Dondi dances to the band, Middle-Earth:
(L-R) Mike Mesleh,
Glenn Goodwin, Robert Rotsler,
Dave Dhillon, Frank, and
Photo by Erika Novak
Gilded Serpent presents...
Tips on Dancing to Live Music
(a Musician’s Perspective)
Many dancers find performing to live music intimidating, but
with a little preparation, good communication, and a positive
attitude, you can make it the most exciting part of your dance
performance. Here are a few tips to make this challenging experience
thrilling and successful to new and experienced dancers alike:
- Be prepared. Familiarize yourself with
the music of the musician or band you will be dancing to. Try
to obtain a CD of their music, so you will be able to practice
to their music, request songs, and make an unrehearsed piece
appear free and natural. Knowing the music beforehand will certainly
lessen your anxiety.
- Check-in. Arrive early at the venue, take
a moment to introduce yourself and establish rapport with the
bandleader. Make sure the emcee knows your stage name, particularly
if it is difficult to pronounce. Let the musicians know if you
plan to use props, ie. sword, veil, candles etc. Talk about
your song requests and routine, ask any questions, and agree
on what is mutually expected between the musicians and the dancer,
so there are fewer surprises.
- Wait for your cue. Do not enter for your
performance until you are announced and the music starts. You
would be surprised at how many dancers make this mistake. Many
experienced dancers will let the music play for a few bars before
entering, as to build the anticipation.
- Approach the stage. Upon entering for your
routine, approach the stage first. Acknowledge the musicians,
and your audience, but do most of your dancing during the first
song in front of the stage (or on it, if space allows), rather
than straying out to the audience too soon. Establish a visual
connection with the band and interact with them, as well as
- Listen to the Music. The most important
thing is to listen to and feel the music. Try to relax and let
the music dance you. Developing an ear for Middle-Eastern music
will come with experience and study. A typical Belly dance routine
consists of 3 tunes, usually fast-slow-fast, but this style
certainly varies with dancer, band and venue. Realize that as
in Middle-Eastern dance, the music may also call for improvisation,
and the version played live may differ slightly from the CD
version. It is up to the dancer to listen attentively for changes,
stops and endings. Again, familiarity with popular Belly dance
music will assist you in anticipating these changes. Usually
the band will hold the ending for you to spin and pose rather
than ending abruptly, setting you up for the final stop.
- Communicate with the band. Make fleeting
eye contact, and use manual, rather than oral, gestures if you
need something. Covert hand gestures can be used if you need
the music to speed up, slow down or end (but be patient). If
the situation becomes desperate, you can casually dance near
the band and tell them briefly what you desire. The band is
there to provide beautiful music for you to dance to, and will
do what is needed to support you. Your role in turn is to support
the music with your interpretation of it, highlighting what
you hear in the music for your audience to appreciate visually.
- Be flexible. (Both physically and mentally!)
Sometimes, for whatever reason, you may not get the song you
requested, or the music may not sound just like you expected,
so a skillful dancer will be able to adapt and improvise. A
true professional makes mistakes look like part of the act!
- Don’t fear the drummer. Try to make the
drum solo the most exciting part of your routine by connecting
with the drummer. Interact with the drummer in a lively give
and take. Become familiar with popular drum rhythms and listen
for the “Rule of Four”, whereby the drummer will play a recognizable
phrase 4 times in succession for the dancers’ benefit. Dance
in close proximity, make eye contact, and keep your traveling
to a minimum during the drum solo. Avoid accepting tips and
dance partners during this time, so you may give the drummer
- Know when to quit. After the drum solo and
collecting tips, listen for the imminent ending. The bandleader
may try to get your attention, but usually it is obvious when
the song will come to an end. Similarly, you may hail the bands
attention and “circle for a landing” when your energy has become
exhausted and you are ready to end. Once the third song ends,
take a bow, and acknowledge the band. Await your brief, lively
exit piece, to which you will whisk yourself off stage to a
roar of applause. Do not wait for your final exit piece to conclude
before you exit, to maintain the musical energy of the performance.
Always leave the crowd wanting more!
- Smile. Above all, keep a positive attitude
and smile. Hopefully, we all do this for the joy of it, so convey
that joy to your audience, to your band and to yourself. Like
music and dance, that joyful spirit comes from within, and shines
for all to see.
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