FESTIVAL FAREWELL: This year’s Mediterranean Fantasy Fest will be the last, after 30 years

(Photos courtesy Saroya Poirier)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

After one last wild weekend of swirling veils and flashing swords at Hiawatha Community Center next Saturday and Sunday, the Mediterranean Fantasy Festival will fold its tents for the final time.

So July 15-16 will bring your last chance to enjoy the only annual West Seattle festival devoted to dance, which also is the region’s longest-running belly-dancing festival.

“It’s been a good run,” organizer Saroya Poirier told WSB, an understatement if anything. The Mediterranean Fantasy Festival is ending in its 30th year; we were surprised to find out this would be its last, so we asked her to take some time to talk about it.

Of the festival-founding Babylonian Ensemble, Saroya explains, “Everybody from the group is retired but me. … I’m ready to go on to something else. I’m 69 and it’s a lot of work” – seven months to plan and schedule, starting in December every year.

And all that work has come with decreasing payoff – it’s always been a labor of love, but more so every year.

While the festival has no shortage of dancers, with troupes coming from many miles around, the number of vendors has dwindled over the years. Some vendors, like Saroya’s dancing-troupe-mates (“The Babs,” above), have retired; others have gone online-only.

“The entire back side of the park on Walnut used to be full of vendors. Now, it doesn’t fill up,” she observed.

The dance schedule – that’s another story.

More than 70 performance slots were already filled when we talked to her, and some are coming just to be part of the final Mediterranean Fantasy Festival. “One dancer is flying back from Hawaii just to perform”; another one is coming from Florida. (The Saturday lineup is here; the Sunday lineup, here.)

Saroya herself still dances – and teaches (at the Renton Senior Center). She’s been dancing since 1971 and teaching since 1976. The Babylonian Ensemble danced twice the first year of the festival and continued with at least one performance every year for a long time. But now, she insists she’s ready for the festival to become a memory.

Thirty years of memories: “We started putting it together in 1987, and it actually started in 1988. … When we started it, we were all broke, young, with families …” They scraped together the money it took to stage the festival, buy a sound system, stage and backdrops. “We ran it, we worked it and set it up, and tore it down, with husbands and children who were old enough to carry something.”

Backing up a bit, where did the festival idea come from? Saroya said she was driving Suzie Wiggins home from dancing at a restaurant back in the ’80s when she said, “We could do a festival. We have a park” – a relative of Suzie’s worked at Hiawatha, and that’s where they practiced.

Saroya said she laughed at first – “who do you think you are, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, ‘let’s put on a show’?” But … they did. And that’s the way it’s gone over all these years. After those months of preparation, it comes down to the days before the festival, with Saroya going to Hiawatha to do preparation including painting spots where people will be setting up, putting up the backdrops, the stage skirt … and when it’s all over, “my son and his husband and friends and neighbors and dancers and audience members help tear it down.”

Two stages, if you haven’t been – indoors in the Hiawatha gym, as well as outside.

After this year’s festival finale, where will it all go? “We don’t know yet – might sell one of the backdrops, might just give it back to the original owner. A few things, I’m going to keep … a dancer made us a sign … I’m going to put it on the wall. These are my souvenirs.”

Wasn’t there anyone who could take over the festival and continue it? They talked to a few people, including “one we really liked” – but that person’s vision was different, “she would have taken it downtown” and transformed it into an event with admission charges, instead of an “open air, free for everyone” festival. “That just didn’t work. … We’ll retire the name and keep our memories.”

Memories of lots of fun, and lots of hard work. Though the festival runs Saturday-Sunday, the setup starts Wednesday, Saroya notes. And though there are strict rules for performers and venodrs, sometimes they get broken just the same, and she and others found themselves cleaning up spilled soda and wine in the changing rooms.

But, “that’s what we do.” She has no regrets.

So what will she do with all that extra time next year? Spend more of it with friends, for one. And maybe participate in smaller belly-dancing events outside Seattle: “I’d like to start doing those again.”

Though she lives in SeaTac, West Seattle holds many memories, not just of the festival. “I grew up down on Delridge, went to Cooper School” – now Youngstown Cultural Arts Center – “we all had ties to the area one way or the other.”

And after next weekend, one less.

So don’t miss the Mediterranean Fantasy Festival finale. Even if you’ve never been a belly-dancing aficionado, as the text of the “personal invitation” online suggests, you just might find some fun.



In and around – south and east sides, plus gym – Hiawatha Community Center, 2700 California SW

11 am-7 pm Saturday, July 15th – dance schedule here

11 am-5 pm Sunday, July 16th – dance schedule here

Admission is free.

10 Replies to "FESTIVAL FAREWELL: This year's Mediterranean Fantasy Fest will be the last, after 30 years"

  • Erithan July 8, 2017 (9:46 pm)

    Aww, so sad to hear! Best of luck in future endeavors! This Greek will miss you guys, thank you for all the awesome memories!

  • Nizana July 9, 2017 (6:40 am)

    I have made 27 of these and coming from FL for the 30th. Thanks to the Babs for a fabulous run! This is bittersweet….

  • Sharon July 9, 2017 (10:11 am)

    Been driving up every year for 25 years, ever since I was a ‘baby’ dancer. I’m really going to miss this! So many wonderful treasures purchased, so many new friends made over the years!

  • Al July 9, 2017 (10:50 am)

    That was the ” best ” food west Seattle has! That’s really to bad. Been there every year for that

  • Mac July 9, 2017 (10:57 am)

    This is a first time I’m hearing about it.   Been here for 13 years and being Macedonian I would’ve attended this every year.  

  • Shay July 9, 2017 (3:45 pm)

    I have been dancing (and for years also vending) at this festival for 17 years, and it has been the highlight of our year all this time. So many of us found our first teachers here, or got lifelong students and friends from our experiences here. We have bought costume pieces which become part of our beloved “dowry”, carrying so many memories of our dance histories, at this festival. It will be missed and we will never see a festival as magical again. Thank you, Babs and all who made it so special!

  • Dina Lydia July 10, 2017 (12:26 pm)

    I’ve been participating every year since I moved here 20 years ago. and have taken thousands of pictures. I wonder what will happen to the MedFest banner, which I stitched in 2011? I would be glad to get it back if the Babs don’t want it as a souvenir!


    • WSB July 10, 2017 (12:45 pm)

      I have a feeling the photo that appeared with your comment isn’t the one you intended … I’m seeing a cute canine. Our system mixes up comment-loaded images sometimes … let me know if not, I think I have a photo of your banner that I could substitute (or send me the photo and I’ll edit it in) … TR

  • Katrina Ji July 11, 2017 (12:27 am)

    Thanks for all the years of providing us such a wonderful festival. Sad to see it go. I’ve been performing there since 1999. This year I will be in the audience observing my students perform. Culture Shakti loves performing at Medfest! 

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