Bellydance Trophies – an update

The Bellydance Trophies 1st selection round has been and gone, and I’ve spent the last couple of weeks recovering – I’m mostly relieved that it’s over, and it feels a bit like it was all a dream. Lots of people have been asking me how it went, so I’ll do my best to tell you…

First of all, I’d like to thank Farah, Nafiseh and Rosy for organising the event, and especially Delia (AKA Delilah) for being such a kind, reassuring and helpful presence backstage!

After getting the news two weeks ago that I was going to be in the first selection round, I panicked. I was eventually talked into going ahead with the competition by one of my teachers, Gwen Booth. I then had to work single-mindedly to prepare for the competition – choreographing a new piece from scratch for my solo performance, as well as learning the group choreography that the contestants had to learn from a video to perform together on the night.

For my solo, I chose to perform Saiidi with a ‘man’s’ stick, as I have been working on Saiidi and on developing strength in my dancing for the last few months.  It was the first time I’d choreographed anything for quite a while. But under the pressure of an impending deadline, I finally managed to stop procrastinating and come up with things, doing the first combination that popped into my head that fitted the music and worked with the preceding section, filming it before I forgot, and then moving on. With the help and support of Gwen and of Charlotte Desorgher (another of my teachers, and also an official Bellydance Trophies coach), I had a whole choreography almost finished by the day of the competition. However, the short notice meant that I didn’t have a lot of time to rehearse!

When I arrived at the venue on the afternoon of the competition for the group rehearsals, I didn’t know what to expect. I only knew one of the other four contestants, and wasn’t sure what kind of level or atmosphere there would be. As it turned out, everybody was nervous, and everyone was friendly and supportive. There was definitely a feeling of camaraderie rather than cut-throat competition. We ran through the group choreography several times, by ourselves and then with Farah (who had choreographed the piece). After the group rehearsal, I was left feeling quite unprepared, as there were still several bits that I wasn’t comfortable with, but didn’t have time to do anything about. It is very challenging to learn a choreography from a video and then perform it with a group, and I think it’s an interesting way to test the skills of the competitors.

Following the rehearsals, there was what seemed like an awfully long time spent hanging around backstage, applying makeup in a crowded loo, and dodging between the many members of the London Algerian Ballet Company. By the time the competition got started, only 45 minutes later than expected, I was more dazed than frightened, and nothing felt quite real anymore. Watching the other contestants from backstage, I was impressed by their beautiful dancing (especially by Henrietta, who went on to win first place in the selection), and tried my best to think about entertaining my friends in the audience, rather than comparing myself to these very talented dancers.

When the time came for my own performance, I was less nervous than I’d expected. The powerful mizmar introduction started, and I strode onto the stage with my stick raised, feeling the strength and pride that the choreography demanded. I felt the heavy connection to the Earth that I’d been working to achieve for months, and held my head high, looking the judges in the eye as I twirled my cane defiantly. However, there was also an undercurrent of anxiety – I didn’t know my choreography well enough, and competitions are scary at the best of times. I do think that I danced technically well, and was certainly ‘fierce’ if the photos that I’ve seen are anything to go by, but the fear must have showed on my face.

After the performance, I had to stay on stage for the judges to each give their feedback – sort of like the X Factor, but generally nicer. The judges were kind, and said that I had good potential as a dancer, but it was clear that all of them thought I had looked tense and worried, and had been a bit too ‘masculine’ in style. I am reasonably happy with how my performance went, as I think I did as well as I could have done in the circumstances, but it is a little frustrating that a lot of the feedback I received reflected the fact that I was nervous and unprepared. Charlotte, who had seen my choreography in its embroyonic stages in our coaching session the previous week, was impressed by how much I had improved it in that time and was very kind about my performance, so I still feel that it was an achievement.

By the time of the group performance, I wasn’t really ‘with it’ any more, after a lot of stress both mental and physical, and having sustained myself all afternoon on muesli bars! I had been focusing so intensely on the solo performance all evening that the group one seemed like an afterthought. I don’t remember much about it, but I recall feeling bewildered and off-balance, and struggling to remember the footwork or stay in time even in parts that had been OK in the rehearsal – a combination of nerves and mental exhaustion, I suppose. I was glad when it was over!

After a selection of guest performances by the London Algerian Ballet, and two of our judges (Sara Farouk and Bless Klepcharek – the third Judge was Asmahan, but she didn’t perform that evening), the final results were announced. The first prize went to Henrietta (AKA Sofeya), who I had expected to win, as I was so impressed by her performance. Then second and third places went to Anna for a gorgeous baladi piece, and Serenay for her sweet and lovely oriental number – Serenay also won the ‘people’s choice’ award. I admit to feeling a little disappointed at the time, but the winners definitely deserved their places, and I entered Trophies with the intention of growing as a dancer rather than with any expectation of winning anything.

I’ve now also received detailed feedback on my solo performance from Delilah, who specialises in coaching dancers on stage presence and performance skills, and some written comments from each of the judges. This, for me, is possibly the most useful part of the whole experience, along with having been forced to work intensively on a choreography, which I wouldn’t otherwise have done. It will take me a while to digest all this feedback, but some is encouraging (several judges commented on my good technique), some points out areas I need to work on (relaxation and stage personality), whilst some is downright confusing (one judge praises my timing, whilst another criticises it! I wonder whether this is due to the differences between how Western and Egyptian dancers hear music, and it’s something I’ll be paying more attention to in future).

In conclusion, although the two weeks between being told my selection date and competing were phenomenally stressful (the only thing I can compare it to is my university final year exams), I am glad that I took part in Trophies. It has helped me to push myself and to become a better dancer, and I like the way that the competition is designed to test so many aspects of a dancer’s skills. You are really encouraged to become a more rounded and knowledgeable artist, rather than simply performing the showy yet repetitive 5-minute oriental pieces rewarded in many competitions. I will definitely be entering again next year, and will be aiming this time to be prepared well in advance, to show the very best of my dancing!

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One thought on “Bellydance Trophies – an update

  1. Great post Rachael! Full of information and really engaging. And I did indeed think you danced really well at Trophies – your dancing was direct and connected and full of content. OK maybe it was a little fierce, but you were trying something very different from your usual style. I thought you did yourself proud.

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