Hot topic: Bellydance competitions part 2

So, you’ve probably guessed already that I didn’t have any notable success in the Shimmy in City Competition – if I’d placed I’d have been shouting it in 48 point capitals! I had an enjoyable day and watched a lot of fabulous dancers. The judging panel consisted of Khaled, Tito and Asmahan, who had heroically stepped in at the last minute after Soraia was denied a visa. I got some really good advice on stagecraft from Asmahan. I was told some things to change and some things to keep. I know what to fix, now to get on and fix it! From a personal development perspective this was a really useful experience.

It was a very long competition. There were around 25 women (a few didn’t turn up so I’m not sure how many actually danced in the end), 5 men and 5 or 6 groups. Then there was a second round for both the women and the men. I’m not sure there needed to be gender segregated competitions. The top men were easily the equals of the top women. I get that as a minority in the bellydance community men can be intimidated, but I think that any man who has the self-confidence to sign up for a competition isn’t going to be put off by having to dance against ladies. It was hard not to feel that there was a certain double standard at work as well. We were told ahead of time that the top three dancers from each competition would dance again in the folklore round and that would determine their placings. In the end four women and four men went through. Work that out as a percentage of the competitors – 80% of the men got another chance to dance! I felt so sorry for the one guy who didn’t get to dance again, that must have hurt. I would much rather see a mixed competition where a certain number of dancers danced again, it would be much fairer to everyone. After all, everyone has such different styles of dance already it really doesn’t matter, right?

Theoretically.

One thing that really stood out to me after this, and the other competitions I’ve watched this year, is that there is a distinct Competition Style developing. It’s oriental, of course, it’s technically perfect in every way but it – and I’m trying to put this diplomatically – doesn’t encourage much personal expression. Which is not to say that the dancers have no expression, far from it, they have beautiful faces and lovely smiles but that’s about it. When I think of all the dancers I enjoy watching they all have very strong personalities on stage and I simply don’t see that in the dancers who win competitions.

Gilded Serpent published a rather timely article last week: http://www.gildedserpent.com/cms/2011/09/27/jillina-lauren-competition-strategies/#axzz1Zp1Aemsd . The costume and makeup sections I can get on board with. The music section? Not so much. The article suggests that your competition music should consist of 60-90 second blocks of music thrown together to create a 5 minute piece. What? For me, part of the art of dancing is choosing a piece of music and creating a dance to express it, not thinking “Now I will show my travelling steps and turns, now I will show my detailed rhythmical expertise”. My music is not wallpaper against which I display myself, it is an integral part of my performance.

So I find myself in a difficult position. If I want to be a successful competition dancer I need to tone down my on stage persona, smooth out my rough edges, butcher the music I love and use it in a totally alien way. Or I can stay true to myself and the dancers who have taught me and accept that I will never win a trophy or title. It’s no choice at all, is it? Of course I’m going to keep doing things my way! I’ll keep competing, as I’ve said previously the feedback really is useful and next year there’s the potential for feedback from DINA. I can’t turn that opportunity down. In fact I’ve even got some music in mind already, it’s totally wrong for a competition but it’s absolutely right for me.

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