Saturday, 29 September 2012

Shimmy in the City - competition report

I have competed, I have survived, and I'm going to tell you all about it.

The second Shimmy in the City bellydance festival was on 20-22 September 2012 in Croydon, London. I went last year and had a great time. This year, I took part in the competition as part of The Peacock Project, a six-dancer troupe from all over the UK (Edinburgh, London, Cambridge and Exeter). We were Caroline the Peacock, Emma the Peacock, Hannah the Peacock, Moyra the Peacock, Zafirah the Peacock, and me.

And yes, we know that Peacocks are really male, but Peachicks are babies and Peahens are dowdy, so we're happy to be female Peacocks!

Emma the Peacock has blogged about the Project before - her article  sums it up. We decided a year ago to compete this year, and started working on our choreography in early 2012. So, for about nine whole months, the Peacock Project has been a big part of my life. The Edinburgh girls have been practicing weekly for about the last four months. The six of us have got together for five full days of practice, including one day spent at The Big Dance, where we had our first performance.

At first I felt overawed to be part of the Project - four of the girls are experienced in  bellydance competitions, and they include my most favourite dancers I know! I didn't feel remotely confident about my dance abilities or my choreographing. I was really nervous when we got together for the first time. But as the months went on, our choreography took shape and I felt better and better - about my own contribution and about what we were creating. It was such a luxury. By being a Peacock, I got to know friends even better, learning about them by learning how they work. I got to work with and learn from some brilliant dancers whose work I really enjoy and respect. And I got to dance, dance, dance, and get to a place where I was being the very best dancer that I could be.

By the time the competition came round, I was really, really excited. I've been taking on board a lot of NLP thinking recently, and I've been a fan of Paul McKenna since I prepared to dance with the Baladi Blues Band in January. I know it improves my performance, makes me feel better about myself and helps combat my nerves. I felt really positive about the competition, and wasn't letting any negative thoughts get into my head.

For me, walking on the the dancefloor thinking "well, we probably won't win but..." would have made entering the competition pointless. As far as I was concerned, we'd already won, and this was effectively a pressure-free performance to be enjoyed! It worked for me, I didn't feel nervous and I danced to the very best of my ability. I suspect that I was getting on the nerves of some of the other Peacocks with my relentless positivity!

Our day started with make-up and general Peacock Preening at 9.30am, and I have no idea where the next four hours went - before I knew it, we were dancing for the judges in our gorgeous peacock costumes and a haze of glitter spray. The judges were Kazafy, Orit and Aziza - three brilliant dancers and teachers. Still, nobody was going to faze that day! There was a small audience - I'm sure almost all of them were there to cheer on particular dancers or troupes, but there was still a good response.

Last year there were plenty of UK entries in both the solo and group competitions, but this year I was surprised that we were the only group from the UK. Emma the Peacock also entered the soloist competition, and was the only UK dancer.

I don't have a photo of the Peacocks in our costumes to share, sadly - we were too busy thinking about the dance to have our picture taken.

When the competition was over, we went to the pub. It was so lovely to be with the Peacocks, enjoying a Friday afternoon beer and chatting. I still felt upbeat and positive about a job well done, and relentlessly happy!

The results were announced at the hafla in the evening, about ten hours after the competition. I was so tired by then, all I wanted to do was go to bed! So when we weren't the winners or the runners up, I was disappointed but my first thought was "okay, time to get some sleep!".

The next morning was different. I was crying into my breakfast. I was so very, very disappointed, and just wanted to be at home with my family instead of in a hotel in Croydon. I really, really wanted to win - why else would I have entered a competition? - so losing was really tough. My mum texted me with a message which was the closest thing to a hug I've ever had from a mobile phone - she said "what you're experiencing is a reaction to having given your all." Spot on - there is no shame in being disappointed when I haven't got what I wanted. I sat and read the sections about failure from one of my favourite books, Unlimited by Jillian Michaels. Although I still felt miserable, I was proud of how I felt.

And frankly, having 12.5 hours of dance workshops over the next two days was a pretty excellent way to take my mind off it!

A week later and I still don't feel that I'm back to myself yet. It was such an emotional experience, and I feel pretty washed out, like I'm not feeling everything properly. I'm better than I was, and I'm not miserable, just off-kilter.

Would I do it again? I will jump at the chance to keep working with the Peacocks if I can. What a group of women, what a group of dancers! We've built lots of bonds and I don't want to lose that.

Would I compete again? Actually, yes I would. I'm a little surprised at myself but here's my logic. Despite the limitations of competitons - you don't necessarily get feedback; the judges can (and do) change the rules at their whim; and dance is making something personal and expressive, not something that anyone can judge for other people! - there is a positive. A competition is a reason to be the very best dancer that you can be. I realise that every day, every hafla, every dance should be a reason to be that dancer, but in reality, I know I can't be that focussed every single time. Having that one-off critique is an opportunity to be, as Cookie Monster says, "the best Cookie me can be." And maybe, with the right support and coaching and practice (lots and lots and lots of practice), I might be up for that in the future!