Performance Standards: Booking and Attending Gigs

May 16, 2013 § 2 Comments

I have performed as a belly dancer for over a decade and have danced in a large variety of venues and settings.  Some amazing, some good, some okay, some bad, and some really unpleasant.  At a recent bad performance experience, there was no designated stage area, there was no DJ, and they had no performance time for us. They gave us a call time, but when we showed up, no one seemed to know what was going on.  We were not in the line up.  They asked if we wanted to dance to the DJ, even though we had specifically told them “no” over the phone during the performance invitation.  We waited around for a while and didn’t have adequate warning before we finally did perform.  They “let us” perform while the DJs took a break. It did not get better once we started dancing.  They introduced us as “the belly dancers” instead of by our troupe’s name.  People were wandering through the area where we were dancing.  No one was taking care of our music or paying attention to what was going on.  Our ipod got bumped in the middle of the set, and started playing a song over again.  We couldn’t get anyone to fix it for us.  One of the dancers had to leave the “stage” to fix it herself.  Then, in the middle of our last song, the band that was on next started improvising on top of our music and then said “let’s hear it for the belly dancers!…” before the song completely finished.  We were practically kicked off stage.  It was very unprofessional.  We handled it as gracefully as possible, but it was not a fun experience.

Because of all of this performance experience as well as others, I have thought a lot about performance standards.  I think it’s important to consider what kind of settings you would like to perform in and what your expectations are.  Sometimes it is okay to decline an event invitation or decide that a venue is not right for you.  Sometimes, it may even be reasonable to leave an event without performing.

Here is my list of performance standards:

1) Make sure you have an official performance slot.  If they are not organized enough to put together a set list, chances are good you will show up for a 10-20 minute set and wait around for 2 hours.  This is not okay.  It is reasonable for shows and events to run a little behind, but what they are saying by not giving you a time slot, is that your time isn’t valuable.  If they don’t have an approximate performance time, the answer is no.  I also know of some professional dancers who start charging more if they don’t go on within a reasonable amount of time after the agreed upon performance slot.  I think this is fair.  Their time is valuable.  Your time is also valuable.

2) If they can’t give you an idea of what the music system is like, you should ask them to find out before you commit.  You need to be able to prepare your music.  Music is essential for dancing.  If there are different options at this venue, and they aren’t sure which will work out for that night, that’s not too big of a deal, as long as you know what options to prepare for.  You need to know if you are capable of using their music system and have an adequate amount of time to get your set list prepared.  You don’t want to waste your time preparing a set, getting into costume, and going to the event, just to find out you won’t have music and can’t perform.

3) If they want someone who does something that you don’t do,  just say you are not what they are looking for and suggest another performer, if you know of one, who is a better fit.  If they want someone to dance to the DJ who’s playing techno or reggae and that’s not the kind of music you dance to, then the answer is no.  If they want gogo dancers, that’s fine, but belly dancers aren’t gogo dancers.  They need to find someone who can fulfill their specific performance needs.  And if they are calling for a bachelor party performance, be weary that they might expect something more risqué than your typical belly dance.  This may not be the performance for you.

4) Expect them to be professional and have respect.  For example, there is someone in charge who knows what is going on and can direct you where to go.  There is some sort of backstage area where you can prepare and safely store your things.  You should get a proper announcement before your performance.

5)  This is a big one and sometimes the hardest for dancers to take a stand on:  Don’t dance for free if other performers get paid.  Also, don’t dance for free if there is a cover charge.  The only exception to this rule is if it is a benefit show and the money is going to a good cause.  Don’t let someone personally profit from your hard work, unless you are also profiting.  Even if you do a short set, you should still get paid.  They aren’t just paying for your performance time; they are paying for your years of dance classes and performance experience, your costuming, your time spent building a set and getting into hair, makeup and costume. You are worth compensating.  It is also okay to dance for free at community events, festivals and haflas.  These are shows for sharing and exposure.  My old dance troupe had a set number of free shows we did every year.  Once those slots were full, we only did paid gigs.  This worked out well.  I recommend coming up with a similar policy.

6) Sometimes it is okay to leave a gig.  I don’t think I have ever done this, but there has been a time or two I wish I had.  This is a last resort, but if you aren’t being treated appropriately and there is no reasonable negotiation, or no one cares enough to negotiate with you in the first place, you should consider whether it is fair for you to stay, especially if you are volunteering your time.  I’m not saying be a diva, I’m just saying make sure they treat you with respect.

Have you had any experiences that have made you reconsider your performance standards?  What does your list look like?  Is there something I should add to mine?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Belly Nouveau: A Tribal Spectacular!

February 27, 2013 § 3 Comments

My troupe produced our first full-length show a couple weeks ago. It was really our troupe director, Sadie Calderon and another local dancer, Lauren Martinez Burr who did most of the work with booking a location, inviting guest dancers and creating the lineup, finding tech people, making tickets and programs… The rest of us assisted with opinions, ticket sales, costume making, and choreographies. It was a lot of fun and quite successful! We sold out! It wasn’t a ginormous theater, but it is still exciting to sell out your first show!

It was a busy, busy month leading up to the show! It’s a lot of hard work, but it was totally worth it and I’d like to put on another one sometime. However, now that we’re done, I’m looking forward to a little more down time.

Here are the two dances I had the most to do with creating. The first is my solo, which is my own tribaret choreography, and the second is a tribal sword duet that I co-choreographed with the other dancer, Ally Lowry.

If you feel so inclined, you can watch the entire show (or just parts) here.  Desert Darlings performed several numbers and the guest dancers were all wonderful!  There is a lot of great talent here in Albuquerque!

Art Vs. Entertainment

January 19, 2013 § 4 Comments

  • Art: the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
  • Entertainment: the act of entertaining;  agreeable occupation for the mind; diversion; amusement.

A question I hear often among belly dancers, especially in the Tribal community, is whether we consider ourselves artists or entertainers.  People who ask this question seem to have a strong opinion about which is better (I’ll give you a hint, it’s not entertainment). There seems to be a strong “I do it for me, not them” mentality. There’s not anything wrong with that.  In fact, I think the most important person to dance for is yourself.  But when you perform, you have to do it for you and for the audience.

Art is an expression of the artist.  If we identify with this expression, we will be inspired by this art.  When art is created, it is best if it evokes some sort of reaction from a viewer.  The most memorable art is interesting to the eye, evokes an emotion, or inspires introspection.  Art makes statements that are meant to be communicated.  It touches something in us and is a form of entertainment.  Entertainment satisfies an audience.  It takes the audience to another state of mind.  It helps them forget themselves for awhile.  If they identify with or are touched by your artistic expression, they will be entertained.

I don’t usually worry too much about art vs. entertainment when I perform. I think the two go hand in hand.  I find art entertaining, and entertainment can be done artistically.  As a dancer, art may be enough to fulfill the dancer’s desire to create and express. As a performer, entertainment is a definite goal. No one wants to get on stage and deeply and meaningfully bore their audience. I don’t believe it is necessary to choose sides.

I am an artist and an entertainer. An entertainment artist. An artistic entertainer. I am a belly dancer.

Performing: To Look at the Audience or Not?

December 31, 2012 § 3 Comments

I have heard many different theories and many different preferences on where to look when performing.  When first learning to perform, I think it’s hard for most people to look at the audience.  Dealing with stage fright can be a process.  Most people have it at some point, and looking an audience member in the eye does not tend to help the nerves.  My first teacher taught me to look over the heads of the audience members if this was the case.  I know some dancers who have been dancing for years and still prefer this method.

Personally, I like to look at the audience.  I feel more of a connection.  However, I don’t tend to focus on one person for too long (unless their body language and facial expressions invite more interaction) because this can be too intense and make them feel uncomfortable.  Some audience members like to feel more included, but I think a lot of people just want to be spectators.  I like to look at the audience not only because it makes me feel more connected to them, but I also feed off of their energy and feel like my facial expressions are more genuine when I have people to respond to.

Sometimes I still look over the heads of the audience.  I do this if looking at them is too intense, such as when I feel like they are being unresponsive.  Also, it’s nice to alternate between looking over them and at them, especially if some audience members are sitting very close.  Sometimes looking over the audience can be used for effect as well.  This can be used to create an ethereal or dreamy quality, like you are seeing something in your mind. In the case of bright stage lights, I can’t see the audience members anyway, so this is more like looking over the heads of the audience.  Even though I may or may not be since I can’t actually see them.

The big no-no for where to look when performing is down!  Sometimes looking down for effect is appropriate.  It can help to express something in the music, intensify a movement or help direct the audience’s focus.  However, it should only be used for effect!  It is not fun to watch a dancer who stares at the floor the whole time.  Personally, as a spectator, it makes me feel uncomfortable.  I feel like the performer is nervous and therefore I am nervous.  Looking up and out is inviting and shouts confidence.  Even when a performer is experiencing stage fright, looking up is the best camouflage.  This will help the audience relax and enjoy the show.

What do you think?  Where do you like to focus when you perform?

Desert Darlings perform in Santa Fe!

October 15, 2012 § 2 Comments

Hello lovely readers! I know I have been quiet lately, but I haven’t forgotten about you! I have been incredibly busy in life and in dance! The nice thing about being too busy to write as much is that I have been dancing and performing quite a bit! Don’t worry, I will be back soon with stories, thoughts and insights! In the meantime, here is a video from one of Desert Darlings’ most recent performances. We performed in Santa Fe at “Raq-Us Illumination,” a show featuring Unmata! If you feel so inclined, you can check out other performances from that night on youtube. It was a great show!

Belly Dance, Hooping, and Fusion

August 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

It has been a busy summer, but I have been able to find more time for hooping!  It is a great full-body work out, invigorating and most importantly, fun!  Being at the “blossoming beginner” stage of a hobby is very rewarding.  I now have enough experience with the hoop that I am able to learn new tricks more quickly (courtesy of homeofpoi.com‘s “learn” page) and there is so much to look forward to learning.  I like to enjoy every stage of a hobby, but this is an especially fun one.

When I first tried hooping, it was in a workshop with a teacher who also taught belly dance.  Most of the students in the workshop were belly dance students, and we started the class by repeating several times, “hooping is not belly dance!”  The teacher wanted to make sure we weren’t inserting unnecessary movement into the hooping because of our belly dance muscle memory.  The two art forms use some of the same muscle groups in different ways.  That being said, there are some types of isolations used in belly dance that are useful with certain hoop moves.  For example, being able to move the chest independently from the hips helps with chest hooping.

Hula hooping is a good cross-training choice for belly dancers.  It’s low impact like belly dance, but is very cardiovascular, while belly dance is sometimes not. Not only does hooping aid in muscle strengthening and toning, it can balance the fitness routine.  It is gaining popularity among belly dancers, especially in the tribal community.  This, of course, leads to fusion!  I am nowhere near being to a point where I could fuse together hooping and belly dance, but I sometimes come across videos of this.  This is one of my favorites.  It is artfully executed and reflective of the music.  Enjoy!

Isis Wings and Imagery

June 3, 2012 § 3 Comments

Isis Wings!  They are fun, flowing and flashy!

Isis wings KAPOW

It is difficult to find information on the origin of Isis Wings.  The Dancers of the Desert write on their website “in doing research on Wings of Isis I found that there is no specific history on Isis wings.  They started in Las Vegas [as] a prop used by show girls, and I am assuming, because of their similarity to Isis, the Egyptian goddess of love, fertility (She is depicted usually as a kneeling lady with wings), got their name…It is an American prop and does not fall into traditional Middle Eastern dance, but was developed with so many other props, into the middle Eastern art of belly dancing.”

There is this video on YouTube circa 1895 which was the first hand-painted movie.  The props used are not Isis Wings, the description says they are veils (obviously attached to sticks), but the effect is rather Isis Wings-esque.

No matter where Isis Wings came from, they certainly awe audiences and capture the imagination.  Sometimes they remind people of other, often-whimsical things.

One person told me this prop reminds them of the artificial swallowtail butterfly developed by researches to study how these beautiful and oddly proportioned insects stay in flight: 

A spectator at one of Lumani‘s shows saw these…

Black Lamme Isis Wings

…and thought them reminiscent of this popular caped crusader:

Personally, Isis Wings make me think of this:

Less whimsical, but this deadly Jurassic Park dino comes to mind every time.

Like everything, Isis Wings get reinvented with new technology.  Behold!  Some really cool LED Isis Wings!

After seeing this video, Princess Farhana said on twitter “WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!! that was better than being a kid at Disneyland’s Electric parade!!!!”

Do Isis Wings remind you of anything?