Saturday, July 22, 2006

I'm Not Dead Yet .. Just Half Dead

To all those people who have so sweet and concerned about my sudden "disappearance" ... my sincerest apologies and greatest gratitude.

No, I am not dead yet ... just half dead. Been incredibly busy. Too busy to even eat sometimes and definitely sleep deprived. I shall not go into details but am involved in a concert next weekend with a possible overseas (redeye) performance as well as a roadshow. So it's definitely masochistic of me to be kind of enjoying this.

Anyway, I will not be able to update the blog till everything dies down but for those dying to see me (rrrrright ...), catch me at the UCC Hall at the National University next weekend. I'm the one looking very hungry and half stoned.

I promise I will update later. But in the meantime, read this ...

The First CAIRO! CAIRO! CELEBRATION OF EGYPTIAN DANCE FESTIVAL will take place in Singapore from 28-31 July 2006. Following in the illustrious footsteps of and with the endorsement of the largest and most prestigious industry landmark event, Ahlan Wa Sahlan Oriental Bellydance Festival, the first CAIRO! CAIRO! CELEBRATION OF EGYPTIAN DANCE FESTIVAL is a celebration of Egyptian dance with a memorable opening concert, intensive dance classes and a halfa (dinner and dance party) as well as a bellydance competition.

This will be the first time the widely respected Ahlan Wa Sahlan Organisers and Master Teachers will be banding together to collaborate with Singapore bellydance pioneer, Claribel Ng, to organise a bellydance festival and dance camp.

Why is this significant? Why is a tiny island, more Southeast Asian than Middle Eastern, shining a beacon for a dance form seldom understood outside of Egypt? What is the connection between an ancient dance form and Singapore culture? Why are half of the Master Teachers male? Never has Singapore seen so many Master Teachers working together on our tiny shores and the opportunity to speak with and learn from them is not one to be missed.

Attached is some information including profiles of the Master Teachers and the event for your easy reference. More information on the CAIRO! CAIRO! CELEBRATION OF EGYPTIAN DANCE FESTIVAL programme is available at

We cordially invite you to the opening concert on 28 July 2006 and will be pleased to organise interviews with the Master Teachers, the organisers or any of the dancers at the concert.

Cairo! Cairo! Celebration of Egyptian Dance Concert
Date: Friday, 28 July 2006
Time: 8.00 - 10.00pm
Venue: UCC Hall, National University of Singapore
10 Kent Ridge Crescent
Singapore 119260

The stars of the concert are Ms Randa Khamel, one of the reigning stars of the Cairo bellydance scene today and highlight of every Ahlan Wa Sahlan, as well as Mr Momo Kadous, one of the most famous choreographers from the Nile Delta who is renowned for his Taktib (stick dance). Their solo performances will definitely offer the most defining moments in Oriental dance in 2006 in Singapore.

Humbly sharing the stage with these two stars and performing the beautiful choreography of Master Teachers Ms Raqia Hassan and Dr Mo Geddawi will be a local dance troupe from Claribel’s Rak Sharqi Studio, clad in costumes from Mdm Eman Zaki, couturiere to the dance stars in Cairo. Troupe members include some of Singapore’s more established professional dancers, such as Claribel, Ghram, Hsiao Min, Namiko, Serene and Stephanie. The ladies come from all over Asia from Hong, Kong, Japan, Taiwan to Singapore, perhaps earning the right to be called a truly Asian troupe devoted to recreating the calibre and class of the world renowned Reda Troupe - the training ground for many of the Master Teachers of today.

Tickets for this concert is available on as well as any SingPost Post Office counter or S.A.M. kiosk island-wide. For credit card bookings, dial 6222 5595 for the GATECRASH ticketing hotline.

Intensive Dance Workshops
29 July 2006 - 31 July 2006 UCC Dance Studio
National University of Singapore
10 Kent Ridge Crescent
Singapore 119260

Closing Gala Party aka The Halfa
Date: Monday, 31 July 2006
Time: 7.30pm
Venue: Raffles Town Club

The Ahlan Wa Sahlan Oriental Bellydance Festival is a landmark Egyptian event held over 1 week in Cairo every June. The largest and most respected Bellydance Festival in the world, this annual event attracts dancers from all over globe to immerse themselves completely in this ancient dance form that has influenced many of the modern dances of today.

Ahlan Wa Sahlan was first conceived of and organised by Madam Raqia Hassan.
Bellydancers all over the world flock to Cairo for this Festival and in 2003, documented 700 dancers from over 30 different countries such as Cuba, USA, Canada, South America, Brazil, Australia, UK, France, Germany, Hungary, Holland, Russia, Hong Kong, Brazil, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, etc. Other Bellydance Balls and events may have been organised before, but thus far, none have approaced the scale and calibre of this defining festival. Please visit for more information.

Intensive Dance Workshops
29 July 2006 - 31 July 2006

UCC Dance Studio, National University of Singapore
10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260

Registration of workshops can be done through the post by mailing the completed registration form (available on and a cheque for the fees to Claribel Ng at 151C King’s Road, #16-12 Farrer Court, Singapore 268160. Cheques should be written out to Claribel’s Raks Sharki Studio.

Closing Gala Party aka The Halfa
Date: Monday, 31 July 2006
Time: 7.30pm
Venue: Raffles Town Club
1 Plymouth Avenue
Singapore 297753

This will feature a buffet dinner, bellydance performances from the workshop participants, a bellydance competition as well as an open invitation to all participants to grace the dance floor after all the planned activities.

Tickets for the Closing Gala can be purchased at the NUS UCC Hall Foyer on 27 July 2006 from 2.00-8.00pm and on 28 July 2006 from 2.00-10.00pm.

For more information please contact Claribel at Tel: 9792261, email: or visit

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hidden Truths In the Fog

It's strange how little gems of realisation and truths appear in the fogs of delirium and illness. As you gasp for breath and labour and cling to moments of clarity and pain-free validation of your existence, little nuggets of epiphany peer through the dense clouds of self-delusion.

In those moments, the words of a close confidante, trusted and respected, ring a clarion call through your consciousness. The kindly tyranny of actions, the sibilant insertions of true sentiments. Amids the words denoting friendship, care, concern and sympathy bleat the occasion slam of disdain. Words like loser or nobody emit as if from a distance, cast from the nets of third-partyism when it froths forth from a dark, hurtful place within their own consciousness.

It raises the awareness that friendship could be couched in a bitter refrain of complete disdain. The obvious desire to inflict a knife wound of hurt meted out with the regularity of imbalanced hormones or erratic emotions could be likened to the murder of innocence by insouciant drunkards who plead for clemency.

As the ruby ripened beads of life's blood bleed a sea of hurt across the bed of friendship, is it foolishness to disregard and constantly forgive as the slideshow of actions being louder than words push forward their case? Can the soul actually withstand the belittling and sloughing of hate-filled words before withering into dust, even beyond the caresses of physical sustenance? Are stick and stones truly less painful than than a blanket of thorny words carelessly thrown in fits of self-vindication or petty malice? Is it foolish to feel emotional shards of words as starkly as a gunshot through the heart?

As the lack of oxygen causes a numb euphoria, the only grasp of reality is the constant litany of those words that spark of hatred yet are cloaked in friendship.

Perhaps the saddest irony of life is a dim memory of warmth as the cold, metallic tang of strange fruit encircled by the siren song of being a nobody seeps the life out of every breath.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Dancerpades Interlude - Hacking the Hack

The second and final day of the dance competition was on a Sunday. The highly intelligent organisers had decreed that tickets to that day’s events would only be available from 9.30am and seats were limited to 100.

Rat Off a Sinking Ship
Since the event started at 10.30am, 3A was convinced that there would be a huge queue of people lined up for the tickets as early as 8.30am so she dutifully made her way there to be ahead of everyone else. Typically, she was the first and only one there for a while. Which enabled her to witness a major dressing down of the organiser by the main organiser in full view and hearing of many of the event staff.

Without going into the details of the humiliating airing of dirty linen, it transpired that the main organiser was blaming the organiser for almost all the ills and disasters of the dance competition and was demanding that she account for a number of things. Some of these included the submission of the scoredcards for the competition, her explanation of how the Taiwanese were managed, her explanation of how the Turkish judge was managed and a whole host of “crimes”.

It was an embarrassing and highly inappropriate scene. While there were many things I found issue with in the organiser’s management of this entire event, it is unfair for the main organiser to abdicate all responsibility for the disaster and cast all blame on the organiser. As the main organiser and therefore leader of this fiasco, she had the responsibility to be in control of the entire event and to question and verify everything before allowing them to be implemented. What kind of leader contracts everything out, makes desultory checks and then points the finger at the first sign of trouble?

I felt that she was only too willing to send the organiser up the creek to save her own skin and that did not sit well with me. In later conversations, I listened to her blame everything on the organiser and smear her reputation, and secretly thought the saying that there is no honour among thieves as being surprisingly apt, even if not totally accurate in this case. Say what you like … that I am prejudiced against the organiser … that I am a right cow … but my sense of justice and fairness made me furious on behalf of the organiser, who I count as a member of the community no matter what she has done.

It infuriated me enough to defend her by reminding the main organiser that she should have been monitored or checked if things were mismanaged to the extent that the main organiser claimed. And that as a leader, she (the main organiser) is responsible for all the failures of her minions, and not just the victories.

Casting all blame on her in the bid to keep her own nose out of the shite is cowardly and unfair.

Of course, all this drama was unknown to me as I arrived at the National Museum to face another exciting day of dance competition. I was very eager as it would finally be my chance to see how the Singapore dancers fared against the Chinese and Taiwanese.

Although one of my close dancer friends is Taiwanese, she is not a good gauge as I think she is one of those creatures made to dance from birth and even the Mother Ship would have to bow down to her superior dance skills. I had never met another Taiwanese dancer of our dance form and the only mainland Chinese dancer I had ever met was an absolute knock-out at one of the master workshops, who was another specimen of genetically blessed dance talents.

Hacking the Hack
I made the rounds with the judges again and settled down to record the event in my handy dandy notebook. While I was sitting there, the organisers beckoned me down from my perch and began to question me on my presence at the event. I was beginning to get irate as they asked me to step outside the room to speak to the PR hack on the phone.

Let me just put this in perspective. When the festival opened, I called to ask for my media kit and pass to the event – I presumed it had been lost in the mail. It would be highly undesirable to have a press member who is actually conversant of the industry and art form covering the event! The PR hack actually told me to just “turn up” at the opening ceremony and that I would get my kit and pass then. When I asked for one-on-one interviews with the judges and some of the contestants, he simply told me to “turn up” during the competition and try to speak to them myself, although he did make some obligatory noises that he “will see what they can do”.

At the opening ceremony, he barely spared me two minutes as he told me he would inform me of the arrangements and that the International Contest result would be announced on the Sunday afternoon. He told me I should just “come and see what and who I could cover” then.

Unknown to him, I have been in the business for almost two decades and thus, such cavalier and obstructive behaviour typically does not work for me. Being a DIY type of girl, it would usually motivate me to begin an all-out assault on me own. And I can be pretty motivated.

I did not hear from this PR hack again till this moment, on a bright Sunday morning, before the contest started but obviously way too early for the PR hack to even be at the scene. His concern and wariness that I had been lurking for the past day covering the event was palpable. And I knew the reason why.

He informed me that there was a press conference at 3pm that afternoon, which he claimed he informed me of (I must find out more about this astral communication thing) and tried to convince me that I would be better off only being there at that time. I politely disabused him of that by stating I intended to be there for every moment of the competition and also at the press conference. I again requested for an interview with the judges and the contestants, especially the winning ones, and he told me I would be able to speak with them at the press conference. I asked if there would be a proper Q&A and one-on-ones but all he could tell me was that there was a press conference.

He demurred when I asked to speak with some of the foreign contestants and judges and even questioned why that would be important. Again, I rolled my eyes and gently reminded him that Singapore is not the only country in an international competition.

I will not go into undue details but I was blocked, stonewalled, given the old run around and basically shafted. The so-called press conference was a debacle which was organised as a vehicle for the local papers and television channel to shoot the more “outstanding” contestants as they performed. Some other journalists and I stood there wondering when the press conference would begin as hordes of audience members stormed the stage and began taking pictures and congratulating the winners. In fact, a couple of us left in disgust after spending 30 minutes just waiting for them to get their act together and after they shouted at us (the journalists, not the audience members) to get off the stage!.

Fortunately, I had already made plans, hunted down, interviewed and set up appointments with a number of contestants and judges on my own prior to the PR hack’s interference. The only interview he arranged for me was with Tanyeli, the judge from Turkey and even then he stood right next to us and tried to control the interview. I will tell you why this is laughable later.

He also obstructed me from interviewing the Taiwanese by promising to set up an interview and keeping me in a corner for ages while he made sure that they were finally out of the way, before informing me regrettably that they had left the building. He thought I did not notice this “media management”. In fact, the main organiser then pulled me aside and begged me to help them by not speaking to the Taiwanese whom she claimed “would not have anything good to say” as the organiser had treated them very poorly and managed everything badly. She also asked me to “help them” by saying only nice things and began a litany of complaints about the organiser. She claimed that the organiser had deceived her and kept her in the dark about everything despite many demands for updates and accountability.

So what do you think? Do you think this blatantly transparent attempt at manipulating me worked? By the way, I did write an extremely measured piece in my official capacity. But this is my blog and I can rant if I want to as I cannot in my other life. So bite it.

I will not belabour the point but I dislike being “media managed” by people who should have read the manual I wrote on the subject. Let’s just move on to the contest proper …

Up the Cactus Path

Taking a short break from the reporting on the recent dance competition, I pause to consider the concept of leadership.

Honestly, I do not know much about it, having never sought or desired it. However, it has been thrust upon me many times and my innate laziness and pathological avoidance of responsibility has made the mantle of leadership an uncomfortable and suffocating yoke which I fidget and worry against.

It is amazingly easy to pinpoint the flaws in leadership, to disdain it, to question it, to mutiny against it and to ridicule it. Many times I see leaders seek the opinions and interactivity among those they lead, which sometimes leads to total anarchy as the division between consultation and unconstructive interference becomes so blurred that everyone fumbles around in a haze of confusion.

I like following orders. I know most find this unbelievable but I do. I like to have very concise, detailed and logically structured instructions given to me so that I can abdicate all responsibility, blindly execute these to perfection (or as close to perfection as I can), and then totally point the finger in case someone finds the results wanting.

That is not to say I will not question if I do not understand them or find them puzzling. Perhaps then you can say I am a half blind orders follower. I will follow orders blindly as long as I find them logical. Illogical orders which defy rational thinking and waste time inevitably get a litany of questions from me.

Why? How come? What? When? Where? Who? What if? Why me?

And even after I receive the instructions, I like to know the exact specifications of the order.

To what degree? Level of expectations and degrees of importance or priority? Purpose? End result? Cause and effect? Alternatives? Contingency? Worst case scenario? Why me?

Often it drives some people less inquisitive than I to distraction and they mistake it for rebellion or naysaying. On the contrary, I am simply paving the way to how much and if I will disappoint them.

I also like to take a backseat and let others dictate while I watch and … well, watch. Only when I think it is beyond ridiculous and wasting too much of my time, better spent eating, sleeping, washing my hair, filing my nails etc, would I then make a suggestion or observation. Perhaps it is the way I make them, which is usually either coached in humour or as laconically as possible (because despite what people think I do worry about upsetting people), as I get ignored quite a lot.

Not to blow my own trumpet but I usually make pretty damn crash-shot suggestions or observations. Because I would have ruminated on them a fair bit before I offer them up on the table as I dread having to poke fun and laugh at my own idiocy … and I am a right sarky bitch who will drive myself to humiliated tears with my biting humour.

It amuses and annoys me when I am ignored and I watch these individuals talk themselves into a circle. Or try to impose their will on everyone and under the guise of concern and constructivism take unsubtle potshots at those they are supposedly helping or working with. Watching them try to make someone else feel small or guilty is not something I enjoy. Just like I do not like watching public stonings. I guess I am just funny that way.

The worse thing is that these people are usually so transparent yet believe that they are so intellectually superior that no one can see through their paper-thin motives and motivations. They would “discuss” at length and finally come to the same conclusion as I put up 45 minutes ago. See? I told you I am not a good leader! No one listens to me. But those who do and realise that 45 minutes later their leader finally cottoned on to what I had verbalised eons ago, usually look at me with a rather startled expression in their eyes. Which is usually followed by a narrow-eyed and assessing look as they actually look past the long hair, tits, goofy expression and total arse-luckness (is that even a word because it should as it best describes me!).

And these are women I am talking about.

Perhaps it is because I do not raise my voice or push myself forward aggressively. Half the time I can’t be arsed and I just think the people going around in circles like headless chicken are daft who just make me wonder at the deep unfathomability of God's plan. The other half of the time I am doing my space cadet act where my brain has taken a vacation somewhere else as I wait for them to come to the same conclusion I did ... 45 minutes later.

However, occasionally when I have had enough of my time wasted or think we have reached a crunch point where further empty vesseling is inexcusable, I will make my point. That’s when the words go like this …

No. No. No. No. No. And no again.

Usually the empty vessels who shout and pontificate the loudest will be the most incensed by my sudden observations and immediately go on the attack. Terribly startled, they will immediately sputter and some may even begin to insult me in an attempt to belittle me. Which is really easy since I am usually taller than most of them. So once they think they have cut me down to size, I am usually the same height as them. Which means I can now start speaking to them as equals. See? It all works out.

This treatment is a true lack of respect for me on their part which I can understand since they obviously think they are superior and that I am a right loser. Using words like “patience”, “consideration”, “intelligence” and what not, they exhibit little of these and show such total disdain for my opinions that I am tempted to shut my mind and “intelligence” off permanently to them, take a mental holiday and alphabetise (again) my spice bottles in my head.

Ego is a terrible thing. I am not exempt from it but I definitely try to see beyond it. I am not opposed to apologising even when I do not have to, to preserve the peace. I just wish others would treat me with the same courtesy.

One last time, why me?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Dancerpades VIII - Local Gone Loco

Finally the day’s segments were all over and it was just a matter of waiting for the results. It had been a long day and while we were waiting, the other dancers were already making calls to find out the results and to hear our reports.

I did not bother to consult my scorecards as it was obvious to me that Bellydance Discovery had won the title with the Sundance Troupe a close second. Third place was rather moot but I thought Nerferteri were the most likely.

It was obvious that there was a great divide between the top two troupes and the rest. To those not familiar with the community, they might have assumed that the standard in Singapore is very low with a small handful of competent dancers.

The thought was too painful to contemplate so I reviewed the total scores perfunctorily.

Again, the results were a surprise. This time around, apparently the organiser was not allowed into the small room to tabulate the scorecards so her expression when the winner was announced was telling. The discovery that the top prize had been denied them was a palpable shock apparent in every bemused pore of her face.

The winners were –

1st – Sundance Troupe
2nd – Bellydance Discovery
3rd – Les Belles du Mirage

Again, I was baffled by the decision. Sure, there was a hard fight between Bellydance Discovery and Sundance but I thought the former’s superior middle eastern dance skills would have trumped the superior lyrical jazz dance foundation of the latter. Obviously the judges thought otherwise.

But the biggest shock was the inclusion of Les Belles du Mirage in third place. Not a single person I spoke to even thought they should have placed anywhere near the top three. I was puzzled as to why Nerferteri had not placed and 3A had a theory that it may have been because they were not “Chinese” enough since the judges were all Chinese. I really do not know but again, I thought that the decision was questionable.

Speaking to one of the judges, Mey Jen, later, I asked about the decision between Bellydance Discovery and Sundance Troupe. She very diplomatically replied that some judges might have found the American Tribal Fusion vibe of the African-inspired number too discordant with their vision of middle eastern dance. Before watching the International segment the next day, I would have been puzzled by her comment. However, the personality and dance style preference of the judges, i.e. the Chinese and the Taiwanese judges, became apparent and helped a little to explain how this could have happened.

By now it was late, we were just disillusioned and tired and we still had to go meet some of the other dancers to fill them in on the day’s events and results. I was hoping that the next day would be more exciting and uplifting.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Dancerpades Part VII - Groundhog Day?

I was going to post this later because it is that kind of week which is so chaotic on so many fronts I was going to take my time doing this. But the comments and actions of some really mature individuals prompted me to lay fingers to keyboard so here you have it …

By the time the Fusion section of the Troupe competition rolled up, everyone was a little jaded and a lot disappointed. Frankly, to have only two truly worthy groups was below expectations.

Since Fusion is always a controversial bug bear and most of the contestants in the Solo category had massacred it, I was truly fearful. Yet something told me that a gem or two would be found in this segment. For once, I am so glad my intuition did not play me false.

I Hear The Sounds of Afrika
The first troupe back for the Fusion segment was the misnamed Troupe Malik. Dancing to the really hackneyed Simarik or Kiss Kiss by Tarkan, this threesome interpreted the song as mostly chest shimmies. In fact, it was all shimmies throughout the song. Worse, these shimmies had limited or no accents, pauses or variations, making for a dull choreography with little imagination. There was a strange pelvic movement in this piece, which made 3A and I furrow our brows and look at each other in askance, and of course, the ϋber tacky kissing motions that usually accompany this song … sigh.

Giving them 5/10 for presentation & framing; 3.5 for fluidity of techniques; 4/10 for expression (they looked happier here than in their Traditional piece); 2.5/10 for originality & creativity (you will know why shortly); and 2.75/10 for rhythm and musicality were the best I could give them. Overall, Troupe Malik received a score of 2.85/10.

Shocker! The next troupe was Just 3 who performed a highly original piece – the same Kiss Kiss by Tarkan piece as the group which just vacated the stage!

What on earth possessed them or their teacher??? Surely common sense would tell you this was a disaster? How can you put two teams into the competition dancing to the same song and same choreo? Obviously when she devised the judging criteria to include originality & creativity, it was a display of a sense of humour.

So it was not just one time the pain but two times the suffering as we had to endure a bad déjà vu of a poor choreo and even worse performance. Just 3 made their schoolmates look good with an even poorer execution and technical ability. Now we know why snakes have no arms … they bit them off in mortification after witnessing Just 3’s.

I was glad when it was over and tempted to give them a point for releasing me from the torment. Instead, I gave them 4.5/10 for presentation & framing; 2/10 for fluidity of technique; 2.75/10 for expression (one of them really looked like she would rather be home washing her hair); 0/10 for originality & creativity; and 1.75/10 for rhythm & musicality. Overall, they scored 2.2/10.

This was beginning to be painful for us and I groaned when I heard the next song - Alabina’s Salma y Salamah, a song I am very familiar with since the first song I performed to in Singapore was Dalida’s version. I braced myself but fortunately, Nerferteri’s stronger technical ability made this performance a welcome change from the previous two troupe’s disappointing turns.

These five ladies performed better in this segment than their Traditional performance and the choreography featured a little more attention to formation. Their timing was much better but their fusing of samba movements was a little weak, making this choreography rather wishy washy. All 5 seemed to have problems with their stomach pops and the timing was suspect.

I gave them 5.5/10 for presentation & framing; 4.75/10 fluidity of techniques; 5/10 for expression; 4.75/10 for originality & creativity; and 5/10 for rhythm & musicality, giving them a well-deserved total average of 5/10.

The next group, Fusion de Estellos, came waltzing in in modern looking costumes that looked more disco than middle eastern. Silver chain mesh halter tops combined with vividly coloured skirts and long tassels gave the impression they would break out into a MTV number so it was a relief to hear the dulcet tones of Pascale Maashalani belt out Nouri Sham.

There were a few cute moments in this troupe’s performance as they obviously made more attention to formation than in their Traditional number. However, they unwisely incorporated some movements which are more suited for partner dancing than troupe numbers. I know, I know … it’s called creativity but it just looked inappropriate for a middle eastern dance number, even if it is Fusion.

These four ladies displayed a rather unfortunate propensity towards the infamous “chicken neck pecks” and they kept performing the Barry Manilow forearms rolls which cracked 3A and I up something severe. Timing again was an issue which manifested when they performed a back heel kick at different counts.

For their attempt, I gave them 4/10 for presentation & framing; 4/10 for fluidity of techniques; 4.75/10 for expression; 4. 5/10 for originality & creativity (at least they tried even if it was a little inappropriate in parts); and 4.25 for rhythm & musicality. Their performance garnered them 4.3/10.

I hate to be negative but the next troupe should have paid better attention to their costuming. Rhythm of Life was made up of three rather heavy set ladies who unwisely chose bra-tops and harem pants which made them look manly and a little rough. More flattering costume choices might have improved their chances.

Dancing to a remixed version of one of Khaled’s song, which I believe could have been Wahrane Wahrane, these three ladies chose a vaguely hip hop fusion interpretation. I think it was an unfortunate choice as they just did not have the flair or training for hip hop and combined with their weak middle eastern dance techniques, made this a very poor performance indeed. Their hands were literally all over the place and they displayed weak shimmies. The dancer in red had problems with her undulations, the shortest dancer in the middle could not get the timing right and the tallest dancer was very rough and had almost no control over her movements.

They were obviously very raw beginners and again I questioned the wisdom of sending out beginners into an international competition. I felt sorry for Rhythm of Life but could not give them more marks than 2/10 for presentation & framing; 2/10 for fluidity of techniques; 3.5/10 for expression; 2.5/10 for originality & creativity; and 2/10 for rhythm & musicality. They scored an overall of 2.4/10.

And now to the contest proper. The first gander of the Bellydance Discovery troupe promised exciting things. Clad in tiger prints and black lycra, with matching hair bands, they heralded a professional and polished performance. And boy, did these five ladies deliver!

Bravo, ladies! Dancing to what I suspect is Afrika from Sayed Balaha’s Around the World CD, the group fused African dance into a well-thought out choreography. I thoroughly enjoyed the spirited performance which was aggressive, high energy, dynamic and featured a well-rehearsed team that produced a well-timed, well-executed and well-choreographed piece.

There were formations, there was expression, there was sound rhythm interpretation and while some suspected that the choreography was not an original piece from the organiser as they doubted her ability to produce a piece of this calibre and based on her history, I gave them the benefit of the doubt. Ayana displayed some acrobatic and gymnastic talents while everyone of them showed they could be lyrical as well as energetic. The group cohesiveness was palpable and I commend them on a spectacular performance. Without even consulting my scorecards, I gave them the winning prize for best troupe.

Still, if you must be pedantic, here were their scores – 7/10 for presentation & framing; 7/10 for fluidity of techniques; 7.5/10 for expression; 7/10 for originality & creativity; and 7/10 for rhythm & musicality. A very impressive performance which deserved an impressive 7.1/10.

It was apparent that is was now a battle between the Bellydance Discovery group and the Sundance Troupe. Like their namesake, this troupe came to the stage guns blazing. While I was not as impressed by Sundance Troupe’s colourful, beaded butterfly camisoles, black jazz pants and hips scarves combination, their modern pop fusion piece made this costume selection a passable choice.

Relying on their lyrical jazz background, this group demonstrated their superior dance foundation with a strong performance that highlighted their excellent stage presence, good body control and fluid style. However, again, their middle eastern dance inexperience showed and they were a little noticeably raw in their basic movements.

I found their performance very Salimpour-ish with some lovely floorwork, which made sense since their coach, Belinda, is a die hard fan of this renowned dancer and teacher. Still, the Sundance Troupe did have some timing issues and nerves must have gotten to the dancers as they made some mistakes which marred the performance. The dancer in blue forgot her choreography and showed hesitation. The dancer in orange lost her concentration and almost keeled over while doing a standing leg lift.

Still, it was a very strong performance and we agreed that it would be a hard fight between the two groups. 3A, understandably, was more inclined towards the Sundance kids but I stood by my selection of the Bellydance Discovery Troupe as I thought their performance and choreography were tighter.

The Sundance Troupe scored 5.75/10 for presentation & framing; 6.25/10 for fluidity of techniques; 6.5/10 for expression; 7/10 for originality & creativity; and 7/10 for rhythm & musicality. Overall, they received 6.5/10.

Coming after two such stellar performances is hard, but worse when you are so out of their league. The next group Les Belle du Mirage lived up to their name with a wishy washy performance. Slithering onto the stage like characters from a Harry Potter movie, these clueless ladies were entirely shrouded in their colourful veils. Did they not know that this is actually rather insulting? I was once at a performance when some dancers shrouded themselves thus and when they entered and started writhing around, the entire middle eastern contingent I was seated with got up and left in a huff. Sigh. I stayed ... I’d paid for it after all ….

Anyway, this group chose the overplayed and hackneyed Desert Rose by Sting. I did like the synchronicity of their costumes and wished that they had not ruined it with their shrouded horror introduction as that impacted their presentation & framing scores. The performance was a little vapid with uneven and poor undulations, mediocre technical ability, and an awkward exit, resulting in a desultory and lukewarm response from the audience.

Overall, their performance was unremarkable other than the J K Rowling homage so I gave them 4.75/10 for presentation & framing; 4/10 for fluidity of techniques; 4.5/10 for expression; 4.25/10 for originality & creativity; and 4/10 for rhythm & musicality. Overall, they garnered 4.3/10.

The Troupe Fusion segment was very uneven. You had the really good and the really bad. It was as if there were two categories within this segment – the professional and the dismal. Again, it brought into question why there was no proper segregation of standards, which might have given the weaker dancers a better fighting chance.

Looking at the scorecards, we made a prediction of the winners and there was much discussion over the authenticity and originality of the Bellydance Discovery’s group’s choreography. There was the camp that thought the choreography was a little boring with too many repetitions of combinations. There was the camp that declared that the organiser/teacher was not capable of producing something of that lyricism and caliber. Whatever it was, I thought they were excellent and the scorecards supported this.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Dancerpades Part VI - Herd Up

After the shock of the Solo results, everyone was understandably unsettled as we returned to the National Museum auditorium for the Traditional segment of the Troupe competition.

Judge Cred
The judges were announced for the Troupe segment - the same Taiwanese and Chinese judges from the previous Solo segment, Sheng Yu Lan and Wen Kexin respectively … but it was odd that the MC indicated another judge as a returning judge.

Apparently Tama Goh, the only male judge and the official representative from the festival who is reputed to be a fairly well-known local percussionist, was one of the judges for the Solo segment. This is very strange as no one noticed his presence during any of the Solo segments. In fact, not once during my many trips up and down the aisles and to the judges’ area did I see Tama Goh, despite his insistence otherwise. Even 3A, with her beady eyes, somehow managed to miss this tall gentleman’s presence! How he managed to adjudicate astrally is a trick I would like to learn.

The final judge was a familiar name - Mey Jen Tillyer from Hong Kong. A former teacher of a friend, her reputation preceded her as one of the veterans in the industry in Asia. I felt her presence was a mitigating factor to defuse the imbalance and conflict of interest inherent in the panel.

My Troupe is Bigger than Yours
As with the Solo segment, all the troupes came from the organiser’s school, with the exception of one. At first, we were unaware of this fact as the announcements of each troupe cannily avoided mention of provenance, much like the Solo segments. However, by the end of the day, we were cognizant of the fact that only 1 out of 8 troupes was not from the organiser’s school.

First up was Troupe Malik. I wondered if we would see an all-male troupe based on the name, which would be a first in Asia, and was highly surprised to see an all-female troupe of three. 3A and I had a slight chuckle at yet another display of inappropriate self-naming. Performing a drum routine to a Hossam Ramzy piece, this all-Chinese troupe displayed poor timing and synchronisation. Their shimmies were inconsistent or executed in the wrong places. I found their hands, wrists and fingers distracting with excessive flappings, twirlings, jerks and splayed out fingers that looked beyond awkward.

One of the dancers in a peach bedleh had remarkably bad hip control and displayed more “chicken arms” than her schoolmate Nyssa did in the entire competition. The uneven technical ability of all the girls made their “duck” walk discordant and messy. All three dancers could not isolate their shoulder shimmies and emulated their teacher’s tendency to stomp during the saiidi steps much like “rhinos on the run” as one master teacher once remonstrated. With such basic technical foundation, it was a mistake to incorporate the signature Dina butt thrust into the choreography.

There was minimal formation and creativity in the choreography, reducing it to almost line dancing status. I was not impressed and gave this group 5/10 for presentation & framing; 3.5/10 for fluidity of technique; 3.5/10 for expression; 3/10 for originality & creativity; and 3/10 for rhythm & musicality. Overall, they scored 3.6/10.

The second troupe, imaginatively named Just 3, was another entry from the organiser’s school. Again, a 3-member group, they were clad in “butterfly” coin-studded tops and sequined harem pants. At least they attempted to synchronise their look even if it was not entirely to my taste. Performing to a modern Egyptian pop song (tres traditional, no?), the choreography made me sit up and gasp, as did a couple of other dancers. Another lifted number from a master teacher – Magdy El Leisy but of course with no attribution as usual.

I shook my head sadly as I made a note to mark them down considerably in the originality & creativity section. Again, this group displayed the school’s proclivity towards overly-active wrists. Worse, they could not remember the choreography and there were wrong turns, major hesitation, nervous exchanges of glances and missed movements in this less than stellar performance.

They further massacred the choreography with their minstrel hands waving and Chinese vampire walk which were both cringe-worthy and hilarious. I was not the only one sporting shaking shoulders as the audience was driven to discreet guffaws.

I gave them 4.5/10 for presentation & framing; 2/10 for fluidity of technique; 3/10 for expression; 0/10 for originality & creativity; and 2/10 for rhythm & musicality. They walked away with an overall score of 2.3/10.

By now I was wondering why troupes of such poor standards were being trotted out. Fortunately, the next troupe restored a little of my faith.

Again, the name was another indication of the lack of study or knowledge. This 5-member troupe was called Nerferteri and featured the only non-Chinese dancers from the organiser’s school. This much more polished group was clearly from a higher level within the organiser’s school than the previous two groups.

They chose their song poorly though, dancing to a Hossam Ramzy piece from his Flamenco Arabe CD. Highly inappropriate for a Traditional number and again, showing lack of comprehension. Technically, they all suffered from very poor arm work and weak one-legged shimmies. I particularly abhorred a particular move I shall only call the “Charlie’s Angels” pose. It drove 3A to such hilarity that she inflicted yet another bruise on my arm in her hysteria.

This troupe tried to lend some traditional credibility to their performance with a khaleegi movement which was wildly inappropriate for that piece of music. They, too, performed a hopping movement that was just embarrassing and again, some just could not remember their choreography with the dancer in the blue bedleh consistently messing up.

Despite all these detractions, Nerferteri (sic) was still the strongest thus far and I liked seeing the diversity in the group in terms of races and colour – much closer to what I envision a Singaporean contingent to be. Ironically, I later learnt two of them were not Singaporeans … sigh. I accorded this group 5.25/10 for presentation & framing; 4.5/10 for fluidity of techniques; 4.75/10 for expression; 4.5/10 for originality & creativity; and 4.75/10 for rhythm & musicality. They received an overall result of 4.75/10.

With a name like Fusion de Estellos, the organiser’s school’s confusion is evident. This 4-member troupe performed a rather insipid veil number to Aziza. I particularly disliked how they disposed of their veils and one of the dancers in blue was obviously the weak link, constantly behind or ahead of the rest and forgetting the choreography. All of them struggled with the group timing on the hip circles, which was particularly obvious in their linear formation.

Almost all of them would have sent snake charmers packing their bags with their abysmal snake arms. It was a disappointing performance to a rather boring choreography from a troupe that was perhaps too ambitious to take on the classic, Aziza.

For that poor performance, I gave them 5/10 for presentation & framing; 3.75 /10 for fluidity of techniques; 4/10 for expression; 3.75/10 for originality & creativity; and 4/10 for rhythm & musicality, giving them a total average of 4.1/10.

The esoterically named Rhythm of Life was next, proving that life can be confined to 3 persons. To my horrified amusement, this group performed the same number as Just 3! Which means this choreography was not lifted once but twice! And from the same school! In one event! What are the odds??!!

I was just full of exclamation marks of astonishment as I watched this group compete with their schoolmates on who could brutalise the choreography the most. These three heavy-set ladies clad in blue bedlehs did not display a grace belying their build. One sported an ill-fitting hair-piece I overhead an audience member unkindly state was giving her nightmares.

This group had very bad arms, hands and lines which went sideways and forgot to converge. I emitted a pained groan when they executed a vulgar butt shimmy with their legs akimbo with one thrusting her butt full frontal to the audience.

It was truly one of the most horrific displays of crudity I had seen since Shayna’s full frontal crotch flash. For that I gave them 2/10 for presentation & framing; 2/10 for fluidity of techniques; 3.5/10 for expression (one of them looked so happy to be there I gave them higher marks than they deserved); 0/10 for originality & creativity; and 2/10 for rhythm & musicality. This garnered them a dismal 1.9/10.

The only group which proudly carried the banner of the organiser’s school came next. And with good reason. Bellydance Discovery was made up of the 5 top principle dancers from the school, made up of Maia, Layla, Ayana, Joey and Shayna. Performing to a saidi cane dance in a raks sharqi style, which I did not think entirely appropriate for the Traditional segment, they were clearly the strongest troupe.

The cane number looked vaguely reminiscent to another Magdy number but since I was not sure and they performed this so well, I conceded the penalty in originality & creativity, hoping that my trust in them was justified.

The choreography was pleasant, more fluid than any I have seen from the organiser’s school and the level of technical ability above average. I was pleasantly surprised and truly enjoyed this number for the grace, excellent timing and well-melded stage craft exhibited by these five ladies.

The only misstep surprisingly came from Joey, which reinforced my impression that she was having a bad day. She forgot her choreography at a critical moment of the performance, magnifying the mistake and marring what might have been a flawlessly executed choreography. Again, I felt sorry for her being the weak link in a troupe where she was the teacher.

Still, it was a highly polished and well delivered performance by all and they fully deserved the marks I meted to them. 6.5/10 for presentation & framing; 6/10 for fluidity of techniques; 5.75/10 for expression (again, demerit points for some of the members’ extreme facial contortions and individual poses during a particular segment); 5/10 for originality & creativity; and 5.75/10 for rhythm & musicality. A well-earned 5.8/10 for this strong troupe performance.

The next group was the only group outside of the organiser’s realm. Belinda Tan’s Sundance Troupe was made up of the Jitterbug dancers and their superior modern ballet and jazz dance training and foundation showed. However, as these three dancers were not middle eastern dancers by training, their weak foundation was evident.

Dancing to what 3A thinks was a Hossam piece, the troupe exuded a strong stage presence rivaled only by the previous group. However, nothing disguised the lack of synchronisation during the erratic hip drops, raw movements, lack of lyricism for such a orchestral piece of music, and lack of feel for the music. Typical of Belinda’s choreography, there were many spins, which proved to be slightly challenging for one of the dancers in green. Still, this group showed raw promise and provided a more pleasing performance than some of the other groups.

I gave them a 5.5/10 for presentation & framing; 4.25/10 for fluidity of techniques; 5.25/10 for expression; 5/10 for originality & creativity; and 4.75/10 for rhythm & musicality. Their overall score was 4.95/10.

The last group was ironically called Les Belle du Mirage, sadly another name demonstrating lack of understanding and sophistication. Comprised of 4 girls dressed in tacky hip scarf tops and harem pants, this group was very rough with chicken shimmy arms all over the place and a poor sense of drum accents. Worse, I recognised the choreography as a piece choreographed by the organiser’s former teacher who had her works ripped off in the Solo segments too.

The group was not technically proficient enough to carry off the demandingly hectic pace of this choreography and thus some portions had obviously been adapted to make it easier for them. Still, it was a challenge for them and this showed in their performance.

Their disappointing performance garnered them a 4/10 for presentation & framing; 4/10 for fluidity of techniques; 4/10 for expression; 2/10 for originality & creativity; and 3.75/10 for rhythm & musicality. The overall score of 3.55/10 was the best I could give them.

As with the Solo segments, with the exception of Rani, I felt the Traditional segment of the Troupe competition was supremely disappointing. There were troupes in the line-up who should not even have been allowed to compete as they were such obvious beginners. It was almost as if the organiser churned them out as decoys to set her main, principle troupe as winners – which is unfair and unkind. To expose them to that kind of unfair comparison and ridicule is not something I would advocate. Still, perhaps she had her reasons. Moving along, the run-down of the scores were –

I was keen to see what the Fusion segment would bring as I sensed that it would be the most exciting portion of the entire competition. Sometimes I think I am psychic …

Friday, June 16, 2006

Dancerpades Part Illusion - Curry Confidential

The reverberations of the Solo segment results continue to sluice through the industry like virulent, inky, toxic waste, emitting negative side effects that may take a while to realise but when they do, might damage its ecosystem permanently,

Something shocking apparently happened at the end of the results announcement, of which I was completely unaware of till a week after the event – which is why this update took so long.

Please note that all the statements posted here are, as yet, unproven and the person who divulged the information may go back on her statement when the proverbial shit hits the fan. But it is truly so reprehensible, if it is indeed true, that I could not sit on it anymore. It is too incendiary for me to cast any judgements but I sure have a lot of questions …

A week or so after the entire competition, I finally called Nur Shiblie to offer my condolences and to respond to her invitation to visit her home. The instant she heard my confession that I had pegged Rani as the winner, it released a diatribe from the irate dance teacher.

Apparently, immediately after the results were announced, Nur Shiblie approached the judges to question them on the decision. She rightfully insisted on knowing how they could have overlooked Rani. And here is where it gets controversial.

When Nur Shiblie demanded an answer from the organiser, the latter tried to appease her by saying that “the judges don’t know”. What this could mean leads to speculation. Does this mean that the organiser is inferring that the judges are wrong and ignorant? If so, why were they appointed in the first place? Does it mean that the judges do not know what the results are? Is this the desperate answer to ward off an irate teacher? What does this all mean??? Speculations are riff but answers are scarce.

Nur Shiblie swore (no, I did not take down a written affidavit because I have not had time to meet with her yet. I only managed to obtain her vehement affirmation that this was the truth via the telephone so she may come back and recant, in which case I will remove this entire post and have to make a statement of apology – but till then just read) that she approached the Chinese judge, which would make that Wen Kexin, who revealed that the judges gave the “blue girl”, referring to Rani, the highest marks but “what can they do?”

No one saw my face when I heard this revelation over the phone. Good thing too because I must have looked moronic with my jaw on the ground and my eyebrows up to the ceiling. I was shocked and appalled. If this is the truth, it goes way beyond the “kelong” that we suspected.

Admittedly, at first we harboured unkind and unjust speculations that the Chinese and Taiwanese judges may have chosen “winners” of a weaker calibre in order to give their own students a better fighting chance at the International contest the next day. Yes, yes, that was very small and devious of us to even think that but we were desperate for answers as to how the judges could have been so blind! Look, when unwarranted decisions are meted with no apparently fathomable explanations, it in turns invites unwarranted and unfathomable speculations!

Nur Shiblie also informed me of the two-person tabulation system – only two persons were allowed into a small room without the witness of the judges or any other officials to tabulate the scores. And that one of them had been the organiser and teacher of 11 of the contestants.

All these do not add up to a pretty picture. While we all harboured ambiguous feelings towards the organiser for her affronts and double-talk, we would never have ever suspected her of such blatant fraud. I was truly flabbergasted.

When Nur Shiblie heard the Chinese judge’s comment, she lost it. She began to harangue the organiser and anyone who looked twice at her to protest the decision and alleged fraud. When I expressed bewilderment as to how I could have missed this, she told me that this happened during the break between the Solo and Troupe segments when everyone had been herded out of the room. I was amazed and disappointed that I had missed the big hooha.

Shiblie apparently searched the room for me or 3A or anyone who could have supported her or, at least, be a witness. But according to her, she did not see any of the established dancers among the stragglers. She demanded to speak with A, the main organiser, who apparently was not present that day. In embarrassment, the organiser/teacher began to leave the room to avoid Nur Shiblie, who was now entreating innocent audience members still remaining in the room, to witness this alleged injustice.

No one came to her aid, so Nur Shiblie began to trail the organiser out to the lobby where she began to call out to the latter that she “was cheating”, that “this is unfair”, "this is cheating" and “how can you cheat like this”. Shiblie told me that passerbys were giving her amused and pitying looks in turns while the organiser climbed the escalator with a beetroot red face but did not turn to acknowledge Nur Shiblie’s shouts.

This complete shut-out spurred Nur Shiblie to threaten to go to the police, a threat she was going to follow through until her friends advised her against it. Apparently, the reason is that it will not benefit her and would create a scene. Frankly, we think she should have if a fraud had indeed been committed.

Since she was not privy to most of the dancers’ contacts, Nur Shiblie had no one in the industry to air her grievances to, so she had to fume and sit on her rage a full week or so before I made my innocent call to her.

During our conversation, she made a few observations, some which I thought valid, others humorous but most of which I found controversial. I warned Nur Shiblie I would quote her in a public domain and that the possible repercussions may be more trouble than she anticipated. But she was adamant that someone should speak out about this, and stood by her statements even after my obligated advisements. So here goes …

Mustafa Chin
When she was informed that the judges were the Chinese and Taiwanese teachers for the overseas dancers competing the next day, she asked why a middle eastern judge had not been appointed. In Nur Shiblie’s words, it is almost like this …

“How can a Chinese medicine man sell Indian curry?”

Honestly, that cracked me up so hard I had tears in my eyes. It also made me suddenly crave prata.

January’s Child
Remember how many of us were miffed we only received an email blast about the competition application in May? And how we found out, from the organiser’s mouth, that she had informed some selected teachers and dancers of this earlier in March/April but not all? Apparently, according to Nur Shiblie, another dancer/teacher who participated in the troupe segment inadvertently revealed that the organiser had informed her of the competition in January. Sigh.

Shiblie Get Your Gun
And the classic quote is the next, which threw me into such hysterical convulsions I almost twisted my back. I liked it so much I made Nur Shiblie repeat the statement three times. Three times the convulsions! Fun …

“If there was a gun that can shoot people and they don’t die, she [the organiser] will be the first one I shoot!”

Classic! Pure gold! What a soundbyte!

While everything that is written in this post is a minefield that can, and probably will, blow up in my face, just the two quotes from Nur Shiblie demanded an airing.

All these are, of course, hearsay and pending a written affidavit, cannot be proven or even verified. But something interesting happened the next day. I mean the day after the Solo segment, not day after the the phone conversation.

3A had gone to the National Museum very early in the morning to obtain the International segment tickets for us. No one other than the organisers were there but 3A saw an altercation between A, main organiser, and the alleged cheater, the organiser/teacher in full view of all the festival employees. Perhaps Nur Shiblie’s scene had reached the attention of A as A was incredibly incensed with the organiser/teacher and was giving her a real bollocking.

In the midst of this, A was apparently demanding that the organiser/teacher account for a number of things, one of which was to produce the scorecards. Since 3A was too well-mannered to lurk to witness the organiser’s humiliation, she did not stick around to find out the outcome of this heated dressing down.

So we may never know if the horror story of scores manipulation, alleged fraud, bias and other nefarious activities are true, will we? It was clear that Nur Shiblie was beside herself. Did this rage colour her judgement? Could her ire misrepresent a set of perhaps totally innocent circumstances? Are there some logical and totally plausible explanations behind all this supposed infringements?

I wouldn’t know as every time I requested the organisers’ time to speak with them about the competition, they pleaded lack of time, exhaustion, made some perfunctory lip service or simply avoided me. When I asked to interview the judges, they actually asked me not to as the Taiwanese judges may not be supportive (the reasons why would become clear later) and were generally rather unhelpful. I basically had to hunt down the judges individually to seek an interview. Unfortunately, because of my uncertain Chinese, I did not get the opportunity to interview the Chinese and Taiwanese judges or contestants. A drawback the organisers realised and were slightly amused by but never offered a solution even when I offered to find an interpreter pronto. In fact, at one point, one of them even asked me why I would want to! I don't know ... maybe because this is supposedly an International contest???

So, although I would like to present their side of the story, the complete lack of disclosure and assistance has made this challenging.

Read quick as this may be shut down when the legal beagles and irate and supposed maligned individuals call a jihad on me.

Good night from your proverbially long-necked and feckless dancer/reporter, Machiam Malu for if the stories are indeed true, it is indeed our collective shame.