Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition
Interview by Martha Duran
Video by GS staff
posted April 30, 2011
Bellydancer of the Universe has been one of the most popular Belly Dance Competition events of last few decades and in 2011 its popularity went on to an all-time-high intensity level as performers from all over the world reunited on our competition stage.
Out of many beautiful and skillful dancers presenting their talents the weekend of February 18th, 19th & 20th, only one took home the grand title of "Champion of Champions". Paula from Dominican Republic held the judges complete attention with her professionalism, outstanding skills and personality; which filled the stage of the Long Beach Convention Center. She also won the champion title of ¨Drum Solo” category.
On February 21, I got my chance to interview Paula and tap onto her experiences and plans for the future.
M-Where were you born?
P- In the City of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic
M- How did you begin your dance life?
P- Early in my childhood I wanted to be a ballet dancer but never could take classes. When I was 15 years old I auditioned to be part of a television program for children in my country; it was a type of show like "The Mickey Mouse Club". It was all about the dancing and the energy in the children that participated; they got to dance a lot of jazz dance. I got the part and participated in musicals, TV appearances, plays, among other things. In the Bellydance, I started at 17 and that was due to some classes taught in the gym I was attending. There were girls of all ages and shapes there, and a beautiful energy flowed during the class! It was love at first sight!
M-What role do you play in your dance community? Are you a dance teacher or concentrating on your role as a dancer?
A- Since I started dancing, I’ve seen myself as a dancer first. …Although, I have taught in my country for a while, but after studying in New York and Los Angeles, I have had a great desire to take what I’ve learned to my country and open my own dance studio very soon Then, I will be both teacher and dancer; right now I’m solely a dancer and performer.
M-To which dance style are you most related? With which dancer do you most identify?
A- There are so many dancers out there that inspire me! I love the delicacy, control, and strength in the hips of Zahra Zuhair and Aziza of Cairo, the sweetness of Sohair Zaki and Sahra Saeeda, the agressiveness of Jillina, the elegance of Yamil Annum and Yousry Sharif, the mischief of Tito, the control of Rachel Brice and many more.
I identify more with the Egyptian style because it is so smooth and strong at the same time, and above all, it is essential to connect the dancer to the music. I love it!
M- When you prepare for a performance, how do you choose your music? Do you prefer a drum solo, classical Egyptian music, bolero? What music resonates with you more?
P- I choose the one that makes me feel butterflies in my stomach. This usually happens with classical music, which I see as a challenge to represent. Also, I love the Depke, which is in my veins from my Caribbean roots.
M- When did you start competing in dance?
P- My first competition was the audition for "Bellydance Evolution" with Jillina in 2009, in Los Angeles, where I was one of the dancers selected to participate in the show and also received the title: "People’s Choice Winner".
M- Was this your first time in BDUC?
P-Yes, and it was a beautiful experience! I felt so welcomed and supported by all the people I met there. To see the level of the judges and competitors was intimidating and exciting all at once!
M- How did you prepare for the competition?
P- Well… My preparation for the competition was during a time of transition in my life. I moved back to my city after 6 years while preparing to open my dance studio. I did not have much time to practice, but I heard a lot of songs to "feel " the dance. I could only practice two or three times a week, but I kept doing exercises in the morning and practicing the shimmies whenever I had a chance.
M- How did you feel when you arrived in Long Beach for the BDUC?
P- Like a dream and happy to be able to attend! I felt anxious to see what was waiting for me. I kept telling myself, “Dance with the heart.”
M- How were you treated there?
P-As if everyone knew me. I was very well received and respected. I was supported strongly. Also, I wondered if I had come alone, and did I arrive there alone! It seemed that they wanted to make me feel at home.
M- When you were on stage competing, what could you see?
P- Oh, my Goodness! During the first piece, I remember seeing the faces of the judges, specifically Jillina, and Sahra Saeeda and that made me feel nervous! Then I said to myself, "Forget that you are competing and look at the audience." Then, I could see the faces of old dance friends who smiled and I really felt their support! In addition to the lady in the sound console and shop vendors, I tried to look at the whole audience to get them to feel that I was dancing to them sincerely.
M- How was the atmosphere in BDUC?
P- Wonderful! Everyone who was there loves Arabic music and respects Oriental dance. You can sense a sister and brotherhood and great joy between all attendees. Competitors were excellent! The judges and teachers of workshops were professional and friendly. Tonya and Atlantis make you feel very special, too.
M- What did you acknowledge while coming off the stage of BDUC?
P-That the most important thing is to be yourself, and be true. No matter what the circumstances, dance with your heart, and train your body enough to not have to think about it and just understand the music.
M- From your point of view, what did you see when it was time to announce the winners?
P-Oh! I could not believe it! I felt like a girl who gets a candy! Such a joy because (There is no explanation.) it is wonderful to receive an award for doing what you love most in life and something you’ve worked so hard to do so.
M- What’s in the future for the Champion of Champions of BDUC? What does this award mean to you?
P- I do not know exactly what will happen, but I know it’s a beautiful start to present a Dominican dancer to the dance world. One very important thing also is that this award means to me that dreams do come true. I always wanted to be a dancer, and I could never really make it work because my country does not considered it a true profession. I started at 17, but I had to stop and then restart the dance. It has been 3 years that I have been dancing full time. This award is a reminder to continue trying to achieve my dreams. I must work hard and never stop believing in them.
M- What sacrifices did you have to make to achieve such an award?
P- It was a huge monetary investment because California and the Dominican Republic are not in proximity. I had to sell some items from my studio in order to afford the trip. Also, I started training and everyday, I got up at 5 a.m. to walk several miles to keep fit and more active to have more energy during the day and had almost no time to practice. However, in the end, everything has enriched me as a dancer and person.
M- How do you describe Paula the Bellydancer?
P- I would describe myself as a person with many dreams to accomplish and someone who believes that anything is possible in this world if you put your heart into it and work hard.
M- What advice do you give out to other future competitors?
P-Prepare! Practice as much as possible without losing your nature, choose a dress that makes you feel beautiful and that fits the style or styles in which you will participate, and bring to Long Beach a huge smile to enjoy this beautiful experience. When I competed, the same advice was given to me by my teacher Zahra Zuhair: enjoy, relax and be yourself!
M- What Plans do you have for 2011?
P- I plan to open my new dance studio; I will name it “Tabla Dance Studio”. I wish to continue traveling to other countries and learn what happens in other communities in Bellydance. I will give what I can and take back to my country a little something of what happens outside.
M- What feedback did you get after your performance in BDUC?
P-Oh yes, it was so inspiring!
People came to me saying that they had loved and that I touched the audience with my presentation. Really, it’s best part of dancing, and it’s great that people whom you have admired for so many years share some support and many congratulations, like Helena Vlahos who congratulated me on my control while I was performing and complimented my elegance on stage. Also, I remember that at the end of the competition Sahra Saeeda and Amir Sofi told me that my dancing was beautiful; Louchia, and Jillina also congratulated me as did Sandra from San Francisco, Maryam of Mexico, Dilek and others who only knew me by performances, not personally. In addition, competitors I met gave me nice words of support at all times, and I got a lot of loving from all . It’s a surreal experience. I am grateful and inspired with what happened to me.
Hugs and shimmies to all!
Ready for more?
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