This weekend's Dance Africa festival and some musings on trends


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Posted by Kenzi on May 28, 2002 at 14:21:02:

Currently recovering from a long crazy weekend doing the Dance
Africa festival (three days/nights) and some things came to me
that I thought I would share.

I have been doing this festival for the past four years; it's a sort of
cornerstone to my season. We (me, Anne and Constance) were
very fortunate to have avoided the thunderstorms that were
promised all weekend (sometimes having 24 hour access to the
weather, as it changes from hour to hour is not very helpful!); our
only weather-related problem was high wind and cold on the first
day. Business was good though there was a noticeable
decrease since last year. Perhaps it is the economy.

Because we are there every year and carry unique items (we do
henna but also sell the Tuareg jewelry and various handicrafts
from Morocco) people remember us and look for us. As it is an
African fair most of the vendors sell things related to the theme,
some imported, some handmade. The food is also African and
Carribean. The whole feel is very festival-like with everyone
dressed up in their most fabulous outfits, music blaring,
spontaneous dancing in the streets, etc.

The trends that struck me were henna-related, of course. Most
importantly I have noticed over the years a change from absolute
ignorance about henna to a celebration of and a desire for
henna. People seem much more knowlegable about the details
of henna and many more have incorporated it into their daily
lives. We got a lot of requests about parties and special events.
Most notable in this change to greater knowledge relates to
black henna. The first couple years we heard "does it come in
black?" or "do you have black henna?"; this year we heard "you
don't do black henna do you?" (said with a look of fear). We
could that as a huge success. The few people who did ask
about black henna were duly informed of the dangers. Anne
even went and gave the black henna artist a piece of her mind on
the subject. She is refining her diplomatic skills and said that
she thinks she made a convert.

We were also happy to note that most of the designs we did
were on hands and feet (in fact in three days I only did two arm
bands, one anklet and no bracelets). It's not that I hate doing
arm bands/bracelets/anklets...they can look lovely) it's just that if
fewer people are requesting them it's a sign that they know more
about henna traditions and are appreciating some of the
traditional ways of doing henna. Related to that, many of our
clients were happy to sit and talk with us about the history and
traditions of henna; overall we have fewer people than usual but
those who did come by opted for more expensive designs and
were patient and appreciative of the art. We also had two
wonderful and animated 10 year old girls who wanted lots of
henna and were willing to anything to get it. Anne sent them out
to drum up clients, which they did very enthusiastically. They
were also fascinated by all the designs, wanted to learn about
things like why you put lemon-sugar on the design and how to
draw them. The were a delightful nuisance!

In sum, henna in NYC is changing and growing and getting
better and better. The nature of henna in NYC is different than
elsewhere in the same ways that NYC is different from other
cities. My theory is that because rent is so hellaciously
expensive we are all running, running to cover our rent. We are
also a diverse collection of people shoved together in small
space, trying to get along. This makes us fast talkers and
walkers, effcient to the point of impoliteness, impatient,
opinionated but tolerant, informed, aware, self-centered etc.
Because this is also a center of commerce, a crossroads for
trade (goods, services AND ideas) much of the henna business
is just that, a business. Our clients hire us for specific purposes
and know what they want for their $$. The people we meet at
street fairs want to know what they are paying for, they want their
purchase to have meaning and weight. Also, despite our
left-leaning politics there is a conservative edge to NYC in that it
IS a corporate world. Clients must reflect on whether it will be
okay at their jobs to have henna on their hands, whether clients
will mind it, where it can be done so that it doesn't show in a job
interview etc. I get the impression from Anne that on the West
coast there is more of a, for want of a better term, hippy mentality.
By that I mean that the attitude is more laid-back, the clothes are
more relaxed or more ethnic (in NYC people like their unique
clothing, but designer clothing is very important to many) and
employers are more open.

I hope that Anne will also chime in with her impressions of the
event. i am heartened by the change in attitudes about henna in
my little burg and would love to hear others' impressions of
henna trends in their areas.

Happy hennaing!

 


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