Left to right: Leea Aziz in an early promotional photograph; Leea performing at El Morocco; and Sula with Roman "Bert" Balladine
Belly Dancer of the Year is the culmination of several events produced by Sula Frick in the mid-1960s through the early 1970s, including a solo competition and professional development seminars for belly dancers. Sula was a professional belly dance performer and instructor who operated her own dance studio in Walnut Creek, California, training and booking professional belly dancers for restaurants, clubs, and private events. She eventually founded "The Belly Dancer of the Year Pageant" and produced the event until 1977. The Pageant provided what was at the time a rare opportunity for belly dancers to perform on a stage. When Sula passed away suddenly in 1978, Leea Aziz, her close friend and protege, took over her dance studio and business. Sula's son, who was 17 years old at the time, asked Leea to also continue producing The Pageant because it was his mother's proudest accomplishment.
At first, there was only one category for soloist and the event was held in very small venues. In 1979, Leea added the Troupe category at the request of Kattoura. Later, she created Grand Dancer at the request of Halame, and, finally, the Duet category was added. Several years ago, Duet was changed to Duo/Trio to separate smaller groups from larger troupes. Beginning in 2011, the Pageant Committee added the Tribal Soloist and Tribal Ensemble categories to represent the American Tribal, Improvisational Tribal, and Tribal Fusion styles in the belly dance community. The Duet category was brought back in 2014 to highlight this unique dynamic.
Leea produced The Pageant for 34 years, growing it from a single category competition to a six-category event featuring workshops, after parties, and dinner shows. Her unique approach focused the event on the competitors' experience and assisting the winners in building their dance careers through the workshop and dinner show the following year. After the 2012 Pageant, Leea decided to retire from producing the event and turned it over to Jennifer Cooper. Jennifer is a professional belly dancer in the San Francisco Bay Area. She began her belly dance training with Leea in 1992 and volunteered at Belly Dancer of the Year in various roles from 1993 to 2012. Jennifer also holds three BDOY titles.
Belly Dancer of the Year is an international event, drawing competitors from Asia, Canada, Europe, and Central America. "Belly Dancer of the Year" is recognized as the premier title in belly dancing, opening the door to teaching workshops, starring in performances, and DVD appearances. Previous winners include Delilah in 1977, Alexandra King in 1988, Judeen in 1993, Aziza in 2002, Shoshanna in 2004, and Oreet in 2007. Many BDOY titleholders have gone on to produce instructional and performance DVDs and teach workshops at high profile events around the world.
BDOY is a volunteer-supported community event. Its mission is to give qualified dancers a fair and equal opportunity to exhibit their skills on a professional stage, promote and elevate the art of belly dance, and support the belly dance community.