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Making Superstars Out of Top Dancers

BDSS Tour 2012

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by Miles Copeland
Photos by Sophia Harris
posted October 31, 2012

From the beginning, the Bellydance Superstars troupe has had the great fortune to attract the top dancers in the field even though, at first, we were criticized within the bellydance community for “having no stars”; so how dare we call the troupe the Bellydance Superstars?  Rachel Brice, Sonia, Jillina, Amar Gamal, and Ansuya, all from our first cast, were apparently “not stars”, as they were relatively unknown outside their local bellydance communities.

My point (perhaps with a combination of arrogance and naivety) was that even the most known within the bellydance community, who might be stars in their community, had never been heard of by the general public and indeed for the most part are still unknown to the general public.  To be honest, even with all the TV and other media exposure the BDSS has received the general public may to some small degree have heard of the Bellydance Superstars but I seriously doubt if any of those people could actually name one of the dancers.  We have a long way to go before that happens.

Therefore, my calling a dancer a superstar purely based on talent and skill rather than “name value” was just as valid as any other means of determining a “star”.

Of course, it was not long before the talent of these dancers (followed by Sharon Kihara, Kami, Zoe, Bozenka, Petite Jamilla, Sabah, etc. etc) was recognized within the bellydance community itself and as the profile of the BDSS became bigger and bigger in over 800 shows in 22 countries, I no longer had to justify the title “Bellydance Superstars”.

In the course of developing the BDSS troupe, I have come to learn what many other troupe producers from other dance genres have had to learn: Working with dancers, especially female dancers, means one has to take a long view and realize that there will be turnover. Since dancers will marry, have children, get too old for the rigors of the road, (or a husband or boyfriend might put pressure) means long tours are out.  

Additionally, within the BDSS, we have seen the general skill level of bellydance itself increase all over the world – perhaps partly, or greatly, inspired by our work. This means that as one dancer retires, finding new dancers who can not only live up to the past work, but push the envelope further so that we always exceed expectations, is harder and harder.

I have to admit when Petite Jamilla told me she was going to have a baby and could not do the Winter Tour, I began to worry about the cast for the tour, as well as the choreography.  As a company, we had already decided that our “back line” was now so strong that the idea of front stars and back up dancers no longer made any sense; therefore, we were not using all our talent. 

We had also decided to involve more of the troupe members in producing choreography to give us new ideas, and a diversity we did not have when Jillina did most of the choreography. 

Still, there was a risk and we would not really know where we were until after a few days of rehearsal.  As a producer, that is uncomfortable; with a reputation to keep up the thought of finding out we were not ready to tour and had no time to fix the show, squarely puts the burden of blame on the producer and worst of all, could well damage the years of work we had all put into this venture.


Inka , Samira- top of page

On the positive side, we knew that the Club Bellydance Tour had shown not only exceptional dancing from our newest members Victoria (on the East Coast USA tour) and Inka (on the European tour), but also challenging group choreography ideas developed on that tour by Sabah, Moria, Sabrina and Stefanya.   The Spanish tour proved just how far Nathalie had emerged as a top rate dancer, as well as Rebecca – each now totally capable of moving forward.   We also knew April Rose, fresh from her college graduation, was now able to join us full time.  Also, Samira Sitara as our Tajik and Uzbek dance aficionado with a unique and always exciting approach to dance was bound to once again push the envelope of bellydance fusion.

Rebecca
Rebecca dances to Issam

So the dance talent was obviously there, but having it all fall into place, and in time, was going to be the make or break of the show.

Meanwhile, the title of the show, in this case "The Magic of Dance", became more and more about not only appealing to the core bellydance community and its fan base, but also, to attract a wider dance audience.  No troupe this size with these expenses can live purely on the size of the bellydance community.  I wish we could, but so far, the community is just not big enough to support expensive productions.  The fact from which we can’t escape is that Bellydance Superstars have to appeal to more than just the bellydance interest. At the same time, we cannot stray too far from bellydance because that would make us “just another dance show” with no core identity. What has always made the Bellydance Superstars unique within the broader dance community is that we remain the only professional show touring within the general performing arts circuit that uses the art of bellydance as the core dance focus.  That has made our challenge complicated as you don’t want to lose on one hand what you gain on another.  More than anything, it has meant that we need dancers who really are outstanding bellydancers, but at the same time can deal with more complex choreography and fusing other dance forms into bellydance (convincingly) for dancers from any dance discipline to appreciate.

I have now seen bellydance shows in many countries, and auditioned over 3,000 dancers, and whereas I am glad to say the general standard has improved from the time when we first started, I find it increasingly hard now to find dancers for our show as our requirements have also become more demanding.

For this tour, we hired a new dancer, who was a strong bellydancer, but during rehearsals, it soon became apparent that without a deeper dance training than bellydance only, she just could not handle the choreography and the skills needed to do what we do.  At the audition where we found her, I was disappointed that most of the applicants could not even chaine across the room in a straight line.  That would appear basic to any dance show!  If you can’t do that, you can’t hope to perform in a professional troupe, unless it is purely as a soloist, and our show is not just about solos. 

For the “Magic of Dance” show, I left more than usual to chance and kept my fingers crossed.  It was not a smart thing to do, but I would have to say that I got lucky. 

Perhaps, giving the dancers more rope to hang themselves meant that they made sure they did not do so.

In any case, this show stands up to our best and exceeds the past shows in many ways.  As no other bellydance show out there has this many great dancers in one troupe the “Magic of Dance” demonstrates just how powerful a dance form bellydance can be.  Hopefully, it will inspire more dancers to adopt bellydance as their prime dance interest, and additionally, inspire bellydancers to push themselves to greater heights.

More photos from the opening night of the "Magic" tour at Cowell Theater in Fort Mason in San Francisco, CA

Sabah flies!
Sabah flys!

iCompeting camps!
Women compete!

Samira contorts
Samira contorts

Inka works with Issam
Inka works with Issam

Victoria
Victoria takes a solo

Nathalie
Nathalie does bollywood

Sabrina
Sabrina gets low

Tribal glam
Tribal glam

The Group
The team

The set

Ft Mason at Sunset

Fort Mason at sunset

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   |       |    8 Comments

  1. No Gravatar
    Moorea

    Nov 1, 2012 - 03:11:43

    I’m sorry to say that more fusion numbers means I have less interest in the BDSS. I am especially disinterested in watching a contortionist in the context of a “bellydance” show.

  2. No Gravatar
    Patrick

    Nov 1, 2012 - 04:11:30

    It appears the gamble hasn’t paid off enough since the latter half of the 2012 Fall tour has been cancelled! I was extremely disappointed to find out that I wouldn’t get to see the Magic of Dance show because of lack of publicity on the part of the BDSS organisation. Or maybe the venues booked were too ambitious in terms of the number of seats to fill, or both. I feel this does not augur well for the future of the show for the whole troupe.
    Club Bellydance may be the thing that will replace the BDSS shows in times of slowed economies. The formula is very interesting, although we have yet to see that happen in our area. Like you said, the bellydance community cannot fill all the seats at each big venue, so there needs to be more mainstream advertising to catch people’s attention, in fact now more than ever (especially if the dancers’ calibre is high). Going on national television in the case of this tour is a little too late to help what could have been a glorious tour and super booster for the organisation as a whole.
    I hope that a dvd will be made from this tour so that the fans who would have liked to see the show, but couldn’t, will get a chance to do that.
    Finally, hats off to the dedicated hard work on the part of the dancers who sweat it to make bellydance a dance that deserves to be seen by all!

  3. No Gravatar
    Emma

    Nov 5, 2012 - 02:11:57

    Um, surely if the general skill level has gone up around the world it would be EASIER to find dancers who could live up to the past work? Regardless of that, the BDSS lost my interest years ago as they systematically removed the belllydance from their shows.

  4. No Gravatar
    TerriAnne Gutierrez

    Nov 5, 2012 - 08:11:26

    I LOVE reading the articles that Miles writes about the Superstars. I like the human accept he gives to the tour, and the inside view. 
    Keep it up Miles, thank you…
     

  5. No Gravatar
    Sierra

    Nov 6, 2012 - 12:11:45

    Just reads like one giant advertizing/marketing piece.  I admire contortionists and their abilities…for dancing it looks very bizarre in my opinion.

    Great job Sophia Harris with your photography!!!! 

  6. No Gravatar
    Barbara Grant

    Nov 6, 2012 - 06:11:33

    That’s right, Sierra…Sophia should be highly complimented on her photography. Talent at such a young age, too!

  7. No Gravatar
    Stasha Vlasuk

    Nov 7, 2012 - 04:11:00

    This article mentions founding troupe dancers Jillina (among others), what’s the story behind her leaving? Curious dancers want to know!

  8. No Gravatar
    Mina

    Nov 17, 2012 - 11:11:59

    While I appreciate the ambition of BDSS, it seems, Mr. Copeland, that you’ve missed some of the point of bellydance on a local, and international level. 

    You mention that you’ve changed the show in order to reach out beyond the ‘dancer’ crowd. Why not take away the bells and whistles and refocus on what bellydance is, as an artistic expression with roots stemming from folkloric dances from various Middle Eastern companies? You can still have the variety of the different styles of bellydancing, including the tribal dancing of the Western world, but you’re ignoring a very large, potential audience who is more at ease with the dance.  

    Why do we need contortionists and Bollywood and ‘Polynesian fusion’ to canned music when you could have a live band? Feature up-and-coming superstars, and feature superstars that have been around! Bellydancers don’t need to chaine across the floor – they need to be able to connect with the music and their audience. Does your show help them do that?

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