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Gilded Serpent presents...
Rhythm and Reason Series, Article 7
Negatudes
by Mary Ellen Donald
Originally published in Bellydancer Magazine in 1978 as part of an ongoing column. This magazine was published by Yasmine Samra in Palo Alto, California.

I have just enjoyed putting on a show for a warm and responsive audience.† What a joy!† This has prompted me to take time to look at the role that an audience plays in the outcome of a performance.† This particular show was very special Ė in honor of Mahmoud Reda, on tour from Egypt, and Dalilah of Las Vegas.† The audience was made up of prominent Bay Area dancers from the past as well as the present, musicians, and leaders within the Arab community.

As the sponsor of this event, I did my best to call forth that warmth that exists as potential within each person. That is, before the show I invited all members of the audience to a reception where each got to meet Mahmoud Reda and Dalilah, visit with old friends, make new acquaintances, and enjoy beautifully displayed and tasty hors díoeuvres in an elegant ballroom with deep red carpets, mirrored walls, and imposing chandeliers.†

Yes, Iím sure that these details contributed to the magic of the evening.† But there was something else which made this audience so fine to perform for, and I as the sponsor had no way of controlling

...they had come with joy in their hearts, ready to share that joy with others.† They clapped and zaghareeted from the beginning of the first instrumental to the very last beat of the drum.† And they even laughed heartily at the spontaneous humor of some of us musicians.† Many factors go into making a show exciting, often such tedious things as rehearsals, but one thing I know for sure is that we artists perform at our peak when we experience our audience as joyful.

Now for the other side.† I have been in audiences where it seems that they are ďout for blood.Ē†

They hold back joy and love, frown at those who begin to move with the music and clap a little.† They drain the dancers and musicians with their negativity such that only the very finest can survive.† Many of us are members of audiences just as often or even more often than we are performers, so letís take a look at what we do to contribute to the positive or negative outcome of a performance.

Here are some of the negative attitudes which we carry with us to shows:

1.† We donít really feel like going out to a show but we go because we want to support the sponsor, so that when we put on an event that sponsor will come and support ours.† I donít mean to imply that such supportiveness is bad.† We all need that support to keep on creating and keep on organizing energy.† But if you live in an area where there are several belly dance functions going on every weekend and drag yourself to most of them to give support, then what you will get at your function is a dragged-out audience wishing they were warm and cozy at home, certainly not ready to inspire the performers.

2.† We werenít really interested in a particular performance but we go because we want to be loyal to our instructor, and we know that she will treat us with some disfavor if we donít come out in throngs.† What a fine audience we will make.†

As sponsors of events, we sometimes are tempted to use all manner of manipulations and coercive tactics to get our students and our followers to attend the event.†

We have to distinguish between the use of genuine encouragement because we feel an event would be well worth attending, and the use of guilt tactics that are often in service of our ego needs rather than to benefit the potential attendee of the event.

3.† We have a fixed idea about how the dance and the music ought to be performed and therefore donít appreciate the artistry of anyone who doesnít fit that mold.†

We hold back approval and enthusiasm to punish the performers for deviating.†

Iím not referring to performers who simply are mediocre or bad at what they are doing.

4.† As dancers, we want to go away from the performance with a pocket full of new steps.† As drummers, we want to fill the other pocket with all kinds of strokes and techniques which we hadnít used before.† We are then future oriented, already plotting how we will use these new steps or strokes in our next performance, where we will dazzle the pocket fillers and probably experience another dull audience.† Maybe it would be better if we designate someone as movie maker of the evening, and all plan to watch the whole show again to study performances and learn from them.† That way we could free ourselves up during the show itself to maybe enjoy it.† Maybe we could even send joyous energy back to the performers so they might have a better chance at helping us to forget ourselves for a few moments.† Yes, we can learn a great deal from the performance of others, but letís see if we can do that in some way that we donít sacrifice the high of a performance.

We, the members of the audience, exercise a great deal of influence on the energy level of a performance.†

If we come with any of the negative attitudes discussed above we make it difficult or sometimes impossible for the performers to lead us to another level of consciousness Ė that joy that comes from temporarily abandoning our ego and self-absorption.† If we go to a performance in good faith with warm hearts, we invite the performers to do their very best, and if they are talented and of like spirit, then all will experience those high moments that we cherish.

In saying the above, Iím speaking from personal experience.† At some time or another, I know that I have attended a performance with each of the negative attitudes discussed.† I have felt deadened inside when my joy and warmth have been blocked by these attitudes.† I remember commenting to myself, ďWhat a farce.† I thought I came to this event to enjoy myself and get high with the music and dance and here I am wishing I were somewhere else or wishing that I could stop my brain from working so hard.Ē† Oh well, at least we can say smilingly that life is simple.† It always boils down to the same question Ė How can I focus on the present and not split my consciousness into so many strands?† Iím sure you are working on this question each day even if you donít label it the same way.

Just as a final note, Iíd like to say that as sponsors of performances...

we are left with a dilemma.† We have to get a certain number of people to attend our event to break even, and then some more so we can make some money, if thatís what weíre in business for.†

But if we want a high energy performance with musicians, dancers, and audience at one, then maybe we only want the joyous ones in the audiences.† Are there enough such people at any particular time?

 

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