Thursday, May 29, 2008

Can of worms. What do I think about Sophie Mei?

mood: Pringles and fudge-striped cookies.

I received the following comment
"I was wondering if you could watch this girl belly dancing on Britain's Got Talent and tell me if she's any good.

I thought she looked a little sloppy but I thought I should ask your professional opinion."


Before I say anything, I wanted to find out more about her. But after 200 Google links of "see Sophie Mei make Simon drool!" I gave up. All I know about her is that she dances at a restaurant and is 19 years old. I have no idea what kind of training she has had. With who and where she takes classes? If at all? Does she know anything about BD history and development? etc.

I don't like to critique other dancers for a few reasons. First, some performances are good, some suck regardless of talent, and this is a youtube video. Second, my critique would be no more than opinion. And an opinion is just that, an opinion. Third, I am a firm believer there is no such thing as an expert on bellydance. I will say that again.


Don't get me wrong, there are the good, bad, and ugly but if you want to hold BD up as an art form then there can't be a right or wrong. Only what is tasteful for the situation. I mean, you can bitch and moan about how some dancers discredit BD by throwing on a barely there costume and dry humping the air trying to pass it off as BD. And I would agree with you. Because I DO believe BD is an art. Which also means I must uphold the definition of art.

"Generally art is a (product of) human activity, made with the intention of stimulating the human senses as well as the human mind; by transmitting emotions and/or ideas. Beyond this description, there is no general agreed-upon definition of art. Art is also able to illustrate abstract thought and its expressions can elicit previously hidden emotions in its audience."

So critiquing BD would be like critiquing any art form. It would be based on personal opinion and taste. A "professional" critique can only really have any merit if you are looking at the art form in a specific cultural context. Even then it is only conjecture. And I am NOT a professional, LOL!

First, this is a get rich-and-famous-quick TV game show. That right there is enough to throw this discussion out the window. Listening to the judges "critique" they obviously don't know anything about BD, what it is or where it came from. All they know is she is hot and jiggles good. Which is unfortunate. If people are emphasizing, "You're so beautiful!" It could really stunt her as a dancer. The judges talk about her only in light of her looks, how hot and sexy she is. And yeah, she's hot. She'd make a great BD Superstar, but they tack on "talented" at the end as an afterthought. So really, the judges have no idea what they are looking at. Slap a hot 19yr old on stage in a hot costume, doing a mix of restaurant BD and club dancing and who knows what you will get...Brittney Spears maybe? And we all know how that works out.

However, if you want to look at it as her doing restaurant dancing contorted into a stage performance dancing for a few brief minutes in order to woo some judges who know NOTHING about BD as an art to win some recognition. Yeah, she did that hands down.

Ok, so what is my actual opinion?

Well, I've seen better.

One, she is a restaurant dancer (part time I think). Anyone who has ever danced between tables of people eating know there isn't so much art in it as there is looking cute. It's mostly walk, walk, jiggle, boobs and hair, jiggle, walk, jiggle, walk, boobs, walk, hair... It's a lot different then a stage number. Not to mention, WTF is up with the shirtless boy toys in the background?

Second, I thought her moves where WAY TOO BIG. Alright, I know she was nervous. And when you get nervous the first thing you do is go too fast and get sloppy with the moves. Which she did both of. The technique was pretty basic with just a few big accents here and there, (like you do in a restaurant), and a sloppy shimmy or two. Her legs were too far apart for her frame. It seemed she had little stability there. I didn't care for the English cover of the Tarkin "Kiss Kiss" song. If she was going to dance to a pop song, she could have used the original, you know, for cultural reference. She kept turning to the side and I felt like she was performing some crappy BD workout video choreography that bored housewives do when they want to reclaim their youth by pretending to be a sexy spunky bellydancer. Then again it was only like a 1min. choreography. Go figure.

Third, the Isis wings where kind of dumb. I know Isis wings take practice and look cool but they are just there to distract the audience. Same thing with swords, trays of fire, veils, and other stupid human BD tricks. People look at the Isis wings and forget all about watching the dancer. It was sort of a cop out. Bamboozle the audience with shiny things! But the audience fell for it, boy toys and all.

Sophie did EXACTLY what her audience and judges wanted to see. PLUS! They really didn't want to see a thicker older women making faces to 8 minute Arabic taxim. (I do, but I'm not a judge).
She did keep her crotch away from the audience when she did her back bends. PLUS!
She smiled and made eye contact. PLUS!
Her arms looked pretty good. PLUS!
She wore a simple modern costume that flattered her figure. PLUS!
She also is bringing BD to a broader audience (not the perfect audience but broader none-the-less). PLUS!

Then I went and found this video.

Better than the other performance but still not great.
She talked very briefly about posture and keeping her shoulders back. PLUS!
She danced to music that was still pop but not in English. Yea, some culture! PLUS!
She made the face, which shows she feels the music. PLUS!
Like before she turned to the side and used her legs a lot, not her torso muscles. Not So Much
Like before her moves where still really big. Not So Much
Like before her feet where wide and her whole body waved and bounced around instead of the focus on her hips. Not So Much.

I DO think Sophie has talent. I just don't think it is perfected. She could have taken classes with a Turkish style dancer. Turkish moves are bigger and showier than others. I still think she needs more muscle control. More muscle control would make her big moves look cleaner. It would keep her from swaying and bouncing so much. You know, not so floppy. Her dance vocabulary seems limited to some basic moves and accents. But she was dancing to pop music not intricate Middle Eastern style 3, 5, 7, or 9/8 rhythms, so I have to take that for what it is worth. I think she could be a better dancer and still be hot. Jillina needs to get a hold of her and clean up her form a bit.

I can't really look at a few seconds of Sophie Mei on a game show and determine her abilities as a dancer or artist. Watching BD on video probably does her a disservice. I am sure she is much more fabulous and entertaining in person. Every awesome dance I've ever seen is always 1000 times better in person than watching it again on video. The camera looses all the energy of the room, the audience, the dancer. I think it is sad that the focus of the show is on her being barely legal and sexy when she could really do better. She is only 19 and despite sounding jaded, she is too young to put any real feeling in her dance yet. I heard another dancer say that 5 or 6 years ago and thought, "She is just old and jaded." Well, she was right. BD gets better with age and experience. Unfortunately by then, you wish you still looked like a 19 year old, LOL!

And you know, I don't see any other bellydancer out there representin'



Jemina Shikany said...

I just read this article about it yesterday... Interesting.

Naima said...

I had to do some searching to find the article. The address is right but it wouldn't pull. Here is the article in full.

Sexy reaction belies TV belly dancer's intentions

Sheffield student Sophie Mei belly-dancing on Britain’s Got Talent

Published Date: 09 May 2008
By Ian Soutar
AFTER her wiggles wowed the judges on ITV show Britain's Got Talent on Saturday night, belly dancer Sophie Mei found herself all over the media.
"These last few days have been crazy, my feet haven't touched the ground," says the 20-year-old student from Sheffield.

The programme was recorded at the Palace Theatre in Manchester in January and Sophie suddenly found herself the talk of the town after the show screened on Saturday.

Viewers saw the usually sharp-tongued Simon Cowell lost for words for once, eventually managing to gulp: "You're very cute."

Co-presenter Dec Donnelly applauded ecstatically from the wings as the other judges heaped praise on Sophie.

Piers Morgan gushed: "Your wobble is very good. You have got the belly for belly dancing." and Amanda Holden trilled: "You are completely gorgeous."

The next day her scantily-clad picture was all over the papers with headlines such as "Mr Nasty and the Belly Nice Dancer" and "Sexy Sophie wows judges" which she took in good heart, although it was not exactly her intention.

She entered the ITV talent show to help change the image of belly dancing.

"I was fed up with it being seen as sleazy. It's a woman's dance for women, it's not for men. I wanted to get that message across," says Sophie, who is in her second year studying philosophy and Italian at Manchester University.

"I also entered Britain's Got Talent because I wanted to try something different from the usual dance competitions which are very traditional and set in their ways.

"There are so many amazing acts on Britain's Got Talent that mine looks quite normal."

She admits that she was very nervous beforehand. "But after seven hours of waiting you get to the point where you're beyond nervous," she adds.

"It was such an amazing atmosphere. I have performed on stage but never experienced anything like going out in front of 2,000 people all cheering. You soon get into the role and I loved it.

"We have to wait until May 24 to find out whether we'll be going into the live semis. If that happens I will be looking to draw on support from Sheffield.

Sophie's mother is Anglo-Chinese artist Panni Poh Yoke Loh and her dad, Steve Slack, is director of the Centre for HIV and Sexual Health in Sheffield.

She grew up in Pitsmoor and went to Fir Hill and King Edward VII schools.

At the age of 13 or 14 Sophie joined belly dancing classes in Pitsmoor and Walkley, partly as a way of defying pressure at school for girls to have slim figures.

When she got to Manchester she took her dancing to a higher level by training with a leading instructor and practises regularly.

Once a week she comes back to Sheffield to perform for customers at the Shiraz restaurant on Abbeydale Road but keeps her dance moves in check when she works weekends in the food hall at Selfridges in Manchester.

The full article contains 506 words and appears in Sheffield Telegraph newspaper.
Page 1 of 1

* Last Updated: 09 May 2008 8:51 AM
* Source: Sheffield Telegraph

Carly Ann said...

Sorry for opening that can of worms. I guess I didn't really think of it like this before, so I'm glad you mentioned it, the thing about there not really being a right or wrong way because it's art. That's definitely how I feel about writing music, so I understand.

This was a good read.

Sa'dia said...

Well, I'm glad you made the 'no expert/ right or wrong comment. It's so true. You can tell that she doesn't have any formal dance training... Which I've come to realize in the past few years, is terribly important ESPECIALLY if your going to perform on that level. She's not the best (I agree, to big and sloppy) but she isn't the worst I've seen either. You know what I'm talking about, there have been a couple of terrible 'bellydancers' on shows like "So You Think You Can Dance" that have really embarrassed me... at least she wasn't embarrassing for the art form.

Young Vic said...
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