Gilded Serpent presents...

Challenging Hypocrisy

A Response to Miles Copeland‘s Article

Tonya directs the competion

by Tonya Chianis
posted August 16, 2009

Since you chose to include us in your negative and most hypocritical article published in the Gilded Serpent, we feel we must respond, although in reality dignifying a response to ego and hypocrisy is seldom worth the trouble.  However, we will do so for the sake of clarity and for the sake of all legitimate and worthwhile competitions including the Olympics.

Growth of Belly Dance Competitions
Yes more and more people are getting into the "Belly Dance Act," but isn’t that the way of the world?  Whenever anything is successful, people everywhere always jump on the bandwagon, some not knowing how incredibly expensive events can be and others with ample resources who spend it foolishly and vainly.

Ever since "Dancing with the Stars" started on TV, competitions focusing on every aspect of life have become the norm.  People who are so Hollywood conscious immediately try to emulate these events, some with success and others without.  People don’t realize how incredibly expensive and difficult it is to produce a fair and well-run competition.  When you have spent as many years creating an event such as the Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition you will know how difficult it is to keep testing your own creativity to come up with new and fair ideas – only to find someone has taken all your hard work and effort to start their own project.

One can only look to the positive and appreciate that we are in a wonderful country that allows free enterprise.  The ethical way has been to promote one’s own competition but not to degrade someone else’s.

You, a veritable newcomer to the Belly Dance world, have completely implied that your little competition is the only fair one around, because you offer money to the teachers for further dance lessons.  Where do you think prize money to the winners of a competition goes?  At least the winner of ours and other competitions has the right to use their winnings as they see fit, and if they choose to spend it on more dance education all the more power to them.  But, if someone has a family crisis and that money is needed, how wonderful that they can do their part to help with the money coming from something they have achieved.

DVDs as a Step on a Career Path
A troupe on Stage at BDUC09Presenting the winner of a competition in a DVD or even someone who is trying to promote their own DVD is a wonderful thing. If it is poor quality and people don’t like it they won’t watch it. But if it is good, the people watching can learn great things. Some of our greatest treasures are the videos of our vintage dancers. The quality isn’t good on many but they’re worth their weight in gold and they are most always viewed as study tools or as cultural enrichment.  Also, do you really expect people to believe that you give your dancers editing rights or quality control as you say you do?  You are the quality control you speak of, and I’m sure your DVD’s are fine, but you wouldn’t stop a full production on a DVD if a dancer didn’t like the way she looked.  It wouldn’t be cost effective. DVD’s are almost always a great source of pride to dancers and help many dancers to become known, get work and provide education to other dancers.  Yes, it’s always hard financially to make a profit with so many others promoting DVD’s and competitions, but at least as you have stated, you have money.  Others are happy to make enough to keep going and it is almost always a labor of love.

You claim that trying to compete in the marketing of dancers already on DVD’s is not worthwhile. 

A popular dancer has her own following and people who love her will continue to buy her DVD’s regardless of how much exposure she has had.

Just like movie stars; however, some movie stars have more longevity and can keep going through the different stages of their lives.  For a dancer, it is quite different.  A popular dancer has a great gift to give to the marketer of her product, and it’s the gift of her ability to make people want to see her at that time in her life.

Your concept is to promote new (young) talent.  This is nothing new.  Talent shows have gone on for ever and of course the fresh (new) dancer on the scene is always exciting.  But because she is new to you doesn’t mean she hasn’t been a professional for a very long time.  You are just another stepping stone toward her evolution in dance. You do the same thing competitions do, but you have the money to take them on the performance trail (should they want to), and that is really what it is all about.

Atlantis talks with the judges of one of the categoriesThere are not a lot of great dancers that can handle the kind of life style you provide for the Super Stars.  Also not many really want to tour due to being true to their multiple responsibilities.  Many promoters feed on their talent, believing that because they are young they are also ignorant and won’t complain.  The other side of the coin is that once a dancer becomes popular, her price goes up  along with her demands, and sooner or later she evolves into the next adventure in her life and says goodbye to the old.  In many cases this is a wise thing for them to do, for many promoters of new and young talent want them in the first place because they are beautiful, young and talented and sooner or later as they grow older, and a few pounds heavier, they are let go and replaced with the new young fresh talent they got from an audition or a Competition!

Competition Participation as a Step on a Career Path
You derided winning a Competition as a way to hype a performer’s career…why should all the wonderful dancers (that are not interested or can’t be a SuperStar) not be given opportunities to do their part to bring great good to the dance community? They have this occasion to display  their talents and  sportsmanship, as well as build their self-esteem and launch themselves into another facet in their careers.  You also state that the worst judges of dancers are other dancers.  This comment is pathetic and hypocritical. The judging panel of The Belly Dancer of the Universe is comprised of many of the greatest dancers of our time. There are no dancers more qualified than Sahra Saeeda, Helena Vlahos, Aisha Ali, Angelika Nemeth, Amina Goodyear, and Marta Schill,
(each to their own style), to name a few, who are capable of having the knowledge necessary to judge.  Who would you have Judge?  Sorry, you are entitled to an opinion, but you are not judging material.  You haven’t paid your dues as a dancer. You are a promoter. Your shows are good because of the dancers in them and again so many Super Stars have been former competition winners. They were also all professional dancers at the time they competed.  I’m sure you will find all the competitors in the major categories in competitions, were and are Professional dancers.  How insulting can you be to the dance communities and your very own Super Stars. 

Most everyone that has ever won the Belly Dancer of the Universe competition has been a professional dancer, because we designed our competition to be different from others and it’s quite difficult to meet many of the requirements.  Also, for those of you who are not aware, we never judge our own competition.  That’s what our great judging panel is for.

Miles and Sahra talk while at BDUC09You complained about dancers from other countries trying to buy trophies.  We were approached in the same way and refused the offer, but we have no control over the thinking and ways of other cultures.  This is not the fault of the competition.  If one were to agree to this, then they could be faulted.  People are after all, just people.  What if another country were to offer you money to let their representative be a Super Star?  Does that make the whole Super Star thing seedy and a complete Joke?  Competitions are for dancers in the beginning, intermediate _and_ final stages of their careers.  It is their choice and I know the preparation that many of these fine dancers have given when entering a competition. It can equal the time your people spend rehearsing.  They are prepared and they are giving their personal best.  Amateur – only in your mind or the mind of a person not qualified to know the difference.

The Title of Our Competition
Yes, we are the Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition. Don’t like our title? Don’t think our champions should be called that?  Well what about Super Stars (that could actually refer to some super gaseous experience in outer space), and those wonderful dancers are certainly more than that.. And whether you think our Champions are not the greatest dancers in the world, and are mere beginners, think again.  At that given moment, they are the Best In the Universe!  This is the greatest title we felt we could bestow on these courageous, talented and beautiful men and women who give their all in the name of their art.

Our promise is to keep doing everything in our power to present a reputable, fair and respectful competition knowing that the Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition is the perfect catalyst to launch the careers of its Champions to the highest of heights. 

We feel all our contestants are champions because (they put it on the line).   May all dancers always continue to be "Wanna Be’s" and keep reaching for the brightest star in the universe.  It is always (Your Choice)! On behalf of the Belly Dancer of the Universe Competitions 20th year, 20l0 Presidents’ Day Weekend, Feb. l3 and l4th – We wish you well and we thank you for your past sponsorships, but from now on, we choose to be on a different planet.

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  1. Amar

    Aug 17, 2009 - 08:08:10

    Question to Miles: What do your dancers do when they are no longer with the Superstars? I suspect they do exactly what other professionals must do to survive: perform, produce concerts and DVDs, market themselves, teach and participate/direct in existing events (including competitions), etc.  Also, Miles, you need an editor – your rationale gets smushed by some incoherencies in language and disorganized content.

  2. Miles Copeland

    Aug 17, 2009 - 04:08:04

    I have a lot more appreciation for the ins and outs of bellydance than Tonya gives me credit for and I certainly meant no insult to her competition.  I mentioned it only because it was the only one that I know of that I can see has any real support within the community and it serves a useful purpose and has done so for many years.  (If I have missed another one, or gone blank on one I should know about forgive me)My comment was in no way meant to belittle her event.  In fact, I was only noting it because I considered it good event, that I in fact attended for two days earlier this year.
         The main thrust of my comments relate entirely to the work that many of us, Tonya included, have taken on to enhance the status of this dance.  Tonya and many others have done it a lot longer than I have and I have great respect for that.  But so far few, if any, face the daily challenge of planting this dance firmly in the mainstream as I do.  My perspective therefore must be somewhat different.  Over 650 shows in 21 countries, and 5 annual bellydance events will do that.  I would hope people would recognize this, even ones who are perfectly happy, or even prefer to see bellydance remain within its own realm outside what the other dance arts consider to be the “mainstream”.  (I of course consider bellydance already in the mainstream but there are many who still disagree).
         I just returned from several Asian countries and once again faced the constant request for the BDSS  to give “certificates” at the end of the workshops.  When I asked “what if a student just showed up and had no aptitude whatsoever for bellydance does she still get a “certificate”?  The answer was always yes.  On the surface saying on a piece of paper that someone took a workshop does not sound like a big deal, but in Asia, and I believe elsewhere, these are being used as credentials to justify dancers taking up teaching bellydance who in many cases have little if any clue as to what they are doing.  Even I, a relatively new kid on the block knows you cant take a few lessons in classes of 30-40 or more students and imagine you are now fit to teach bellydance.  Yet I know from reading many comments over the past few years on not only Gilded Serpent, but on Tribe and other sites that this is exactly what has been happening.  This does not happen in Ballet.  Why? Because there are known schools with rigorous training over lengthy periods of time that have given credibility to dance diplomas coming from those schools.  With a few exceptions Bellydance is not there yet and the few that do have real programs face the problem of not everyone agreeing with their take on bellydance for whatever reason, competitive rivalry being the obvious one.  This fact, more than any other, helps maintain the image of bellydance as an amateur pursuit or easy dance for anyone to do. 
         On one of my Asian stops  a teacher told me that she had taken a class recently from a teacher who looked so great from her resume.  Names like Raqia Hassan, Mahmoud Reda, BDSS teachers etc were among her “teachers” listed.  In fact, upon taking the class the teacher it turns out, was very low level and the extent of her “training” was having taken a few large group classes with the listed teachers. 
         When I recently rejected the idea of giving certificates for the upcoming workshops in Taiwan I was told “everyone else is doing it”.  Perhaps those teachers who have already given out certificates do not realize the extent of how their names and reputations are being used to build someone elses credentials, perhaps it does not matter to them as much as it does to me.  Working with so many teachers within the BDSS as well as with other teachers who work with us at our Raqs events, I cannot afford to have the BDSS name used lightly and with little regard for the long term reputation of the troupe and the teachers we work with.  Perhaps that makes me different from most others in bellydance and as such would give me a different perspective but I believe EVERYONE who is serious in this art has a stake in the overall reputation of the art so I am not so different in reality.  It is with that in mind that I was prompted to comment on Gilded Serpent.  Meanwhile I wish Tonya and her event long life and continued success. 
    Miles Copeland
    posted for Miles by editor

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