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Oriental Ensembles Awards

Gilded Serpent presents...
IBDC Part 3: The Community Response
Dream Big
by Betsey Flood
Photos contributed by Masouma Rose and Monica
part 1 IBDC Part 1- A Brand New Idea for Belly Dance: The Festival Idea in its Formative Years by Amina Goodyear
part 2 IBDC Part 2- A Gilded Serpent tale, Alex in Wonderland, by Amina Goodyear

What did those who attended that Las Vegas event last August – the one that strove to become the biggest belly dance convention ever -- think about their experience?  Their answers may surprise you. Gilded Serpent conducted in-depth interviews with people who attended the event in many different capacities: four vendors, three contest entrants, four workshop participants, five instructors-performers and one Friday night award recipient. We also spoke with one vendor who decided not to attend the event. These categories are not mutually exclusive.  For example, some of the instructors and performers were also vendors and some of the contest entrants were also workshop participants -- and most attended the shows.

Reader should note there are two caveats.  Most of those interviewed were extremely sensitive about being quoted, with most requiring that Gilded Serpent send them exact quotes for prior approval and editing if their names were to be used.  For that reason, we have decided not to use most of their names in this account (there are exceptions) but we did include some of the more telling comments and common observations that were made.

List of Teachers, Champions and others owed money
by GoldStar and when paid.
If your name is here without the info needed or needs to be added to the list,
please contact us.
paid? date?
Amira states all competitors have been paid.She will be sending updated list
Tribal Fusion Troupes

Tabu of Las Vegas. Members:
Inara, Nisha, Rraven

May 2, 2008
Ethnophonica of Las Vegas. Members:
Naimah, Fahtina, Serena, Christine, Gina
1st Runner up- $2000
May 4th
Jewels of Meihana
2nd runner up- $1000
Oriental Ensemble
Kim Youngmi & Kim Hyunjin-

Nadira's Fleurs d'Egypt- Seattle
1st Runner up- $2000
Vashti's Bellydance Odessey, Santa Cruz
2nd runner up- $1000
May 5
Folkloric Solo


yes-April 08
Estrella, CA
1st Runner up- $500
paid ?
Dilek- CA
2nd runner up- $300
yes-May 08
Little Isis

Puerto Rico

1st Runner up- $500
paid ?
 2nd Runner up- $300 

Lee Minsum

Korea -

1st Runner up- $500
paid ?
 2nd Runner up- $300
Maryam, Mexico

Cherika, UT
1st Runner up- $500
paid ?
Suma Bibi, CA
 2nd Runner up- $300
Namira, CA

 Lili Rosa, NV
1st Runner up- $500
paid ?
San Miguel
, FL
 2nd Runner up- $300
Fusion Solo


Texas -

LA, California
1st Runner up- $500
paid ? yes- June 08
Arish Lam
Puerto Rico
 2nd Runner up- $300

Andalee of Central Valley, California

due $1000 & airfare
1-15-08-not yet
1st Runner up- $500
paid ?  phone message left
of Nevada -
 2nd Runner up- $300
Sacha got paid"
Aubre, CA Champion
no plane tickets yet
of New York
1st Runner up- $500
of New York
 2nd Runner up- $300 
Performers, Teachers and Judges
Delilah and band
paid in full after accepting a discount,
yes- April 08
Layla Lotus- stage show
yes- Dec 2007
paid in person yes-April 08
Angelika Nemeth
paid in person
yes-April 08
Shareen el Safy
paid within a month after
Eva Cernik not paid yet (July 08)
Aida Nor  
Amir Taleb  
Mo Khazafy  
Zahra Zuhair paid at event
Aradia rumored not paid?
Amira phone message left
Jill Parker-
judged Tribal
partially paid
Lynn Smith- LV
judged Tribal
2 from Sheenedra
judged Tribal
Harry Saroyan celebrity, volunteer, advisor, no pay expected
Hala-- translator on the spot volunteer, no pay expected

The other issue is that 17 out of hundreds of participants is not a statistically significant number.  If we were to say “eight out of 17 people said ‘X,’” it wouldn’t mean anything at all.  So all this article intends to do is call out trends of common thought among those 17 people – which may reflect general trends of thought among all the participants.

IBDC was composed of the March 2007 press party and the series of events in early August 2007 (the workshops, competitions, evening shows, open stage shows and vending).  This article will offer an overview of what our respondents thought of each of those aspects of IBDC.

The Press Party
Several of the instructors and performers Gilded Serpent spoke with were invited to attend the press party, which included a red carpet where participants were filmed in interviews, a free dinner show (and drinks) and impressive rooms in which to stay overnight.  Lucy and Amani attended though they did not perform. Everyone wore evening formal wear.  Initially the thoughts some of those invited had were, “I hope they [Gold Star Productions] can pull this off.  If they can it will be a great event!”

In addition to the typical questions about the celebrities’ career paths or what they thought the future of Middle Eastern dance in the U.S. was, everyone interviewed was asked the rather leading question, “If  you were to have an event like this, where would you have it?” The obvious answer being “Las Vegas – of course!”

Others noted the “hollow” feeling that the half-empty ballroom had, in spite of the lively gala show by Aradia and Layla and the Lotus Dancers.  The hall had been set with tables for 200 with full plates of meza at every place setting but only 100 or 125 people attended.

The Visa Vortex
In order to understand how IBDC played out, it is necessary to explore what happened with the artist visas for Amani, her band and DinaShareen El Safy, who participated in IBDC as a performer, teacher, and judge, offered her help to the organizers who were experiencing last minute delays in obtaining artist visas for Amani and her musicians from Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Shareen had encountered a similar situation when bringing Mona El Said to the 1st International Conference of Middle Eastern Dance in 1997 from Egypt, but that was before 9/11 and the DHS. Now there is undoubtedly even greater scrutiny of applicants coming in from the Middle East.

In preparation for the convention, organizers of IBDC had filed foreign artist applications early on through their attorney and after submitting further paperwork, were now waiting on tenterhooks for the final approvals to arrive. Time was of the essence, with only a few days before the scheduled, much anticipated shows.  During this time Shareen was on the phone with the DHS, tracking the progress of the visas and trying to impress upon the agents the urgency to expedite them for the benefit of the many dancers who had traveled from around the world to be at the convention.

Finally, the visas for Amani and her band were all approved, but the next challenge was how to inform the American Consulate in Beirut. The papers were faxed to Lebanon to save time, but the consulate would only accept a hard copy of the INS-DHS approvals. Amani, with her packed bags waiting at the airport in Beirut, had been eagerly anticipating her trip to Las Vegas. She was on the phone with the organizers, concerned that she would need to board the plane immediately in order to arrive in time. After frustrating delays, Amani acknowledged the impossible time factors, and graciously emailed a letter of apology to the attendees. It was, after all, out of her hands.

The Workshops
The participants we interviewed who went to IDBC expressly to take class with Dina and Amani were extremely unhappy when the visas fell through and gave their overall experience at IBDC a very low rating.  They felt they had spent an exorbitant amount of money on travel and hotel rooms and were then given the option of taking classes from teachers most of whom they could have seen in their home town.  Some were not able to stay to take advantage of the substitute workshops for Dina and Amani later in the week The refund was slow to materialize for some and was given back very quickly to others we spoke with who admitted they were known to the organizers and therefore got their refund faster.

Others, who had a more flexible schedule and could stay for workshops with the likes of Tito, Aida Nour, Lubna and Mohammed Khazafy, said they were “excellent” and “I’d rate them all 10’s.” Another said “Four great Egyptians on the roster!”  Another took all of Aida Nour’s workshops and raved about them.

Other U.S.-based teachers were asked to substitute who had not been hired as workshop instructors earlier on and the reception was very positive. “Shareen [el Safy] is like going to Egypt,” one person said.

Other comments were that there were too many workshops at the same time – sometimes six concurrently.  “Overkill” was the word used and some highly qualified instructors were seen with only two or three people in their classes.

The Vending
All vendors described the exorbitant charges of the union load -- paying union workers buy the pound to cart in the merchandise (a phenomenon seemingly limited to Las Vegas). If you didn’t sell much, there was a similar charge to cart things out. 

One large U.S. vendor believed the prices were “rapacious” and decided not to go to IBDC.  She was not alone.  Others mentioned the fact that some of the larger vendors, who were easily bringing in 1,000 pounds of merchandise ended up being charged upwards of $1,000 – a “sock in the stomach,” one says.  One of them may have negotiated a better price with the organizers.  Smaller vendors who managed to surreptitiously wheel in a few suitcases may have ‘flown under the radar.”

Gold Star Productions had apparently planned for 200 vendors (the hall could certainly accommodate them) but ended up with about 47, a great disappointment to those workshop participants who were shopping for very specific items they could not find. Some of the vendors that were present were selling unusual items for a belly dance convention; decorated drain stoppers, watches, hookahs, glittery insoles for shoes and a fundraising booth for the American Cancer Society were mentioned.

The vendors were literally a quarter of a mile away from where the workshops and shows were – and were separated by a partition from the open stage.  Another unusual Las Vegas law would have levied a 35 percent entertainment tax on the organizers if the wall had not been there. 

Since there was a charge early in the week to attend the open stage performances, not many people were present on the other side of the wall anyway. One person mentioned an audience of five or six.  Vending was not allowed in the hallways outside the shows because of fire laws. Add to this poor attendance at IBDC in general.  By Tuesday the vendors were, in someone’s words, “completely freaked out.”

After several days, the laws were relaxed.  To fill up the cavernous ballroom, the organizers gave the vendors extra booth space, which they liked a great deal.  Later, tickets for the shows were given to the vendors to appease them and to fill up the audiences.  Gold Star also charged no admission for the open stage later in the week and opened a door in the wall between the vending and the open stage room so that the vending space was more accessible.  By Friday night, the vendors were selling their goods in the halls by the shows.

No vendor interviewed saw the “build” they thought they would see – in either traffic or sales. Some vendors made money and some did not.  They liked the room prices “relatively inexpensive” and found the food affordable also. Gold Star paid for the assistants for several vendors who were also workshop instructors and performers so that they did not have to be in two places at once.

When asked if they would attend the event again, the answer was, “Perhaps – if things are done differently.”

The Shows
The Monday night show, the instructor showcase, was the longest – three to four hours with many instructors giving a “full show” -- and perhaps the most sparsely attended.  It was set up to accommodate about three to four times the amount of people who showed up.

Having been offered great discounts and “other perks” as teachers, the instructors rallied around Gold Star mid-week when it became apparent that there were serious visa problems for Dina and Amani.  The general consensus among the instructors and performers was “everyone pulled together,” to salvage the weekend performances.  It seemed everyone truly wanted the event to succeed – for the befit of the community.

Gold Star was concerned enough about performance content to fly Delilah’s musicians back for the weekend shows (they had already returned to Seattle after their Monday night performance.).  The organizers also flew a band in from Los Angeles which had mixed reviews.  The audience enjoyed their music but some of the performers felt they did not work with dancers very well.

The Friday evening performance was not well–attended; perhaps 100 people at the most were there.  The Friday awards ceremony was described as “boring” and “it dragged on and on.” 

Tito was far and beyond the superstar of the shows, performing in his street clothes Friday and giving a full costumed show on Saturday.  Even the most jaded instructors and performers Gilded Serpent spoke with gave him a “10.” For all his performances and all his workshops. No exceptions.

The Saturday show was better-attended but was still so empty that they let anyone, regardless of what they had paid to sit in the most expensive seats up front, which may have upset those who actually paid the top price to sit here.

The Contests
Contest entrants agreed that Amira, the contest organizer, had sent clear emails and instructions and that the general structure of the competitions was very fair.  The stage and lighting were described as “wonderful and professional.”

One contestant mentioned that because of “last minute judge changes,” the contest she entered was not as appealing; the new judges were overheard discussing upcoming contestants and saying how much they personally liked them.  The question was whether they managed to judge everyone fairly. Others liked the judges they had been assigned and thought they were extremely competent.

Admission to the contests was $25, which was seen as prohibitive to local people (no to mention the very high admission prices to the shows).  The audiences seemed to enjoy the competitions and remarked on the high quality of the contestants.

The main issue that many involved in the contests or teaching voiced was that Gold Star has been slow to pay them. The one winner we spoke with as part of this general article has not been paid her prize money as of April 4, 2008.

Final Remarks
Many of those interviewed mentioned that there was “no face” to the convention (aside from spokesperson Aradia) and that the people behind Gold Star Productions stayed oddly in the shadows.  While all the shows had an announcer offstage, the organizers were never featured and never spoke publicly.  Even at the March press party, no one was ever introduced.  Along the same lines, communications of the scheduling changes outwards to workshop participants were seen as disorganized -- or even non-existent.

Did the organizers dream too big?  Most seemed to think so.

If there is a 2008 IBDC, would the people who spoke to Gilded Serpent come back this year?  A surprising majority said yes.  “In a weird way, I want to check it out again,” said one.

Editor's note: Several questions and issues remain unresolved. Were visa's the only reason that the Arab acts did not show? Were not the lack of airline tickets and deposits also a problem? When were the visa's applied for? Were these experienced lawyers? Why did the organizer expect to have 10,000 attendees? Is the Bellydance market in fact still too small for an event like this? How big did they think the Bellydance community is? Who did they think was going to come? When it was apparent even a month before that so few people were coming why did they continue to go forward? Perhaps Alex and Dolores of Gold Star Productions will share their side of the story one day...

More Photos

Debbie Smith, Bahaia, ?, Roxxanne

?, Monica

Jasmine and Vashti

Naiya, Monica, Numa'ir

Have a comment? Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?
12-6-07 IBDC- Part 1 A Brand New Idea for Belly Dance: The Festival Idea in its Formative Years by Amina Goodyear
I’m speaking of a festival and its promoters that promised more than they were able to deliver.

1-7-08 IBDC Part 2:- A Gilded Serpent tale, Alex in Wonderland, by Amina Goodyear
Unfortunately, the event did not draw the amount of vendors he had expected and, I believe, because he himself had not yet made a reputation for himself as a credible festival producer, he did not get the numbers of the dancers he wished for. Belly dancers are special people and Alex personally did not understand their basic nature.

7-15-08 Egyptian Wedding Stories by Leila of Cairo
All the guests were staring at us. The father of the bride demanded to know who ordered the bellydancer and it seemed a fight was going to break out between representatives of the brides’family and the hotel organizer.

7-12-08 Jodette: Undeniably Authentic by Sausan
“Why do students go against their own teacher,”Jodette continued , “and spread ugly rumors?”I looked at her a shook my head. It's a lament that I, too, have experienced from time to time as teacher of this dance.

7-9-08 Journey into Womanhood by Elizabeth Artemis Mourat
Our mission, as women, is to encourage others to joyfully anticipate all the decades of their lives. Those who have gone before us have always and will always help us on our paths.

7-8-08 When Two Doors Close Two Doors Open, New Venues in New York City, by Sarah Skinner
Scott was thrilled with the new place and said it reminds him of the late night clubs in Istanbul, Turkey. At the end of the night I walked out into the hot summer air feeling invigorated and inspired.

7-3-08 Belly Dancing in Estonia by Ines Karu
As in the rest of the world, the Egyptian style of belly dance is the most popular one in Estonia. Most of the instructors and dancers are specialized in that style. The American Tribal Style Belly Dance is also becoming more known each day. The general impression of belly dance in Estonia is glamorous, feminine, luxurious, modern and elegant. It’s a time where Estonian dancers can truly say that they can be proud to be a Middle Eastern dance artist in Estonia.

6-28-08 Tribal Fest 2008, Saturday May,17 2008, Sebastopol, CA photos and video by Lynette
Event Produced by BlackSheep BellyDance and held in the Sebastolpol Community Center, photos and performance clips of Hahbi’Ru, Unmata, Sexy Scallywags, Romka, Tempest, Clandestine, Titanya, RockRose, Natium, Sabrina

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