Every festival is different depending on the country, promoter, local dance scene, artists, djs, and vendors they hire. I've been fortunate enough to see many different types of dance festivals and congresses as a dancer, performer, and currently - videographer.
I really think it's important that dancers are aware of what makes a festival good or bad. At the end of the day, dancers are consumers, and they pay money to make the festival happen. What the promoters do with that money matters. Festival promoters can improve their festival year-over-year, enhancing the dancer's experience. Or, they can pocket the money and do the same thing every year, not worrying about improving the experience.
Unfortunately, in today's market, there are hoards of promoters that are happy where they're at. They don't care about bringing in talent from abroad and don't see value. Sound systems and flooring is mediocre and people end up dancing on the carpet. Volunteers work long hours in exchange for a full pass. Sometimes, vendors and artists aren't paid for their work. The artist lineup is made up of all locals with no outside talent. Rooms are not setup with sound or flooring and the artist is nowhere to be found on the day of the workshop. Last-minute announcements saying artists won't attend the festival due to visa issues (lack of prep from promoter). This is all too common in today's dance scene.
The great thing about the world we will live in, is that is a free market when it comes to dance festivals. You can pick your scene, your style, and go to the salsa/bachata/kizomba/zouk festival of your choice in whichever state or country you desire!
As a videographer, I've worked with many different promoters. Some have teams of individuals working together to run the festival, and some are couples or individuals. Some promoters pride themselves in having a small, intimate festival, versus a large festival. Whether big or small, there are certain things that need to be in place for the festival to be successful.
1. Personality - The personality of the promoter needs to be genuine and forward-thinking. They need to have a passion for their dance and want to improve/enhance the scene. They shouldn't have a festival because it's fun or they can. Sure, it can make them popular/money/etc - however, they should want to enhance and it and improve the scene for the better. The best promoters I've worked with aren't stressing about the festival. They are interacting with dancers/artists, social dancing/partying, and discussing current trends/ideas to improve the scene/event the following year.
2. Organizational skills - This is the easiest one yet the most difficult for some. The festival needs to be organized, classes need to start on time, and information needs to be conveyed. Typically, promoters that have a team of individuals dedicated to certain parts of the festival have an easier time. The more organized the festival is, the smoother things will run overall, and they can focus on putting out fires elsewhere. If there is no organization, then the dancers, artists, and vendors are all lost and confused.
3. DJ/Artist Selection - The music played at the festival will determine whether the dancers and artists will want to dance. This is EXTREMELY important. It's important for artists to social dance with people who paid for the event. It's important for the artist to identify with the DJ and enjoy the music they are mixing. Artist selection is important too. If I'm in Los Angeles for a festival and everyone who is attending the festival is from California and one artist is from Italy, is it really worth it? If I'm in Los Angeles and there is a festival in San Francisco and this festival has 5 artists from Europe, I would go. How often do I get to see artists from Europe in California? Same goes for DJs as well.
4. Vendor Selection - Have you been to a festival with a cheap sound system when they have a live singer? I have. It's probably the worst experience ever, and my ears are probably still damaged from the event. Stage, sound, lighting, and floor is very important. How inconvenient is it to dance on carpet? Or, spinning the girl only to find that she can't spin because the floor is too slippery or sticky? Photography and videography is also vital. Most of the time, these two vendors are last on the promoter's list of items and usually provided by volunteers. This is where the good ol' phrase "what you pay for is what you get" comes into play. If you're giving volunteers a free pass in exchange for media, most of the time you're going to get low-quality.
Unfortunately, most promoters/artists don't know how to properly market/brand themselves. How many artists have 2-5 Facebook profiles, groups, and fan pages? How many promoters tag your name when they promote an event and you don't know them or go to their event? Yes, these is extremely annoying and another problem in the dance scene. Everyone is fighting for attention online and it's very frustrating as a consumer.
Dancers attend festivals for different reasons. Some go to perform, social dance, take workshops, watch shows, or just to party. Whatever the case may be, just be aware of where your money is going and how it's being used. If you attend the same festival every year and it hasn't changed at all, something is wrong. The festival doesn't necessarily need to get bigger and better. However, they should be bringing in different talent and improving on small things. It can be as small as a welcome gift or an improved sound system from the previous year. For me, it's the small things that count when I attend a festival.