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Certification & Contests:

BDSS auditionsin San Rafael

Are They Meaningful?

by Miles Copeland
posted July 11, 2009

There appears to be more and more people getting into the Bellydance act, advertising events, contests or whatever who promise to film the entrant/student/winner/participant, then to release them on the market via DVD/video, imagining this is a great enticement to get dancers to become involved.  What the unwitting participants who fall for this “ come-on” are failing to realize is that by adding themselves to such a DVD, they have no quality control and they may become less interesting to some entity like the BDSS or other professional organizations that can, in reality, help advance a career. 

Simply put, it takes a lot of investment to build a star, and it takes a lot of investment to do a proper job filming one.  To take on that challenge, naturally, a producer would want a dancer who is not already readily available on the market in another product so that her rarity value has become diminished already.  

One would want to invest in someone that is special, creating a situation in which one was not competing with others marketing the performance of the same dancer.  The business is tough enough as it is!  This is common business sense.  Dancers, looking for what they imagine is short-term gain from such come-ons may find that they lose opportunities in the long-term.  From my pure business standpoint (and I am certainly not the only one), a fresh dancer is 100 times more interesting than a dancer who has already had film clips out on DVDs from other companies.

Another unfortunate development is the idea that winning a contest is a short cut to developing status in the business that can be used to hype a dancer’s credits as a teacher. 

Its as if the contest win were a diploma, her ticket to teach! 

Yet, from experience, I can tell you that the worst judges of musicians are other musicians, just as the worst judges of dancers are other dancers (especially ones that cannot ever give you a job and have to pay the price of the choice they make).  

Rumors of Asian dancers paying to win a contest in Egypt add fuel, making the whole process not only seedy, but a complete joke. Those who start new contests appear to want to cash in on this thrust for a winning credit as the reason for having the contest in the first place. 

It is “the tail wagging the dog”!

In the same light, we see some dancers, whom we have chosen to solo at our BDSS auditions, now add "finalist at BDSS audition” to their resumes.  This is forcing us to take a harder look at our audition process as we sometimes ask a dancer to solo, thinking of her in the long term, knowing she is nowhere near ready right now. However, the credit "finalist" becomes a credit in her resume in the present.      

Contests have a place as a starting point for a dancer.  By definition, they are a place for amateurs and new dancers to begin the process to build a reputation. You never see the top dancers in the business entering these competitions as they are already established. 

So any win is a “win” among the “wannabies”, which is fine, and as it should be, but it is not a win in the context of all the professional dancers in the business. 

So "Bellydancer of the Universe" is really "New Amateur Dancer of the Year" and as such, it has a value and contribution to make to the world of Bellydance.  There are many competitions in other dance forms, but you will never see dancers from the well-known Ballet companies entering them.  It is understood that they are starting points, amateur affairs. 

We at the BDSS now hold teen contests at our Raqs events for ages 13-19; we pay for the winners’ lessons with the teacher of their choice for a year plus free BDSS workshops.  The idea is to encourage continued study as well as bring in a younger generation to the dance in a bigger way.  We have three winners so far this year. 

We look upon such a win as a launching platform for more study and practice,not a statement that a dancer has now arrived and ready to teach others.


When dancers take these so-called “wins" back home and stick them up like a diploma, or indeed, buy a “win” (sometimes with the purpose of outdoing a competitor in the market so their school can be top dog) it makes a mockery of the whole process and belittles Bellydance in general. 

More often lately, the BDSS organization is asked to give out certificates to students who have attended a series of BDSS workshops.  Nobody has asked us to grade the students as to whether they actually learned anything or, indeed, whether they have any talent.  Everyone expects to get the certificate.  This makes the certificate simply an additional come-on perk for the student to use as a credit.  It’s about making more money. 

 If I were to fall into this practice, I would, in short order, have thousands of students of talent, as well as students with no talent, armed with a “BDSS Certificate", inferring that they were Bellydance experts.

This might make me more money in the short term, but it would not help Bellydance overall. It would, in the long run, undermine the reputation of the BDSS.  If we ever do give out any sort of certificate, it will be to dancers who deserve a credit and “have the goods”.

I have hundreds of Bellydance resumes on my desk.  I never read them because 99% of their credits are meaningless and tell me nothing unless they are a credit from a reputable school where study happened over an extensive period of time.   What good is a certificate, saying you took 10 lessons with so and so?  What does that tell me? 

There are a few teachers out there to whom I listen, and, of course, I always listen to our BDSS teachers when they come back from a workshop and tell me about one of their students who was exceptionally talented.  Sonia, Petite Jamilla, Sabah, Adore, Kami, Zoe, Moria, Samantha and Issam know better than anyone else what it takes to be part of BDSS and what we are looking for as a company.

In addition, we hold auditions at all our Raqs events.  But in the end for me it’s “seeing is believing”!  It is not the credits on your resume; it is what you deliver on stage, or at an audition, or in a workshop that counts.  If you can’t pull it off there, fifty pages of credits are meaningless.

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