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.