Archive for the ‘Belly Dance Business’ Category

Have You Failed Lately? Thoughts on Growth and Challenge in Belly Dance

February 12, 2013

FAILWhen was the last time you failed at one of your belly dance pursuits? You haven’t lately? That’s too bad. If you have, good for you. Last week I was listening to an episode of The Accidental Creative and this topic really hit home.

Failure is good – and it’s good for you. Not only does it keep your feet on the ground, failing means you are stretching the borders of what you are willing to try in expanding the range of your skills. If we take challenging new workshops, we can find ourselves struggling through unfamiliar drills or long choreography. A lot of experienced dancers shy away from this kind of situation because they’re afraid of being seen by their peers doing anything less than perfectly.

There is so much to learn in belly dance and the associated regional folkloric styles; we could live and dance a full lifetime and still have new ground to cover. One dancer who I’ve always admired in this area is Helena Vlahos. When she still lived here in Phoenix, she would regularly show up at the workshops of dancers who weren’t even born yet when she was already a star on the ethnic club circuit. Not only did she show up with a gracious attitude, she was never afraid to try things someone else’s way and say with good humor “that’s hard, I’ll have to practice that.” A great example for us all.

There’s another up side to this kind of failure – one that is especially  important for belly dance instructors. I firmly believe that it is essential for teachers to consistently challenge themselves. Not only does it grow your dance skills, it reminds you of how your students feel when they are learning new material from you. New skills may feel awkward or require new levels of coordination they haven’t yet mastered. As teachers, we should never lose touch with what that feels like.

Personally, I relish this kind of failure, which is only temporary if we persevere.I try to follow Helena’s excellent example and laugh at myself, then get back to work.  I find that things  just beyond my immediate reach don’t discourage me – they fire me up. It’s why I keep going back to aerial yoga and knitting, even though I’m not particularly good at them.

Some failures are a little harder to take. I’ve produced some truly innovative belly dance shows with quality dancers and musicians… that were all but ignored by my dance community. The financial hit is just as tough as the emotional hit, but hey – this isn’t a business for the thin-skinned or faint of heart. Do I regret these risks? Not at all. It was awesome – too bad you missed it!  I may have lost enough to buy a Bella, but I know that I pushed my creative and production experience to new ground and even more importantly I learned a ton along the way – that will never be lost.

When belly dance opportunities present themselves in the form of a visiting instructor, a new style or the inspiration for a show, maybe we shouldn’t ask ourselves “why should I?” but rather “why not?”.  No, it might not work. Or it might. Either way, there is a “win” in there somewhere if you’re willing to look for it. We need to step away from the idea that failure to fully reach the goal line is a badge of shame. It’s a badge of courage that you try with all you’ve got.

What belly dance challenge (large or small) have tried and failed? What good things did you learn from it? Tell us in the comments below…


When It All Goes Too Fast

December 11, 2012
But it feels SOO fast!

How will I EVER learn this? It’s  SOO fast!

A few years ago, I was teaching my student troupe a new drum solo. Their heads were spinning – it was definitely challenging – and they said it felt “so fast.”  As a teacher and choreographer, it’s pretty common to hear a comment like that when students first encounter new choreography. Why is that? What makes it feel so fast when it’s on time with the music, and the music itself doesn’t seem that fast?

In my experience, it all comes down to everything being relative. The music isn’t fast – it’s just going faster than the student can execute the movements. It can also be that the music is moving along faster than the student can recall the next step. Usually, it is a bit of both in the early stages of learning new belly dance choreography.  This is especially true with drum solos because they are often full of rapid-fire isolations and accents.

The solution isn’t new or obscure – slow down the music to match the students’ current speed of recall and movement execution.  Aside from easing frustration which interferes with learning, it gives the dancers time to fully complete each movement. This is HUGE. Along with posture,improving movement follow-through has one of the biggest payoffs in terms of performance quality.  Big dance studios have had the ability to slow down music for rehearsal for years. They had expensive and bulky  CD  or cassette (remember those?) players that allowed them to run the music at whatever speed they needed.

Now that technology has taken major leaps and bounds forward, we now have this ability right on our own computers and maybe even on your phone or iPod! Let’s look at a few ways to take control of your music that you might not know about:

How To Slow Down Your Belly Dance Music in Windows Media Player

  1. Open your music file with Windows Media Player
  2. Right click anywhere in the window.
  3. Select “Enhancements” then “Play Speed Settings”.
  4. A slide bar will appear that will let you adjust the music speed.

Thank you to my resourceful and clever private student, Pam for figuring this out and sharing it with me!

Using Audacity on Windows or Mac Computers

Audacity is a free music editor program that does oh-so-much more than just slow down music. In this program you can actually record and keep several speed versions to burn on a CD or load onto your iPod. This is especially handy if, like me, you use an iPod Mini that doesn’t run apps. While we’re on the topic of Audacity, I can’t stress enough how handy this free and easy-to-use program is for bellydancers! You can shorten songs that are too long. You can edit together, fade in and out or blend pieces for a smooth show. I recorded, edited and compiled all of the In the Ears, Out the Hips Podcasts entirely in this one program!

On Your Android Phone

If you carry your belly dance music on your Android phone, you can try the free Audio Speed Changer app. This will let you select mp3 files you’ve stored on your device and play them back at your selected speed. Connect your phone to your stereo’s audio input line with a cable and you’re ready for rehearsal!

On Your iPhone

According to this blog, playback speed control is built right into the iPhone’s iPod app!  The linked blog does have instructions on how to access that setting, although they only mention going faster. I don’t own an iPhone, so I couldn’t tell you for sure if a slower setting is available – you’d think it would be. If you do have one, check it out and let us know in the comments below.

There is also a free iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad app available called Anytune.

As familiarity with the movements, muscle memory and actual memory improve, you can gradually increase the speed to 100%. By using this practice technique, you are sure to see better end results on the stage. So next time you’re staring down a choreography challenge – as a student or as an instructor – check out some of these options. Take a breath…… and slow down!

Sign On The Dotted Line – Contracts for Belly Dancers

May 11, 2012

Belly dance contractLast week I got an email from a local dancer asking about performance contracts and what to include in one. I’ll admit I was uncomfortable with contracts when I first started to do private gigs. Some part of me felt it was a gesture of distrust toward my client, but twelve years and a several hundred parties later, I wouldn’t do a private gig without one.  I’ve come to realize that it’s just a document of clarity and commitment that makes sure we are in agreement on the details, and most people aren’t put off by them. I call mine a “Performance Agreement”; I think it accurately describes its purpose and sounds less intimidating to the sensitive client.

Before I venture on a word further, I will say that I am not a legal professional and my contract has not been written by a legal professional. It also has never been “tested” in court – thank goodness! If you want a legally water-tight contract, I suggest you go straight to a lawyer.If you would like to draw up a document that will help you and your client  get all your gig facts straight for a smooth booking experience, the information to come should be helpful for you.

The Five W’s of a Belly Dance Contract

Like a good reporter, you’ve got to cover Who, What, Where, When and Why.

  • Who is the person hiring you and responsible for paying you? If they are representing a company, the company name should be included too. Get their full name, an address, email and a phone number. Ask if that is the number where you can reach them at the time of the event. Be sure to get an on-site phone number in case you have to call on your way there for more directions, help getting into the venue or anything else.
  • What type of performance is it?  I have several types of performance services that I provide. Include a specific description of what you will be doing. How many dancers? How long is the show? What props are to be used? Does the client want audience interaction for a party or will it be contained on a stage for a cultural festival?
  • Where will it take place? You will need the physical address of the venue, including the specific room or hall if it’s in a hotel. Be sure to ask if it will be inside or outside. I always ask about the flooring or outside surface as well.
  • When does the show start? Be clear about this. I always ask “What time do you want the show to start?”. I do not ask “What time should I get there?” I list the “Performance Time” and the “Arrival/Set-Up Time” as two separate items with the arrival usually 15 minutes before the start, unless I feel I need more than that for some reason. Everyone has different tolerances for show delays. If you will be on a tight schedule, make it clear in both your conversation and in your contract. You can do this by including something like this…”A waiting fee of $XX per 15 minutes will be incurred if the show is delayed.”  In my experience, this alone is enough to keep people on time.
  • Why? Find out the reason for the occasion and if there is a guest of honor that they would like you to pay special attention to.

But There’s More…

  • Your Fee Details Specify the total price, any deposit amount and when and how each of these can be paid. Do you want cash?  Can you take a credit card on site?  Put it in writing.
  • Changing Area Some dancers arrive fully dressed. If you will be dressing there, you may want to include your needs. For example, I will not dress for a show in a public restroom and my contract has a nicely worded line to let them know that.
  • Cancellation Policy This is very important! Be sure that it is very specific and includes what happens if either you or the client cancel.  Of course we would never cancel on a client outside of an emergency, but the fact that it is in your contract is a matter of equality and protection for both parties. This should include a date beyond which any deposit is forfeited. In my contract, I agree to “provide a suitable substitute dancer at the same fee” if I cancel. I’ve never cancelled, but I am letting my client know that I cannot and will not leave them high and dry for any reason.
  • The Sound System Does the sound system play CDs or iPod? Do they have an iPod dock or cord or do you need to provide one?
  • Special Instructions Include in the contract any special requests such as theme colors, keeping your arrival a “surprise”, leading a dabke line  or dancing out the birthday cake.
  • Additional Services If you are including live music or any other professionals, I recommend having them draw up their own separate contracts rather than adding their services to yours.

Sealing The Deal

When you have filled in the contract and it’s been approved and signed by your client, be sure to sign it yourself and return a copy to them promptly.

A Contract of Your Very Own…

If you would like a sample contract to customize to your needs, you can download a Sample Belly Dance Performance Contract. From this starter document, you can add or edit any items that are specific to your needs. I hope you find it useful!

My Battle with the “B-Word”

February 3, 2012

Last week I was doing an informal talk on bellydance at a bookstore. A woman came in, not even knowing there was one scheduled. She heard the Pandora bellydance station playing on the store sound system and did a little dance to herself as she waited for the clerk. She dropped in to chat with me. It turns out that this woman, who was in her 60’s, used to dance with Anahid Sofian in New York City when she was in her 20’s. She shared many stories of the New York scene in its heyday when people like Morocco were headlining clubs, backed by fabulous bands.

When she first walked in, I didn’t know her background of course.  Thinking I was talking to a complete civilian, I told her we were going to talk about some popular ideas and misconceptions about belly dance. She replied, “like the word bellydance itself.” Oh yes! Myself, I’ve had a very ambivalent and reluctant relationship with the “B-word.”

When I started studying about 15 years ago, I didn’t think much about the word and accepted it on the face value of what I understood it to be in the general public at the time. For me, this was minus the stripper notions because I’d seen plenty of classy cabaret dancers growing up in the Philadelphia area. My parents loved live entertainment of all sorts and took us to tons of ethnic events and restaurants. It may have been a year or two into dancing that I even became aware of the unfortunate and uninformed association between the two.

After I’d been in the sparkly mix for about 5 years, I started to explore the folkloric roots and cultural information. At this point, I developed a distinct dislike for the world “bellydance” because even in its best general public definition, I felt it really didn’t convey the culture and tradition of this worthy dance style. At its worst, it did convey a lot of sexpot stereotypes.

When I began to teach and do more culturally oriented performances, I made a concerted effort to not use the word “bellydance” on my advertising, website or in conversations about what I personally was doing. I used terms like “Middle Eastern dance”, “raks sharqui” or “Egyptian dance” to try to get my message across. Face to face conversations usually went something like this:

Joe Public:  Oh, you perform! What do you do?

Me: I do Middle Eastern dance.

Joe Public: <blank stare>
(Maybe he’s not the brightest crayon in the box.. I wait for him to process this.)
<still staring>

Me:  You know, like bellydance. <grits teeth>

Joe Public: <lights up in recognition> Cool!

Me: <sigh>

I swam upstream with this for about 2 or 3 years. Yes, I am stubborn. Eventually I realized that right or wrong, this was really a losing battle – and one that was not very pragmatic from a business standpoint. So I reluctantly, and carefully began to include the word “bellydance” on my cards and in my conversations. There was definitely still some teeth gritting going on at first.

Perhaps I think too much, but for me I really needed a way to live and dance peacefully with the “B-word.”  In the bigger world at the time, Bellydance Superstars was becoming more visible on the pop culture scene.   I absolutely have some gripes with the project, but at least it wasn’t a stage full of scantily clad belly-bunnies.

My personal paradigm shift happened around year 12. I decided to accept the word “bellydance” and use it openly and with conviction. I decided that I would claim and wear the badge with integrity and be the best example I could be of the culture, grace and joy our dance has to share with the world. And if the masses want to call me a “bellydancer”…. well, I will do my part to help them redefine it.

Now the conversation goes more like this…

Joe Public: Oh, you perform? What do you do?

Me: I bellydance professionally. I teach and perform the dance styles of Egypt and around the Middle East – the ones you’ve probably seen as bellydance and the folkloric styles also.

Joe Public: <no blank stare!> Cool!

“BELLYDANCE” Do you love the word or loathe it? Have your feelings about being identified as a “bellydancer” changed over the years you have been involved?  

I know you’ve got opinions!  Tell us in the comments below…

Holiday Stress – A Balancing Act for Dancers

December 3, 2011

You can balance a sword or a tray of burning candles on your head – but can you balance your life for the next few weeks? The holiday season is upon us and that means good times, good  friends and good cheer, right? Yes, but if you’re a working dancer, it can be a time of overwork and extra stress too.  You can be torn between taking advantage of the party performance season and the needs and wishes of your family and friends who want you around.  If that wasn’t enough, the physical stress of keeping up with your classes – whether you teach or are taking them – your workouts to keep you fit, and late nights performing make this a good time to talk about the antidote… rest and recovery!

Every serious dancer should have a supplemental exercise plan to keep up stamina, balance muscle strength and help prevent injury – and I hope you do! That’s what the Saturday Strength & Stretch DBQ is all about!  The schedule disruptions of holiday work and play can really throw a monkey wrench into your routine. If you’re anything like me,  when that gets disrupted, not only do I feel it physically, but I also feel guilty for “falling off the wagon”. Take a few minutes to step back and look at the larger picture. If your performance schedule is heavy for a few days,  give yourself permission to skip a day or do half the volume – for example, 1 set of each exercise instead of 2 or 3 and less cardio time. This is usually my approach on days that are just a time-crunch, even if it’s not because of lots of dancing. Some exercise is always better than none.

If you work a day job, getting up early and performing late are not an ideal mix. In a perfect world we’d all take an afternoon nap! Look ahead at your week – if you can see that early/late scenario coming up, get some extra sleep in the 2 or 3 days preceding it and plan on catching up afterwards. Rest, both as sleep and as a refrain from exercise, lets the body make those small repairs to keep you going. Just like your house or car, if you let those “small repairs” go unattended, you can count on a big one down the road. Rest is as much a strategy for injury prevention as your supplemental exercise.

The other healthy habit that falls through the schedule cracks this time of year is good nutrition. I know I haven’t touched my stove all week and it’s not because I don’t love to cook! If you know you’re the type to make a frantic run for the golden arches when you’re pressed for time, think ahead. Pre-made hummus , pita and baby carrots in my fridge have saved me more than once from fast food! Keep fruit in a bowl in your living room, and grab one on the way out the door. (I learned this from my Mom – thanks Mom!)

Got back to back gigs? Yes, you need to fuel up in between. All that dancing depletes the stored glycogen in your muscles and it needs to be replaced before you hit the stage again. What happens if you don’t? You may find yourself passed out in your dressing room after your 1 am show.  Ask me how I know this….

My solution is to keep a ziplock bag of dried apricots and raw almonds in my gig bag – and of course always some water.  The apricots  (or any dried fruit)  are a compact source of carbohydrates for energy and the protein in the almonds (or other nuts)  helps slow down the sugar rush to keep you from spiking. Of course, diabetic dancers will need to pay special attention and follow their physician’s advice.

Balance your activity and plan ahead to keep your stresses from getting the best of you. I hope you are set up for a fantastic holiday with lots of bookings and fun shows as well as  plenty of fun with your loved ones!

What stresses you out during the holidays? How do you deal with it? Tell us in the comments below…

No sweat, huh?

June 3, 2011

If you read online discussions with bellydancers talking about makeup, you will find an awful lot of them commenting on how much they sweat when they perform… most seem to think their problem is unusual. For those that give their show their all, I don’t think they sweat any more than any other athlete that puts in the same effort, but nobody expects a runner or soccer player to still look fresh and glamorous at the finish line or final buzzer. It’s no surprise that so many dancers are looking for that secret technique for sweatproof stage makeup. This exact request was sent to me from long-time Daily Bellydance Quickies subscriber, Sasha, so I thought I’d dig up some info on this hot topic as we head into the extra-sweaty season, especially here in the solar oven we call Phoenix.

Before I go any further, I have to tell you that I am not a makeup artist by any stretch of the imagination. Anything I’ve learned has been through lots of trial and perhaps even more error in doing my own stage face. This post is also not a recommendation of any products. Think of it as a summary of what dancers are using and recommending to each other online. I haven’t tried many of these personally since I’ve already found what works for me – but it may not work for you.  So, if you haven’t found your solution, maybe some of this information will help you experiment intelligently.

My personal choice is MAC Studio Fix base. I like it because it’s full coverage and stays put (on me). I tend to get red-cheeked when I dance hard and this keeps that under cover. I go light on the moisturizer and make sure my face is completely dry before I buff it in with a short, flat-topped brush. After a show I carefully and lightly blot my face with a towel and before the next show might touch it up with a light dusting of Studio Fix pressed powder if needed.  No, not sophisticated but like I said, I’m not a makeup artist and it works for me.

The suggestions I gathered from online conversations seem to fall into two categories – primers and sealers. Relatively few talk about actual “sweatproof” foundation formulas.  There were a few sketchy suggestions too, so before we go on let me just say that applying roll-on antiperspirant to my entire face or misting my finished face with hairspray do not sound like anything I’ll be trying!

Primers are liquids or gels applied before foundation. They are formulated to create a smooth surface for the foundation to stick to and (supposedly) improve the staying power of your makeup. A quick search shows that just about every makeup manufacturer from drugstore Revlon to high-end Clarins and NARS makes a primer. The ones with the most positive reviews seem to be MAC Prep and Prime and Smashbox Photo Finish. The theatrical makeup line Kryolan reportedly makes a price-friendly one.  The thing I’ve found most odd is that the official product descriptions from the makers do not claim their products will improve the durability of foundation. It’s the users that are circulating that information.

Sealers are applied over finished makeup; some are sprayed and some are brushed on. MAC Fix Plus gets a lot of good chatter in stage makeup discussions, but again, the official product description doesn’t make any claims to keep makeup in its place. Another product called Model In A Bottle, claims to do exactly that however. SheLaq by Benefit is one of the “brush on” sealers and some users have said it feels heavy, but reviews are generally good. There were a few good mentions for Make Up For Ever’s Mist & Fix too.  Ben Nye Final Seal is made for the stage and makes a bold claim, “Apply over any completed makeup for smudge and water resistance. Final Seal keeps makeup in place on performers who heavily perspire.”  I’m curious to see what happens to my makeup in the steam room with this one….hmmm. Check back with me on that.

Do you use any special products to keep your stage face from melting? What has worked for you and what hasn’t? Tell us in the comments below.

“She’s Got Hips” Podcast Episode #6

March 13, 2011

Part II of our interview with “The Costume Fairy” aka professional costumer, Gail Wolfenden-Steib on prepping new costumes for long, trouble-free wear and best costume choices for theatrical stages. 3 ways to increase grace and fluidity in your dance – an answer to a “Daily Bellydance Quickies” subscriber question, events, a look at digital dance life online and more!

SGH Podcast Episode #6

An “Interesting” Experience

November 10, 2010

Last weekend my student troupe and I performed our newest choreography, a multi-part Saidi, at our MECDA chapter’s annual festival. They were very excited about it and deserved to be – they worked on it diligently for months, aligning cane angles and synchronizing their spins. Their post-show glow took a rude hit in the dressing room unfortunately when another dancer approached them and said, “Your piece was…. interesting.”  When she told me later my student did a look-down-the-nose, raised eyebrow imitation of the person who delivered the comment. Wow.

As much as I’d like to believe the best of people, I doubt this was meant as a compliment. “Interesting”? I did my homework and the piece was traditional from the music selections, to the costuming, to the movement vocabulary. We used some ingenuity in the multi -person cane tricks but even those were inspired by formations done by the Reda folkloric troupe in their choreographies. Even our addition of a Raks Balas segment didn’t venture too far out there.

Keeping that in mind, what do I think about that comment? I think the problem here is not only a shortage of politeness but narrow knowledge base. Before I go on, let me say that I wasn’t able to identify the speaker from what my students told me – and I’m glad I can’t.  Really, I don’t want to know. I probably know the person and I’d rather just skip the whole forgive and forget thing.

We had a similar experience last year at the same festival, but thankfully it was handled a lot better. My dance partner (yes, the crazy one) and I did a traditional Khaleegy piece. We did not include any cultural information in the introduction. Later a good friend of ours, a tribal dancer, told us she didn’t “get” what we were doing with the dresses or our hair so we explained the basic Khaleegy facts. With this cultural frame of reference she “got” it and recommended we include an introduction next time we perform it so the audience could better appreciate it.

We took her advice when we next performed it. In speaking to the show organizer, a very well-known dancer with a lifetime of experience, I requested it be introduced with some background information. I told her about our friend’s reaction and she agreed wholeheartedly. In fact, she told me years ago she saw a dancer wearing a short trashy dress, doing sloppy veil work and chewing gum on stage! She couldn’t believe it and thought she was a hot mess. Years later, she learned it was  – you guessed it – a Melaya Leff. I’m certain she was far too gracious to ever walk up to that dancer and tell her it was…. interesting.

I felt really bad that my students had to weather this little rain cloud on their parade. Being relatively new to performing, they haven’t yet developed the necessary thick skin and selective hearing we sometimes need in the bellydance world. If they wanted a comeback for an uninformed – and unsolicited – comment like that in the future, I suggested they reply with “You’re not familiar with that style?” and fill them in on the background.

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. If a dancer keeps her world small by studying one style with one teacher and not exposing herself to other styles, regional dances and folkloric elements, she’s bound to think odd things when something new comes into view. If  we choose to specialize in one style, we should keep our minds open to being familiar with other styles – even if we choose never to dance them. At the very least, a dancer should be willing to consider that she may be looking at something she knows nothing about.  If all else fails, remember what your Mom told you… if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.  Then go home and Google it.

If you’re on Facebook, you can see our “interesting” performance.

So, Are You An Artist or an Entertainer?

August 25, 2010

I started dancing at age 3, doing tap and ballet just like my big sisters. Every May we did the cheesy end-of-year recital in awful sequined satin costumes to even more awful music. They sprayed our ballet and tap shoes with metallic spray paint to complete the tacky look. I have to wonder how much “dancing” they got out of us at that tender age, but they got us up there before we were self-aware enough to get nervous on stage.

The years went by and self-awareness, and then adolescent self-consciousness came but I was comfortable on the stage. Sure, I got the adrenaline rush in the wings- the good nerves –  but never the panicky stage fright variety. I danced, I did high school drama, I even dared to sing solo- once. OK, I was genuinely nervous that time.

When I started to perform as a bellydance student at our monthly coffee shop shows, I have to admit to being terrified. It was the worst kind of stage fright. It was so bad it took my instructor 6 months to talk me into dancing. All the confidence I had for the stage shrunk like the distance between the audience and me. This was not only a different style of dance, it was a different way of performing – one that included the audience more intimately – and it was scary. There was no sea of faces in the dark, there were people and their reactions barely more than arms length away.

Because I was already infatuated with this dance I mopped off the nervous sweat, slapped a (terrified) grin on my face and pushed through it. I eventually realized it wasn’t fatal. I survived, then I got used to it and about 400 restaurant shows later I learned to love the audience interplay and intimacy of small venue improvisational performance.

Years into my crazy bellydance ride, I traveled to a workshop and performed in the show. It was in a big theater, with a really big stage – the kind I danced on as a kid. Although it was familiar ground, the distance of the audience now threw me. I felt like part of my show was inaccessible to me. It felt like a one-sided conversation. Luckily, the learning curve gets easier each time and I eventually learned to reach into the dark and distant audience with my dance and get that connection I needed to feel complete on stage.

We call it “cabaret” bellydance, why? Because of the setting where it was typically done – a cabaret. There are many other types of cabaret artists- singers, pianists and more. They bring the viewers into their personal bubble making it feel like a shared experience. That is an art in itself, additional to the singing, playing or dancing.

On many occasions, I’ve had college bellydance students come to a show and ask if they can interview me for a class assignment. For the most part this is fun – and then they ask “The Question.” I’ve heard it so many times, it must be part of the assignment. “So, are you an artist or an entertainer?” It always carries the condescending tone and subtext of “are you a real performer or do you just bop around the tables to entertain the diners?”

I’m sure I gave the first one to ask this a disbelieving glare. Poor thing, I didn’t realize she’d been put up to it. I know the drill now, and I know how to answer the question. I am both, because in this style of dance you have to be regardless of the size of your stage or the proximity of your audience. A ballerina is an artist of the first order – and she takes no notice of her audience as she dances. That just doesn’t work in bellydance. A spectacular technical display in a $1000 Bella is lacking if the dancer doesn’t open her heart and let the audience in. Similarly, it’s not enough to move through the crowd, smiling and engaging them. The dancer needs to show expertise, artistry and presence.

At our best, we make art by blending our moving body and emotions with the music and let the audience really be part of the formula.

Practicality vs Artistic Integrity

August 11, 2010

I am sitting down at my computer to work on a big performance later this season. It will include 3 smaller ensembles within a larger group and several pieces of music, some live musicians (well, I hope they’re still alive when I’m done rehearsing them!) and  other craziness that I won’t elaborate on.  The event producer gave me the one critical piece of information I needed to start – my time slot is 10 minutes.

It all starts from there. I portion out the time to this element and that and begin my search for the perfect music. In this case, it’s several perfect pieces of music – or as close to perfect as I can get. I want tempo changes, interesting musical features and accents we can hook into for movement and changes of mood. The one element that isn’t so critical is the time length of the music, because I am armed with editing software and I’m not afraid to use it!

Well, at least I wasn’t afraid to use it back in March-  then I went to the IBCC. I sat in on one of the many fascinating panel discussions. I don’t recall what the official topic of this one was, but the bulk of the conversation was about fusion and how far can it stray before it’s not recognizable as “bellydance”… but let’s not go there today.

It was a stray comment from an audience member that gives me pause when I’m looking at my potential music.  She felt that as dancers, we did not have the right to clip, fade, copy and paste a musician’s work to fit our particular needs. She felt very strongly that as a creation born out of the musician’s artistic psyche, we should respect it as a whole work of musical art and keep it intact, or not use it.

I can see the wisdom in that. I respect art and the creative effort with all my being. When I think of a song I love – “Inta Omri” for example – I consider it a beautiful work of art with its falls into delicate taqsim and subsequent rising melodies. Yet, I have taken it to pieces just so I could use it in a show that kept me in a 3:30 box. Is that right? Is it disrespectful? Or is it better to bring even part of it to the ears of the masses than leave it unheard?

I don’t think anyone even responded to her comment, but it landed in my ears and has wended its way up into my brain and made me question my editing practices. It won’t go away.  It hasn’t riddled me with so much guilt that I haven’t edited a single thing since, but I have thought more carefully before hitting the “cut” button. Would I want someone to edit a video of my choreography, removing my favorite parts and rearranging others? My work would be out of context and misrepresented – and I’d be furious.

I am not a musician and therefore won’t pretend to understand how one would perceive it. Is it a compliment or an insult?  Maybe I need to consult a few on this dilemma… maybe it would cut me loose to once again wield editing software with abandon to fit that  multi-piece madness I’m expected to produce into the 10 minute box.