Monday, August 30, 2010


(You’d think that my next blog post would logically be about solicited feedback… and, yes, that was originally my intention… but then the unsolicited feedback brought up an idea so here we are. ;))

The idea came when I wrote about the comments that we sometimes get about the costuming… (see previous blog post). Same could be said about makeup... oh and hair too!

Not a feature

Isn’t it something to strive for, to have great costuming and makeup and hair? Yes… to a certain point. At a minimum, you want those elements to not be extremely visible… meaning, that it shouldn’t detract from your performance… and it shouldn’t be a feature of your performance. I have seen a number of dancers over the years whose performance gets carried through because of costuming, hair, and makeup but the dance itself was meh. Some people hide behind those tricks. (And, seriously, we've all done this at least once.) It’s a smoke and mirror trick that you want to use sparingly... if at all!


You want to stir away from the cluster f***. That happens generally when you just shlap on something without having put any thought into whether it's appropriate for the performance. Because it's a gorgeous costume or one from renown designer XX that cost you XX$, it doesn't mean that it's appropriate for the performance!


Ideally, you want everything costuming, hair, and makeup (and beyond) to be in synergy. What does ‘synergy’ mean? Synergy, in general, may be defined as two or more agents working together to produce a result not obtainable by any of the agents independently (per Wikipedia).So, with that in mind, I mean that we ideally want the costuming, hair, and makeup to enhance the performance in a way that enriches the whole final product that you’re presenting on stage.It’s a balancing act and a bit tricky. Just putting on a costume will already oomph up a performance… but if the performance doesn’t have enough oomph to begin with, a nicer bow won’t make it better.


Really, that’s the thing: you can view costuming, hair, and makeup as a frame for your performance… i.e., for your moves, for the mood and tone you want to set, the character, etc. So if you use the wrong frame, something will be off… and everyone will know it. Sometimes it’s easier to imagine a different art. Take a painting that would be very Victorian but you stick it in a super modern frame… something will definitely be off. Likewise, a very modern painting in a Victorian-style frame would be off. So keep that in mind while choosing your costume elements, your hair design, and your makeup!

Also keep in mind some technical/practical aspects too. You will be doing floorwork? A skirt may not be the best idea. You will be using veil? Maybe an elaborate do with lots of metal tidbits in your hair will most likely get the veil caught.

Another tip

I’ve most certainly been guilty of not having synergy in my costume. I think that it’s something that needs to be experienced with… and I don’t always succeed even when I’m trying to achieve it. For the record, while having a specific costume for a specific piece and only for that piece would be amazing, it’s near impossible to do for many reasons.

One thing that has helped me when I think of my costuming for an upcoming piece, though, is asking myself “Out of my stuff I already have, what would the person who is dancing this piece choose and does it fit with the music, mood, etc.?” (Note that I include jewelry and overall accessories in this self-assessment). It helps foster that synergy because you are getting in touch with the character and the piece in choosing your costuming elements. Same goes for hair and makeup. I ask myself “What would this character do for hair and makeup?”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Unsolicited Feedback

What I mean by “unsolicited feedback” is whenever you tell someone after a performance your thoughts on it. Most people just say something like “I really liked your performance!” It’s great that you did… but, believe me, we all get that a lot (or a version of that). It’s helpful to know more, hence the reason for this blog.

Not a full blown critique of the performance

If you’re giving unsolicited feedback, don’t do a full blown critique of the performance… that really should be kept for solicited feedback (i.e., someone pointedly asks you to critique the performance). The critique/solicited feedback topic will be covered in a separate blog. So, instead of giving a critique, what we want to focus on is what you can cover in your unsolicited feedback.

Keep it positive

The things that need to be improved on should be covered in a full blown critique. Few people will dare mentioning to the performer what he/she could have done better, thankfully, but I still thought that I should put this disclaimer here… just in case…

Overall impressions

Knowing your overall impressions is good. So knowing that you liked the performance is great. If you can add more details as to why you liked the performance, all the better! For example, “I really liked your performance because I could feel the emotions pouring forth.” Adding that tidbit of extra info helps the performer tremendously. That’s how the performer knows what overall elements came through for you.

Specific moves/moments

If there are specific moves or moments in the piece that really captured you, please say so! One of the best unsolicited feedback I’ve ever received was from Matthew Hellrung and Laura Smith: after one of my performances, they told me specific moves that they really liked in my performance. Again, knowing that tidbit of extra info tells the performer which moves really captured you. That generally means that it’s a move that we should keep on rotation. ;) For example and interestingly, one of the moves that Matthew commented on was one that I had originally dismissed but ended up doing on stage since I do improv and, well, it just came out. Had I not known that it had worked, I would have dismissed it again from future performances.

Costume comments

Costume is cool... and if there are elements that you liked about it and that worked for you, it's fine to say. But if you comment only on the costume or you say "I really liked your performance AND I especially liked your costume", it may make the performer a little neurotic. As in, "Okay... my costume was super cool. But my dance wasn't? Drat!" (or variations with more or less angst).

Oh and if you will comment on the costume, as with everything else I mentioned so far, if you can add specifics, it totally helps. For example, I really liked your costume because it enhanced the moves, specifically the arm movements. Or, I really liked your costume because it helped create/further the mood of the piece. Or whatever else.

Keep it short

A few sentences with important and pointed info will go a long way! After a performance, it often happens that a lot of folks want to talk to the performer or the performer may be doing another piece in another portion of the show and needs to go change so keeping the chat short will be helpful. Of course, if the person wants to chat for longer, it’s totally fine.

Pros and featured artists

There is this misconception that it’s almost like bad form to go tell a pro or the featured artist in a show specific details of what you liked about their performance. So they often end up hearing “I really loved your performance” over and over again. The truth is that they want the feedback too! And they seldom get some! They also want to know what worked for you and what you liked. Again, unless it’s a solicited feedback, keep it short, positive, and specific.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dancing in a restaurant

As a follow-on to the blog on dancing to live music and also due to the upcoming hafla at Greek Islands, I thought that I would write something about dancing in a restaurant setting. This isn’t my “tricks of the trade” kind of blog post but just some considerations for dancing in a restaurant setting 101. ;)

Remember my #1 rule, though: Have fun! That’s what it’s all supposed to be about. ;)

Respect the patrons’ space

I saw this repeatedly at Greek Islands haflas during the first wave a couple of years ago and also at Pat’s Pub: dancers dancing too close to tables and patrons. While I do understand that everything is cramped and while I will get close to patrons, you need to pay attention to their space. Specifically, you want to watch out for skirts flying and brushing on the patrons’ arms, veils hovering over the table (and, thus, the food), and backing on patrons’ chairs/tables. There are other transgressions but those are the most common ones.

You may want to stir away from the 25-yard tribal style skirts for that very reason… especially if it’s tucked up on the sides. You won’t feel it flying off nor notice the tucked ruffles brushing on arms and all that. If you want to do veil, find a big enough spot to do it in (at Greek Islands, that confines you to the entrance) or wait until the venue is almost empty. If you need to back up for whatever reason, do look where you’re going… both for the patrons’ sake and for your own… objects are sometimes closer than they appear! :s


I’m sword challenged so it’s not an issue for me but I think that swords deserve their own subsection. ;) Swords are beautiful and cool. But, beware of patrons! They have no idea that that thing is not just a cheap prop and will walk right by you… like much closer than you’d expect them to. So do be careful if you will do sword. And if you are still a swordee-in-training (i.e., if you’re getting good at it but still have balancing issues from time to time), you may want to wait until you are more in control of the sword before doing it out in public, especially when people will freely walk around you. For more advice on sword dancing in the restaurant, ask Gabi for her ideas and advice. Personally, I wouldn’t do it. But if you want to do it, use extreme caution.

Let the wait staff do their jobs

That is another big thing that I noticed: waiters sometimes have issues walking around to wait on their tables. If you notice a waiter coming your way, try to get out of the way (without falling onto someone else’s table, of course). There are many areas between tables where you can duck. ;) Try to pay attention to the movement around you. If we were to take pictures of me non-stop while I dance at Greek Islands, you would barely see me with my eyes closed or my head lowered; one of the reason for this is indeed to keep track of the wait staff movement so that I can get the hell out of their way. I realized as I was getting ready to write this blog that one thing that I tend to do if I am on the lower level of the restaurant is do a quick-ish twirl every now and then and check the kitchen area to see if anyone is coming out. Don’t go all twirling dervish on us… but consider glancing over there every now and then.

Acknowledge the patrons

I know that it’s a little hard at times, especially if you are an introvert but do give patrons a little smile every now and then. Try also to refrain from dancing constantly with your back to the patrons. I mean, turn to them for a little. The more you do those things, the easier it will become over time. And, you know, for all that your back side can be cute, they want to see you from the front too (that’s usually the nicer side of our costumes [and moves for that matter] anyway).

Dancing in a group (added after edit)

It kind of goes along with acknowledging the patrons. I've seen this numerous times and have been guilty of doing it myself. Sometimes, you will start dancing with a group of women and will be facing each other... totally turning your backs to the patrons... and it sooooooo looks like way back when women would go out and dance in a club with the purses in the middle of their dancing circle. Do feel free to disengage from the group a little and face the patrons. And this has a tendency to happen more with tribal dancing... we somehow start by facing each other and we stay that way. Well, if you do pair up with me, just know that I may turn the whole group so that we end up facing the patrons. Unless you are specifically doing a duet or doing something where all dancers are facing each other, in tribal style, really, you should still face 'the audience' often enough. ;)

Children first, women next, men last

This is something that I learned in the SCA and is uber useful. When dancing, if you do acknowledge the patrons, start with children first, women next, and men last. Children will provide a lot of entertainment: the baby in the high chair who is bouncing to the music; the smitten little boy who blows you kisses from across the room; the little girls who call you Princess Jasmine; the little boys who are clapping when you’re away but shy when you get close; the little girls dancing with you and following you around… It’s real funny and everyone likes it. Women will really appreciate being acknowledged before men. They’re generally digging belly dance more than men anyway so you may as well give them first smiles. ;) It also proactively pre-empts the conundrum for men of “Should I look at her or not?” Since you’re not making eye contact with them (yet), they can glance at their lady and see her reaction and take their cues from there.


Since there will be regular patrons, some of them are regulars or have been at Greek Islands before when there are belly dancers… heck, some did tip while at Pat’s Pub… so you need to think before you start dancing whether you want people to tuck bills in your belt or not. Really, it’s not that bad. You’ll be lucky if they tuck enough that the bill won’t fall off. But if you’re not comfortable with it, there are other ways. Amirah wears arm bands and point that the site of tucking should be there. So if you have arm bands, you can totally do that. Another method is to get the money in your hand and tuck it yourself. You want to do this politely and nicely… what you can do is like a little curtsy with your nicest smile so that they know that you appreciate the gesture.

Money shower

You may get a money shower. If you do, just stay there and be showered with money. I always have a big broad smile on my face when that happens because it cracks me up. And then I leave the money on the floor. I try not to bend down to grab money whenever possible. Don’t worry… someone will bring the money back to you… or put it on a free table nearby. You won’t lose your tip. ;)

Plates breaking

If Papa is there, he may break a stack of plates. That’s the way that he shows his appreciation and joy. It’s a Greek thing. Some people freak out when that happens: just know that it’s normal… and it’s fun. Again, that gives me the giggles. They will quickly clean the area where the plates were broken.


Do wear shoes when dancing in a restaurant. You probably don’t want to be barefoot on the carpet that may have had some food on it. They vacuum each night but, still, a few hours have passed. Plus, I think that, per the code, you need shoes to be in a restaurant. ;) I personally prefer closed toe shoes but you can wear sandals or other footwear. If the shoes/sandals are not dance shoes per se, you want to assess whether you can go up on the ball of your feet; that’s crucial for some movements. If you do have time to practice in said shoes, it’s even better. If you’re used to dancing barefoot, it’s a different experience, dancing in shoes. ;)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Dancing to live music

As we approach the time for the next Hafla with il Troubadore at Greek Islands, I thought that it might be a good idea to broach the topic of dancing with live music. It’s not a whole lot different than dancing with recorded music but there are some elements that you should note.

Don’t over-prepare
I’ve seen some dancers who prepare choreographies to go with live music. While it’s definitely a good idea to have the music in mind and have ideas of what you want to do at different points, if you over-prepare, you will be shooting yourself in the foot. With live music, you never know if they will speed it up (making some of your ideas impossible to execute), slow it down (now the ideas might not be interesting slow), or skip a part (in which case, your choreography is suddenly out of whack).

Work on your improv
If you can’t choreograph too much, what’s a dancer to do? Improvisation will generally work better with live music because it is so much easier to recover with anything that would be thrown at you. How to do improv is a big topic by itself so I won’t devote time to it here. What you can do, though, is practice with the music that the musicians will be playing. If you can get a hold of their rendition of the piece by said musicians, all the better. Again, it’s possible that they won’t play the music exactly as is. However, you can still use that music as a framework to practice your improvisational skills to that music. If you’re practicing for a hafla where you don’t know what the hell the musicians will be playing, just practice to some music. Improvisation is a skill that easily translates from piece to piece. :p

Flow with the music
Flowing with the music is obviously something that you can do (and should do) with recorded music too but it’s far easier with live music because you can synch with the actual musicians… right there! You’ll be more able to flow because you will have visual and audio cues from the musicians. This happens when you are relaxed and are really listening to the music as opposed to anticipating the music. It’s very helpful to notice changes in the music. ;)

If you would like the musicians to do something specific for you (for example, keep a certain tempo for a certain song), it’s perfectly fine to ask them. Making requests for specific songs is often fine… especially if we’re talking about il Troubadore. They are most accommodating. Anyway, the point is that, in general, you can ask what you want out of musicians and they are happy to help you out.

Acknowledge the musicians
It’s a nice touch to thank them for playing for you. It’s kind of a polite thing to do. They are happy to provide you with music and see you dance but let’s not forget that, without them, you’d be doing mime dancing. Not exactly the same end result. :p

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Passing up performance opportunities

I thought (after a nudge from a certain little Mouse) that it was a good idea to expand on passing up gigs and performance opportunities. It’s real hard to do… but it’s something that needs to be learned.

Don’t attempt something that’s not your style
I think that it is crucial that you know what is within your range and what isn’t. And, with that in my mind, to assess whether you can take on a certain gig or not. Most people would have the common sense not to take on a fire dancing gig if they’ve never done fire dancing. There are many risks associated with it that makes it really obvious that it shouldn’t be attempted if untrained… though I’m sure that some have attempted it. *sigh*

Anyway, what is less obvious is when we’re asked to do something that we’re somewhat familiar with and is generally without health-related risks. If you’re a tribal lady and are being asked to do a cabaret performance, as I mentioned in the previous blog post, don’t just shlap on a glitzy cabaret costume and expect to deliver a cabaret performance. Likewise, if you are a cabaret lady, don’t just shlap on a tribal costume and expect to deliver a tribal performance. Even if you think that you know what the other style is about, unless you’ve been trained in that style, it will not come out correctly per the style.

When I got the gig to dance at Greek Islands, it was clear that they wanted cabaret dancing. While I had 5 years of training under my belt in cabaret, that was back when I was in Quebec and I hadn’t really done it in like 6 years or more. Although there is such a thing as ‘generic belly dance moves’, to get the cabaret aesthetics, I really worked on remembering those moves, accompanying arms movements, attitude, etc. So, when you see me dance at Greek Islands, it is decidedly the cabaret style that you see.

Disservice to the style
While you may think that it doesn’t matter if you really know the style or not, it’s really a disservice to the style to perform it. Why? Well, those folks who are seeing you perform will assume that this is XX. So if you’re performing cabaret, they will assume that what you are doing is representative of cabaret. And, you know, you can replace ‘cabaret’ with any other genre or subgenre and it’s the same old story. Another reason why it matters is that there are people who spend painstaking amounts of time working on the style and showcasing it in a certain light and you may crush all of that work in 5 minutes flat (okay, I’m exaggerating here but you catch my drift).

Professionalism and courtesy
What it boils down to, essentially, is that you want to behave in a professional manner. So if something is not your style, it would be more professional to pass the opportunity… and it would be courteous to pass the opportunity on to another dancer in the area who actually does perform that style. It’s totally fine to say that you can’t take on the gig but you can refer the person to another person who could. And, you know what? You’ll receive that favor back eventually. For example, there is a cabaret instructor in the area with whom we exchange students: if they want to do tribal, she sends them my way and if they want to do cabaret, I send them her way.

Agreement with the terms/Paying to perform
What I wrote up until now was really more about gigs with a general public audience (and it’s even more true for paid gigs, obviously). Agreeing with the terms for the performance is really universal for paid or non-paid gigs and for the general public or belly dance shows. I’m really going to pull this from a thread that was on tribe a while back about whether performers should have to pay to perform in a show.

I get this question a lot. Do dancers have to pay to perform? Generally speaking, we are providing free entertainment (except for the headliner(s) who will be paid) so we generally don't have to pay the admission fee. So you can view it if you want as receiving a compensation of free admittance to the show in exchange for your performance. However, there are exceptions like fundraisers where performers will sometimes be asked to pay a certain amount anyway, even though they are donating a performance.

I still stand by exactly what I said on tribe so I’m copying and pasting here. ;)

“In my opinion, the organizer should be free to handle the financial matters as he or she sees fit so as not to get in debt over a belly dance show. I've not seen any abuse by any promoters here in the Midwest. I've had to pay to cover the room rental fee b/c the event was a benefit and I was totally on board with that. I had to pay a discounted ticket for performing and I was also on board with that.

Surely the dancers knew ahead of time the fee... I mean, surely it didn't suddenly spring up after they performed! If, as a performer, you don't agree with the terms for you to perform (whether it's fees or anything else, really), then just don't perform. I know that we all want to perform as much as we can but, hey, if the terms don't suit you, then you'll have to make a decision...”

That is the key: if the performance requires you to do XX and you're not fine with it (and it can be any element, really), then just don't perform. They say that you have to dance to the live musicians but you don't want to do it? Don't do it. They want you to pay 15$ to perform just like anyone else who will be watching the show and it irks you greatly? Maybe you shouldn't do it. They ask you to dance with a boa (feather or live) and it just ain't your thing? Don't do it. :p

Belly dance shows/Hafla
If the belly dance show/hafla has a theme that doesn't jive with you, your style, your personal values, or whatever else, you might want to consider passing up the opportunity too. However, that will generally not be the case. I think that it's very rare that this will happen but, if it does, do take time to consider whether it's a good idea to perform or not.

Most often, though, by all means, do feel free to explore different styles and genres in a belly dance show/hafla. That’s exactly what they’re for… among other things. You can experiment, try out different things, see what works out and what doesn’t. It’s fine. I do invite you, though, to still consider whether you are really doing a fair attempt at the style or just shlapped on the costume.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Setting is key!

This past Saturday was the annual Gencon White Wolf party and there were a couple of my belly dance students there. One of my most regular girls totally had this look of panic when she saw me and she even whispered to me (though she may have been yelling… it sounded like a whisper b/c the music was so loud) that she was afraid that I was going to talk about her on Monday.

First off, apologies if y’all are scared of what I have to say. It’s really only my opinion and not law, yanno. ;)
Secondly, as I pointed out to said student, if there was any night where I wholly didn’t care what any of them did was the Gencon White Wolf party. That definitely is THE place to do whatever the hell you want.

Well, White Wolf is the roleplaying game company that brought us games like Vampire the Masquerade (now the Requiem), Werewolf the Apocalypse (now the Forsaken), Mage, etc. Their yearly Gencon party is technically supposed to be a representation of The Succubus Club, which is a club where anything can happen… so, really, whatever you do there is really technically in a different setting than real life… though not everyone knows that. ;) The point, though, is that, even if said student was dressed as a belly dancer and had danced very suggestively or whatever (and she hadn’t done any of that), it wouldn’t have mattered… it wasn’t going to be a representation of belly dance to a broad audience. It was utterly a night of ‘anything goes’… so no worries.

Okay, so what does this have to do with me?
For other folks who are reading this, it’s a valuable question. A point that I try to hone in often when I teach is setting appropriateness. Like even things that I really dislike like ‘chicken wings’ and the ‘claw hand’, which are really wrong most of the time, will be way cool if you’re doing a Michael Jackson homage to Thriller. :p Seriously, pretty much anything (maybe except suggestive gyration and other things like that) can be appropriate… depending on the setting…

What I do
Setting really is key for everything. Well, really, it will make things go better or stick out like a sore thumb. Here’s what I do (again, this is what I do… not law!): my solo work on stage is generally dark belly dance pieces; before I choose a specific piece for a specific venue, I assess the appropriateness of the piece for the venue. If the show I’m going to be performing in is like nearly only cabaret, I may edge more on the mellow side than the super gritty industrial sound.

One other thing: I generally do mention to the hostess what I do so that she knows that I won’t be the glitzy cabaret dancer but rather the opposite. I’ve never had anyone tell me not to do that style. But I think that it’s only fair to let whoever hosts (if she doesn’t already know me and my style) know what I’m about. I did have someone once ask me specifically to do something that was going to be easily distinguished for being tribal fusion by the audience as this was a show to educate the crowd on different styles of belly dance. That was no big deal: I just erred on the more tribal fusion side of things for the bulk of my set, though I did sneak in a dark fusion piece at the end. ;)

Passing up opportunities
It’s fine to pass up performance opportunities if it requires you to bend too much away from your regular style. I think that sometimes we are so hell bent on performing (and as a performing monster, I can relate, believe me) that we forget that it’s fine to pass up an opportunity if it just ain’t our thing. They want you to do cabaret but you really don’t know cabaret? Don’t try to shlap on a glitzy costume and do your routine. They will figure you out.

Also, I’ve had some pieces of music that, while I absolutely loved the sound or whatever, I’ve had to forego b/c it’s for a ‘trained ear’ (I’m talking here specifically about hard industrial music) or the lyrics are not appropriate in most settings. It’s kind of a bummer to do that but, unless I find a good setting for those, I just wouldn’t feel comfortable imposing that kind of music on an unsuspecting audience. ;)

So… I can’t do what I want to do in a show?
No, no, that’s not what I’m attempting to say at all. I just want to invite you to think about how your piece will be received in the setting that you will be performing. You want to do a pagan piece… cool!... it’s in a Catholic church… hmmm… maybe think about it? You want to dance to a piece that has cool lyrics but they say sh!t and/or f*** every now and then… or even just once… and it’s a family-friendly setting? … Again, think about it. It’s really just a matter of using your thinking cap to assess all of that. When in doubt, ask someone who will be honest with you.

One big disclaimer that I have to say is that I definitely tend to overthink these things. I’m starting to get away from overthinking details but I will still always keep that filter in the back of my mind.