The entire Meu Semba team and a contingent from the Meu Semba School descended upon the Hotel DaVinci in Milano (or as I like to call it, the Italian Cadbury World) at the beginning of November for a packed weekend of Semba!

Highlights

If you don’t get past the fold, here is what you need to know:

I AM SEMBA – potential to become one of our favourite festivals on the dance calendar and an immersive Semba experience.

Pros:
• Everything happens under one roof
• High-quality artists and teachers
• Good music and good level of dancers
• Great social
• Focus on culture, history and context

Cons:
• Accommodation, transportation and food are pricey
• Lack of atmosphere
• Workshop scheduling could be more dancer-focused
• Women-men ratio

Now, without further ado, here is the breakdown of what I AM SEMBA delivered this year:

Organisation

The level of professionalism and attention to detail was high from the entire I AM SEMBA team and for that we salute them! Everything worked fairly seamlessly from an outsider’s point of view and when any changes occurred communication from the organising team was on point.

Venue + Logistics

There are not many festivals nowadays that offer dancers the convenience of holding the entire festival in one venue – and, in our eyes, this is a huge plus for the success of this event.

However, while it is delightfully convenient to have everything under the one roof (from accommodation, to workshops, to catering, and specialist vendor stalls), the service from the hotel staff was lacking, at best. Rude unhelpful staff, forgotten orders, being charged for other people’s food, to name but a few of the service related issues experienced throughout the weekend. Four Star? – we think not.

Getting to the venue from the two airports in range is very expensive by taxi and fairly inconvenient by public transport when carrying luggage as well. So, sharing the cost of the taxi with other people attending the festival is recommended.

Highly appreciated that the festival organising team made sure to negotiate for food to be provided for the guests for both breakfast and dinner; the food quality could be better, especially since dinner cost €20 per person for the buffet every day.

Daytime + Workshops + Social

The festival kicked off in force on Friday with an invaluable introduction to Semba and Angolan history, a lecture given by To Costa – in his unique way – to a room-full of people from around the world, all there to listen and learn not just steps and tricks but to understand more about the culture, history and soul behind the music and dance.

The workshops throughout the weekend were comprehensive, focusing on everything from technique to musicality and catering to all levels of dance ability.

There is, however, room for improvement in terms of scheduling the workshops – for example: putting Afro/Azonto in the same time slot as Rumba Congolese meant that dancers who are also interested in dances other than Semba were torn between the already few options available.

Social provided a much-needed relaxation period during the day, with sweet sweet music and much less intensity than the night parties.

There was a good selection of vendors at the event from dance shoes to Africa print clothing and accessories – although prices were typically high and deterred most people we spoke to during the weekend.

Nights + Party + Music

Party, party, party!

I AM SEMBA parties delivered on both the entertainment element and on the music ratio promised in the pre-event promotional material – this is huge for us here at Meu Semba – delivering on what is advertised is what keeps people coming back!

Between DJ To Costa, DJ Frank, DJ Carlos King and DJ Hugo Boss, we felt safe on our musical journey. We expect the proportion of Semba to increase next year and for the DJs to really bring the heat – Safe is not what you want people to say about the music.

The ratio of leads to follows was definitely the worst aspect of the nights and was the main complaint shared with us by both men and women during the festival.

There was an awkward dead period between the time parties finishing and the time breakfast started which brought the mood down for dancers queuing in front of the canteen to eat before going to rest for a few hours in preparation for the madness to restart the next day.

This next one is a tricky one to get right and it’s something that festivals build over time, but atmosphere is key and I AM SEMBA needs to put in a bit more work on this front. We don’t want to see a festival with potential become another soulless event that you leave no more connected to the community than when you arrived, with no new friends or acquaintances. A friendly, family vibe is one of the most frequently mentioned reasons why dancers return to top festivals.

Conclusion

To wrap it up, it’s safe to say I AM SEMBA is one of the most exciting festivals on the dance calendar and one we’re looking forward to see evolve over the next few years.

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