Six questions to ask yourself about your dancing before a Bellydance performance.
By Nielle McCammon (to appear in the Jan/Feb issue of Shimmy in the Spirit of Bellydance magazine)
Over the summer I participated in a bellydance show in which the performers ranged from first-time beginner to seasoned professional. And what struck me was that the technically best performer was not necessarily the favorite performer for all the audience.
It also occurred to me that one or two of the performances were too experimental and strange for a show to an audience comprised of people who had never seen bellydancing before.
I was prompted to ask the guests I invited who their favorite performers were and why --- and I was extremely surprised at the answers.
Their favorites were not the seasoned professionals who showed off their technique mastery but the performers who were all about connecting with the audience and sharing the love of the dance from their heart. They liked the dancers who were playful (NOT sexual) and who seemed to love dancing more than showing off their talent.
That provoked me to take a poll among all my bellydancer friends to ask them what their biggest pet peeves are and also what captivates them most about bellydancers and performance techniques.
Here are some of the responses:
• Taking someone else's carefully crafted act move by move and presenting as your own...there are a lot of step for step Indigo imitators out there at shows...and repetitive moves (i.e., the same snake arms and chest locks every 20 seconds).
• Fake smile, constipated face, sex face, and flailing arms & hands.
• 'I bought this in a mall' sort of costumes often detract from the dance. Simplicity is good, cheesy bellydance costumes are not.
• Just going through the steps, regardless of skill level. Chicken arms! Spastic Arms, "Vogue-ing!" & whipping the veil like they are fighting with it.
• The dancer's energy...the ability to project the emotion of the music. Seeing that she is having fun!
• Dancers demonstrating many different skilled moves during improv dance. It doesn't matter what style of bellydance it is but I love it when you can see that someone has spent a lot of time enjoying their dance and has a large repertoire to draw from.
• Fluid movement, smooth transitions, crisp accents, nice body lines, unpredictable movement.
• When the dancer knows her music so well that the choreography fits completely with every change and accent in the music... the dancer's ability to work up and feed off the audience (if it is a live piece). And of course a sense of effortlessness from the dancer, as though her body just moves like this. All the technical ability and difficult combinations in the world don't evoke so much as a yip... but shimmies and smiles drive the crowd wild.
What bothered my guests about the seasoned professional performers/teachers, was that their performance seemed to show off their technique and their sexiness rather than their love of the dance. As dancers we can appreciate amazing technique because it takes a lot of hard work to attain. However, people new to bellydance don't know any of that, they just see the message that is projected by the dancer.
So when you're practicing for your next show, here are some questions to ask yourself before you take the stage:
1. What message are you conveying to the audience? Are you selling sex? Because if you are, it will make most of the audience (even some men) very uncomfortable. Or are you saying, “I’m a technically great dancer and you should be wowed by me” (which can come off looking mechanistic and void of substance). Or are you playfully, truly enjoying dancing and bringing a smile and happy feeling to your audience? Make it LESS about you, and more about them. In doing this, they will enjoy you more and you will be less focused on your own insecurities. This will also keep your smile from looking fake because you’re honestly communicating joy of dance.
2. Is your costume flattering, appropriate and secure? Or is it distracting? Are the props appropriate for the venue? Have you practiced enough with all your props? (For example sword, veil or fire can be really tricky in a small, indoor space). Are all your pieces pinned so they won’t fall off? (BRA, belt, skirt/pants) Speaking as someone who's had a bra pop open in the middle of a group performance, I can tell you I ALWAYS double safety pin the closures even if they seem secure!
3. Have you made this dance your own? Or are you ripping off an original step by step? It’s one thing to be influenced by a style, another to copy it completely.
4. Are you using all the knowledge you've accumulated in your routine? Or are you too focused on the move of the month? Remember all the styles you have studied and take time to reflect on movements you might have forgotten about.
5. Are you drawing the audience in with your smile and/or your eyes? Sometimes we focus on our dance so much we forget the audience. But really that connection is what it's all about isn't it? Translating our love of dance to others. Otherwise why are we dancing for anyone? If you're not going to connect with your audience, you might as well just dance in your living room.
6. Consider the venue --- what style of dance is appropriate? Is it a show for other dancers or for people new to bellydance? You don't want to misrepresent the art-form to newbies. My writing professor used to say, "you can't break the rules until you learn them." So show people new to bellydance the best fundamentals of the art-form and save experimental fusion pieces for specialized dancer gatherings. Even then, I think it's a good idea to keep fusion dances to a minimum unless it's specifically a fusion-type event.
I'd like to quickly reference a wonderful blog with a series called "How to Keep an Audience Awake" - it's very helpful:
From The Gypsy Kiss Blog for Bellydancers
"How to Keep an Audience Awake" has six main focuses:
2. The Throne Room of the Empress
4. Focused confidence
And, the crowning glory of ALL performance:
A mentor suggested to me once, that when you enter the stage area, look around to your audience, saying with your eyes and smile, "thank you for being here and appreciating the art that feeds my soul. I give you now all the joy and expression in my heart."
TO WATCH US DANCE IS TO HEAR OUR HEARTS SPEAK. ~HOPI INDIAN SAYING
Thanks so much to Jennifer Morel, Elbereth Lorenz, Jessi Wilson and Zel Hayal for their contributions to this article!
Nielle McCammon is a resident of Lakewood, CO but previously grew up in Tempe AZ where her bellydance adventure began.
Please visit her website for bellydance resource links, teacher information, articles and more: www.shimmygoddess.com