Bellydance Competitions: A Firsthand Account

This weekend was a first in my short career as a bellydancer — I entered my first belly dance competition, the 2009 MAQAM Challenge in the Pro Tribal Soloist category. I have talked about belly dance contests before (see my post “Contests and Certifications — What Are They Worth?”) where I discussed a Gilded Serpent article where Miles Copeland shares his thoughts about competitions.

A few weeks ago, I contacted Kimahri about entering the competition at the last possible second. I got signed up and I had only a few weeks to seriously start working on preparing. Luckily I had enough time to prepare and I could choreograph something really great I could be proud of, right?

…Um, wrong.

Between starting two jobs and life just getting in the way (a continuing problem emerging in my dance career 😀 ), I completely ran out of time to prepare something. On the way down, I gave myself a pep talk — “You’ll be ok… sometimes you don’t do too badly just improv-ing,” “Well… it might be a learning experience. Maybe.” You know. Deeply encouraging self-talk.

Competition morning arrived. Mark and I left my parents house at 8:30 AM to arrive at the competition in Lombard, IL. My category was second. I got to compete against (and I speak completely honestly and genuinely) probably the best 5 tribal dancers I have ever seen in the Midwest — Susan Warner of Illinois, Ayperi of Madison, Jezminda of Illinois (my first tribal teacher!) Eliza of Illinois, and Mae the Bellydancer of Illinois. Not only were they all extraordinarily talented, but every single one of these women were just true professionals — everyone was so supportive of one another and it was a pleasure sharing the stage with these women. What I thought of the competition:

— Susan Warner was obviously an exceptionally well-trained ATS dancer who incorporated flawless cymbal work over perfect hipwork. She did an excellent job of conveying emotion, and I was impressed how she fused a solo performance with ATS technique. Beautiful posture, and overall Susan was just an incredibly genuine person. I praise her for using more patterns that just gallop, and at the one time I took a few eight counts to just focus on her hips, the girl was doing perfect zillwork over perfectly articulated three-quarter shimmies. The girl has SERIOUS skill.

— Ayperi danced with a sword, and I unfortunately did not get to see any of her piece because I was backstage behind a wing, but my family raved about her performance. This girl came all the way from Wisconsin and ended up carrying the first place trophy back home. I’m looking forward to getting my DVD to see her piece!

— Jezminda was THE girl who launched me into the tribal fusion world. I remember going to my first class with her and saying, “I’m a cabaret dancer… I’m not sure about this whole tribal thing.” After watching this girl dance, I was hooked (she also showed me my first Rachel Brice video!). What I really admire about Jezminda is 1) her incredible hip work and 2) her originality. Jezminda did a beautiful double fan dance that had Spanish elements and a ton of characterization — completely unique and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. This girl oozes stage presence!

— Eliza dances with the Chicago ATS troupe Jezebelly, who I became a fan of a few years ago after seeing them perform when Rachel Brice came to Chicago. What really sets Eliza part is her beautiful lines of her arms and posture paired with her spot-on technique. Her piece had some really well-played little sassy moments and characterizations. I felt like it was a very thoughtful and well-choreographed wor, truly impressive and just a lot of fun to watch. The audience agreed, and she walked away with the People’s Choice award and tied for second place.

— Mae the Bellydancer took gothic bellydance to a whole new level with her piece. Mae was hands-down the best facial and bodily storyteller I have ever seen. She did a beautiful piece that told a clear story, which I realy appreciated. I feel like belly dance technique is sometimes sacrificed in gothic bellydance while the dancer was focusing on telling the story — absolutely NOT the case with Mae. Not only was her piece technically impressive, but she incorporated a unique prop — she crafted a poi out a wooden ball and a thick rope, a very gothic take on poi. I was quite impressed.

So imagine how nuts I was going backstage — each performance was incredible, I don’t have anything prepared, and I didn’t know my music that well. Right before I went on, however, I had a huge moment of clarity. I looked into myself and I asked what I wanted to present, what I wanted to say, and how I wanted the audience to feel when I danced. I completely got in the most zen state I’ve ever been. When I walked onstage, any half-hearted efforts I had made at choreography left my head. I danced from my soul and shut off my mind competely, something I’ve never been able to do before. 30 seconds before the end of the piece, I remember turning to face the back, and I felt something I had never felt before in a piece: complete and utter exhaustion. I had given all of my energy and stregnth to that performance. I realized I didn’t care how I placed because I had given it everything I had. I was proud of how I did.

After some confusion, I discovered that I had gotten second place. I was really happy with how everyone did, and I feel like first place could really have gone to everyone. It was a tough, tough competition and I just feel honored to have had my first competition have been against such worthy competitors. Ladies, if you’re reading this, thank you for your inspiration and sharing your art and beauty onstage.

Thoughts to leave on:

— Hats off to Kimahri for organzing a professional, classy, good-paced competition. The awards were awarded after each category, and dancers got to take their scorecards and DVD of their performance that DAY. Talk about a smooth and high-class event!

— I think competitions can be a really positive experience or a really negative experience depending on how you approach it. If you go into it focused on ranking or awards you’re bound to either be disappointed or not get a lot of personal growth out of the event. To be honest, for awhile I was stuck in the mindset that I had to get first. But after I watched the other dancers, and I saw how all different we were, I realized… ranks aren’t the most important thing. All of those girls were talented, original artists — what matters is focusing on giving the best performance possible. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the competion of it all. I was glad that what I took away from the event was pride in my work and inspiration from the girls I got to compete with.

Overall, I gained a lot from the experience and I’m glad everything happened exactly the way it did.

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2 responses to “Bellydance Competitions: A Firsthand Account

  1. Thanks for this honest story! Sounds like you simply found yourself “in the zone” at exactly the right time (or perhaps you’re just being too modest about your dance ability).

    The idea of competing without a choreography would scare the c#@) out of me!

  2. Pingback: Youtube Clip of the Week: Sera Solstice at Tribal Fest ‘09 « Almost Famous

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