Friday ended up being a particularly busy day for me because I ended up dancing in the Shimmy in the City competition three times! I’ve already written about being in the group competition with Peacock Project but I also entered the solo competition. I chose “Esmaooni” for my first piece, which is a song I’ve loved ever since I saw Yasmina dance to it in a workshop and it gave me goosebumps. It’s so full of emotion but it’s not your typical competition piece so I was very surprised when I was called back for the final. In fact I didn’t think I’d be in the final at all. We were told that five dancers would be called back, and when I went back to the hall for the annoucement five dancers were called back then there was an “And finally….” followed by my name! I’d been busy preparing with the Peacocks and had missed the announcement that there would be now six dancers in the final. For my final I danced to “Zaki Ya Zaki” which is a fast, exciting shaabi piece in total contrast to the slower, more soulful piece I’d done earlier. It seemed to go down well.
Afterwards I saw Orit (one of the judges) as we were getting drinks and she told me she loved what I did but that I wouldn’t be placed because I’d danced shaabi, and shaabi isn’t folklore.
Well I know that. In fact I said as much when I watched this competition last year, and was surprised that so many dancers including the winner chose to do shaabi in the folklore round. I’d initially been planning to dance saidi, but had changed my mind about a month ago because I was having a lot of fun with shaabi (one of my classes is learning about it this term). Since it was clearly an acceptable style last year I didn’t anticipate it being a problem this year. I certainly got that wrong!
All respect to Orit for telling me though, I am very grateful to her for setting me straight immediately rather than letting me fret for hours about the result of a competition that I’d effectively disqualified myself from. It wasn’t just me either, one other finalist danced shaabi and another danced baladi and we were all disqualified so the eventual result was simply a case of ranking the remaining three dancers. I don’t think the organisers knew what had happened but the word soon got round the audience. When Khaled announced the results at the hafla in the evening he asked “Is everybody happy with the results?” and there was a looooooong pause before some polite applause. He seemed taken aback. When he saw me at the hotel later someone must have explained because he was very, very apologetic.
This is what happened. The judges decided that the folklore round should be exactly that: folklore. Saidi, fellahi, khaleegy, Alexandrian etc. Given what was allowed last year either the competitors should have been told in advance exactly what styles would be allowed or the judges should have been told that actually in this competition shaabi or baladi were allowed in the second round. There was no organiser on hand at the competition to resolve this situation.The organisers knew what styles we were all planning to dance because we had told them when we submitted our entry forms.
Close friends have followed my career as a competition dancer and made me promise earlier this year that I would stop doing them and that this would be the last one. It’s unfortunate that it had to end like this. I have gained a lot from competitions, the process has taken my dancing to new levels and I like to think that a few more people know who I am. In the two competitions I’ve done this year I’ve been the only finalist from the UK (in fact the only entrant from the UK!). An unanticipated side effect is that competitions have also made me mentally tougher. Every performer needs a thick skin and putting yourself up for that kind of judgement certainly helps you develop one. But another unanticipated, and much less welcome side effect is how cynical they have made me and this is why I am done with competitions. I see them rewarding beautiful, but ultimately superficial dancing, rather than the emotion-filled performances that I love to watch. More than one judge has told me about panels they were on where the results came down to dance politics (who wrote the choreography, who works at who’s festival etc.). That’s disappointing. And as for the video-based competitions that are popping up now…those are nothing more than a test of your social networking ability.
I don’t think that bellydance competitions are necessarily bad. People who have never seen or taken part in one tend to write them off as some kind of sequinned Hunger Games, which is simply nonsense. If anything competitors bond through adversity! If you’re the kind of dancer who doesn’t crumble under pressure and likes a goal to work towards then you can get a lot out of taking part in a competition. Just don’t pay any attention to the results. I used to think that all the results of competition told you was who was the dancer the judges liked best that day, but now I know that they don’t even tell you that.