about the east coast belly dance classic

this event was, fundamentally, a competition. so, to get that out of the way, i’d like to send my congratulations to everyone that participated, and recognize the winners:

rising stars marina mohamed, samira and inaras; troupes rakaset nadirah, shadows of the fire and baghdad express; headliners sheila marina, amira and iraina; fantasy artists lilah, ruhiyyih and iraina; grand champions maya, tanna valentine and ruhiyyih.

i’d also like to thank our host, taaj, and judges aisha, azur aja, tasha banat, shakira and phyllidia. (if i missed anyone’s links, please let me know…)

i have mixed feelings about competitions, but i’m working on a big project and i need to expand my dancer-universe. in that respect, there’s nothing quite like being in a place where the dancers come to you… and these are good dancers.

formalities out of the way, on to the roj-experience of the classic…

this adventure started in the wee hours of the morning on saturday, with a brief stop in dc to take care of some late-breaking feeding and watering duties, we’re off on a less-than-interesting top-down roadtrip down the major highways of virginia. no good scenery, but the weather was nice and cool (particularly for august), and with dawn breaking right in my eyes, i found my way to downtown virginia beach.

still feeling a bit road-weary (not a big fan of the interstates except when i’m in a hurry), and with not a lot of time to spare, i ran into a few familiar faces and settled in for the show.

to make things interesting, one dropout from the lineup, a big switch in the schedule, one last-minute drop-in, one costume malfunction, one injury, one major technical failure, and, because it’s not life without drama, one tantrum.

i got a chance to play hero at the start of day 2, but that didn’t work out too well… sucks to come back empty-handed, but the required places just aren’t open on sunday mornings. the incident did, however, reinforce my desire to fix the problem. more on that someday. different project.

there were plenty of other cameras around, and a few seemed to take a general interest in the performers (not just there for the wife…). technically, the background was brutal (mostly a very hot light source above the performers). i don’t expect great results in general, but there are a few that might work for me. i came home with 1700+ pictures, so i know what i’m going to be doing for the next several weeks.

enough about the circumstances, you’re probably here to read about dancing, so let me get to that – with the disclaimer that i had a particular agenda that isn’t really dancer-like – i’m working on a show, and i make (hopefully) pretty pictures. so i’ll leave the dancing opinions to the judges and dancers, and share a few personal observations.

starting with the troupe competition, i was a bit surprised that there were only four participants – troupes, particularly tribal troupes, seem to be very popular right now. i imagine that this is related to lack of competitive spirit between troupes, which is a good thing, but the overall experience was generally supportive among the competitors. another influence on this gap might be the cost of bringing a troupe to the competition. i’ll have to think on this some more.

with the four troupes that did compete, there was a nice variety – one tribalesque, one duet with weapons, one glittery matching quartet and one color-wheel theme. the roj vote goes to the quartet in purple (rakaset nadirah), with the caveat that i wish the lines were sharper. someone always seemed to be a bit behind (and thus, lost in the photo). the rainbow troupe (hareem of the queens) just didn’t work for me – several of the dancers felt more like decorations than participants.

next on my mind, the rising stars – these are, i think, the “not yet professional” dancers. here, the roj vote goes to sahartek – for a combination of joy on stage and through-the-veil imagery. close seconds for marina mohammed, samira and aisha, all of which seemed thrilled. sorsha gets points for a “porcupine” costume and a nod to delphinia for giving me an eyes-and-veil moment.

we also didn’t have a full field of headliners – just five competitors. here, i think the youngest took first place, which is kinda nice, actually. athallia opened this one up with a great smile, amira with the kind of veil work that either photographs beautifully or not at all (remind me to let you know). iraina came with piles of “ooo. shiny.” i think my vote here goes to amira.

day two brings on the fantasy artist category – my personal space. i believe in (ab)using cultures freely, and here we had a most excellent spectrum of fusion pieces from around the world. blues, jazz, flamenco, far eastern, salsa, mongol, techno, highlands, metal. love this stuff. visually, i have to go with tanna valentine, in a gorgeous red-and-black flamenco spirit. aurally, inaras, with a great mongol feel played on tuvan/inuit throat singing. for happy-fun blues, ruhiyyih. i’m on a quest for big-stage presence, and this was a fairly open stage, so i would’ve preferred to see khaleela and inaras do their things in a more intimate setting… and with live drums. that would be most incredible.

finally, the grand champions. here we saw amustela looking even longer than before (if that’s possible). the roj vote here goes to tanna valentine, although that might include some bias from the fantasy artist category… the winner in this group (maya) just seemed a bit too forced to me during parts of her performance. costume glory for jihan al-nar, and i tried to capture it with the camera, but i’m not entirely convined that i did. ruhiyyih and tanna valentine gave me some potentially great dark-image moments.

ok, so that’s the dancing. i also want to mention raymere, who thankfully doesn’t over-feminize male dance in this form.

i met some wonderful people, had some good times, got a little worn out on shiny wiggling things, but i hope with a few years of therapy and some medication, i’ll get over that. taaj was taller than i expected, and she does have that light-up-the-room smile. also nice to run into several people with whom i’ve corresponded recently, to put some context to the content.

something else i’ve noticed lately, and seems to be confirmed at the classic: orange is very big. not so much on stage yet, but it’s happening with the vendors, so expect to see an orange burst just in time for halloween.

some notes for the production team next year: taller drapes, preferably more opaque (velour), sound at the stage (i’m pretty sure the timing issue had some bad effects on the performers), and maybe a more intimate seating arrangement.

good people, decent food (i had to go a bit cheap on the food options, so i’m bummed about that), and i suvived.

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