Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The 3 groups in the crowd

As most of you who read this regularly know (or if you know me), you know that I used to have stage fright. It's really an irrational fear of looking like a fool on stage. But who's taking notice, right? The audience is. That's who I was afraid of. As I mentioned in the past, really, the audience wants to be entertained and just wants you to do your best. They're really on your side. Logically, that sounds true but I had a hard time believe it...

Until I had a dream. The dream itself wasn't important but it revealed to me the 3 groups in the crowd who will always be there, pretty much wherever you go.

The Fans
These are the audience members who love you whatever you do. Bless their hearts, they make you feel good about yourself. These can be your students if you're a teacher, your teacher if you're the student, people who have seen you progress and grow, your spouse, your family, etc. As you progress in this dance, this group will become larger.

You don't need to worry about these folks when you perform because they will love it, no matter what. You can actually use their positive energy to fuel your dance! I most certainly do that! Finding one of those friendly faces in a crowd is a blessing! Use them to your advantage.

The Haters
Those people will hate what you do, whatever it is. So, yes, the total opposite of The Fans. Now, why they hate what you do may be different depending on the source of their hate. It could be that your style is one that they abhor. It could be because they don't like belly dance in general (that'd be the case when I'm dancing at the restaurant, for example, and I find someone (or a group) who seems to give me dirty looks). It could be because they only like < insert narrow definition of belly dance > and that's not what you're doing.

You also don't need to worry about these folks! There is absolutely no point in spending time and energy worrying about them or trying to convince them that they're wrong. They have passed judgment on you already... oftentimes even before you're hitting the stage. Don't let their attitude bring you down. They will generally not tell you anything anyway so you won't even know much that they're there. But, again, no point in worrying about them.

Interestingly, as you progress in dance, this group can become smaller or bigger! It all depends on so many things.

The Rest aka The Jury
The rest of the folks have no idea who you are, what you do, what you are about, and they're just willing to go along for the ride. So, I called them "the jury" because, simply put, the jury is still out on you. Quite frankly, for all that you may try to bucket folks into each of the categories, the truth is that the bulk of your audience will be in this category. I don't quite like the term "jury" because it's not like they're really passing judgment on you... though they are certainly entitled to have an opinion about your piece, just like everyone else.

Now, should you worry about them? No, actually, you don't even need to worry about them whatsoever! With them, you are actually starting with a completely clean slate and, well, they are taking you in as you're dancing and all.

General Population versus Belly Dancers
So, whether you're doing a show for belly dancers or for the general population, the 3 groups will be there... the proportions may be different, though.

General population
Generally speaking, in a show for the general population, nearly everyone will be in "the jury" category: few people will really have seen belly dance before and, unless they have some misconception of what belly dance is, they will be quite open to the experience. Now, there's a possibility that you will have some "haters" because of said misconceptions. But it's actually a much smaller proportion of people than you'd think. And, quite frankly, I've had a number of folks who have told me that they started with a misconception and I dispelled it. (Happens a lot when I dance at the restaurant.) So they were not full on "haters" but more like "biased jury". :p

Belly dancers
We often feel sooooooooo self-conscious dancing in front of other dancers. You think that they'll figure out where you went wrong and all that. Truth is that, actually, the bulk of the audience will still be in "the jury" category, unless it's a toxic crowd, which happens every now and then... but I think that I can count on one hand the number of times that this happened to me. Really, we're not there to pass judgment on you. Just like the general population, we want you to do your thing. Now, you may find a bit more "haters" in a show for belly dancers but, again, they'll generally be silent so you won't even notice them too much. You will have a whole lot more fans there, though.

Bottom Line
Really, bottom line, for all that these 3 groups are in the audience, there's really no point in worrying about any of them. You can use the fans to your advantage, pulling their positive energy to keep you going. The rest is up to you. Simply put, you need to do the best that you can under the circumstances and the crowd will react whichever way it will react. Some audiences are very supportive; others are not. It's unfortunately part of the performance experience. Learning to deal with each type of support is an important part of learning how to perform. But it's also important to realize that what each group in the audience is thinking about you is totally out of your control.

The only thing that you have control over is what you are actually doing on stage. That's why you prepare these things ahead of time. The day of the performance is the time to execute to the best of your abilities. Be present, in the moment. And don't spend time worrying about what the audience thinks.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Music exploration

This has been a disturbing trend that I've noticed (at least I find it disturbing) where some new dancers wait to be spoon fed music instead of doing their own research.

Finding out new (to you) music is a big part of belly dance. I think that it's crucial that you dig around for all kinds of music. Beats Antique is awesome and totally danceable and has good roots in Middle Eastern tones but it's not the end all be all of belly dance music.

Digging around for music is going to help you pinpoint a bit better what you personally like in terms of style and music tone. There are so many options out there, don't stop at just what you see the big names do.

Speaking of big names, I think that there's a little known fact that most of them know classical Middle Eastern music and modern music from the Middle East as well. I was lucky that my first instructor, who was teaching Raqs Sharqi back in Quebec, was a big fan of the likes of Hossam Ramzi and George Abdo so she was using those classics in all classes.

I've seen tribal fusion dancers dismiss the good old classics and even generally Middle Eastern music altogether because they do fusion. While, yes, when I do my fusion work, I do use modern Western music, I think that going back to using more downright Middle Eastern music every once in a while (at least in your practice) is a great idea that will help you deepen your understanding of belly dance. Why? Quite simply, the moves fit the music... and, well, vice versa. If you're doing some of your even most basic moves to Middle Eastern music, you'll find that it's a natural fit and you'll feel the moves differently.

So, how do you find new music? It's really everywhere.

Using iTunes
You can definitely use your iTunes to help you. You can follow threads of "people who bought this album you're seeing also bought XX." And keep following those threads. You'll discover interesting things that way. Also, you'll be able to find podcasts and users' playlists as well as "essential" lists. It's quite useful. If you like a song excerpt and want to hear more, head over to Youtube and do a search for that song title. You'll be surprised at how many songs/pieces are in full on youtube. Sometimes, though, you gotta use a little faith and take a plunge. If it's just a song, then it's a risk of 1$ only.

Using Youtube
As weird as it sounds, you can follow "threads" on youtube as well. So you do a search for a song/artist. On the right, you'll have a list of other videos probably by said artist or other artists who have done other versions of the same song... or just something entirely different. That's actually how I discovered Infected Mushroom, an Israeli electronica band and I fell madly in love with their piece Becoming Insane, which I danced at Tribal Revolution a few years ago. And I have other examples of finding amazing music that way.

Using Pandora
Pretty much everyone knows about Pandora but, in case you don't, it's a very interesting thing where they have categorized music based on characteristics instead of just styles. So if you like an artist, you can type in the name and it will create a radio station for you based on other music that has similar characteristics. I've discovered a lot of good music that way too. Their link is www.pandora.com

Using internet searches/Wikipedia
This should be obvious but people forget about it. You can simply do a search for an artist or a song or a genre and should find other artists/songs in the same style. Why? People will often list their inspiration or what they sound like so searches will pick up on that. Wikipedia has a lot of information on there and, especially if you look up a style, you'll find other artists in the same style. Don't know the style of the artist that you like? Search for said artist on Wikipedia and they'll tell you... and then you can click that link... and follow links after links after links.

Take the time
We all have busy lives and, in this electronic age, it seems like everything is going super fast... but you can actually use this era to your advantage: finding music is easier than ever! I remember the days pre-internet when you had to take a chance on a cassette (yes, cassettes back then) that was a compilation with Arabic writings and (most likely) a camel on the cover. And those were expensive... and so hard to find! Now, we can find music from the Middle East without even leaving your house! And you'll even find reviews, translation of lyrics, etc. That being said, it does take time to follow threads and search for music and listen to it and all. But that is an extension of your belly dance practice. That is part of what being a belly dancer is. You can dance without music (Onca proved it magnificently) but, you know, generally speaking, you'll need to dance to music... do your homework and figure out music on your own.

Note: You'll notice that I didn't mention very many music artists. The reason for it is that it would be the equivalent of spoon feeding you the music. ;)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Performance objectives

So, as an expansion of a point that I made in yesterday's post, I wanted to address some things from the first performance and subsequent ones too. In the blog, I mentioned "Will it be the best performance that anyone has ever seen? Of course not."

This is where there is a natural dichotomy that will happen:
On the one hand, you'll totally realize that it's your first performance so you'll keep your expectations reasonable.
On the other hand, you are aspiring to do something good and have seen many shiny dancers that you wish you could emulate.

Obviously, in your first performance, you'll want to keep your expectations reasonable. What would those expectations be? Nearly all the dancers that I know or have seen do their first performance will say "One of my goals is not to fall on my ass." As weird as it sounds, it's a fear that happens a lot when we start. Believe me: you won't. So that's an easy objective to attain.

Beyond that, though, you should simply strive to do the best that you can. Sounds corny but, seriously, that's really key here. And that is actually an objective that will follow you through all your dance years. Whatever level you are at, you will strive for that.

For the first performance (and first few performances at that), that should suffice in terms of objective: not fall on your ass and do the best you can.

As you are progressing, though, you'll start to have more specific objectives. You'll want to pick 1 or 2 things that you want to focus on for that specific performance. For example: Don't look down/keep the gaze level. Make eye contact with one person. Make sure that the moves are completed before doing the next move. You know... things like that.

The key for any performance is being ready ahead of time. Whether you do improv or choreography, you'll want to have worked with the piece enough to be ready to perform it. For all that you may believe that top names just whip up something, hell no, they don't. They do spend the time in the studio working the piece. And, again, that's whether they do choreography or improv.

So prepare yourself for the performance as much as you can, set up some reasonable objectives, and set forth and conquer this skill, one performance at a time!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Work in progress

Just got back from 3rd Coast Tribal, which was awesome, as usual. I studied a lot with Donna Mejia and Deb Rubin this time. There were interesting revelations/discoveries that I won't go into except to say that, for the first time in a long time, I have specific things that I want to work on. That is always awesome when that happens but, I have to say, it's also humbling. Because it's an acute reminder that you are still a student in dance and, whatever you have accomplished thus far, there is more to learn. Again, which is awesome and one of the reasons why I love dance so much.

On Saturday, as my brain was absorbing all the info from the weekend and I was watching the show, a part of me was wondering why I perform when, really, I still have so much to learn. I quickly quieted that part (the stupid Censor/negative voice) but I figured that it was actually a great topic for a blog.

I have a bunch of students who are interested in performing and the #1 comment that they retort when I tell them to just start doing it is that they feel that they are not ready. But I know these ladies. They are ready to perform. Will it be the best performance that anyone has ever seen? Of course, not. It would be their first performance. But are they ready to take that first step? Absolutely.

The truth is that you will ALWAYS have something to learn. You could ALWAYS do something better.

Nothing you do will EVER be perfect. It can get close to perfection. But I believe that perfection is never fully achieved. I have seen countless big names in belly dance backstage and, while their performances can achieve something that we perceive as perfection, I can tell you that all of them always have a little something that they wish that they had done better/differently.

So, with that said, if you wait for being perfect before hopping on the stage, you will never hop on that stage.

Moreover, performing is a skill just like technique. And there is absolutely no substitute for actually doing it. So while you may get ready as much as you want in your living room or dance studio, it's not the same as performing in front of an audience. It takes multiple times of doing it to get the hang of it, to understand what works well, what doesn't, what you need to do (or not do) to get in that performance mode, etc. Again, you can read about it, you can think about it but it will never be the same as doing it. And, just like it takes time drilling moves so that they become ingrained in your body, it takes time performing to become a good performer.

So, I'm imploring you to quiet that part of you that is making you think that you are not ready to perform: you most likely are. And, importantly, you will always be a work in progress, whichever level you're at, so you may as well improve your performing skills as you're improving other aspects of your dance. Just go out there and do your thing!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Advice received

I actually meant to post this before the Holidays but, hey, right at the start of the new year is not a bad idea. ;) This post will contain some of the very valuable advice that I have received over the years. I have received many more pieces of advice but I'll just focus on a few pieces.

Fake it until you feel it! - Lala Hakim
This takes me back to my early days in belly dancing... all the way back to Quebec City. My first workshop was with Lala Hakim, an Egyptian dancer who lived in Montreal. Anyway. I know that this is an old saying but that was the first time that I heard it. And, well, it's so true! It will hide a world of issues/insecurities.

The only failed performance is one from which you haven't learned anything - Mira Betz
We all have times when you are afraid of performing. If you have stage fright as I used to, it's even more acute of a feeling. But we all go through times when we're afraid. Mira's point here is that, even if the performance failed (and that definition is up to you), as long as you can learn something from it, it was worth it. Learning what didn't go so well is about as important as learning what went well.

Knowledge over trinkets - Asharah
Okay, that's not exactly how she had phrased it. I don't remember the exact words but that's me paraphrasing. Asharah had posted a blog many years ago about her not having the latest fashion in costuming or spending a ton of money on costuming but, instead, choosing to spend her money on workshops. I have spent money on both myself but, now that I have a dance studio, money is tighter... so I've cut back a lot on my costume spending... but I didn't cut much on my workshop spending. For all that I spent a lot of money on costuming items in the past, I spent way more on workshops. Knowledge sticks. Fashion comes and goes. While, yes, you do need to look polished enough in your costuming for a performance, if you don't have the skills and knowledge, you'll just be wearing a pretty costume. You need to keep honing your skills. Branch out and explore new styles, new things. You may decide that it's not for you. Or you may find something of interest. But you won't know until you do it.

Just Dance! - Ariellah
I am an habitual overthinker. So, after a lot of e-mails back and forth in which I was asking Ariellah a ton of philosophical questions, she told me to stop thinking and just dance! Sometimes we spend too much time in our heads, contemplating, pondering, imagining... but, at some point, you have to actually dance if you want to dance and be a dancer. Alternately, I had a student who read the blog post entry where I had written about that advice originally and, to her, that meant forgetting about other stuff that weren't dance-related... and just focusing on dance. There are many ways that this could be interpreted. Whatever works for you.

A performance isn't complete until it is performed. - Tempest
This was in a private session where I was lamenting about how I have great ideas for what to do on stage and practice and I even used to choreograph... but then sometimes it just wouldn't come out as planned. Tempest was encouraging to relinquish control when that happens and let whatever will flow out of my body happen. In taking that advice to heart, I ended up looking less hesitant on stage because what would happen is that something else would start flowing out of my body but my brain suddenly remembered what I was supposed to do and stop the motion... so the moment was gone and I ended up looking indeed like I had started the "wrong" thing. She also explained it that it's like telling a story: even if you tell the same story over and over again, every single time, there will be slightly different nuances, different words used, etc. It's near impossible to replicate the same story identically each time. No worries. It's still a good story. Her point also was that you can rehear in your living room (or dance studio) as much as you want but it's not a performance until it's performed.

Focus on yourself. - Belladonna
This was in answer to me complaining that I should be further in my dance and Bella told me "Really, the only thing that you can do is focus on yourself, hone your skills, work on your technique and your artistry. Forget about everyone else." It is SO easy to get caught up/wrapped up in comparing yourself with others. The tricky part with belly dance (and it may be true with other art as well but can't vouch for it firsthand) is that there really isn't anything that says that you have been dancing for XX time so you should be at XX level. No two people develop in the same fashion. So you may have been dancing for 10 years and see this youngling who has been dancing for 2 years and is quite successful... and maybe even more talented than you! Art and dance aren't fair. It doesn't work that way. I unfortunately spent some time myself comparing myself to others... that time that you spend doing that is totally pointless. And, worst of all, it brings you down. Instead, if you re-focus your attention on yourself, what you've accomplished, the progress you have made, where you want to go with your dance, etc., it's a much more sane way of spending your time and energy. And, well, obviously, THAT is what will bring you the results that you are striving for.

It will happen whether you're ready or not... so you may as well be ready.
This one's from me. This was my lesson of 2011. There have been a number of events in 2011 for which I've dug my heels. I didn't want to go. So many reasons and excuses for why not. Timing wasn't right. Money was tight. Performance piece wasn't as ready as I'd like it to be. I don't want to leave work. I don't want to leave the house. If only I had more time... If only... Well, you know what? The events happened. They were fun. It all worked out. I'm damn glad that I went to them all. The truth is that time will not stand still. It keeps moving. So the time that you spend worrying or, worse still, being in denial that an event is going to happen on XX day, time will move on and the event will still happen. So, instead, spend the time getting ready. You need a performance? Prepare it, work at it. Money is tight? Assess options to do the event on a budget. Work is crazy? Try to get as much done as you can and, well, you know what?, they CAN live without you. Of course, you can also choose not to go to an event. But, believe me, you'll regret it afterwards.