Friday, May 28, 2010


Is there really a perfect time to make your dance debut?

In the beginning of your dance-journey, no matter how many months or years you spend training at classes, private lessons, rehearsals and practice sessions, you will never feel completely “ready” for your first performance.

Stage fright is common- even after years of experience, many professional dancers- as well as actors, musicians, public speakers, newscasters, teachers, and many others in the public eye still suffer from performance anxiety. But there is a huge difference between a healthy pre-performance adrenalin surge and a stultifying, self-sabotaging sense of doom.

Whether you are dancing for a hobby or if you haven’t yet turned pro but have the desire to, early performances in a supportive environment can help you to grow as a dancer. If you have what it takes technique-wise, own or can borrow a costume and have done your dance-homework faithfully, then it’s time to tough it out, be brave, and try to put your self- doubt to rest. Then get yourself out there and perform as much as you possibly can!

I was always a big time ham, but as a baby belly dancer, even though I desperately wanted to turn professional, the idea of performing filled me with apprehension, if not outright dread. I was used to performing in the theater, on film and as a singer fronting a number of bands, but the thought of non-verbal communication through dance was terrifying. I usually didn’t suffer from stage fright at all- but the thought of failing at something so important that I loved so dearly- belly dancing- scared the hell out of me!

I was afraid my performances would be torn apart by other dancers, fearful that I would embarrass my teachers, not to mention convinced that ethnic audiences would see me as an “imposter”, and that civilians might get bored with watching ethnic dances.

Not only that, I had plenty of other handy excuses: in order to perform, I had to have the perfect costume (which I couldn’t yet afford) and I needed to find the perfect music, which apparently hadn’t yet been composed and recorded! Also, I was absolutely sure I was clumsy, over weight, lacked personality, would never get hired for dance jobs, and that I needed to study for…oh, at least another decade or so!

Many of my early belly dance teachers pushed me to perform when I didn’t think I was ready to, because they could see that I was ready, and, due to their experience, they could also tell I was only getting in my own way by resisting due to my own insecurities.

One dancer, Zein Abdel Al Malik, who was my teacher, friend and mentor (he also actually got me my first job) even spent hours- if not days -patiently and compassionately listening to my long litany of fears … but then he said bluntly:

“Get over it!”

So, teeth gritted, palms sweating, and with more than a few butterflies in my stomach, I took the plunge. Ultimately was glad that I did. I quickly realized that while some of my fears were valid, most of them were more neurotic than founded in actual truth. Even as a newbie, after biting the bullet and performing a few times (improvising to live music, no less) I realized that what you learn intrinsically from every performance is leaps and bounds beyond what you absorb in a class or during practice! In fact, for me, this belly dance “work/study” program was so accelerated, it seemed as though every five minutes of actual performance was worth five hours spent in the studio!

Here are some points to consider:

Check in with your instructor(s) and make sure that they agree that you are ready to perform. Usually, the instructor knows BEFORE the student does. Many of my own students didn’t think they were ready to perform, when I already knew-for months- that they had the capability to perform and do the job well. I have trained many professionals and award-winning dancers over the years. It makes me so proud that I had a hand in shaping these women’s careers… and also that it was me who (very gently) pushed them into performing. Many of them are now teaching others and sharing the joy of dance.

On the other hand, if you don’t think you are ready for the stage but your instructor does, trust her instincts. Think it over; you don’t have to agree to perform right away, and you don’t need to start with a solo, you could join a student troupe, or do a duet with someone in your class. Dancing in a student troupe has many benefits, not the least of which are learning combinations and choreographies for free! And I can’t even begin to tell you how many students I’ve had that were extremely reluctant to go onstage… but who came off stage feeling elated and hungry for more!

If your instructor is over-critical of your performances, appearance or abilities in general, it’s time to consider going elsewhere for your training. Dancing should be fun and enriching, and classes should be supportive environment. Constructive critique is one thing; bullying, sarcasm and derogatory comments are quite another.

Be fully prepared: Know your musical selections inside out, have your choreography or marked improv down, make sure you have a costume that fits well and is in good repair- i.e. securely fastened, hemmed, and not shedding coins or fringe. Use enough make-up, and check with your classmates or teacher if you need to. Stage make-up needs to be much heavier than every day make-up, and it may look strange to see your face so painted up. Before leaving for your show or recital, double check and be certain you have all pieces of your costume with you, as well as your music and any props or accessories you will be using. Bring shoes and a cover-up.

Before going onstage, take a few quiet moments for yourself, and focus on your performance piece mentally. Warm yourself up completely, starting with some light dance steps or aerobic activity, transitioning into gentle stretching. Before you go on, take a few deep breaths to center yourself, and remind yourself not to rush and to finish every movement. Think of something that makes you happy, and then your smile will look genuine, not forced.

Remember to have a great time onstage…. even though you will probably not remember your actual performance! Have fun and your audience will, too. Try to project your energy outwards- find a friendly face in the crowd and focus on that person, not the floor!

Performing live- in a “safe” environment, such as in student troupes or showcases, at haflas, and belly dance events will teach you things about audience interaction, spatial concepts, and application of technique that you can never possibly learn in a classroom situation. You will grow as a dancer because of it.

Just do it!

Photo: Princess Farhana in 1992, performing for Anaheed's showcase at The Middle East Connection, Burbank, CA.

1 comment:

  1. I love that costume!!! It's yummalicious! Good article!!