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Susan Weinrebe

Second Annual Golden Navel Belly Dance Competition

by Susan Weinrebe
June 7, 2005

Second Annual Golden Navel Belly Dance Competition

Second Annual Golden Navel Belly Dance Competition
Tizi Melloul Mediterranean Restaurant
531 N. Wells Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610
(Tizi Melloul Website)

Susan Weinrebe
June 7, 2005

Short of a magic carpet ride to Morocco, the next best thing is a visit to Tizi Melloul for the Second Annual Golden Navel Belly Dance Competition.

Located in the buzzing River North area, Tizi could not be a more perfect setting for the hottest of new/old dance forms. Shades of pomegranate highlighted with gold and jeweled lamps, cushioned banquettes pillowed for lounging, and arches galore reminded me of other exotic Middle Eastern places I'd visited.

The house was packed, SRO, and the overflow crowd migrated to set up chairs on the sidewalk looking into the windows behind the stage. Judges flanked one end of the stage, where glare from the end-of-day sun through the street side windows did not interfere with their view. Each performer would do a five-minute routine and if chosen as a finalist, would perform a second set with different choreography.

Like a Middle Eastern fairy tale of jewels come to life, dancers threaded their way through the audience to perform on the low stage. Costumes in diaphanous silks wafted about them, now and again revealing flashes of leg between skirt panels. All wore bras to expose midriffs, thus separating the upper, middle, and lower parts of the body to show off their isolating control of those muscle groups.

Ballet as a form accentuates line, while belly dance emphasizes isolation, transition, and control. Embroidery, veils, armlets, and other costume embellishments direct attention to the body area being showcased by the dancer, while using a vocabulary of arm, body, head, even hair movement specific to the genre. Also, auditory direction is given through the high, light sounds of moving coins, fringe, and finger cymbals.

Three finalists out of ten competitors were to return for the deciding votes of the judges. But first, last year's winner, Sonia, also a judge, took to the stage to reprise a winning performance. With waist length hair, a spine embracing tattoo, and the presence of a performer who knew how to work the crowd as well as her abdominals, Sonia demonstrated she still had her stuff.

Tracy, the first finalist to dance, used especially symmetrical isolations to the four corners of the earth that whipped the crowd into a frenzy of partisan applause. Kimahri's initial arm work, favored by some aficionados over hips, was accented by little hops and a tempo change that signaled she had intricate shimmy skills as well. Katya, the last finalist, fitted her slender frame to classic movement following otherworldly wailing of bazooki music. That led to a frenzy of spine jouncing full-body snaps and a finale in which she fell to the floor!

The audience choice went to Jade, by popular acclaim! (See Belly Dance Hafla, May 13, 2005) Looking like a temple goddess in sapphire blue and a headdress, at first, she matched her movements to the lyricism of her music. Then, following a moment's interlude, compelling African rhythm lead to pulverizing shimmy work that nailed her routine. Jade's prize was a magnum of champagne, almost too large to heft off stage.

And the winner of the Second Annual Golden Navel Belly Dance Contest? The lovely and utterly in control Kimahri, whose smile never wavered from beginning to end and who made it all look effortless. She received $500 and a month's contract to perform at Tizi Melloul.

Belly dance performances are an ongoing ingredient in Tizi's ambiance. Will there be a Third Annual Golden Navel Contest next year? No doubt about it with the growing popularity of belly dance. You'd best plan to get there early though, so you won't be on the outside looking in.

Golden Navel Contestant
Photo courtesy of Susan Weinrebe

The Finalists
Photo courtesy of Susan Weinrebe

Kimahri, The Winner
Photo courtesy of Susan Weinrebe

Cheong, Event Planner
Photo courtesy of Susan Weinrebe

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