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!

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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!

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!

How to Choreograph

April 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

I don’t usually choreograph my solos.  I “tried” many times over the years, but was unsuccessful.  I tried choreographing by dancing through a song, but couldn’t remember what I’d done. Or I came up with a set of moves for one phrase, but couldn’t come up with anything for the rest.  Or I listened to a song and imagined how I would dance, but these images didn’t translate easily to reality.

Honestly, I think I lacked patience and confidence in my choices.  I wasn’t ready to choreograph.  Creating something definite was too much pressure.  If I improvised, I didn’t have to worry about forgetting my choreography.  Sometimes I worried about not knowing what was next, but I had no choice but to commit and keep dancing.  It seemed less stressful.  I love the freedom of improvisation.  It’s so honest and genuine.  However, both improvisation and choreography are important skills and lend themselves well to different circumstances.

A couple months ago, I signed up for a 3-5 minute solo at Amaya’s Oriental Potpourri.  I wanted to challenge myself with an Oriental belly dance choreography.  I picked a piece of music that seemed like it would be challenging to improvise to.  After working on it obsessively, I am pleased with how it turned out.

Here is the process I went through:

1) I listened to the song over and over and over again.  I wrote notes about the sections.  How are they different?  What is their feel?  Should that section be fast? Staccato?  Melodic?  Traveling?  In place?

2) I broke down the song by section and count.  I wrote things like “Intro-32 counts” and “Call and Answer-16 counts.”  Then I wrote general notes about what I saw for each section, such as “traveling,” “undulations,” “layering,” “shimmies.”

3) I listened to one section at a time, and then one phrase at a time.  I visualized dancing.  I kept listening until I had an idea I really liked, then I wrote it down.  If I couldn’t get an idea for something, I skipped it and came back to it later with the question, “what does the dance still need?” As the dance developed, I made sure there was enough variation in floor patterns, traveling, staying still, leveling, etc.  I didn’t want my dance to look stagnant and I wanted it to reflect the changes in the music.  I also made sure there was some repetition so the dance was cohesive.

4) Once I had a combo written down, I tried it. I sang each part to myself as I slowly went through the moves.  Some things worked and some didn’t.  Some phrases needed a little refinement while some had to be entirely reworked.  It was a process.  Once I had something solid, I tried it with the music.

5) When I finished choreographing, it was time for memorization.  I kept my notes nearby and practiced transitioning from one section to the next.  This took awhile.  It was the same process as learning someone else’s choreography.

6) Once it was memorized, I focused on musical expression.  I listened to the music very closely and adjusted moves to reflect the sound.  I tried to really dance it.

7) Practice, practice, practice.

This is the process that worked for me.  I put together my 3-and-a -half minute solo in about a week and a half.  I worked on it everywhere I could; every free second I got.  At home, at school, at work, at the laundry mat…Once I started, it was hard to stop.  It was a labor of love.

Here is the finished product:

What is your choreography process?  Do you have any tips to share?

A Film Project: A Dancer from New Mexico

December 6, 2011 § 2 Comments

This is a project I worked on with my roommate, a film student, a couple months ago.  He was assigned to create short films in the styles of some of the first filmmakers. This project, he did in honor of Turkish Dance by Thomas Edison, shot in 1898.  I tried to keep my free-style dancing on the folkloric side and create a similar feel as the dancer in the original video.

Here is my roommate’s completed project:

Here is the original short:

If you’ve never checked it out before, there is a lot of vintage, belly dance footage on youtube.  It’s pretty interesting.

Fire Poi: My First Burn!

September 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Earlier this summer I had my first fire poi burn.  It. Was.  AMAZING!

I was at a 4th of July party at a friend’s ranch in the beautiful, Middle of Nowhere, NM.  It was a bunch of friends, old and new, getting together in the mountainous desert to sing, talk, camp and be merry around a fire under the beautiful open sky.

A friend of mine spins fire poi and brought hers to the party.  After she spun a little, and another friend at the party did as well, she asked if I wanted to try.  Although I had been trying to psych myself up for it all day, I was nervous.  The first time I had ever tried spinning fire poi, they were unlit at a fire jam in Portland, and I hit myself in the back of the head leaving a huge knot.  That was when I had only been taking poi classes for a few weeks, but it made me nervous ever since.  There were a lot of people at this party and I didn’t want them all watching me if I a)freaked out, b)caught on fire, c)sucked and got stuck in a forward spin for minutes on end, or d)a combination of any or all of the above.

I was around a lot of fire poi spinners in Portland, but I moved to Huntsville just as I was starting to get decent at it myself.  I knew only one or two other poi spinners in Alabama and none that spun fire, so I hadn’t had an opportunity to try in a long time.  After convincing myself a bit, I decided I had been spinning poi casually for five years, it was time to try the fire poi.  I put my long hair up in a bun, wet it a little just to be sure it wasn’t too flammable and mentally prepared myself.  I was at least going to try forward and backward spins and some basic turns.  No big deal.  I was in the company of friends.

I practiced with her poi unlit for a few minutes to get used to the weight and feel.  She assured me that I was doing great with them.  She told me she would only soak the ends with a little bit of fuel so they wouldn’t burn too long.  Another friend assured me that if I caught on fire, he was ready with the hose.  They told me I couldn’t ask for a more supportive crowd to try it in front of.

When I was ready, one of my very best friends lit one of the poi for me, I touched it to the other and watched them brighten into a big, orange glowing ball in the night.  I backed up, started moving them in a horizontal, circular motion above the ground in front of me (I believe this is called “stir the pot” in some poi-move vocabularies).  I brought the poi overhead for some “corkscrew” action (poi moving in same direction alternately between horizontal circles in front and overhead, one making the lower circle while the other is making the upper). I turned a bit with this and felt pretty good.  I transitioned my corkscrew into some chasing the sun (poi traveling parallel in vertical circles, alternating in front and behind the body) and brought it into a windmill (essentially the same move, but with the poi spinning in split-time so there’s one making a circle behind while one is making a circle in front). I felt incredibly…comfortable!

It was ON!  I listened to the music and I went through all my regularly practiced movements.  I flowed into turns, butterflies and weaves…I was threading the needle and extending into some basic flowers…I stalled, reversed, split-timed and moved around with the poi.  It was meditative and relaxing.  I love the hypnotic flowing of the poi.  Being within the spiraling ring of fire, I didn’t feel as if a bunch of people were watching me.  The flames were loud enough, I could hardly here them; the flames were bright enough, I couldn’t see anyone too clearly.  The way I often feel safe in stage lights, I found safety in the poi flames.

When one poi flame went out and the other began to dwindle, and it was time to spin hard and fast to extinguish it, I wished my time wasn’t up.  I could have gone longer.  I could have flowed more with the fire and the music.  I felt exhilarated!

My friend who owns the poi said it was awesome and that she thought I was going to do a few really simple things, but that I surprised her by going balls out.  It was such an amazing experience!  I am now completely re-energized about poi.  I am so glad that I have friends here to explore this art form with!  I have to start practicing more regularly again, and I absolutely MUST invest in some fire poi of my very own.

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