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What Sets Them Apart?

Amani Jabril

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?

Stage presence

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
Aya of Istanbul
Rafiah Dance Company

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  1. Dalal

    Jul 3, 2012 - 07:07:20

    My dance friend and I drove two hours to see this same show, and had the exact same experience. We had seen and taken classes or workshops from several of the Atlanta performers, and felt wowed and awed to see their performances, but were really disappointed in the BDSS half of the show. Even from a technical standpoint it seemed there was so much lacking. And we COULDN’T stand the number with the Cab girls going back and forth with the Tribal. But that was us personally, there was too much ballet in their cab dances and not enough belly dance in, well anything. This being my first time seeing BDSS of any kind, I was sorely disappointed. There is a “Wow” factor as you put it, that was lacking, a bit more connection with the audience, a tad more personality in the movements, what ever it is… I didn’t see it. We stayed and took Moria’s workshop the following day, and she is a wonderful person and explains things VERY well, and I really sensed a difference in how she performed verses watching her dance while she was teaching us. Maybe they were just off that night, the type of schedule they keep is beyond exhausting. All in all the event would have been just fine without the intermission 😉 

  2. Marie

    Jul 17, 2012 - 10:07:56

    You’ve hit the nail right on the head, to use a cliche.  I actually performed during the first half of the show they did in Orlando with my very special troupe of dancers with special needs.  We felt honored and excited to be there; our dancers were really over joyed to be a part of something so big.  They were opening for BDSS!

    We all stayed to watch the second part of the show featuring the same line-up of dancers as the Atlanta show.  I was incredibly underwhelmed.  My significant other has been dragged to several belly dance events featuring dancers from Orlando Bellydance, and  he was quick to comment that any one of Supira’s dance companies were as good as the BDSS he just watched.  

  3. Kamala Almanzar

    Aug 2, 2012 - 09:08:30

    In the (poorly translatable) words of the great Antonio Gades:

    “My dance troupe is human.  There are fat people, skinny people, bald people, tall people, women with big tits, with not tits; It’s a dancing village, not a dance troupe that pretends to be a village.  Dance is not the steps, it’s what happens between steps.  It’s like bullfighting.  That’s why dancing slowly shows up bad dancers just like good bulls do with bad bullfighters,”   Antonio Gades.

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