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The champion of the "Little" category, Vanessa, opened the show with her winning dance.
Gilded Serpent presents...
The Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition,
Part 1, Sunday Evening
Power Failure Halts
Troupes & Finals
held February 19-20, 2005
in Long Beach, California
report by Amy Bonham
photos by GS staff

The 15th annual Belly Dancer of the Universe contest took place February 19-20, 2005 on one of the rainiest weekends in Long Beach, California on record for that time of year. Willow Street outside the Grand Willow Street Center was a raging river on Saturday morning and the rain continued through the weekend with intermittent dry spells.

The weekend included dance workshops and competitions in seven categories:

  • Little -ages 5-9 years
  • Junior -ages 10-17 years
  • Divine -20 years experience
  • Fusion
  • Egyptian
  • Universal
  • Troupe

The event normally culminates in a gala show on Sunday evening with the troupe competition and finals for the Egyptian and Universal categories, including live music for the Universal finalists. The preliminaries and other competitions will be covered in part two of this article. We're reporting on the Sunday evening show first because as it turns out, it's a story to be continued. The troupe competition will be completed this weekend, May 1, 2005.

Contestants (in order of appearance)

1. Flowerbuds of the Desert- Southern California
Flowerbuds of the Desert were a smiling pair of well-synchronized young sisters. They did some hip-hoppy moves and tossed their canes. I felt their sense of humor and fun that they were having with their dancing. One of them dropped her cane and even made THAT look like fun.
2. Troupe Cirque du Goddess of Southern California
They were dressed in jewel colors and danced to what sounded like Bhangra music and techno drums. Remember that group of cute and popular cheerleaders that you hated in high school? Well, imagine if they decided to ditch their pom-poms, grabbed some veils and HULA HOOPS and formed a belly dance group. They do leaps and lift one member up in a split. And you become even more jealous because they are so cute and are having so much fun that the audience adores them and even you have to laugh and smile with them.
3. Girls of Alexandria of Southern California.
All in white, the Girls of Alexandria came out to "El Ain El Moulatayn". They wore feather masks and some played drums carried over one shoulder. Others danced with feather trimmed veils. The effect was of swirling snowflakes and very pretty, although I thought they didn't need the masks. They did a little comic bit, with the group trying to contain the "diva" grabbing for the limelight, and lined up behind each other to do the "many-armed goddess".
4. Desert Mirage of Southern California
Desert Mirage literally stopped the show in the middle of their Armenian medley when the power went out. And that was that. End of competition. Period. The rest of the troupe competition and the finals of the two solo categories never happened.

The dancers were such troupers! Holding their poses with their veils in the pitch darkness. Linda Fedick, their leader said: "let's just have Harry Saroyan sing the music for us and we'll finish in the dark."

Troupes that were not able to perform:
Almase Arabesque-Southern California
Amarain-Southern California
Oriental Beledy Dance Troupe-Southern California
Burning Incense-Southern California 
Mighty Isis Dance Company-Southern California-Congeniality Award
Ooh-la-la-Northern California
Pharaoh's Felines-Southern California
Raks Shaabi
Raks Habibi-Washington & Northern California
Troupe Bahiya-Southern California
Yasmina's Yems-Southern California

The Blackout!
When the lights went out, people turned on their cell phones to light the darkness. We were told that the storm had caused a transformer outside the conference center to blow and that no one could go outside or leave. We were a captive audience in the dark. It was hard to hear what they were saying without microphones. I used the time to network a little with the people around me, which I definitely would not have had the opportunity to do under normal circumstances at a show like this. When I went out into the hall, I caught the long face of Monica from Raks Habibi in the beam of my pen light. Raks Habibi is one of those dedicated troupes who work long distance with each other. Two of them live in Northern California, and one of them lives in the Pacific Northwest. After months of commuting back and forth to practice and the expense of entering and flying down for the contest, no wonder she looked so disappointed at not being able to compete.

After what seemed a long time, we heard a fire engine come up. The conference center management finally put little candles on the floor and in the restrooms so people could see to move around. And the video people put up a spotlight in the main room. We were lucky that no one was injured groping around in the dark before then. Charlie Villalvazo of Basilon d'Babylon, one of the vendors, started up a little drum jam. Later, Viken Najarian, who was to have provided the live music for the Universal category finals, played the oud acoustically with Carlos Devecioglu on the kanun for a bit. Atlantis doffed her caftan and danced a great solo in her boots accompanied only by handclapping and lit by flashlights. Amina and I were scheduled to give a Giza award to Tonya and Atlantis for their contribution to Middle Eastern dance. We decided to go ahead and do it, thinking that the embattled sponsors could use some strokes from their community during this disaster. Amina made me do the presenting and I felt foolish trying to yell out the speech without a mike. I don't think many heard me, but I hope they got the general drift that we think T & A are cool.

After approximately an hour, the audience was told that the power was not coming back on and a center manager shouted out the safest routes away from the center. The poor vendors, deprived of their prime selling time, had to pack up their merchandise in the dark. In response to a question from an audience member, we were told that there would be no refunds on admission or contest entrance fees. The fact that so many people accepted this quietly is a testament to Tonya and Atlantis' reputation, although there was quite a bit of dialogue on various dance boards later. They were also unable to announce the Lifetime Achievement Award for Bert Balladine.

It seemed like the conference center was ill prepared for such an emergency. I could see that Atlantis was getting increasingly frustrated with their lack of answers. There was a wedding party in one of the adjoining ballrooms that was just sitting down for the reception when they lost power. No dinner, no nothing. Tonya and Atlantis are moving their event to a different locale next year.

Post-pageant, the organizers decided to award the solo titles based on the preliminary scores. I'm sure the Universal category finalists were especially disappointed to miss the chance to show what they could do to live music. The troupes were all asked to submit a videotape of their dance. The tape will be adjudicated at a special video viewing to be held at the Grand Willow Street Center May 1, 2005. The center invited Tonya and Atlantis to complete the competition at their venue and they will try to arrange to honor the original admission (with proof of purchase) at that event.

It was a bit of a set-back to say the least. But given the popularity of the event and the fact that the contestant roster this year was packed with talent, I'm sure they'll recover.


More Photos

The troupes were all asked to submit a videotape of their dance. The tape will be adjudicated at a special video viewing to be held at the Grand Willow Street Center May 1, 2005. The center invited Tonya and Atlantis to complete the competition at their venue and they will try to arrange to honor the original admission (with proof of purchase) at that event.

more info

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