What Sets Them Apart?
by Jhavia Nayeli
photos by Charlie Smith
posted July 3, 2012
The other evening, as I looked at the starry night sky, I reflected on stars of a different sort. Mentally, I traveled back to earlier in the year–around mid-February. I was filled with excitement; I had just purchased a ticket to see the Bellydance Superstars! They were on their "Club Bellydance Tour”, and Atlanta was one of the places that would be graced with their presence. I purchased my ticket about a month in advance, and immediately started counting down the days.
After what seemed like an eternity, the night finally arrived! I made sure that I was at Oglethorpe University shortly after 7pm–a half hour before the show was scheduled to begin. I couldn’t help but smile as I waited for the belly dancing to begin. The festivities commenced with Atlanta-based belly dancers, including Awalim, Samora, Amoraat, Aya of Istanbul, Amani Jabril, and Rafiah Dance Company. I had seen all but one of these local stars perform before, and I expected nothing less than the stellar showmanship that I had come to know and love.
I was not disappointed; Atlanta’s raqs-stars shimmied up a storm! When they were finished, I was overwhelmed with pride. These were the women whom I called teachers, inspirations, and shimmy sisters. The performances were varied, and a true representation of Atlanta’s belly dance community: dynamic, poised, diverse, passionate, and energetic.
After a brief intermission, it was time for the BDSS half of the show. Could this extravaganza get any better? I assumed so, because the Bellydance Superstars were in the building; my expectations were sky high!
The dancer line up included Sabah,Petite Jamilla, Lauren, Moria, Stefanya, and Sabrina. All of the BDSS dancers were gorgeous, but I couldn’t tell “who was who”. Also, the choreography, in which the cabaret and tribal dancers performed together, was unique–yet confusing.
I wanted to enjoy it, but I just didn’t “get” it!
There didn’t seem to be a theme, and the dances were incongruous. Each performance seemed too long, because I wasn’t intrigued or drawn in. Honestly, I found myself paying more attention to the costumes and the music than the dancing itself; the technique of each dancer was superb, but the performance wasn’t moving or memorable. Well, except for one performance: Petite Jamilla was lovely. She looked like a spinning white lily onstage as she twirled endlessly–with two veils.
Once the show was over, I had a mixture of feelings. On one hand, I had just seen the Atlanta area dancers perform brilliantly, but on the other hand, I was disappointed by the BDSS. I was expecting them to give a show that I would reminisce about vividly for years to come; one that would serve as a source of inspiration for me as a student and fan of belly dance. Instead, I was left wondering why they were considered the "Bellydance Superstars."
What exactly makes someone a superstar of belly dance?
This question plagued me for weeks. I researched for answers from among dancers from both the past and present who were and are considered superstars: Mahmoud Reda, Tahia Carioca, Najia Marlyz, Fifi Abdou, Tito Seif, Jamila Salimpour, Rachel Brice, Leila Farid, Zoe Jakes, Princess Farhana… …my list goes on. The dancers I explored were as varied as the stars in the night sky. However, I think that there are common factors that add up to equal a superstar that each of these dancers exhibits: technical proficiency, stage presence, and the "wow" factor. Here is a little more of the considerations that define what I had in mind as I researched:
Is the dancer actually presenting the dance that he or she claims to represent? For example, are they claiming to be performing American Cabaret when they are in fact showcasing Tribal Fusion? Also, are the dance moves being executed correctly?
Does the dancer command attention? Is their performance personality engaging? Are they expressive and capable of conveying emotion appropriate to the music? Do the costume, music, and dance all work together cohesively?
The "Wow" factor
What sets them apart from other accomplished dancers? What makes them unique? Do they have their own style? Some call it the “wow! factor”, some, the “it factor”.
The Bellydance Superstars certainly had the technique part of dance down, but it takes more than technique to be a true superstar. To my eyes, there didn’t seem to be any passion or emotion; I wasn’t "wowed." Even Petite Jamilla’s performance, although memorable both technically and stylistically, did not come across as passionate or emotionally-fueled. In short: Superstars display a mixture of personal light, spirit, and individuality that cannot be duplicated.
I understood, admired, and appreciated what Miles Copeland wished to accomplish when he formed the BDSS, but I didn’t agree with what the troupe’s name asserted. I saw dancers who were physically attractive, technically proficient, well traveled, and internationally adored, but that does not equal inherently the title of "superstar."
Thinking in Galactic terms
There are millions of stars in the sky, but there are only a select few "superstars," such as our Sun and our North Star. There are even groups of stars that, when viewed collectively, are extraordinary, like Orion’s Belt or the Big Dipper. I expected that the belly dancers who are touted as superstars would be the belly dance world’s equivalent of those galactic entities! Superstars shine brightly, and are recognizable from millions of miles away. I could easily identify the star qualities in the dancers I researched, as well as in the Atlanta dancers. With the Bellydance Superstars, I just didn’t see their light… Maybe I need to see them in a different venue, from a different perspective. Perhaps next time, I should bring a telescope.
Aya of Istanbul
Rafiah Dance Company
Ready for more?
- 2-17-06 This is Not a Review: Bellydance Superstars
Herein lies one major flaw concerning the concept of superstardom in Bellydance: choreography. While choreography is a form of quality assurance, it is also assurance that the quality attained will be less than stellar in Bellydance!
- 7-11-09 Certifications & Contests: Are They Meaningful?
Its as if the contest win were a diploma, her ticket to teach!
- 2-7-09 BDSS Update: New Choreographers contribute to 2009 Show
I will admit that I have never been a big fan of the more ‘folkloric’ approach to Bellydance, but then again I have to be open to try something new with each show.
- 9-8-08 Carl’s Raqs LA Photos, Best from the Stage on the Lower Level
Photos by Carl Sermon text by Carl Sermon, Ma*Shuqa and Marta Schill
- 4-8-08 Divorcing Belly Dance From Burlesque
As it is traditionally understood, I do not find Burlesque, (meaning nudity-no matter how hard one pretends it does not) amusing or creative in the slightest when it comes to including Belly dance, an art that has suffered too long with such unfortunate associations. I find it completely irresponsible and detrimental.
- 1-25-05 Intruder, BEWARE!
"How dare they pollute our pond!"
- 1-7-05 Unchained!
Who the hell is Miles Copeland? And, what is he doing in our ancient and sacred world of Middle Eastern dance?
- 7-27-04 Belly Dance Superstars at DNA Lounge page 2
More eye candy! Performing in one of the most trendy clubs in San Francisco!
- 7-15-04 Belly Dance Superstars at DNA Lounge
Saturday, April 17, 2004 San Francisco, CA. Yes, that is Petite Jamilla playing a bagpipe!
- 7-2-12 Leaving Space for Others Opinions, Thoughts while Attending IBCC 2012
In these moments, I find it challenging to remember that my responses are a reflection of my own belief systems, which may overlap, counter, or side-step someone else’s.
- 6-28-12 Mendocino Camp Photos Page 2:Monday, Joshkun and Company are Back Playing in the Woods! Middle Eastern Music and Dance Camp 2011
The air is rich with music everywhere you go, and even in the lines for lunch or dinner there will be spontaneous drumming jams and improv dance sessions.
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- 6-26-12 Video Interview with Princess Farhana and Surreyya, Part 2
This series of interviews was filmed April 26, 2012. Surreyya and Princess Farhana came to the Gilded Serpent office for a visit. This part discusses current trends in our community involving the crossover between cabaret and tribal.
- 6-22-12 Cairo in 1991-Snake Dancer Tapestry
This is a revision of footage taken on a dancers trip to Egypt. This portion was taken while shopping. We found a applique tapestry of a snake dancer!
- 6-18-12 Drawing Together: Discussion, Discoveries, Diversity, IBCC 2012: International Bellydance Conference of Canada
I made some unexpected discoveries about our dance and my place in it. I was aware of how far the dance has come since I started out in 1972, how much it has changed and how much it is changing still. I finally put the whole tribal/fusion dilemma into a place in which I feel comfortable. So much of what holds me back from accepting change is fear, fear that what I know will change and will no longer be acceptable.