekend of activities. Hotel, food and transportation are extra.
“The Intensive is a tremendous event that offers so much to dancers of every background. If you are seasoned or a newbie, there is so much for you to experience. It is worth the investment in yourself to participate. This isn’t something you can get on Amazon or Skype. You have to be there to feel it and experience the energy. There is nothing like it,” Samira sums up. “I’d like readers to know that nearly my entire staff is continuing on with the new owners. The only thing that will be changing next year is that I’ll be in the audience instead of being on stage. I’m not going away. I’m still going to be around coaching the new owners and cheerleading the team. I want your readers to know that I trust that my team will continue to provide an amazing experience.”
For more information, visit www.bellydance intensive.com