finalistsReview of
the Belly Dancer of the Year
Contest 1999

by Jay Bangle

The 1999 Belly Dancer of the Year competition was held May 29th at California High School auditorium. A deeply stacked arena gave every spectator an unblocked view of the stage. Performers had a large proscenium stage, that both gave a lot of room to work with, as well as a difficult space to cover effectively. Preliminary performances were held during the day. The field was narrowed to 10 performers, who danced again that evening. Those 10 dancers were Ayitah, Arishlam, Leyla Zahar, Istara, Yolanda, Tilana, Sarasa, Bethlehem, Jamileh, and Izora. It was refreshing to see a man, Arishlam, amongst the finalists.

IzoraThis reporter was disappointed with several of the finalists, who seemed to be m
Yolandaore worried about getting the steps of their choreography correct than dancing from the heart. Their performances had little relationship with the music, and were uninteresting to watch. Three noteworthy exceptions were; Yolanda, in a stunningly designed blue and purple creation, whose understated style was reminiscent of Najia El Mouzayen; a 13 year-old Bethlehem, who performed a flawless interpretive piece with grace and elegance in a beautiful white linen costume that left merely her face, hands, feet and small amount of her shoulder exposed; and Izora, who gave the evenings most challenging performance, which included a candelabra dance, costume change, and energetic cane dance.

Troupe of the Year was Sisters of the Sands; Duet of the Year was Leyla and Cyrianna. Congeniality was won by Aneena of Novato, California; 4th Runner-up was Sarasa of San Ramon, California; 3rd Runner-up was Bethlehem, of California; 2nd Runner-up was Tilana of Bakersfield, California, who was also named 1999 Grand Dancer; 1st Runner-up was Istara of San Francisco, California. I'm sure that we will see all the runners up in future pageants, and I can guarantee you that there are Belly Dancers of the Year for the next millennium amongst them. 1999 Belly Dancer of the Year was Ley
la Zahar of Puerto Rico. She performed a beautiful double veil piece in an elegant white costume. She has trained many dancers from the Caribbean, and is counted as one of the finest dancers the islands have produced. I expect that we will be seeing her teaching workshops and master classes around the belly dance world soon. I would recommend to everyone to attend her shows when she is in your area. A fine performer and deserving winner.


Leyla wins!

Ready for more? Nadhira el Farasha writes more about the contest.
Official photos submitted by contest sponsor
More pictures by GS staff too!

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