Gilded Serpent presents...

IzoraOne Fan's Fun and Frustration
with Competitive Belly Dancing

by Nadira el Farasha
posted Summer 1999

Belly Dancer of the YearI can now add competitive belly dancing to my list of frustrating events - Olympic ice skating, gymnastics and beauty pageants. I don't understand the scoring, but as always the excitement and talent outweigh the frustration.

I remember going to my first competitive belly dancing event. It happened to be the Belly Dancer of the Year Pageant in San Ramon, California. I was immediately engulfed in color and mesmerizing movement. The mixture of so many extraordinary color combinations enchanted me. I never would have thought to combine reds, purples and greens in one outfit. Each costume sparkled to embellish smooth undulations contrasting with sharp, quick motions. The performances were breath taking.

My favorite dancer never made it to the semi-finals. I couldn't understand how the judges failed to see what I saw in her dancing.

This year at the 1999 Belly Dancer of the Year Pageant I felt the same excitement and disappointment with competitive belly dancing. Four years later with more events and competitions under my belt I reflect back on that first experience. I now understand why my favorite dancer didn't make the finals four years ago.

This year's competition showcased performances in the categories of duet, troupe, grand dancer and, of course, belly dancer of the year. The competition started Friday evening, May 28th and continued through Saturday evening.

My favorite category this year was duets. All four performances were well-executed, creative and fun to watch. Each duet had different costumes that were uniquely creative and beautiful. One unexpectedly combined green and orange in a sparkling ensemble. Another used bold, geometric patterns of black and primary colors. The competitors each had a different style that was well choreographed. Their movements were all well executed, but each pair revealed distinctive, personal, artistic expression. All contestants deserved an award, and all received one. The top three teams received trophies, and the fourth received the congeniality award.

Troupe competition always has been a favorite of mine. I enjoy the many different and sometimes synchronous formations performed by several dancers on one stage. This year there were five entrants in this category. Every year the quality of the choreography seems to improve. This year was no exception. An unexpected treat this year was provided by one of the troupes that burst onto the stage in beautifully coordinated colors including orange, periwinkle and red. They managed to simultaneously perform a coordinated cane routine in a circular formation. The winners this year clearly deserved their titles.Arishlam

The grand dancer competition brought back some of my old feelings. My two favorite dancers didn't even place. Although one of my favorites exceeded the time allotment, the performances in this category generally lacked energy and creativity. As I watched each contestant the performances seemed to blend together. No one grabbed my attention.

Finally, on Saturday the competition for Belly Dancer of the Year revealed some exhilarating and creative performances, some average, and some that were quite frankly difficult to watch, which was surprising since most of the dancers in this category have many years of experience and quite impressive resumes.

One dancer showed polish and grace that develops only with years of experience. Her movements gracefully flowed in a seamless production. One danced with such energy that the audience couldn't resist becoming infected with the enthusiasm. She energetically moved around the entire stage while drawing the audience into her show. Another contestant had an electrifying charisma on stage as he beautifully executed both feminine and masculine movements. Most of the costumes exhibited the professional level of the competition, and provided a dramatic complement to the dance. Unfortunately, some of the costumes were disappointingly amateurish and reminiscent of burlesque show attire. As usual, some of my favorites made the finals and some didn't. I've come to expect that, but it is always difficult to see a dancer receive an award that you believe should not have made the finals while one of your favorites doesn't make the grade.

The pageant is a well-run event with several qualified judges. There are checks and balances in place to make sure the judging is fair.

So how does this happen? Perhaps there is a political aspect to the competition behind the scenes. Maybe the judges are swayed in favor of familiar dancers to the detriment of unknown competitors. Observers not familiar with belly dancing must be extremely confused with the judging just as I am with the judging in Olympic ice skating, gymnastics and beauty pageants.

I always feel sorry for the deserving dancers who are eliminated in favor of less qualified dancers. I still love to watch belly dance competitions. I can count on seeing something new, thrilling and creative in dancing and costuming. I'll just have to learn to live with the frustration as I add competitive belly dancing to my list of exasperating but exciting and inspiring events to watch.





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