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.
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. ;)
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. ;)