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Gilded Serpent presents...
Auditioning for the Belly Dance Super Stars: Two Personal Experiences

Cattle Call

by Layla Katrina

There were over 78 of us.  All decked in full dance regalia, shivering in the cold unheated studio, checking each other out, adjusting veils and skirts, nervously glancing around and admiring costumes.  We were crammed into a small studio dressing room with mirrors and animal print walls, many of us spilling out into the narrow hallway, when he strode into the building, beady bloodshot eyes staring through everyone, wisps of white hair setting him apart from all the others.  So this was the infamous Miles Copeland, the man who is changing the face of belly dance in the USA.  We were herded out of the door from which we came, across the back parking lot and into a large studio building behind the main building and left to shiver in the cold of yet another unheated room.  This one was large with mirrors on one end.  We fussed with our costumes and were wrapped in our caftans for warmth.  I danced around to keep myself warm, watching my reflection, admiring others and their costumes and waiting for Jillina to come. 

When she arrived she was warm and friendly. She enthusiastically lined us up and showed us a sequence of steps that were part of the Superstars choreography.  We followed eagerly and nervously, and soon she had added three sections to it.

I realized with a sinking heart that I was not going to be able to remember any of it in the next few minutes, let alone perform it brilliantly with personality.

Soon we were arranged in groups of 5 to 7 and asked to perform the choreography while Miles appraised us with cool impersonal eyes.

By the time it was over, 33 of us had been chosen and asked to stand in the front.  He asked if anyone could sing in Arabic, or do gymnastics. 

Well yours truly did not make that first cut.  Neither did my new friend Aziza, with her beautiful face and long wavy blond hair.  I had stumbled through that choreography with no idea what I was doing.  I knew I was not what they were looking for. I was sad not to have had my chance to shine; I had been viewed at my worst. Yet, Aziza had done the choreography well and she was not chosen either.

We were all invited to the final auditions the next day to watch even if we had not been chosen.  I was very eager to do this, very curious. We watched dancers from 11am until 3 pm or later; everyone was good, some were brilliant and all looked way better than the day before.  Jillina and Miles sat taking notes through it all and at the end about 12 were chosen.  They were called up to the front and then instructed to have a brief chat with Miles before they left.  

Their next step was to do a 4 day intensive, and if they make it through that - they would be the next crop of superstars.

I regret that I was not able to do my specialty, which is fire.  Contrary to Zaheea's comment regarding fire, which was mentioned the first day, no one was allowed to do fire because of fire codes and Miles said he did not want to deal with that in his show yet.  There went one of my chances.  My other thing is whirling, which he had once expressed an interest in but I had failed so miserably in the choreography part that I had not the heart to beg to show him my whirling.  I also play zils very well, I dare say better than the one girl who did play them. I would have dearly liked Miles and Jillina to have seen my zil playing before they saw me stumbling through choreography.  When I set out to audition, I thought I would have a chance to do a solo before being judged on choreography, based on the format given by the office.  But that format was changed at the last minute. 

I do not fault them, choreography is what the show is all about and it is a fabulous show.  I've seen it 3 times now.

But in order to survive that first audition one must have an extensive background in Western choreographed dance forms such as jazz, modern or ballet, as well as belly dance.  This brings to mind a comment made by a great old time dancer, long ago, in one of the restaurants I danced at.  She was heading toward retirement as I was coming into my glory back then.  Her comment was simply "I hate choreographed belly dance."

Usher in then, the age of choreographed Belly Dance.  The standards just got higher, girls. 

--Please note that I like choreographed belly dance as much as improvisation.  It is all good and the Belly Dance Superstars is an awesome show, well worth seeing.  I look forward to the new troupe even if I am not to be in it.

My Experience with the
BDSS Audition in Paris

by Dazzel

I wasn't sure about going on tour with the Bellydance Superstars--they are under a lot of heat right now from the bellydance community, which must be hard.

I don't agree with some ways that the troupe is being marketed. For example, on their website, there is a close-up of several sets of breasts lined up in a row (in pumped-up costume tops) and the captions say "see what's shakin' with the Bellydance Superstars!"

The photo combined with such words reminds me of a porno site!

I was appalled by this type of advertisement for bellydancers because bellydancers have fought so hard over the years not to be confused with strippers and whores. I know the women in the troupe are not that at all. It's the producer's site, but it's very bad marketing and insulting for the dancers. Bellydancers are so much more then tits and ass!

Well, all the same, I decided to go to the audition. Why? Because it's a way to have regular work, go on tour, promote yourself and give workshops. Although it really doesn't have to do with the quality of your dancing, it looks good on your resume.

Out of about 45 women, I was selected as one of the 10 finalists. I was told by other dancers who saw me dance that I would be taken, without a doubt. In my humble, personal opinion there were 3 women who were the strongest dancers (including me). Only one of those women was taken. Some women who were taken looked like they had just taken their first bellydance class 2 months ago. I was not taken and many of the other dancers, including ones who were taken, were shocked that I wasn't taken. Yes, I look like a bellydancing barbie with my costume on, but I also have skills and beautiful energy. I walked up to the producer, Miles Copeland, and asked him the first logical question that came into my mind: "Am I too tall to be a Bellydance Superstar?"

I asked this because I am 6 feet and I tower over the choreographer and all of the chosen dancers. He said: "No, you're not too tall, but you would have to be a soloist and you're not ready to be a soloist." In that moment, I forgot that I have been a soloist for many years. So I asked him, "What do you think I need to work on?" He gave me some tips and told me he thought I needed two years. This struck me as odd because a dancer can improve drastically in a few months to 6 months. Why 2 years? He then referred me to his assistant saying she could better answer my question.

She told me to take more ballet. Ballet! I thought she was going to critique my bellydance technique! It wasn't a ballet audition! I went home, cried and threw up.

Ballet dancers study ballet on a daily basis, therefore, you can always tell any dancer, no matter how good, that she needs to take more ballet. It's an easy 'politically correct' response for dancers in general, but politically wrong for bellydancers.

I'm aware of the politics of show-biz. I knew before going to the audition not necessarily the best bellydancers were in the troupe. Although there are some great bellydancers in the troupe, I know many great ones who are not. But all the same, people outside the bellydance community take the name of the troupe seriously (the unfairness of show-biz). I cried because I felt that people should see me when they see the "Bellydance Superstars", because with my origin and my dance background, I fit the profile of the shows' claims.

After some crying and feeling sick, I realized, as I seemed to have forgotten:

  1. I have the experience of doing solos in concerts, huge theaters, night clubs, private parties and restaurants, winning the applause of all. I've done solos in many 500 people shows which sold out every night.
  2. I have studied ballet for many years! I'm not a ballerina, but that is no reason to not hire a bellydancer. The girls who were taken who looked like they had only studied bellydance for a few months definitely did not look like they had ever taken ballet.
    So why did he say I needed 2 years when I'm at solo-performance level now?

I pulled myself together, took a pain killer for nausea and went to the show. Miles was nice enough to give me some tickets.

I saw that all of the girls in the show were about the same height. The soloists did chorus lines in which they stood side by side with other dancers. Even the drummer was about the same height as the dancers. I am 6 feet tall, a head taller then all of them, so unless they get taller girls, they will never hire me.

So why two years? Is that the amount of time he needs to be ready for a woman like me or does he want me to keep hoping and talking about his show so he can further promote it?

What hurts me most is that he lied to me. He didn't want to tell me that I was too tall for his troupe.

He wanted me to believe that his troupe was too good for me. He only cared about promoting his business.

Bellydance is my culture. My mother is Lebanese-American (she gave me my hips), my father is African-American, Native American and European (he gave me my belly rolls). I grew up in Hawaii with strong Hawaiian and Indian cultural influences, learning the art of belly dance along with other cultural dances. From the age of four, I've studied Bellydance, Hula, Tahitian, Indian Dance, Yoga, Ballet, Modern and Jazz. That's why I was so hurt--I think I am what Bellydance Superstars claim to represent. I think it's quite rare to see someone with my look, origins, background, experience, and skills. In retrospect, I must tell myself that I was being protected. Sometimes rejection is protection as the story goes.

Ed- Rumor has it that the "4 day intensive" with Jillina will happen. "The latest he said which is not confirmed is on Monday, June 13, the day after Cairo Carnival.

Have a comment? Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?
1-19-05 BDSS Auditions January 14-15, 2005, North Hollywood, CA
-Inside the Bellydance Superstars Final Auditions by Michelle Joyce
-"What have I got to lose?" by Zaheea
-Photos by Lynette

2-14-05 Taking Good Care of our Stars by Miles Copeland
Most of all, as we now need them consistently; we have to free them from financial worries by giving them job security including such things as health insurance.

3-3-05 The BDSS Experience and Miles Copeland; Doing What He Does Best by Sausan
Even though Miles Copeland’s vision is similar to that of mine and the majority of belly dancers I have canvassed in my lifetime, he and I differ in our mission approach to elevating the dance, and this is where the discussion became a heated debate.

3-26-05 “My Aim in Organizing a World-inclusive Oriental Dance Festival” by Amani
Dancer Amani of Lebanon Comments, "Oriental dancing has become a widespread art; it is now found all over the world, and among all levels of society in all the five continents! "

3-22-05 Happy To Be Me: Dancing Without Shame-- Recognizing Beauty & Potential Within by Nisaa Elon
I don’t worry about comparing myself to others. Instead, I spend my energy educating myself about the different styles and techniques of Belly dance, and I stretch my boundaries to derive unique performances through innovative presentations.

4-19-05 Helm takes Rhythm Diatribes Workshops to Europe by Ling Shien Bell
The musicians will be conducting a series of rhythm/music workshops in Ireland, Spain and Luxembourg this April.

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