Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lessons Learned from the 2010 Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition, by Marlena Shaw

Note: Marlena Shaw is a wonderful dancer and dear friend who set out to compete in the Egyptian-style category of this year's Belly Dancer of the Universe competition, which was held over Valentine's Day weekend at the Long Beach Convention Center. I asked her to write about her experience, and she generously agreed. Thank you, Marlena!

As far as the competition, I would have to first say that this was my first experience ever competing. I wasn't sure what to expect. Tanya and Atlantis do an amazing job organizing the whole event - it was very professional and well done.

My experience in the dressing room was good. I met several of the girls and made friends with Zondra from Georgia. She was so sweet, a typical Southern belle, and we nervously chatted as we got ready to compete, putting every accessory on, looking in the mirror more than enough times and waited to find out what our order was to "prove our Egyptian" stuff. Zondra was first and I was third in the lineup out of, I believe, 24 young ladies. We both agreed that was good so we would be able to watch the other dancers after we were done.

The assistant escorted us down the back hallway to get ready to go onstage after our name was announced. Zondra was waiting to go onstage as another dancer and I waited and chatted in the hallway waiting for our turn. She was tall, from Northern California and had a custom-made costume by her mother. It was beautiful and so was she.

We discussed the music requirements and I casually asked her about her drum solo. She said, "Drum solo? I thought that was only for the finals." I felt really bad telling her she was supposed to include a short drum solo in her preliminary performance. She also mentioned that she decided to enter the competition just a couple of weeks prior.

Well, much to my surprise, she ended up one of the finalists anyway. I guess all my months of preparation and costs, including a professional music editor cutting my music just perfect (including a drum solo), my diet to lose weight, and the early morning practices in my living room really didn’t make a whole lot of difference in the competition.

As I finished my "Egyptian piece,” I felt pretty good, at least I thought. After changing and then watching the other dancers (which by the way were amazing), I thought I was in the "Egyptian category," but to me it looked more like American Cabaret or Lebanese style of dance. Most of the dancers I saw were filling in every second of the music with choreography, pops, locks, shimmies, etc. with not a lot of feeling. I did see a few that looked like Egyptian style dancers, but not the majority. I was thoroughly disappointed and felt even embarrassed. I felt like I was misinformed about what I was supposed to do, the requirements, the style. It seemed that a lot of people were coming up to me and saying, "I loved your Egyptian piece, what are these other girls doing?"

So, either I am out of the current Egyptian style and unaware of what Egyptian is anymore, or maybe the "new Egyptian is Lebanese," which is what the rumor was. Anyway, one of my friends who was there (who has been around for quite a while) was disappointed as well. I guess this is what happens every year. People are scratching their heads saying, "was that Egyptian?" as they watched a young energetic dancer on the stage.

I must say that it was a good experience for me as a whole. I worked hard and feel like my dancing is better for it. I also gained a lot of confidence that it doesn't matter if you get a trophy or not, what matters is that you dance true to the style you are, and each of us has our own unique style in some way.

Well, that's my experience with BDUC. I'm waiting to get my judges scores and hopefully will learn something from them.
You can find the results for this year's competition here.
And the lovely photo of Marlena was taken by the always awesome Rachel, founder and humble leader of OC Belly Dance Connection meetup group.


Yasemin Yildiz said...

I was there Sunday evening, so I'm sorry i missed seeing so many performers, but on the whole it was enjoyable. I really have to agree with her comments on Egytian styling. I was saying the same thing to my friend, and wondering if I'm out of touch with what is considered Egyptian?
It's not that they weren't good, it just looked more cab. or Lebanese to me. Suhaila and her daughter performed for the show after the finals, and i thought that even tho her routine was maybe more fusion, her styling was way more Egyptian the catagory perfomers.
Still, I have a lot of respect for those that competed. It takes a lot of commitment, and preparation. I think eveyone is a winner in the experience they get.

DeAnna Cameron said...

Hi, Yasemin!
Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I've been hearing the same thing from many people. I guess like everything else, the dance form is evolving. It really is amazing to see how much diversity is out there now. Maybe as a belly dance community, though, we'll have to think about our labels and whether they still mean the same thing to everyone...

hadiyah_dance said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. I was also there and competed in the Universal Category. It was also my first time in a competition. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into! LOL! I felt a little silly after watching what the other dancers were dancing too and Wearing. All Very similar with their Egyptian 4/4, Persian 6/8, and Turkish 9/8 and their bedlah with circle skirts. Then I go out there with something completely different from EVERYONE! Still using the 4/4, 6/8, 9/8. I now know what to do, but it was a great learning experience despite my embarrassment! I didn't watch the Egyptian category...I was busy licking my wounds and stuffing my face with comfort food when you all went on. LOL!!
Since then, I have put my training into high gear. So something good has come out of it and I will ultimately become a better dancer for it.

DeAnna Cameron said...

Hi, Hadiya~
Thank you for sharing your experience. I admire anyone who has the courage to perform in that venue. :-)
Take care,