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Although many might assume when one is talking about a festival, they mean a music festival, but the very word “festival” constitutes any type of celebration, and this is usually designated as a cultural or religious one. Therefore, music festivals have certainly become cultural, and sometimes they can even mimic religious festivities.
Many festivals are a coalescence of art, music, culture, and dance, and therefore many archetypes are put in place to emphasize a collective community or create a cultural element. This translates into a variety of aesthetics that could be related to either the external locale or the brand of the festival itself.
Although many festivals in modern times tend to highlight auditory performances - the musical performances or musical curations – especially when deemed as a "music festival", visual performances and specific types of dance can provide for additional entertainment value. This is also a great way to embellish local cultural customs and make your festival a unique experience in the spectator's and audience members' eyes.
Finding the right type of performer
There can be dozens, if not hundreds, of types of dances throughout the world, ranging from traditional ballet dancing to belly dancing. There can also be many different types of visual performances that range from magicians to circus acts.
Determining the types of visual performers and dancers all depends on the type of festival, the type of music, the type of audience that will attend, and the location. It can also depend on whether there is a specific theme for the event, how many stages and areas there will be, and the overall aesthetic attributes in place at the festival and artistic elements.
Here are types of visual performers and dancers that can generally be found at festivals:
1. Fire Dancers
This is certainly one of the most common types of dancers you can find at a festival. However, found at the beach more often then in the forest (for obvious reasons). Fire dancing can often be a skill that anyone brave enough to try can acquire. Therefore, it can often be a daunting task to find and source the best ones individually, but those with the most experience will usually be part of a troupe and have choreographed performances.
Safety always has to be taken into account with these performances, and there usually has to be enough space for a large clearing allocated or enough space on stage. Incorporating fire dancers into a festival program can also increase costs for event insurance. A promoter may also want to have trained medics on board to be able to treat any burn injuries as well.
2. Fire Breathers
Although some can pick up fire dancing or spin quite quickly with enough confidence, fire breathing usually antecedes fire dancing and spinning rather than the other way around. According to “The Fire School”, one needs to do body burning and fire eating before they can essentially breathe fire. Beginners need to learn to “manipulate one flame” before they can move on towards fire breathing.
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Fire breathing is certainly not for the faint at heart, and it is extremely unhealthy. Even those with the most experience and highest level of expertise still end up swallowing a lot of gasoline. Therefore, many fire breathers may only perform for a short period of time in their lives or not very often. Often though, fire breathers exist within troupes, with some troupes periodically rotating and others staying together and traveling to various festivals for many years.
3. Juggling Acts
Juggling acts can also be paired with fire dancers and their respective troupes. Many fire dancers can also juggle various objects and, of course, juggle fire quite well. Of course, without fire, juggling isn’t nearly as exciting, and you usually won’t see juggling at a festival without fire involved unless it is in the form of a workshop or at a family-type festival.
Juggling can be a fun activity to have people try to learn at a festival and are usually a pretty popular workshop as well. You can even book someone who can juggle fire to host the workshop and then later perform in the fire show. This can make the workshop more enticing to attend and the performance more enthralling. It might even inspire someone to learn how to juggle fire.
4. Aerial and Acrobatic Performers
Aerial and acrobatic performances are usually best set in stadiums, arenas, warehouses, or large enclosed tents or spaces. The talent for these types of performances can often be much more expensive than the previous performers listed. They can often charge by the hour and are normally booked individually.
The best performers often come out of either Las Vegas or Ibiza. If you were to book out of Ibiza, you would need to pay for flights and accommodations, and they would come with an entire team that you would have to cover the costs for as well. It can be costly to go this route, so it is best to book aerial and acrobatic performers individually.
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This is certainly something that can add to the amazement of your festival and can be extremely visually alluring. Oftentimes acrobats and aerialists dress up in extraordinary costumes and can swing from a wide array of colorful items. This can include hoops, rings, tight-wire, slings, and a variety of different shapes in all kinds of sizes and vibrant colors. According to After Dark Theatre, “Most single point aerial performances require at least a minimum of 5.5 meters roof clearance from floor to point and at least 3 meters of the unobstructed area around the floor of the performance, and surrounding space where the artist will perform from.”
The larger the set-up, the more space one needs and a festival might also need to install additional hardware and riggers in place as well.
Burlesque is often mistaken for a show that is strictly sexual, but it is supposed to be more comical and risqué while often mimicking a striptease. It originated in the 17th century in Italy and is derived from the Italian word, burla which means a joke, ridicule, or mockery. They would often parody classical works such as Shakespeare, and in America, it was closer to sketch performance with sexually enticing dialogue and scintillating costumes.
Burlesque shows can be pretty entertaining and certainly be an excellent fit for festivals that attract a more eclectic crowd. A burlesque show can be a great addition to gaming and casino areas and pair nicely with other performances. Adding a burlesque show can also be a great way to add value to VIP areas and/or artist lounges. Another great way to incorporate burlesque shows is in after-hours programming along with any late-night shenanigans.
6. Bollywood Dancers
Bollywood is a more traditional form of dance stemming from Hindu and Indian culture. There are about 180 mudras or a symbolic ritual gesture or pose in Hinduism. Bollywood Dance implements head, neck, and body movements, mudras, and footwork. A mudra is a symbolic ritual gesture or poses in Hinduism, and there are about 180 mudras in Bollywood Dancing. Full-body movements paired along with the mudras give complete meaning to the Bollywood Dance style, according to Bolly Curves.
This would be better suited for festivals with any Hindu themes or references or are based in India. This could also be an excellent opportunity for a workshop as it could certainly be interesting for festival-goers to learn an exciting and new type of dance that is a hybrid of Western and Indian cultures.
7. Carnival Dancers
Carnival dancing is another traditional form of dance-based out of Brazil with African influences. It is quite a lively dance with elaborate and fantastic costumes. Brazilian dance is also very sensual and visually pleasing and can incorporate ritual drumming. This can be a fun way to put festival-goers in an uplifting mood and allow them to continue dancing when moving between stages or areas.
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Unless directly related to the festival's theme, carnival dancers are best placed throughout the grounds of the festival rather than in any specific areas or performing on stages. In carnival in Brazil and Mardi Gras in New Orleans, dancers usually perform in the middle of crowds, and the same would be true for a festival outside of Rio or New Orleans.
8. Vintage and Retro Dancers
Vintage and retro dance can either refer to the style of costume the dancers are wearing or the actual style of dance in terms of parties or festivals. The style can be from any era, such as the 70s or 80s or the roaring 20s. This can be attributed to many old-school styles of music such as Jazz or Disco and can be a great way to get a crowd to come dressed up as well.
It might not be necessary to book professional dancers, but it can certainly help draw a bigger crowd and add to the production value. You can even go as far as hiring a costume designer and offering costumes to those at the festival, offering them a chance to dress up in different outfits and have a grand ole time.
9. Belly Dancers
Another more traditional type of dance is belly dancing. Belly dancing is predominately found in countries such as Lebanon, Egypt, and Turkey. This can certainly be a great fit for any festivals that have areas that are themed like Arabia. Festivals can also set up areas to contain hookah bars and elaborate pillows and decorations.
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10. Traditional World Dancers
There are dozens of traditional dances around the world. This includes ones from nearly every continent on the globe and possibly every country as well. Not all are suited for festivals, of course, but it all depends on where the particular event is located and which dance(s) are culturally appropriate. Although some dances are much more local and traditional, others are more international and can be seen performed anywhere.
Dances that work best are those that contain vivid colors and costumes and are perceptually enticing. It also helps if the music pairs well with the dancing and a specific theme are involved. Traditional dancing might not necessarily work well for a festival that doesn’t have many dedicated areas or doesn’t incorporate many other art forms and constitute an eclectic and creative vibe. It all depends on the type of atmosphere, and aesthetic a festival is trying to accomplish.
Visual performances and dances can certainly vary and depend on a lot of different factors. As aerial displays and acrobatics can certainly be the most visually appealing, they can also come with additional costs as well as extra safety precautionary measures as well that may also increase the cost of event insurance. This can also be the case for any performances that incorporate pyrotechnics or fire.
Being well-organized, recognizing the local culture, knowing your audience, and understanding the theme(s) and aesthetics your festival is going for is the key to creating many doors of perception for your attendees. Knowing what types of visual and dance performances will work best for your festival can help curate the overall experience.
Need help with visual performer and dancer scheduling?
We have created an excellent tool to help plan and schedule visual and dance performances which you can download below.