Last month I was given the honor of panelist/judge at the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival Auditions. As any Bay Area resident knows, the January Auditions are as exciting as the formal June Festival. While the Festival offers a juried selection of about 30 artists, the Audition features over 300 artists. That's where the Panel comes in. It was our job to vet all 300+ auditions and make recommendations to the Artistic Directors.
Not surprisingly, I was brought in for bellydance and Middle Eastern dance in general. We had specialists in Mexican Folklorico (there are a lot of Folklorico groups-big groups!), South American and Native American, Chinese and Asian, US and European, African, Indian (lots of Indian!) When we didn't have a panelist for a certain genre, they brought in a guest specialist.
Needless to say, it was an amazing two weekends. We worked non-stop from 9am-6pm each day, with extra hours on the last day. We were given a GIANT binder of applications, notes, stage plots, etc. to read beforehand. Our job was to observe each group as if we'd never seen anything before it..did I mention 300+ acts?! And we were a jury if you will. We were seated in roped off rows in the theater and sequestered in our "chambers" after each 2 hour segment. They did feed us! We were sworn to secrecy. For the rest of our lives we will never be able to discuss the comments that were shared with the other panelists. Which is a relief in hindsight, to know that the panelists who first judged FCBD can't tell anyone how bad we were (I'm smiling as I write this but it's so true.)
FatChanceBellyDance has auditioned many times for EDF, and gotten in on several occasions. I must admit that the first audition back in the early 90s was AWFUL. I can't even look at the video footage, it was so bad-but we were so earnest! At first the comments that we got from the panelists were confusing and often hurtful, as we saw their acceptance or denial as a final judgement on whether we were "good enough." But as time went on and I worked with the organization (World Arts West is the parent organization), I came to understand that they are "judging" for what they want in the festival that year. While of course they want "good" acts, they also might have a theme or special idea and are looking for a fit. I finally relaxed into the fact that the January Audition was just a great opportunity to stage a choreography (yes, we use formal choreography for an event like EDF), get a video and hopefully comments from the panelists. Of course, being accepted to the Festival is a thrill, but just doing the Audition can be fun.
At a moment in time, after we had been rejected several times, I approached WAW and asked what in the world they were looking for. They said, "Good acts." I said, you never choose belly dance. They said, "Because it's never very good!" Really?! "Well", they said, "We also don't know what we are looking for." That made sense. So I recommended Aisha Ali from Los Angeles. They flew her up on a year that we were auditoning. After the audition she called me and said, "I really like what you do, but I have to tell you that what you performed was pure fantasy, not authentic at all." OK, I thought, I can accept that. But then the phone rang and it was EDF offering us a place in the festival. Aha! It is all about a good show.
So here I've come full circle: from fledgling amateur to performing artist to judge. Amazing journey.