Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tips for preparing a performance - Music considerations

In the last blog where I talked about seeking out performance opportunities, I mentioned that you could start preparing ahead of getting an actual okay to perform... and I also mentioned that I would write a blog about tips... so this is it. I started writing this post at first, thinking that I would cover a bunch of different tips but then I had so many things to say about music that I felt like it will be better served by putting music as its own post (other tips to follow in a separate entry).

This post (and the following one) won't be delving into being artistic and all that but do keep that in mind anyway. It will be more "Performance 101" type.

Picking out the music is obviously an important step. And one that sounds so easy... yet, you'll find that it's not. Here are a few guidelines that may help.

Generally speaking, solo spots in shows nowadays have a 5-minute maximum duration allowed. It varies from shows to shows. And, heck, it's now often being shrunk even more. So you want a piece that will be maximum 5 minutes. If you will be doing a group piece, the max nowadays will vary between 7-10 minutes. If you are doing ATS/ITS, a good rule of thumb will be about 1 minute per the number of dancers. So, say, if there will be 6 dancers, a piece that is about 6-7 minutes will be a good one.

Keep it short
You don't have to fill in the maximum time allotted. It's actually a very good idea to leave people wanting more! What's more: you need to be able to sustain it! When you are a new dancer, you will be surprised at how quickly your energy will be sapped out in performance. So you want to keep it short enough that you'll be able to sustain the stage presence and energy level for the duration of the piece. For newly starting performers, 3-4 minutes is again a good rule of thumb.

And I speak from experience on this... My very first solo was like 5 minutes long. I'm pretty sure that my energy level wasn't constant throughout the whole thing. And, man, was I tired after it. My 2nd solo was like 2:45-3 minutes. I forget how long exactly. The energy was much more constant. Since then, I've been hovering in that range from 3:30-5 minutes, generally, going on the lower end (so between 3:30-4). And it's not like I don't have the stamina to do more: I dance 12-20-minute sets at Greek Islands without any issues. Anyway, I'd rather do 2 shorter pieces than 1 long one. More from a 'not boring the audience' point of view than anything. ;)

If you will modify the music... do it well!
If your piece is too long and needs to be cut or you want to put a few pieces of music together or tweak the music however you feel, use a good software to do it and spend the time to do a good job. I've heard countless times bad mixes that make me cringe. It sounds so amateurish. I don't care what your actual level is, you don't want bad editing in your music to detract from the performance. There are a number of people in any area who will be good at it or you may have a DJ friend (or someone who knows someone): don't hesitate to ask for help instead of doing a bad job yourself. I took the workshop with DJ Amar at TF 10 that was about editing music in Audacity. It gave me lots of tips and tricks on how to do it... and made me realize how time intense it can be if you want to do a good job at editing the music.

Oh and while we're on the topic: if you will use more than 1 piece, consider using a software to put them together especially if the show asks for an mp3 version. The main reason for that is that you are much better off sending 1 file than multiple files that risk not being put in the correct order (even though you will have told the person in charge what order to put them in) or being cut short because the person in charge of the music at the show ends your music before the 2nd one pops or there's too much time (or more than you wanted) between the pieces b/c of the equipment used to play the music. Or other reasons... anyway, it's safer that way. Come to think of it, even if you will be providing the music on a CD, it's safer that way too... for some of the same reasons.

The "Performance Ideas" Playlist
You may end up having a ton of ideas of music that you would love to perform to... yet when comes time to pick some music, your mind goes blank. That's why a 'performance ideas' playlist on your iTunes (or whatever else you use) is a good idea (and if you don't have music in mp3, you can make a list on paper or in Word). That way, you can go in, review the pieces, and pick one from the list... or not. ;) But it's at least a starting point!

The music needs to move you or at least make you move
So, when choosing music, it obviously needs to move you. That's obvious, right? What we mean exactly by 'moves you' is stir something inside of you. It needs to create a response. It will usually be a feeling that you'll sense when you hear it (e.g., joy, happiness, contentment, torment/sadness/despair [for the dark inclined]) or it could be something like 'beauty'. Whatever response you have is what is going to make you connect to the music. And that's very important.

Now, when in a group setting, not everyone will react exactly the same way to the music so keep that in mind. We're generally striving in ATS/ITS for something that will make you want to move. Your hips won't stay still when you hear that music. And that's another way to connect with the music. It will also generally make you feel something... it just may not be at the same depth... or it may.

You need to REALLY like that music
In the course of practicing, getting ready, and knowing your music inside out, you will have to listen to the piece over and over... ad nauseam... so you need to really like it enough to listen to it enough. It may happen after a performance that a music is 'burnt'... i.e., you don't want to EVER listen to it again. In the early days of Black Rose Caravan when we were still choreography-based, there were a few pieces that ended up creating this response in us. And, even with the best intentions, it can happen. But do make sure that you can listen to the music back to back to be able to go through the whole process. ;)

Sometimes, you just have to pick!
At times, you will have 20million pieces that you feel like doing because they all sound amazing to you. That's both awesome and overwhelming. Then you just have to pick one. Just like, in the morning, you end up picking one outfit out of your wardrobe, you may need to just pick one. Now, if you know the venue and the theme (if there is one), this may help dictate your choice. But if you don't or there's no theme, then you just have to choose. And, believe me, you don't want to delay the choice for too long. I've been guilty of that many times and then ended up in a time crunch. So just pick one... you can always do the other ones later (make sure to put them on your 'performance ideas playlist').

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

So... you want to perform...

You've been taking belly dance classes and want to do *something* with it... how do you go about that?

Ask around!
Most shows will have a 'call for performers' but sometimes there won't be. Back when I started doing solo work, actually, calls for performers were relatively rare. So I would ask the hostess if I could participate into the show. Yes, I was inviting myself. It feels odd at first but it gets easier the more you do it. Most importantly, just remember: what's the worst that they will say? They'll say no... that's it. No harm done. No worries.

Performance attached to workshops
Just know that there will be performances that are attached to workshops... so they will require you to take the workshops (either all of the workshops or a predetermined amount) for you to participate in the show. Apparently, it's not like that everywhere but it definitely is in the Midwest. So don't be surprised if you get a reply that states that.

Don't forget Haflas and World Music Nights!
Let your hair down haflas where people just show up and there's like a DJ or an iPod on random playing or you can bring your own music and dance are few and far between. But ISAMETD hosts them every now and then. And maybe Carenza will again once she's back in town (hint! hint!). ;) But those are excellent low pressure moments when you can perform.

Also, remember that we are very lucky to have il Troubadore who do the World Music Nights once a month. It's not a performance like being on a stage... it's actually better! You get the experience of dancing to a live band, in front of an audience that's right there. Most people around here seem to not realize it but, seriously, a lot of people I know would kill to have this opportunity. Anyway, it's another moment when you can hone your performance skills. Even though it's a different setting, it still very much counts.

Prepare for it... NOW!
If you've been contemplating performing, don't wait until you have an okay to start working on a piece. Chances are, you may get an okay closer to the date than you anticipated and then you will feel like you don't have enough time. Also, there are a number of events now that happen on an annual basis so it's getting increasingly easier to prepare ahead of time. (Note: I will write a separate post on tips and tricks that make preparation easier.) The more you do it, the easier it gets, though. ;)

Am I really ready?
If you are contemplating performing, generally, it means that you were ready to perform some time ago. Our sense of preservation and that negative voice are real good at putting doubt in our minds. My stance is that you hardly can start performing too early. As Tempest often points out, the key is doing the best that you can with what you've got. And I always bring up this example but there was one gal that I saw perform many years ago and she was obviously a beginner student and had a limited number of moves that she knew... but, damn, she did them well and had good stage presence. It was a great start.

Also remember that very few people are natural performers. So this will take time. So you may as well start now. ;)

Record performances
You will want to consider recording your actual performances for 2 main reasons: 1) to see how it actually went and analyze the performance to improve your performance skills; and 2) some shows will require you to submit a video of you performing in lieu of an audition. Since I have this quirk where people forget to take pictures or videos of my performances, I didn't have a video to show for the longest time. So for those performances that require a video, I was hosed.

That being said, one thing that you could do if you really want to put in a bid for such a performance is have someone record you dancing in full costume and all that as if it was a performance but it's in the dance studio or your living room or whatever. I mean, it's not the best, obviously, but it's better than not showing anything.

The dreaded bio/blurb
Once you're accepted in the show, they will often ask you for a bio/blurb that the MC will say or that will be in the program. I nearly guarantee that you will draw a blank. What should I write? Well, you don't have to write a whole lot. I've found over the years that short and sweet will do just fine. I typically write a simple sentence about me (it generally will be "Celeste is a dark belly dance and improvisational tribal style performer and instructor in Indianapolis.") and then add a sentence or two about the piece. That can contain like the name of the song, the artist, etc. or just be about the piece per se. If you need to put something in to bring context to the piece, you can. My stance is that I want the dance to do the talking. ;)