Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Giving up the perfect picture

When you're working on your piece for a performance, you will have some idea of what the perfect picture is... and you should. You also should use that to do visualization and get your mind in the game. It's really a useful tool.

That being said, at one point, you have to let go of that perfect image. Because, honestly, it is extremely rare when a performance will go exactly according to plan and to that perfect image. Therefore, it's best not to be too attached to that mental picture.

I received two pieces of advice from Tempest several years ago that essentially get at this concept.

One of the pieces of advice was that the piece isn't final until it's performed.  Meaning that it's a draft until then. And, from my experience, each time I perform, the piece is slightly different or, sometimes, drastically different. (As a disclaimer, I'm doing a whole lot of improv when I dance so that contributes to that.) But even when the piece is rather fully fleshed out, it will vary from performance to performance. You could view it as when you tell a story: the exact way that you tell a story will vary from time to time.

The other very good advice is to do the best that you can with the circumstances of the day. In the perfect picture, you'd be perfectly composed, in charge, feeling awesome, etc. In reality, you may have come out of a workshop and rushing to get ready for the performance or you didn't sleep enough the night before or you didn't hydrate well enough or eaten enough or you are sick that day or all of the above together or any other circumstance. Meaning that a lot of things can affect your performance capacity on any given day. Do the best that you can with it all and that's all that matters.

When you're too attached to the perfect picture that you have in your head, it will actually hinder you. How? You'll fight whatever is happening. So you were supposed to turn right and you turned left... oh well... keep on going... You were supposed to do a shimmy at this spot and it didn't happen? No one will know. But if you stop your spin midway to go the other way or force a shimmy somewhere else just 'cause, it will show and the piece will look like it's hiccuping. Moreover, you'll have this look on your face that says "oh no! I've messed up!" and people will read it. (If you have a good poker face, it may not show.)

The other thing is that, when these things happen, you'll end up being in your head too much instead of being in the moment. You really do need to be in the moment to be able to emote the emotions and fully flow with the piece.

I think, though, that the most detrimental end result of holding onto to that perfect image is that you will not be satisfied with your piece... and that's really terrible. It's also quite infuriating because you would be attempting to achieve something that is really unattainable. So if you consistently feel like you never perform well enough, assess whether you have that image that is sticking too much in your head. Again, use it as a tool to help you visualize what you want to achieve but then let it go. Try to be Zen about it. You will find yourself much more satisfied with your performances.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The infamous show intro

Probably one of the things that creates the most anxiety to any new performer is the request for the infamous intro for a show. And it remains an anxiety provoking request for a long time, believe me. So here is some of the advice that I normally give.


Here are some of my thoughts on different things that I've seen as part of  intros:

  • Style: Citing which style you're about to perform might be a good idea to put your performance in context.
  • Experience: I personally don't say how long I've been dancing as I find that it's no necessarily relevant but if you've been dancing for a short amount of time, you may want to say it to set up expectations. Like if you've been dancing for a few months, I will expect something different than if you've been dancing for years. I'd say that, up until 2 years of experience, it might be worth mentioning. After that, it becomes a point that feels less relevant but that's just my opinion.
  • Mini bio: Emphasis here being on "mini". This is what I prefer to use instead of the experience.
  • Thanks: Some like to thank the organizers for inviting them or their teacher or whatnot.
  • Event promo: If you have an event that is coming up that you'd like to promoted, you can add it... again, keeping it short and making sure that it's appropriate to "pimp" your event. When in doubt, you can ask the current event organizers.
  • Performance set up: If you need to provide a little background on the performance, the mood, go ahead and add that.
  • Music: Sometimes you may want to cite the artist and song title for your piece.
The key with show intros, as I've already stated, is to get people interested in your piece, setting it and you up as needed for the audience to be in the right frame of mind to experience your performance.


Here is how my intro used to read:
Celeste is a dark and sassy performer and instructor based in Indianapolis Indiana. Tonight, she invites you to experience the darkness within.

This intro worked well for a while... but I realized last year, as I had not been performing as much for a while, that fewer people knew who I was so I probably needed to expand and explain a bit more who I am. So my intro now reads:
Celeste is a dark and sassy belly dance performer and instructor who recently moved to Seattle WA. Celeste explores dance using her foundation in oriental and ITS and overlaying sinister and gloomy emotions, dark wanderings, to create a tableau of somber themes while keeping a sense of sassy whimsy. Celeste will be returning for her fifth year in a row to Waking Persephone - a dark belly dance festival - as a featured instructor.

Following that intro, I either leave it at that or will add, for example, "Tonight, she's dancing to Crossed by Ego Likeness." (citing the music) or "Tonight, she invites you to take a walk with the devil." (setting up the piece).

Essentially, you want to view the show intro as a calling card. When people see your name on the program and don't know who this person is, you want to answer that for them through your bio but leaving room for them to experience your dance for themselves.

More Tips

Keep it short! I find that overly long intros are getting in the way of the flow of the show. And you'll see that the audience will start getting fidgety. So keep it short and snappy so the audience is excited to see you.

Expectations: Be mindful of what your intro may create in terms of expectations. Just know that, if you say that you've been performing for over 20 years or that you won the best shimmier in 2015, the audience's expectations for your performance will be higher than if you had not mentioned those. But, yanno, you have put in the time and/or you have won the title so it IS a badge of honor. It just depends on whether you want to flash that badge or not.

Don't reveal the punch line! While you can set up the mood and a bit about what the piece is about, you don't need to give the whole piece away. It is preferable to let the audience experience your piece through their own lens than providing the lens for them as they may find a disconnect for whatever reason. Said in another way, an intro that explains too much about the piece is like a movie trailer that makes you feel like you've seen the whole movie already and, once you see the movie, yup, the good parts were in the trailer so there isn't much left to enjoy.

Do provide an intro... aka don't make the organizers/emcee ad lib. I've been guilty of that once or twice but the emcee was a dear friend so I knew that she could wing something but it still wasn't ideal (sorry!). But if you don't know the emcee, well, you may just get "and here's so and so", which is not too terrible or they may create something goofy. It's just not a good idea and puts unnecessary pressure on the emcee who already has the pressure of talking to the audience all night.

Don't wait until the last minute to craft your intro. We all have done that at some point or other and figured that, unless they ask for a bio, we won't think of one (so head in the sand syndrome) only to then be asked at the last minute to provide one. Or, alternately, you've been asked for your music and intro for a while but you wait until the due date to write your intro. That's bound to increase your level of anxiety substantially when, really, you could have handled earlier. (And see next point.)

Give it 24 hours (at least) to mature. Write your intro and then sleep on it. Look at your intro again the next day and see what tweaks you want to make.

Ask for someone to review it. You don't have to do it alone: ask a friend or your instructor to review your intro. They may have ideas that you hadn't thought of. A lot of my revamped intro came from a friend and mentor who provided me feedback on how she views my dance.

Write it as if it was someone else. Most of us are terrible at writing about ourselves... hence the dread of the intro. It helps if you try to pretend that you're writing about another friend instead of yourself. Heck, write one for your friend and then one for yourself, applying the same principles. 

Make your life easier: send yourself your intro. Or keep it in a file somewhere on your cloud drive or in your e-mail or whatnot. I don't know how often over the years I've had to look at sent e-mails to retrieve an intro that I liked. If you are going to repeat a piece, you may want to keep the intro for that piece somewhere for easy retrieval. 

Another way to make your life easier: create a basic intro. The examples that are in italics above were my basic intros. It makes my life so much easier to just be able to pull those, tweak as needed and add as needed, instead of coming up with something each time or try to remember how I normally say it. And it's also very useful should the show organizer suddenly remember the night of the show that intros were needed and is suddenly asking you to write something.