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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.

Have a comment? Use or comment section at the bottom of this page or Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

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  1. Nepenthe

    Jul 12, 2009 - 04:07:48

    I could be crazy but I thought the reasons that DVDs were sold post-contest were for a) the contestants to see their own performance and b) future contestants to watch to study the winners.  I don’t know anyone who buys contest DVDs as entertainment.  Dancers go to BDSS performance videos, Hollywood/Peko, or Cheeky Girls Productions for that.

  2. Deirdre

    Jul 13, 2009 - 08:07:45

    There’s also the IAMED contest and their performance DVDs. But what Miles needs to understand is that the combination of Bellydancer of The Year and/or Bellydancer of the Universe competitions combined with publication in the IAMED DVDs has launched a number of dancers to the international stage, giving them the publicity that brings contracts for shows and workshops around the world.

    But Miles coming in and denigrating our dancers and institutions isn’t going to help.

    Sorry, Miles – the BDSS aren’t the only way to launch a career in Belly Dance.  And cosidering the tiny cookie-cutter of shape, size and age that is applied to your dancers, we’re lucky our brilliant dancers that don’t fit your vision of perfection have other outlets to publicity and distribution. Outlets that were here long before BDSS! You know, you could try working with us, with our contests and publicists, instead of attempting to set your BDSS up as the gold standard.

  3. Charlotte

    Jul 20, 2009 - 02:07:46

    Love this perspective re certificates and competitions – far too many “dancers/teachers”  use these angles to get students/credibility to what they teach – when ego comes into play so many dancers with real potential to really express the art in the original and an indiviual way as it was meant, just seem to lose the ability to dance from the soul.   Reality for every student dancer who enters any competition – who are the judges, what are the criteria and are the judges suitably qualified to “judge” this art form – so much gray area – reputations are built over time, not overnight.   All publicity works, good or bad!

  4. Miles Copeland

    Jul 21, 2009 - 09:07:47

    Deirdre seems to have missed my point.  Nowhere did I say the BDSS is the only launching platform for dancers.  Essentially I am cautioning new dancers to not be taken in by the ever increasing come ons that are offered purely as a means to get their cash for hopes of stardom and or the illusion of valuable credits.   I get offers all the time from our promoters around the world wishing to do some stunt or other to hype a concert or event so we can get more publicity and attract more to the shows.  The reason is pure and simple, to bring more money into the kitty NOT to elevate the dance itself.  More and more I see this happening in the bellydance community itself.  This is understandable as the competition hots up and dancers/sponsors seek new ways to be attractive in the competitive marketplace, and I can certainly understand our BDSS promoters wanting to hype a show.  My point is such things can in the end be counter productive and continue to deliver the impression that bellydance is not serious, not REAL art.  I WANT if not NEED this art to be taken seriously so when I feel something is happening that will hinder this process I will be prompted to comment. 
         To the other comment, I was not referring to the individual filming that is offered to dancers at Bellydance festivals that is for their personal use.

    Miles Copeland
    [posted for Miles by editor]

  5. Karen

    Jul 22, 2009 - 01:07:06

    I totally agree with Deidre–what’s wrong if a dancer enjoys participating in contests or earning a few bucks for a performance in a dvd?  Bellydance opportunities are few, so any legit outlet (that’s not stripping or degrading), is great if it gives a chance to dance and a chance to get bellydance in front of the public.  Is Miles worried other bellydance organizations will take something away from BDSS?   


    The only development for the future of bellydance that BDSS is interested in, is the that of the young 13-19.  And within the REAL bellydance community, it is common knowledge and commonly accepted that BDSS only promotes bellydancers that are thin and young.  I may be truly the best dancer, but I’m too old, too short, and too fat for BDSS.  It’d be nice to see BDSS really promote the best of bellydance, but BDSS is VERY narrow-minded–not just in shape and age, but now competition! 

  6. Deirdre

    Jul 22, 2009 - 06:07:24

    Yes, Mr Copeland, nowhere did you say “the BDSS is the only launching platform for dancers. ”

    What you *did* do is conflate the long established and respected Bellydancer of the Universe Competition with the vague and  scarily harmful competitions that you did not name. This, in politics, is known as “spin”. If you would like to focus on the competitions that you believe are harming belly dance, why would you only name one that is clearly helping to find talented artists? This is why the article makes little sense as anything so mild as “cautionary advice”.

    Now, if you’d taken as much time to clearly and carefully word the article as you did your response to my comment, perhaps there would be less misunderstanding. But, unfortunately, you persist in leaving  “the ever increasing come ons” as un-named threats lurking in our midst. You, sir, are still spinning. 🙂

    Also, to other dancers, let me be clear: I do not think that competitions make a great dancer. All they do is provide experience, feedback, and exposure.  All of which are quite valuable.

  7. Vince

    Jul 24, 2009 - 06:07:21

    Why does someone have to put down another very credible and reputable event to make themselves feel more important or knowledgeable?  The people that produce these competitions are  established and reputable and have nothing but the  highest regard for the dance.   They  know what it is like to be a dancer.

    Why do you name only BDUC?  You dismiss the reputable and well established BDUC competition.  At the same time you sponsored the Junior Category at the 2009 BDUC and renewed your sponsorship for 2010. You actively recruit its competitors and winners for your tour.  The first leg of the Superstar tour featured BDUC winners and runners-up – Dondi, Jayna, Ranya, Etc.  Even your biggest star, Jillina, was a BDUC First Runner-up and Peoples Choice winner before she was a Belly Dance Super Star.

    You state that Dancers are the worst Judges.  What makes you a makes a better judge?  You have been involved in the dance for a few years.  The Producers and Judges of the BDUC have been performing, teaching and working with dancers of all levels daily for their whole lives.

    IMO, as far as competition judging, the BDUC People’s Choice award is the greatest honor and recognizes the most entertaining dancer, where the Judges’ awards tend to honor the best technical dancer. A winner of both is true super-star.

    Winning a reputable, established competition is a big step for a dancer who chooses to make a career of the Dance.  The BDUC hosts some of the finest dancer from all over the world.  These women have worked hard for years to learn the Dance technique, choreograph, music, passion that it take just to compete.  Most are already working professionals and you dismiss them as amateurs.  It is an insult to all those who compete.

    There are many fly-by-night competitions (IBDC Las Vegas, anyone?)   And there are many who will take advantage of that desire with  competition “come-ons”.  It strikes me that much of what you offer is the come-on without the cash prizes.  You even started the BDSS with a competition.  I understand you want to develop talent, but you also want to own her by controlling her career.  I see now another reason for the high turn over at BDSS – it’s not just the lousy transportation and accomadations

  8. Miles Copeland

    Jul 27, 2009 - 10:07:44

    My many years in the Music Business made me pretty immune to criticism as throughout the years, no matter what band/group/singer/enterprise one was promoting/working with there was a well established critique environment via the many music business magazines that delivered a regular stream of both good, bad or indifferent reviews.  One learned to take the good with the bad.  Often the reviews were useful pointers to what you were doing right, just as often the appeared to be a momentary whim of some reviewer who thought it was more clever or discerning to be critical rather than complementary.  Some of the reviewers could be merciless in their critique and they thought nothing of it when they were.  It was good to develop a thick skin.  This critique environment exists in all of the arts, certainly in sports and quite definitely in Politics.  It goes with the territory of being in the public eye.  From the reviewers standpoint the old adage of “if you cant stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” is the rule.
         I have been surprised that in the world of bellydance there is precious little critique, and when there is it always causes what I consider to be gross over reaction.  I do not include the BDSS nor me in this because we did get harsh critique from the beginning as some people made negative assumptions and since I was not “of the bellydance community” I was fair game for abuse.  I know Gilded serpent has on occasion published an article that has caused offense to one party or another, perhaps inadvertently.  In any other art such critique would be taken in stride.  In fact such critique would be expected.  In bellydance it is most likely to result in the “offended party” cancelling advertising.  What’s more, in bellydance it seems getting offended is quite easy.  I know the bellydance magazines tread carefully for this very reason.  You are not likely to see any remotely negative critique of any dancer or event who advertises.  Unlike almost all other arts publications, there is a definite link between advertising and content.  Gilded Serpent is an exception which is why I read it before any other publication.
         Meanwhile I have to say that the negative critique the BDSS got in the beginning did not hurt us in the slightest, in fact it helped.  We became the most talked thing on the bellydance internet because we did NOT get offended, we answered the critique.  If this art is ever to really be take seriously it will have to grow up and accept critique just like every other entertainment art form and the dancers will have to learn that critique is part of the game.  If you think you are good enough to dance in public and get paid for it, you had better be willing to have a few shots taken at you.  If you put on an event and run it badly, you should get called out on it.  That will encourage everyone to do better and learn from mistakes. 
         I would say more than anyone out there the BDSS has had the benefit of critique as we were safe for people to critique so we got plenty.  The same is not true of other bellydance shows and they suffer for it.  Without critique an art lives in a vacume.  In a vacume an art will never be taken seriously.  
    Miles Copeland
    [posted from Miles by editor]

  9. Deirdre

    Jul 27, 2009 - 01:07:04

    To Miles’ last post: I must agree, good critique is hard to find. I have traveled far and wide to get good feedback, and treasure those teachers who can provide it. I have also found competitions to be an excellent source of feedback – the notes from the judges don’t pull nearly as many punches. Perhaps because they’re not delivered in person?

    But when something or someone is subjected to inaccurate or misleading critique (i.e. BDUC), or inaccurately conflated with those that do deserve critique (as yet unnamed groups), it is entirely reasonable to speak up against the criticism.

    Since you have not yet “answered the critique” of your article, the discussion of critique and taking offense reads more like an eloquent effort at avoiding the direct questions.

    I don’t know, maybe it’s best to not be more specific..? But in that case, why not avoid all specifics? Why not just say “If you want to be in BDSS, don’t do x, y and z?” Why attack non BDSS means of gaining exposure?

    Is it just that negative press is still good press? 😉

  10. Shaia Fahrid

    Aug 25, 2009 - 01:08:37

    Miles, I have to admit that I was so distracted by grammatical, syntax, spelling, and punctuation errors that I barely grasped your point!  Please, have someone proof your writing…like me!  I am not trying to be mean, it’s just a pet peeve.  That off my chest, I can now go back and reread what you wrote.

  11. hallah moustafa

    Sep 15, 2009 - 04:09:25

    hi f rom cairo!!!  i do have to comment on the part of miles’article that says that the winners of these competitions are not professional dancers. there have been quite a few winners of bd/universe that are talented pros. i have judged forthe bd/ universe competions and think that the contestants and judges are totally qualified. love, hallah moustafa

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