Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Go all out!

This is a post that I meant to do right after 3rd Coast Tribal but then I forgot and time passed and all that. ;) It was particularly evident at 3rd Coast, where the crowd is always oh so supportive but I'm sure that you've seen this phenomenon before.

Nearly inevitably, in a belly dance show, there will be a dancer whose technique is just all right or not that great but, damn, she's having fun on stage, she doesn't care what the hell people think, she's just giving it her all... and the crowd reacts to her and give her some lovin'. Meanwhile, another dancer's technique is uber polished and she's hitting all the accents of the piece spot on but it's a little cold because she's holding back or something and the crowd is not reacting nearly as much.

As a fellow dancer, this may leave you scratching your head... but there is one important lesson here: whatever you do, GO ALL OUT!

First off, going all out means also exaggerating things. See, with distance between you being on stage and the audience, your normal smile won't cut it. I joke with my students and tribe sisters to do the "crazy cheerleader on crack smile" to get a smile that will be noticed in the crowd. Many have tried it and, you know what? This is generally just about the right amount of smile that will be noticed.

Secondly, the crowd will react oh so much more if you just give it your all vs. being reserved about it. So, yes, looking like a damn fool will give you more kudos than restraint. The stage ain't a Victorian salon. ;) That being said, that's not to say that you should strive for looking like a fool at all costs. But you know what I mean right?

It's oh so much easier said than done, I know. It took me quite a while to get the hang of it... it's getting much much better.

I know you've most likely heard this one before but it's oh so very true: no one on their death beds (or late in life) will lament "I so wish that I had held back for that performance!" It's rather the opposite.

So go all out! Much better than holding back!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Group Number = Trust!

After we hit a little glitch or two during our performance this past Saturday, it made me ponder on how a group piece is all about trust... ESPECIALLY if we're talking about ATS/ITS. But it's actually true also in choreographed pieces.

That trust is not built overnight but takes time to develop. Depending on your personality, you'll either start with trusting others until proven wrong or mistrusting of others until proven wrong. It's okay. It's normal.

Whichever way you start out, though, the trust is built in the studio in rehearsal time. How can you make people trust you? Well, you need to show up to rehearsals, participate in them, learn what you need to learn, you probably will need to practice on your own too, and just simply be there when you need to be there.

So, for a choreographed piece, if you're the choreographer, you trust that your fellow dancers will learn the choreography and practice it so that the group looks polished and delivers on the choreography's promise. If you're a participant, you trust your choreographer that he/she will do a good job interpreting the music and putting together a cohesive piece that will make the group look good. If it's a choreography built by the group, then you need to trust each other to do all that: learn what needs to be learned, practice, interpret the music correctly, etc. You will also need to trust each other in a group-built choreography that each member can speak his/her mind freely and a healthy discussion can be had about ideas.

When it comes to ATS/ITS, again, there's a whole lotta trust there! As the leader, you trust that the followers will understand your cues. As the followers, you need to trust that your leader will cue the movements correctly. And that's why we drill, right? To get those cues in your body memory.

Note also that whatever I said that you trust the other person to do is what that person needs to deliver. For the trust to be built, you need to deliver on what people trust you to do. ;) And there's nothing like glitches to prove how it's actually going to work.

So, Saturday, one member of our group ended up having a brain fart... but we followed. The ending of the piece didn't go exactly as planned (natural pitfall of dancing to live music) but I made them shimmy the hell out of their bodies and they followed. I didn't even have to turn around to know that they were following. I felt it. Granted, us three who were performing that day have been dancing together for 7 years now so we're VERY familiar with each other. But the point is that, even though we were totally off ITS script, we still were able to deliver a cool performance... because we trusted each other.

When you see a troupe that has great chemistry, the #1 ingredient is trust... even beyond friendship and just liking each other. We've all had friends that we love to pieces but, damn, they're always late, never do what they promised, etc. We still love them, but the trust is not fully there. So the same thing can happen in a group. I dare say that a good chunk of group drama is about this trust issue... and, well, crystal clear communication (but that would be a topic for a whole different blog entry). So, just like I mentioned in my Be A Good Belly Dance Citizen entry (see http://celestesmusings.blogspot.com/2011/08/be-good-belly-dance-citizen.html), you need to do what you said you would to build your trust with your group. And then you have fun moments like shimmying for ever while on stage and get to laugh about it. ;)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Belly Dancers Crowd

I want to go back and expand on some of what I talked about in last week's blog (http://celestesmusings.blogspot.com/2012/01/3-groups-in-crowd.html ). Namely, I want to address the fears around dancing in front of other belly dancers.

It is very common for belly dancers to be afraid of performing in front of other belly dancers. I used to feel like that too and I still do every now and then but that fear has eased substantially over the years.


One of the biggest fears is that other belly dancers will figure out where you went wrong in your choreography. Really, we don't know. There is no way for us to know where you went wrong in your choreography unless you give it away. So if you have a good poker face, we won't ever know. Heck, there have been a few times when one of my students added in her performance one of our ITS combos but the combo had been tweaked... or so I thought... so I would say something like "I really liked what you did in that combo, how you modified it." and nearly every time, the answer was "OMG! I messed up the combo! I had meant to do it as is." And that is when I teach them the lesson of just saying "Thank you!" :p So, again, I knew what the combo was supposed to be but they had changed it... and I had no way of knowing that it was an accident. ;) There actually is no magic guide that tells me where you went wrong unless you tell me either through your words afterwards or in your face during the performance.

Another fear is that dancers will see all your technical flaws. Well, yes, it's possible that we'll see them. Generally, though, that thought will quickly come and go, especially if you're really flowing with the piece.

You may also fear that another dancer would disagree with how you choreographed the piece. Well, you know, there are many ways to skin a cat. So while, yes, I may have had a different approach, yours is valid too.

Really, what it boils down to is the fear of being judged. Unless you're participating in a belly dance contest, you won't be. Seriously.

On the surface, dancing for the general public seems like it's so much easier. And it is easy. But, actually, there are a number of advantages to performing in front of a belly dance audience.

Educated audience
You'll have the benefit of an educated audience. They will know what belly dance is (and isn't) so you don't have to educate them as to that. For example, you won't get the "take it off!" cat calls. But more than the crude comments, they'll actually understand when you're doing a piece that is more folkloric or the intricacies of lead/follow in ATS/ITS or things like that.

Technically savvy
They'll also be technically savvy so your amazing combo won't be lost on them. The general public will have about the same reaction for a simple hip drop vs. an amazingly well layered combo... seriously, they won't see much difference. But the belly dance audience will see the difference. They will also realize when a simple isolation has been very well executed.

You can get valuable feedback if you ask the appropriate people (see this previous blog entry on that topic: http://celestesmusings.blogspot.com/2010/09/finally-long-awaited-follow-up-blog-on.html ). I know, you don't want to be judged and all but you can ask someone what they thought about your performance, what can be improved upon, etc. This is material that will help you grow and you simply won't get that from the general audience.

Understanding of your level
For the general public, they won't realize the difference between a belly dancer who has been doing it for 6 months vs. 6 years... so they will lump all performers in the same bucket and judge you equally. So, yes, of course, your performance may not stack up but they won't get that nor why. A belly dance audience will totally understand what your level is and will assess your performance at that level.

We're all in this together
Another thing is EVERYONE who performs gets nervous before going on stage. Seriously. Even Rachel Brice and Ariellah and Tempest and < insert any dancer's name >. So there's this element of "we're all in this together" that brings us closer and makes for a supportive feeling that you won't get from the general public. In the general public, just a few people are performing... in a belly dance crowd, lots of folks will step on that stage... so they understand what it feels like to step on that stage.

Bottom line
So while, yes, a general public audience is less nerve racking, a belly dance audience is not nearly as much of a monster as you make it out to be. I seriously can count on the hands of one hand the events when the belly dance audience wasn't extremely supportive. And I can't think of a time when it was downright hostile. It's really all in your head.

Having seen also a number of dancers who very rarely perform for a belly dance audience, I can also tell you that I've generally seen less improvement in their performance quality than those who routinely dance for belly dance audiences. Again, I strongly believe that you will learn a whole lot about performing by dancing in front of other belly dancers. And they won't judge you the way you think they will.