Taking dance classes for fun is well, fun!
Every student that has ever come through the doors of my studio began their dance journey for some aspect of fun, healing, and a new workout. But mostly fun. Should you begin performing, though, the journey takes on another tambour – particularly if you aspire to honor the traditions and the legends in your community and in this cultural art form.
Here are a few artist-based considerations before beginning work on a new piece or a new show that will greatly enhance your performance journey:
Clarify your concept
Some of the concept becomes clear when you consider your audience and their expectations. The event they are attending, the culture they come from, their art awareness and other audience situations are clues. Sometimes, the hiring party gives the artist more parameters. Is there a theme to the event or is it dedicated to entertaining a special person? Sometimes, the artist is in a situation where the concept is all theirs to develop.
Elements such as the show length, the music you choose, what the lyrics mean, how you wish to handle the meaning, musical devices and rhythms which often indicate folk dances to physically “nod” to, instruments and oft used movement associations, costume traditions that accompany this style/song, icons who have performed the piece or style, props that are appropriate, and so much more can be clarified in a quick conversation.
Take time to consult
Even just a few minutes of chatting with a seasoned teacher, mentor, or professional can enhance your show exponentially. Why is this? Respectfully, most students, do not know what they do not know. Even professionals and international stars consult with a coach, a choreographer, or someone steeped in the traditions of the art before beginning work on their own piece or show.
Once headed in the correct conceptual direction and armed with information, a dancer will find more confidence for making artistic choices. Sadly, often dancers skip this artistic approach and begin a piece without knowledge of many traditions. Later, once they have learned, they often undo what they did. Contextual information is powerful in art.
Set aside time to focus on your art
Most new belly dancers come for fun and slip into performing without getting this very important piece of information: Creating art takes a lot of practice. A practice log may be of use. Write mini goals, jot ideas and progress daily or as much as possible.
Video record yourself and watch with a critical eye for arms, hands, head involvement, balanced floor patterns, technique. Remember that details make magic and a little progress every day is always better than nothing.
Work on technique skills before you need them
Finger cymbals, if you ever plan to use them, need be drilled for 15 minutes a few times a week AT LEAST. Amina Delal, a professional dancer from the Golden Era of Belly Dance, proudly played zils 20 minutes a day to a full show. Cardio stamina, needed in order to dance full length shows, needs to be developed well in advance of getting the gig. Dancers in Jillina’s productions are often cast based on how diverse their skills are which makes them able to cover many parts.
Along the way, ask fellow artists for feedback and support
In every genre other than belly dance artists are given critique their whole career through “juries”, “proficiencies”, “recitals”, and “exams” which help students assess progress, attain tips, accomplish goals, move up in ranks in classes, and feel supported as they progress before, during, and after performances.
In belly dance, very few formal systems for advancement exist so it is up to the students to seek this support. Belly dance teachers, in fact, may be quite shy about giving critique because most belly dance students are hobbyists and do not seek an artistic journey. Therefore, it behooves the student of traditional belly dance, and fusion styles alike, to ask for feedback.
Check in, especially a few days after performances. Remember, some teachers may not want to impose, so ask. Know that loving friends’ support can mask your growth areas. Nobody goes on Facebook and says ‘you need to work on your arms’, so inquire about ways to improve. Some internationally known teachers will even be willing to watch videos for a fee. Choose pathways to seek feedback in which you feel safe and supported.
See a lot of “traditionalist” shows when possible
Find and inquire about performances coming up from the community icons in your area. The live band shows, big stage shows, small club shows, and belly dance haflahs each differ. Go see how professionals handle these shows. If you plan to perform in a restaurant, go there a lot to see how the professionals work that space and that audience. Watch how the professionals use the music and the transitions and the elements in their shows.
Never stop studying your art and asking questions
Always continue to take classes, workshops, private lessons if you can, watch videos and learn, learn, learn about the dances within this dance genre. *I recommend asking your instructor for recommendations on the top international artists who would be helpful to observe through video. In our digital world, video resources are bountiful, but don’t be afraid to engage with your own instructor. They can offer you tips on which cultural icons of the art to watch for which subgenres of the dance.