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You’ve worked really hard to make sure every detail is perfect for this performance. The costuming and make-up, your song selection, the choreography… each took hours of careful planning, hard-earned sweat, and maybe even a few tears. Don’t let all your work go to waste, take the time to write a good stage introduction!

What is a stage introduction? The stage introduction, sometimes called the emcee notes or dancer’s bio, is how your routine is announced to the audience. It’s the ‘who you are and what you’re doing’ that may be read by a live MC, pre-recorded, or printed in the show program. If you’re dancing in an organized show, you’ll probably submit your introduction with your music and contact details. If you’re performing at a professional gig, you may be asked if you want anything announced before you enter.

Why is it important? The stage introduction is often your first impression on the audience. It’s a chance to get their attention, set the mood, and raise the level of anticipation.

So let’s walk through some important considerations before we begin. Then we’ll look at a few creative writing approaches, with examples of how each may by used. We’ll finish with some general tips on style.

Considerations:

  • What’s the format? Will your intro be in a printed program, read by a live emcee, or both? If you know your intro is going to appear in print, then you can ask the show organizer if it would be okay to include a link to your website (or your teacher’s!) in your intro. It’s a great way to get free advertising. If your intro is being read by a live emcee, you may want to consider including a phonetic guide to pronouncing any difficult names.
  • Who is your audience? The purpose of the intro is to provide context for your audience, to help them connect to you and your work. You’ll first have to understand who they are to be successful. Are the people in your audience traditional American, or do they generally belong to a particular ethnicity, culture, or other socioeconomic group? What is their level of experience with bellydance? Will this be their first time seeing a live bellydancer?
  • What’s the venue? Is this a formal gathering, or something more casual? The tone of your writing should compliment the tone or mood of the event.

Approaches:

  • Educational: Explaining a few of the historical or cultural background details related to your performance. This works great for audiences that are new to bellydancing, or for haflas where there are often students in the audience that are learning about different styles and traditions. It also works nicely for folkloric routines.

Ancient dancers in Egypt, Greece, and Turkey held percussive instruments in their hands during religious and secular ceremonies. These instruments would later come to resemble the modern belly dancer’s finger cymbals. Tonight, Ananke fuses the traditional playing of finger cymbals with New Age world music in a routine that features some jazzy rhythms.

  • Translation: Summarizing a translation of the lyrics to set the mood or tone. This can add depth to your interpretation, especially when the singer relates an interesting story or parable. It also works well for traditional American audiences that may feel disconnected to foreign music.

Ananke interprets a Turkish pop song in which singer Tarkan pines for a woman that is a bit of a tease, and who also happens to be with another man.

  • Dedication: Dedicating the performance to a teacher or inspirational figure, or to a friend or family member. This works well for emotive pieces, especially when the routine demonstrates a quality of the person you are celebrating or remembering.

Ananke dedicates this performance to her good friend Jeanine, who taught her that life’s most valuable lessons are those that are the most hard-won.

  • Provide a setting: Using imagery to evoke a particular scene in space or time. This works well for non-traditional fusion pieces with a particular theme, as well as historic folkloric routines. Here’s one I used for a Halloween show:

On this moonless night you have been summoned to witness upon this stage a dark covenant. From the shadows emerge creatures who conjure around the ghostly flames and take pleasure in ghastly tricks and treats.

  • Use humor: People have a good time when they laugh. Use a bit of humor to engage an audience before a light or playful routine.

Ananke will perform a sizzling drum solo, a traditional component of the Cabaret line-up involving precise isolations that require intense practice and drills. These shimmies are sure to leave you (and her!) breathless.

Tips:

  • Keep it short! Less than four sentences is great.
  • Pick just one of the above approaches (or your own!) and do it well. Don’t overcomplicate the message.
  • If you need to include biographical information (like how long you’ve been dancing, who you study from, etc.), then try to creatively weave it into your approach. Avoid sentences like, “Salimah has been dancing for three years.” when you could write, “In three years of dancing Salimah has learned that the most challenging pieces are easiest to interpret with a veil in her hands.”
  • It is proper for student-level dancers to acknowledge their teachers, and to acknowledge the choreographer of the routine if it is not yours.
  • Remember to write in the third person, “Ananke dances…”, instead of “I dance…”, so that it makes sense when the emcee reads it. And don’t forget to include your name somewhere!
  • Use the present or future tense, “Ananke is performing…” or “Ananke will perform.”
  • Try to use an active voice, it sounds much more powerful. “The routine features…” instead of “… is featured in the routine.”
  • Save the introductions you write so that you can reference (and reuse!) them later.

Happy writing!

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Ananke performing at haflaIt’s spring, which means it’s hafla season. If you’re into performing you probably have at least one upcoming show in the next few weeks. And even if you’re not performing I bet you’ll be attending one soon. So I thought it would be a good time to review the P’s and Q’s of performance etiquette.

Why it’s important. Being polite and respectful at shows is about maintaining your reputation amongst your fans and your fellow dancers. Your name is the single most important thing you have. If you tarnish it, then you don’t dance. It doesn’t matter how good your technique is. It’s that simple.

So what is good show etiquette for bellydancers? I’ve broken it down into three categories:

In the Audience

  • Be positive. You know Thumper’s Law: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all. Help create a show atmosphere where women are supported for being who they are, where they are in their study of the dance. Plus, you never know who might overhear your negative comments.
  • Be supportive. Don’t underestimate the power of a reassuring smile, especially for dancers new to the stage. Clap along to the music, or zaghareet where appropriate. If you’re comfortable with a little Arabic, you can also call out encouraging phrases such as “Yalla!” or “Ya Habibi!” Be careful with hissing- while it may be appropriate in some tribal dance themed shows, cabaret or folkloric dancers will probably find it offensive.
  • Buy something. If the hafla is being held in a restaurant or lounge, you should at least buy a drink to support the establishment. The tables are there for paying customers, and your ticket or cover charge doesn’t count. This is just as true for dancers in the show who are sitting in the audience before or after their number!
  • Stay for the whole thing. Don’t just arrive for your number and then leave after your done. Be there to support all the dancers. If you really must leave for another engagement, then email the event organizer to let them know well ahead of time.
  • Wear your cover-up. For performers not on stage, and this includes any time you’re sitting in the audience, you should wear an appropriate cover-up. A transparent veil isn’t enough; aim for a caftan or change of clothes instead. You don’t want your costume to detract from the performance currently onstage. And if you haven’t performed yet, you don’t want to give away your look!
  • Promote where appropriate. Haflas often have a table with promotional materials such as flyers and business cards made available to the audience. Before placing your own materials here, check with the event organizer.

In the Dressing Room

  • Be on time. This helps the event organizers run the show smoothly. It also gives you more time to prepare backstage. Be sure to check in with the stage manager and to hand off your music, stage introduction, etc. to the DJ or emcee as soon as you arrive.
  • Come prepared. You should arrive in full costume and makeup with only some last minute pinning and adjustments needed. Triple check that you have everything you need before you leave. Have your dancer emergency kit (extra safety pins, costume tape, needle and thread, bobby pins, etc.) with you. Remember: “A lack of planning on my part does not constitute an emergency on someone else’s part.”
  • Don’t hog the dressing room. It’s rare to be in a dressing room that isn’t overcrowded. Do what you can to maximize the space by bringing in only what you must. Try to give everyone some mirror time, especially the dancers going on stage before you. And please please please don’t practice your routine in the dressing room.
  • Stay positive.  It’s good to remember that everyone prepares for a show differently. Some people might want to chit chat to ease their nerves, others may want time alone to recenter. Stay positive and cheerful. The “OMG I’m going to mess up!” neediness is draining for everyone. You’re already here. Take a breath. Have fun.
  • Offer some help. Other dancers may need assistance with zipping, pinning, clasping, etc. Lend a hand if you have a spare moment, especially if you’re already done with your performance.
  • Mind the door. Some dressing rooms open into an area that is public. Check to make sure that you won’t expose any dancers before exiting. Knock before entering if necessary.
  • Don’t bring anyone else. Your friend/significant other/children should not come with you to the dressing room. If you need support or assistance, ask another dancer. If you need a babysitter, hire one to stay with your kids in the audience!

On Stage

  • Shh! Be quiet. While waiting in the wings try not to make any noise or ruffle the curtains. This includes talking, zilling, jingling, etc.
  • Stick to time limits. Let me tell you a little secret. I’ve never seen someone dance over their time limit and be glad they made the decision. Sticking to your time limit is respectful to the event organizers and your fellow dancers. Also, the best performances leave the audience wanting more. It’s hard to go wrong leaving too soon.
  • Give credit. In your stage introduction (or emcee notes) you should acknowledge anyone that assisted you with the choreography or the routine. Giving credit also means acknowledging the musicians if dancing to live music, and acknowledging the audience with a bow or curtsey.
  • Have a prop retrieval plan. A lot of event organizers would prefer you to leave the stage with whatever props you had when you entered. Even if this is not the case, make sure someone will be there to collect your things before the next performance.
  • Entrance and exit (have them). Be in character before the audience can see you, and keep it until after you are well out of sight. Nothing ruins the moment like an artist getting into character on stage.

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Do you have an example of really great show etiquette? How about a horror story? Please post in the comments below or share it on the Facebook page.

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It all starts with music. It’s the foundation of your dance. You can have great technique and stage charisma, but if you’re not connecting to the music then you’re not connecting to the audience.

The best performances are the ones that blend all elements together seamlessly- the music complements the choice of movements, the costuming, the venue, and the dancer’s expression. Here are six tips for selecting and interpreting your next musical piece:

Selection

  • Pick a song that inspires you. Songs that naturally move you will be easier to choreograph and more enjoyable to watch in performance.
  • Give a thought to the venue. Where do you see yourself performing this routine? The musical style should fit the theme or demands of the show for which you are preparing. A non-traditional or fusion piece should only be performed at fusion-friendly events. Traditional music is appropriate at most shows, restaurants, and private gigs.
  • Avoid music that is too long or complicated. Basically, this boils down to owning the routine and dancing within your limits. You want to leave the audience wanting more. Beginners should stick to songs that are three to five minutes in length, with simple rhythms and a single mood or theme. You can begin to add in complexity as you advance in your studies. (This doesn’t mean beginner dancers can’t dance to more complicated music- it’s just not the best selection for a performance).

Interpretation

  • Know the meaning of the lyrics. This may be useful in helping you understand the emotions of the piece. And you also generally want to avoid music with religious, political, or other controversial themes. Try searching for a translation online.
  • Listen to the music, a lot! Learn all its pieces and how they fit together- the accents, crescendos, and pauses. It may sound tedious, but interpreting music is like developing a relationship with a person. There will be elements that grab your attention and excite you when you first hear the song, but your understanding will be deeper and more complex when you have gotten to know it well.
  • Break it down into recognizable segments. There should be repetition in your music- a chorus, a melody, a drum section. Find these patterns and map the overall structure. It’s important because your dancing should acknowledge repetitions in the music. Your movements, combinations, and patterns should repeat, at least in part, with the music.

Question for you: How do you know when you’ve found the right song?

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Thanks to all who participated in my Spring Challenge and submitted or voted on their favorite belly dance hip hop fusion video. The winning video, with just over half the votes, featured Ebony of Washington D.C.

All DVD winners have been notified and their prizes will be shipped tomorrow! I can’t wait to hear what you think of the instructional program.

I’ll be posting a Summer Challenge this July. In the meantime please look for a new blog post every Monday. Next week I’ll be featuring something special for Earth Day. I’ve also got more giveaways, video tutorials, and guest bloggers planned for the next few weeks. It should be fun! If you haven’t already, please subscribe or follow me on Facebook or Twitter for the latest updates.

Thanks also to World Dance New York for supplying such fabulous instructional material!

And as a bonus, my personal favorite fusion artist for belly dance and hip hop, Luna Rouge:

 

 

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Thank you to everyone who submitted a video this week. There were a lot of interesting choices- making my selection tough! I have decided upon the final three videos and have embedded them here.

Voting is now open!

The video with the most votes by Sunday, April 15th wins. Anyone may vote a total of one time. Yes, you may solicit friends and family to vote for your favorite. The person who submitted the winning video will be shipped Anasma’s Bellydance Hip Hop Liquid Fusion and Wave Explosion DVDs, courtesy of World Dance New York. These are truly wonderful DVDs. You can read my review of them here. Or buy them online from World Dance New York here.

Don’t forget the BONUS GIVEAWAY! Anyone who votes this week is eligible to win Android Goddess, also from World Dance New York!

Video 1: Amani’s Hip Hop Leylat Hob

Says Emilie… It was one of the first fusion videos I stumbled across several years ago. I like that she has a hip hop flavor, but it’s still mainly belly dancing. I also like that it’s not a tribal fusion-y, robot dance-y version of hip hop fusion. Says Ananke… I love the old school hip hop! This was a great submission because it exemplifies a true blending of style, costuming, expression, and attitude. The intro is a little long, but the dance technique is superb. Thank you, Emilie.

Video 2: Ebony Quall’s Hip Hop Tribal Fusion

Says Tiziri… Love, love, love this dance! There’s an ease and playfulness to it that is just flat-out fun. She seems totally comfortable with both bellydance and hiphop, so it really works as fusion. Says Ananke… Ebony is one of those amazing ‘multilingual’ dancers that speaks several styles fluently. If you saw her traditional Egyptian number, you’d never know she was capable of something like hip hop fusion. An entertainer in every sense of the word. Great pick, Tiziri.

Video 3: Kami Liddle and Zoe Jakes Tribal Fusion to Dubstep

Says Kelly… I loved how in synch they were and the musicality…the fluid movements and the look and feel of the performance is very powerful! Says Ananke… I agree completely. The hip hop influence here (beyond what is generally found in tribal fusion) is subtle, but well blended with the other movements. Also I very much appreciated the dubstep music! This is a great remix of a Natacha Atlas song, performed by Beats Antique. Thank you, Kelly!

So which video is the best fusion of Bellydance and Hip Hop? You decide!

Thank you for voting! If you’d like to be entered into the Bonus DVD GIVEAWAY please enter the field below, and hit submit!

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Dubstep… my only… weakness…

Okay, I admit it… I love dubstep. And I love the new fusion of belly dance and hip hop which is often performed to dubstep music. When I saw this video I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. Fortunately the DVD publisher, World Dance New York, was willing to send me one to review for free. It’s probably one of the coolest fusion videos I’ve seen… ever! Seriously.

The Best Thing About this DVD: is the program itself. Anasma has created something that is uniquely a true synthesis of two styles. Every move is at the same time both belly dance and hip hop. The fusion carries through to her costuming, music, and her expressions, as well. It’s modern and fresh but still true to the origins of both forms. If you’re familiar with Anasma’s work, you know that this is her specialty. It’s also pretty rare. I often see the label of “fusion” describe routines that are just non-traditional. The dancer picks and chooses moves from different genres, but there is no true blending. You definitely won’t find that here.

Other Things I Like:

  • There’s a lot of content- two disks and over four hours worth of content. You get an explanation and drill set for both the belly dance and the hip hop moves, plus a choreography, and some performance footage.
  • The belly dance drills are good enough to stand alone. You could pick up a few nice combinations even if you never use the hip hop section.
  • The choreography is really cute! It’s a wonderful synthesis of the information that’s covered and good enough to be performed at a fusion themed venue.
  • The DVD production values are very good. The lighting and videography are appropriate, and it’s easy to find what you need through the DVD menus.

Be Warned: Although it’s not clearly stated in the description, this DVD is probably best suited for intermediate and advanced level dancers. You will need a good understanding of the mechanics of movement, from either a background in belly dancing or hip hop, for the choreography. There’s really only enough time for Anasma to breeze through the breakdown of each movement, and not enough explanation is given for beginning dancers.

To Summarize: This is a wonderful resource for experienced dancers interested in expanding their realm of experience across different genres. Even if you’re not interested specifically in hip hop, there’s a valuable lesson here as to what a true fusion of styles looks and feels like. The quality of the content and the instruction is excellent.

And there’s a part 2! Check out Wave Explosion, the sequel to this DVD.

Interested? I’m giving away both DVDs in the series. Stay tuned for my next post. 🙂

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Compromising your natural support structure requires balance

You probably already know that balance is one’s ability to maintain an equilibrium either while standing still or moving. Balance is actually linked to strength. It’s the strength of very small muscle groups needed to hold us in place when we disrupt our natural support structure (either by taking a foot off the ground or moving different sections of our body out of alignment). So how do we use balance in belly dance, and why is it important to develop this skill?

What a belly dancer with balance looks like: She appears solid, grounded, and in control of her body and movements. She can easily perform the transitions needed for level changes and floorwork. Movements that require shifting the weight to one foot or movements on relevé seem effortless. She can spin or turn while maintaining her position on the floor or while traveling around the room, stopping with ease and precision.

You know what the feeling of being off balance is like. If you experience that feeling during…

  • large isolation work (such as large torso circles or eights)
  • level changes
  • spins, turns, and arabesques
  • traveling steps
  • relevé (on your tip-toes)
  • movements with the weight on just one leg

… then you know it’s time to work on your balance.

A few tips for balance work:

  1. A lot of balancing in belly dancing relies on the calf muscles. To strengthen these and practice traveling steps, relevé, and level changes, try adding heel raises into your warmups. Lift your heels off the floor, balance on your toes for a few seconds, and then lower with control. Repeat for a minute or two.
  2. You can give yourself an even greater challenge by layering a shoulder shimmy or torso circle over the heel raise exercise. Or try performing a grapevine, or other footwork sequence, interspersed with heel raises.
  3. A lot of people avoid spins because of the unpleasant feeling on dizziness or nausea, but this actually fades with practice. Some people feel less effect focusing on a point turning with them (like their arm or shoulder), on nothing at all, or by spotting. Start with the style that works best for you and try to add a few turns to your practice.

Extra-curricular study: I really like Yoga for teaching body awareness (important for balance) and strengthening core and calf muscles. Standing yoga poses like Vrksasana (the tree) are great.

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