Gilded Serpent presents...
and Reason Series, Article 4
For whom do you dance?
by Mary Ellen Donald
published in Bellydancer Magazine in 1978 as part of an ongoing
column. This magazine was published by Yasmine Samra in Palo Alto,
is probably most relevant to those of you who do cabaret style
dancing. Who do you dance for – your audience or yourself?
Take a trip with me to see how you compare with the hypothetical
dancers speaking below.
(Before show) “I really want to please them. I enjoy
subtleties of movement and rhythm, but my guess is that most of
them wouldn’t appreciate such things as syncopation or counterpoint
– so I’ll minimize that sort of stuff. For their
sake I’ll do lots of exaggerated hip thrusts, many flashy spins,
smile a lot of course, and be sure to put in a little humor because
that gets them every time.”
does this dancer, whom we’ll call Selloutina, know that her
desperate need to do what pleases her audience holds back the
very creativity which would please them even more.
“They seemed to enjoy my dance. I hope they did. They
were smiling a lot. Then again, they didn’t really seem
that excited. I wish I had the courage to do what I really
like. I feel a little empty inside. But they
liked it so that’s what counts.”
(Before show) “I really want to dazzle them with my technique.
I can’t stand a dancer who is boring, one who only does a few
steps over and over again. People can’t help but be impressed
with all of the steps that I can put into one dance. Never
a dull moment?”
I have to
let you in on a secret. This dancer, whom we’ll call
Technica, plays the numbers game. She knows that
she can do one hundred and ten different steps plus a dozen gimmicks.
Can’t you just picture her with pocket calculator in hand, adding
up the number of steps the other dancers use? Deep down
in her calculating heart she feels that she has to top the highest
number so far.
might just spice up her dance by balancing a pot on her head
and a sword on each shoulder, while a snake slithers around
her. If she could, she’d also be flipping coins with her
belly rolls – and if she, by chance, spotted me in the audience,
she’d try to get those coins flipping in counterpoint.
she know that some of the finest dancing can involve a few steps
performed with artistry and drama.
“Whew! I’m glad that’s over with! That was sure hard
work!. Now I can relax and enjoy myself. Well, at
least I didn’t bore them. One of my students was so impressed,
she came up to me and kept asking, “How did you do it? How
did you do it?” Come to think of it, I could have impressed
them even more if I’d remembered that new step I learned last
week. Oh well, I’ll be sure to put that one in next time.”
(Before show) “I’m going to do just what I feel like doing.
If they don’t like it, that’s tough! I know where
my head’s at and that’s all that counts. I’m
not about to lower my energy level for the sake of their
whom we’ll call Arroganza, is the kind of person
who goes around talking about her own enlightenment. She
would benefit from the advice of the Sufi saying, ‘Those who know
don’t tell and those who tell don’t know.’ In the guise
of acting out of integrity, she takes a stance that in actuality
is hostile toward others.
negativity is apt to call forth crude or snide responses from
the audience – responses which she will cite as evidence for
her theory that most people are not lofty enough to appreciate
Isn’t it odd
that a person who so disdains the general public would choose
to be a professional bellydance?
“I feel so high, so exhilarated. I could dance all night
even if they weren’t here. I wonder if anyone got the real
meaning of what I was doing.”
Now that you
have checked yourself out on this trip, come a little further
with me. I think that the question “Who am I dancing for,
the audience or myself” is part of the problem. You end
up answering with an either/or response instead of with a both/and
response. Consider this alternative position: you dance
so that you and your audience can feel good. Putting it
another way, you perform so that you and your audience can move
to another level of consciousness – temporarily beyond worrying
about taxes, big government, scarcity of babysitters and whatever
else you like to worry about. You can’t make yourself
or anyone else change levels of consciousness. All you can
do is lay the groundwork for that to happen. In a way, you
are inviting life to work its magic – to inspire. When you
allow yourself to be inspired, you are open to life’s regenerative
powers. When this happens, in the words of my friend, Nakish,
“You go beyond being a dancer. You become an entertainer.
You and your audience are in harmony with each other.”
Bert Balladine, an entertainer indeed, describes
this experience: “When I’m at my best during a performance,
I feel joyous and am inviting the audience to rejoice with me
at being alive. I think that the significant thing that happens
is that many people in the audience vicariously are dancing along
with me – the men identifying with me and the women identifying
with my partner. We no longer are separate beings – we partake
of a universal being.”
are some steps which you might take to invite life’s magic?
Before you get near the stage, take a few quiet moments alone
to psych yourself up for your performance.
give yourself positive suggestions or whatever, so that you
can leave your self-doubts and resentments temporarily behind.
Don’t worry, they’ll probably be waiting for you when you come
back to reclaim them.
just had a fight with your boyfriend or husband and are holding
on to bad feelings from that, you will project that negativity
to your audience on some level regardless of the plastic smile
you try to plant over it. Nature just won’t be fooled.
Some people have told me that they feel like they are being phony
when they temporarily let go of resentments and begin feeling
light or full of laughter, even when they have something inside
that’s really bothering them. My response to that is that
I’m talking about a genuine letting go – not merely denial or
repression. You can choose what part of yourself you wish
to focus on. If you try to focus on two opposites at once
– resentments you are holding on to and a smile – you will block
your energy. And if your energy is blocked, you can’t inspire
your audience to another level of consciousness.
As you begin your performance, command the attention of your audience.
You can do this in part with beautiful imaginative costumes, stunning
physical appearance, dynamic body movements, engaging eye contact,
powerful exciting music, or assertive cymbal playing (hopefully
a combination of these factors). I might add that I don’t
think you can command anyone’s attention for very long if your
cymbal playing or dancing is out of rhythm with the music.
can’t take anyone to another level of consciousness if you don’t
get his or her attention.
If after a
reasonable length of time goes by you realize that certain people
are not paying attention, then it’s probably best to dance in
relationship to those who are with you, and quickly let
go of your resentment toward those who are chatting noisily, because
if you hold on to those feelings, no one has a chance of experiencing
Now that you have the attention of your audience, take them along
with you on a trip into your imagination. Believe
-- and thereby invite them to believe – that whatever you
are doing at any particular moment is the most important thing
happening in the world. Sometimes you will probably slip
into a very private part of your imagination and they will be
touched by your trance. Other times, without programming
it one way or the other, you will communicate with them directly,
possibly with warm glances or humor. Hold their attention
with the power of your drama, with emotion, rhythm, or both.
the composition of your audience will determine what kinds of
things will command attention and hold it.
your feelings regarding what fosters that special dynamic between
you and your audience.
in mind that sometimes bellydancers in the audience make that
dynamic easier to maintain, but other times they might not let
you inspire them because they’re too busy picking apart your technique.
By the way, in case you are wondering if you have spent years
perfecting your technique all for naught, I don’t mean to leave
you with that impression. Knowing you have good solid technique
and good solid rhythm removes the obstacles between your body
and spirit, making it more likely that you can get high while
performing and in turn bring the audience to that same level.
Also fine music can play an important part in inspiring dancer
and audience – old familiar melodies, poignant lyrics, soulful
renditions. If you are dancing to live music, then the dynamic
between dancer and audience is even more complex. The way
you and the musicians relate to each other can spark your imagination
to greater heights or frustrate you to the point that you and
your audience end up feeling uptight rather than refreshed.
If you are
primarily a musician, reread this article and translate it into
terms more relevant to what you do. I
think you’ll find that the principles brought out will apply.
I’d like to suggest that you be wary of questions that lead you
to dead-end either/or type responses. I hope you enjoy the
challenge of becoming an entertainer.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Rhythm and Reason Series,
Article 3, Community Warfare by Mary Ellen Donald
and again I hear dancers deplore the fact that in many parts of
the country there are warring camps among dancers; that is, groups
that openly oppose each other and that try to keep all useful
information and all jobs to themselves.
The Rhythm and Reason Series
2- Special Experiences by
Mary Ellen Donald
audience of mainly flamenco aficionados gave our Arabic Suite
a clamorous response. This bringing together of bellydance and
flamenco had begun as a flash of imagination in Cruz’ mind.
The Rhythm and Reason Series
1- Cymbals, Beyond Basics by
Mary Ellen Donald
rhythm has a distinct arrangement of accents. If you are sure
of where these accents come, you can bring a unique flavor to
each section of your routine.
Belly Dance, Burlesque and Beyond:
Confessions of a Post Modern Showgirl by Princess Farhana
WAIT!!!” I can hear you screaming, “ BURLESQUE IS
9-6-05 Making New Musical
Inroads in Spain by Mark and Ling Shien Bell
takes Rhythm Diatribes Workshops to Europe, series continues...
Sirat Al-Ghawazi, Part
7 by Edwina Nearing
in the mid-1970's , the early sections of "Sirat Al-Ghawazi"
were first published under the title "The Mystery of the
Ghawazi." We are happy to be able to respond to the continued
demand for these articles by making them available to our readers
Interview with Mahmoud Reda
Part 2: The Troupe by Morocco
what I call my choreography is not folkloric. It’s inspired
by the folkloric.