Ella Europe 2019 – the reboot concept with a tonne of potential.

After a year’s gap between the first Lisbon edition back in 2017, Ella returned to Europe this January with a promising concept and glowing line-up.
Being the first Meu Semba outing of 2019 we were keen to see what the organising team had prepared and I was glad to escape the plummeting winter temperatures of the UK.
At the time of writing, a little over a week after the Ella weekend came to a close, the impression of a pleasant, young concept with potential still lingers. While there were elements of Ella that could have benefitted from more thought (see cons below), the event provided the much-needed focus on women in the Kizomba scene.

Highlights

If you don’t read to the end, here is what you need to know:

Pros:

• Focus on women self-expression through music and dance Inclusive family feeling
• High quality teaching
• Variety of dance styles
• Scheduling of workshops was well thought out to benefit the dancers
• Welcoming to all dance abilities/levels Local parties
• Lisbon is a great location
• Focus on open discussion

Cons:

• Took place mid-January
• Local parties are hit and miss this time of year
• Round table discussion – more like moderated panel discussion
• Classes were too short

Without further ado, here is what Ella Europe delivered this year:

Organisation

Overall, the organisation of Ella was done well – no major hiccups hindered the dancers’ experience and there was a visible effort to try to build an atmosphere of inclusivity and get ladies to meet and spend time with people other than just the people they may have come with. This was felt through the introductory talk, the organised dinners and drinks, and the sit-down discussion on Sunday afternoon.

So, top marks for effort! However, there is always room for improvement and smoothing out some of the rough corners of this potential-rich concept.

Location + Logistics

The event takes place mainly in Santos, Lisbon, meaning that dancers can choose one of the many Airbnbs and hotels available in the area.
Getting to Santos from the airport is reasonable by Uber (less than £15) or taxi; and the Metro is also an option if you travel a bit lighter than I ever manage to do.
Conveniently, there are many Kizomba party venues in the vicinity as well – Krystal, Barrio Latino, B.Leza; while other venues, such as Mwangole and Casa do Semba, are a short car journey away from Santos. So, for convenience, location and logistics it is as good as it gets for an event that doesn’t host the workshops and the parties under the same rooftop.

Daytime + Workshops + Socialising

The event kicked off with a warm welcome talk and a T- shirt included in the pass and a carefully selected set of classes to get all the initially rather reserved ladies (myself included) to let their hair down and enjoy a weekend-long judgement-free zone.The dance workshops throughout the three days were comprehensive, focusing on everything from movement to technique, to musicality and freedom of expression for all dance levels.

The dance teacher line-up: Vanessa Ginga Pura, Eliza Sala, Stella, Ana-Rita, Maria Maluca, Cori D., Palina Vladi

I will have to take a moment to elaborate on this part because the teaching was on-point and these ladies, who stood in front of us sharing their knowledge and passion, brought nothing but fire all weekend long!!

While we all look to Vanessa in awe and expect her to wow us with her knowledge, energy and love, Cori D., Stella and Ana-Rita also deserve a long round of virtual applause, even now, for bringing their A-games and managing to be the names on everyone’s lips for delivering the all-round favourite classes of the weekend. It was agreed by many that mainstream festivals would benefit from all these ladies being present on their line-ups.

The day schedule also featured classes more focused on the social, psychological and wellbeing dimensions of dance in women’s lives and in the Kizomba scene, which was a bold new endeavour on the organisation’s part to try to re- introduce a focus on the human element that seems to be becoming more and more elusive in many large-scale dance festivals.

The only bitter-sweet element of the daytime experience was the round-table discussion on Sunday, which, to much of the surprise of many participants, turned out to be less of an open discussion and more of a themed panel discussion. This meant that a well-intended, good idea fell short of the mark. Perhaps in a future edition, having a suggested topics/questions box placed somewhere in the venue during the weekend would bring this sort of discussion more in line with the topics that the women attending would actually like to discuss.

Another aspect that might be worth looking into is how appropriate/relevant the 50-60 min class format is for this sort of event – all the classes seemed too short for the teachers to share everything they wanted to. Every time the dreaded “5 minutes left” reminder was given, everyone generally protested. Food for thought…

Vendors: Himba shoes, Ginga Pura wear and Carla Poma jewellery were present, selling a range of lush (sometimes pricey) accessories and apparel over the weekend which made it very hard for all of us not to part with some money… but hey, ladies gotta treat themselves.

Nights: Dinners + Drinks + Parties

Ella organisation put significant effort into the social aspect of the weekend, thus organised social drinks or dinners after workshops and before the parties every evening.
This kind of activity can be a logistical nightmare to organise so the intention is appreciated, especially for those ladies who may have come by themselves to the event. The dinners and drinks provided ample opportunity to meet new people. It should be noted that having organised activities during the days, evenings and nights may become a bit intense for some people who like their sleep (guilty) – but it’s good to have the option there.

Parties: Seeing how Ella is a women-only event, when it came to parties, the organisation made recommendations for local parties and also included one of the parties’ entrance fee in the Ella festival pass.
While the Ella organising team was not responsible for the quality of the parties, the team should perhaps reconsider holding the event in a month like January as this increases the likelihood of the parties being quiet – as people may still be recovering from a party-filled December.

Conclusion

It’s official – Ella Europe 2019 delivered a quality event; not devoid of areas of improvement but with huge potential for growth and future success. If this much-needed, women-focused event becomes a constant on the European dance calendar and if a few formula tweaks align it even more with what ladies need, then Ella has a good chance to become truly phenomenal.

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