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Gilded Serpent presents...
"Where's The Hook
When We Need It?"

Desert Dance Festival 2000

San Jose, California
Review by Bobbie Giarratana
Photos by Susie Poulelis
photos do not illustrate text

The Olympics have turned us all into armchair judges, I admit, but a little peer review couldn't hurt... We attend festivals for many reasons: to socialize, to shop, to sell, to schmooze- to entertain each other and to be entertained. Belly dance festivals give us costuming ideas, teach us new steps, and inspire us to dance for the shear enjoyment of moving. I have attended countless festivals and competitions in the San Francisco Bay Area and they always include the range of levels from student to amateur to professional.

I leave with more insight and a greater appreciation of courageous and talented performers. There is, however, something lacking in the typical program, and it was painfully demonstrated at the last Desert Dance Festival. In the dancers I refer to taste and talent. In the audience, the courage to voice their impatience with bad acts.

Sadly, both of these were missing at the Desert Dance Festival. Supporting the belly dance community is one thing, but we pay good hard cash for these events and deserve quality performances.

My teacher tells me that there is no better way to improve one's performance than by dancing to live music in front of an audience. Important as it is, dancing in a studio can't compare with what you learn from being onstage.

As a dancer and devoted member of the audience, let me first say "Thank you!" to those few performers, from beginners to pros, who bothered to prepare, rehearse, and stand up straight; you made my day.

What was absolutely excruciating, however, was having to watch far too many Diva Duets, women who appear at the festivals year after year after year and never improve with age. It's as though every year they decide to join the line only on the previous day. Then, five minutes before climbing onstage, they hurriedly choose a song, partner, and costume.

We witness the performers' horrible realization that once again they aren't familiar with the music after all, and are out of practice with their zils/veils/feet. If they did register well in advance, then shame on them for assuming the audience would fail to recognize a messy unprepared act.

In contrast, there were amateur troops, like Zuhair al Sahara, who have been dancing together less than a year, and who delivered nice, tight numbers while listening to the music and looking genuinely happy to be onstage. I know that for these dedicated groups it takes an incredible amount of organization to get so many dancers to devote their free time to hours of rehearsals. These enthusiastic students almost make waiting through the bad acts worth it, and make the unprepared solo performer look inexcusably lazy... I say almost because the very next act will smack me back into reality with an interpretation of a tribal number performed in a cabaret costume.
I'm sure the unfortunate costuming misdemeanor is not intended as comic relief, but it certainly creates that effect. The dancers I am referring to here are clearly untroubled by the burdensome consideration of audience reaction. In preparing to perform in public, it is acceptable to ask advice from one's instructor, and if the teacher isn't knowledgeable enough, to do some research, or better yet, to just check the mirror and be honest. Self-awareness is critical; after all, the audience is not blind and stupid. While I am on the subject of costuming, allow me to congratulate Amirah (Queen of the Wood Nymphs) for her daring potpourri costume. It was original, well made, and complimented her clean cabaret style. I was pleased to witness a sweetheart costume working so well on a natural dancer.

The task of organizing these events is undoubtedly overwhelming, but is hopefully rewarding. There must be countless details to consider and I'd like to add one to the list: theatrical productions demand some kind of formal selection process in deciding the line up, so I suggest a preliminary review of the dancers. This does not need to create an "in-group" or promote political infighting; there is room for the dedicated beginning dancer as well as the seasoned performer if that is the goal of the festival.

But really, is it so hard to "Just Say No" to a troupe who trips all over itself or to an infamous duet who unknowingly embarrasses themselves before the audience?

Do the paying customer a favor and hold auditions. And keep track from one year to the next of which acts just aren't ready for prime time. This is a method by which the organizers can create a higher quality of entertainment and open the festival to an audience beyond the usual dancers' claques... Imagine newspaper and radio ads inviting the general public! And imagine the public coming and spending money with the vendors, and returning the next year with their friends!

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