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Belly Dance on So You Think You Can Dance, Dilara's Take

Belly dance is no stranger to being represented on those “So You’ve Got Talent to Dance Maybe, America and/or Other Country?” Shows, as we well know. The 9th season of So You Think You Can Dance FINALLY had a belly dancer try out, and reaction across the interwebs is varied.


I read and read the opinions posted on various websites, and the responses were... interesting.  Read for yourself:


“She does her belly dance routine in nursing homes and I hope all these old men are on heart monitors when she does so. Mercy. … Janelle Isis starts her routine and it's kind of the "stripper" version of belly dancing, not that it's not good, but that I've seen more traditional belly dance and this is not it. The technique is there, but the presentation is what makes it seem flashier.”

-Amy Watts, Baltimore Sun


“I love it when the weird styles get through! Janelle's a belly dancer, giving a performance that rightly put Nigel in danger of a heart attack. I was actually surprised that she got sent to choreography (the dance seemed lyrical enough to almost count as their beloved contemporary), but it was still OK. Janelle totally rocked the choreography and got a plane ticket.”

-Laurel Brown, BuddyTV


“Janelle Issis, a Palestinian belly dancer from Birmingham, Alabama, is up next. Dude, I tried just a belly dancing workout video once and I have no idea how to move my body like that at all so I'm already impressed. Nigel tells her that her eyes sparkle but as she's wearing a sparkly bra, I think his own eyes might actually be elsewhere. She's trained in a lot of other styles but belly dancing is her passion so that is what she's doing today. Nigel leers at her and is generally gross, and of course he adores her dance. I love it too, but in a different, less creepy way from Nigel. The judges all find her to be an all-out performer and star.”

-Lauren S, Television without Pity


”This Alabama belly dancer, who learned everything she knows from a fellow church parishioner, wowed the judges. We certainly haven't seen too many belly dancers audition, and I have a feeling she could make up for the lack of ballroom dancers so far.”

-Henry Hanks, CNN Blog “The Marquee”

Dilara Responds:

Look - we know that these television shows need to pander to an audience. It’s all about ratings, folks, and these executives love a good scandal. So we’re not surprised that Nigel practically drools on the table whenever a lovely lady steps on stage, regardless of dance genre. Are we happy he makes sleazy remarks about a belly dancer? Well, of course not, and if you’ll watch Janelle’s reaction shots, she doesn’t look too happy either.


Some of you might think, “Oh come on, Janelle - don’t let him get away with that.” But seriously - she’s 23, on stage, in front of judges, on national television, auditioning for her dream. Yeah. She probably hears, “Wah wah wah-wah, wah. Wah. Cue the music.” The rest is all smiles and hoping she doesn’t pass out.


Now, at first from her costume, I thought she might not be a professional. But if you watch her background, you’ll see many sprinkled in professional style costumes. I can’t help but wonder if, by picking her as a highlighted performer, they give her a little feedback for her audition. “Wear something less showy, and why don’t you dance to hip-hop? That’ll catch audience attention.” This isn’t reality, people, it’s reality television.


The thing that frustrates me the most is that they sent her to choreography. Would they ever send a ballet dancer to choreography? Whatever - she excels here, as any professional belly dancer would, and so part of me is a little glad because whatever watered-down choreography her advisors told her to perform, she still has dance chops.


As she progresses throughout the competition, and you can bet I’ll be rooting for her to get into the Top 20, because the more dance styles she can master, the more people will respect the artform she first displayed. What was that again? Oh yeah - belly dance!