Work-Life-Dance Balance – Chapter 2 – The Pandora’s Box of Choosing to Compete

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Work-Life-Dance Balance – Chapter 2 – The Pandora’s Box of Choosing to Compete 

I have made the choice for a new adventure in dance.  I have made the choice of putting my belly dancing more at the forefront so I can experience a competition the right way; prepared.  I have experienced doing a competition unprepared, and wow, when I look back at that video I can see how much I needed to learn.

Choosing to compete is a big decision and it opens up more choices that need to be made.  You can choose to go freestyle, but from experience I do not recommend it. Or, if you want to grow as a dancer and really see what you can do, then preparing for a competition is a good choice.  

Some of the things that need to be considered before you get to the competition are as follows: 

  • Which competition to choose to compete in
  • Music
  • Choreography
  • Practice
  • Costume
  • Hair, Makeup and accessories
  • Competition Day (backstage and onstage)


Each of the items above involve making choices.  All involve balancing the time you have in the months and days leading up to that one moment you have on stage competing.

Choosing the Competition

Before searching the internet for all of the competitions out there, If you know dance friends that have competed and/or have a dance mentor, talk to them about their experience and knowledge of what competitions they have tried. This will save you time and vetting which competition is worth the price of admission. 

The price of admission:  Wait, what?! I have to pay to compete?  In most cases yes, you have to pay to compete.  There are few reasons why we have to pay to compete and my list is not exhaustive, as I’ve never organized a competition but I can imagine the work and cost involved, since I do organize dance events.  1) The entry fee price is used towards the rental of the competition space and all the technical aspects involved; 2) The fee may go towards the prizes; and, 3) minimizes how many people actually compete.  

On top of paying for the competition entry fee, many events will require you to register for a minimum number of workshops that are connected to the competition.  This request again is reasonable because the judges are often the instructors that are going to be teaching during the workshops part of the event and instructors need to be paid; it’s their job after all.

And unless you’re lucky and your city hosts events with competition you most likely will have to travel.  So cost to travel and accommodations on top of the workshop minimum and competition entry fee.

The first competition I did was called Queen of the Nile, in 2012, in Montréal, Québec, Canada.  If I remember correctly, I had seen an advertisement through one of my Montréal dance friends. I don’t remember the entry fee cost, but I believe all competitors were required to have registered for the entire workshop weekend.  

This competition I’m doing this fall is called the “Rising Star” competition, which is part of the Egytian Dance Academy’s Masriyatt Intensive 2019 event.  It is one of three levels of competition; the other two is a Troupe/Group level competition and “Queen” for professional soloists or those who have competed in the “Rising Star” level.  The entry fee is $100 and requires being registered in, at minimum, a day package. It was recommended by my dance mentor/teacher Nada el Masriya who also organizes the event, but I had helped out in 2018 at the same event and thought it would be a great learning experience to participate in.

Choosing the Music

While you decide on which competition to choose, look at the requirements for the length and style of music.  

For example, the Rising Star competition allows up to four (4) minutes of music; however, because the judges areas of expertise is Modern and traditional Egyptian Belly dance and Folklore that is the only style that will be accepted, so picking music that fits those categories is the first step.


Find a song that you feel a connection with and are willing to listen to it over, and over and over again; or should I say endlessly is also important.  This song will become your best friend for the duration of your preparation for the competition. If it’s too long, cut it yourself if you’re good at cutting music or enlist a friend or service to cut the music for you. I found a song I really liked that was 4:30 minutes and cutting 30 seconds was difficult until I chose to get some help.  Now, after cutting the song, I have chosen to no longer listen to the original because it avoids messing my connection with the cut piece in my head.

Give yourself time to find a song you like.  If you’re stuck between a few, I recommend setting up a camera and record yourself improving to each song.  Then after review each video and see which song you appear to be more naturally connected to. 

Choosing to Choreography Yourself or Hiring a Choreographer

To choreograph yourself or not to choreograph your song yourself is a tough question when you’re a person that either wants that challenge or has choreographed songs before.  Competition choreography is slightly different than class choreographies as they will be picked at with a fine tooth comb. There is nothing wrong with hiring a choreographer to create something on the song that you chose, especially for your first competition.

If you want to create your own choreography here are three things I’ll suggest:

1) Book private lessons with a dancer/teacher that has solid choreographing skills and are familiar with competitions and ask them to critique your finished work, months in advance of the competition.

2) Choose a dancer/teacher similar to your personal style, who is familiar with competitions and has strong choreographing skills and ask them to create a choreography for you.  

3) Do a hybrid of 1 and 2 above, like I did.  I hired Florence Leclerc for a series of private lessons with a focus on providing feedback and technique drills on the choreography I was creating.  As the lessons and choreography progressed and life became busier with non-dance things, I asked Florence to continue or redo the choreography I was working on.  She took the videos of myself I recorded as inspiration (okay, as an idea of where I was kind of going with the choreography) and created a great little choreography.  We spent the remainder of my private lessons with her teaching me the choreography and improving my dance technique.

Practice, Practice and Practice

It was suggested that preparing for a competition should take a year.  A year might sound like a long time, but this year takes into consideration that time it takes to find the song and create a choreography and then practice it until you can dance it in your sleep.  Finding my song took at least a month or two and then the choreography took at least another two to three months to complete and then learn; this time includes my attempt to create the choreography and then learn from Florence once she redesigned the choreography for me.

Now practice time shouldn’t just be repeating the choreography straight through, endlessly.  Break the song down, break the movements down and work on each part. Drilling the technique of the moves in the choreography to get the movements into your muscle memory.  Record yourself for the practices if you like to see your improvements or areas you still need to work on.

Another great way to practice and test out costumes is by finding dance shows to perform the choreography (once learned fully through).  I have had the chance to perform my competition piece at least six (6) times this year. Each time I either forgot and/or changed something in the choreography.  I had some feedback as well as, such as, why do I keep the veil for so long? Apparently, you could potentially confuse Egyptians if you keep the veil too long for songs.  It’s true, Egyptian belly dance uses veil mostly for an entrance and then tosses it away; any draping is at the beginning of the entrance and not after.

Costume Choice

Again the costume choice is based on the style of dance you are performing.  If you’re performing a Tribal number for a Tribal competition you’re not going to wear a cabaret two piece bedlah.  For Egyptian Folklore there are a lot of different styles of costumes depending on the region and folklore dance you’re going to perform and it is really important to know the differences out of respect for the culture and dance.  For belly dance dance there are now many choices in style available. You don’t necessarily need to have a bra and belt set perfectly separated. There are different draping of fabrics from bra to skirt and arms covered or not. 

If you’re not sure what is appropriate to wear ask.  I suggest also looking on YouTube at competition winners for the style of dance you’re competing in and see what they wore.  If you love sewing and can create your own costume, awesome! If you’re like me, who’s okay with a needle and has not time and/or costume creating passion then browse online and/or get connected with a designer to create you a costume.  There is no limit in colour and how much sparkle you add, just find something that suits your body type.

Three things to note, if you’re going to order and/or purchase a costume: 1) Order the costume from reputable site with good customer service, 2) order a year in advance so you will have time to practice in the costume and adjust it to your body if it doesn’t fit perfectly when it arrives; and, 3) Bring an extra costume just in case there are issues with the ordered costumes and/or something happens to the first costume before the competition.

Hair, Makeup and Accessories

Your hair, face and really and any body part not covered by your costume is part of the package of your costume and should not be ignored.  Similarly to choosing a costume, choosing a hair, makeup and accessories requires some thought and research if you aren’t really good at styling your own hair or doing your own makeup.

Makeup choices –  I got lucky with having the opportunity to take a makeup workshop with the oriental dancer Amalia Maksoud (Montreal), hosted by my friend Jehan Khan in Ottawa.  This was great because in so many ways; I got to learn about stage versus photo shoot makeup as well as spend a fun day with other dancers learning the art of doing one’s own makeup for dance.  If you get the opportunity and/or know of anyone good at doing their own makeup for dance, invite them over, along with dance friends and have a great time playing and learning. There are makeup tutorials online as well, and browsing photos of some of your favourite dancers will give you an idea of the type of makeup you should aim for.  Most importantly, take time to practice before the competition to create the look you want. Make notes and take videos of what you chosen if your competition face. Doing this will save you time the day of the competition because you time will fly and you want some time to relax before performing.

Hair choices – If you’re like me your hair loves to be straight and it’s fine so it doesn’t look like it has a lot of body.  If you have straight hair but it’s full of body then a sparkling headband or some minor stylizing might be okay. If you have my hair then adding body with with curls and/or hair extensions might be the way to go.  I tried a wig and it was not for me; it did provide an entertaining moment on stage as no one recognized me, but it was hot and made me worry about it staying on. Like testing out different makeup ideas, testing out different hair styles is a good idea before the competition.  I recently discovered that splitting my hair into two french braids in morning allowed me to have a natural wave the evening of a show. Because I didn’t have a lot of time to do further styling I simply waited until the last moment to undo the braids and then add some hair spray before going on stage.  Now I know that at least this will do in a pinch, but I do plan on working with this idea as a base to make my hair fully looking for the competition.

Accessory choices – For any stage performance, dainty jewelry is not recommended simply because no one really will see it.  This is where the phrase “go big or go home” could be applied. You don’t necessarily have to go huge but earrings and necklaces should be sizeable enough to be seen.  Most importantly, however, your jewelry for oriental dance style should be shiny!

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