The Excessive Use of Props
Photos by Arthur Gianoukos
Posted October, 2011
The other day, I was reflecting back on my farewell party at San Francisco’s Al Masri Restaurant in early July 2011, remembering so many good things about the night: the large crowd that came to see it, (It was packed and there was standing room only.) the number of performers, (I think there were about 10 dancers.) and the quality of their performances. The quality of their dancing was incredible! One thing that I noted that was particularly interesting about each dancer’s set was that there wasn’t an excessive use of “stage props”, and by that term I mean a "gimmick".
All of the performers knew their music and gave us performances that presented his or her own interpretation of the song. We got to know every performer a little bit that night, and it was lovely!
I’ve gone to other shows, and while I often see dancers present an interesting interpretation of a song, I also notice more often that the performances seem less concerned about the dancing and more concentrated on their gimmick and demonstrating the skills to get the gimmick right.
I get the impression from watching such performances that a prop wasn’t incorporated in the show because it helped the dancer express an emotion in the song, but the property was intended to be the focus of the performance.
At times I’ve seen so many props used, I start to wonder if I came to watch the dancing or watch the skill and proficiency of the dancer with all of these stage properties. Of course, I’m wowed at the skill with the object, but honestly, I remember nothing about the dancing. In retrospect, that’s disappointing.
After an evening of reflection I had these observations about the dancing on this night:
- Each performer’s costume complemented the song choices and personality.
- If veils or finger cymbals were used, they helped to add pizazz to the entrance and complemented the interpretation of the song.
- We enjoyed a singer and dancer duet that was about the music and how they interacted.
- The men danced with the cane (assaya) because, well, that’s what Egyptian men do; I don’t think any of the ladies had included music for the cane.
- All of the performers made sure they had an energetic entrance.
- All of the performers put themselves–rather than a prop–as the center of the performance.
I think that the last point is key, and why people go to see a show. Sometimes, as a performer, we think people come to see a show to be wowed and impressed, and to give the audience an "experience." However, let’s face it: Belly dancing on its own is an "experience."
Furthermore, at least to the Egyptians, the skill of the dancer is demonstrated by what she does in her improvisational moments.
Egyptians recognize a choreographed number a mile away, and do not hesitate to let you know that they recognized that it was choreographed. As for performing a competent and captivating improvisational set, it’s not about using props; it’s more about creative movement in the moment and inventing something new.
When we dancers are in the mindset that we need to create some crazy "experience" for the audience, we try to come up with whatever will be unique to entice the audience to come back for more. Certainly, audiences want that, but that doesn’t mean that the audience wants always to see outrageous props or gimmicks. Audiences want to see how creative the performer can be to keep them entertained through body movements, the stage environment, and how the dancer interacts with the audience. However there are times where a prop does make sense to help draw the audience into the mood of the show and keep them focused, such as a larger stage environment where stage presence needs to be at 120%.
About the party–everyone in the restaurant stayed until the end of the show to watch the dancing and get to know the various personalities on the stage. To them, the dancing and the various interpretations of the music were the real entertainment.
The next time I start thinking that my show might be too boring, I’ll remember this show and how much fun everyone had.
I will remember that I don’t "gotta have a gimmick"! I just need to know my music, be creative with movements, try something new and daring (going for the improvisational aspect) and let my audience get to know me.
That’s what they really want anyway.
*(Author’s note – the "gotta have a gimmick" comes from the song lyrics in the movie ”Gypsy”.)
Ready for more?
- 3-29-11 The Magic of "The Grapleaf", 1976-1997
Back in the early ’80s when I was performing at the Bagdad Cabaret on Broadway, a customer strolled into the Northbeach nightclub and told me about a little known restaurant
- 7-17-04 Dancing in North Beach
On the occasions when the door was still locked, I was often invited to drink coffee next door, where young girls made their money stripping.
- 11-12-99 Sausan’s Saga at The Grapeleaf Restaurant
Phoenix-like, arising from the ashes of a dreadful divorce and forced closure, petite and spunky owner-operator Sausan has persevered and returns stronger than ever with her new partner from Egypt.
- 4-7-11 Our Changing Dance World, a Response to Leila’s "Dance for Dancers"
Of course, we learn musicality and so forth, but where dance classes in some places are an hour long, teaching long choreography is not sustainable to an instructor.
- 10-7-07 Glimpses Into the Past:On DVD at Last!
Some current dancers may find that the sentiment of the 70’s feels alien and therefore unable to relate to it. However, I believe many dancers will be thrilled to see faces attached to the names of some of our dance legends like Bert Balladine in Gameel Gamal.
- 10-6-11 Dreaming in Massachusetts, Photos from MassRaqs 2011
The celebration of those traditions, along with the fervor of Boston’s intellectual culture, the talent of our local community of dancers and musicians, and a desire to connect that beautiful history to the global present and future of our dance drives the work we do in our event.
- 10-5-11 ,
Ali tells us about how he came to produce his first cymbals. He is interviewed by MaShuqa. He also talks about Dahlena, Bobby Farah, his education, inferior copies of his zils, how to know that you have genuine Turquoise cymbals. Testimonials from Jillina, Princess Farhana, and Marta Schill.
- 10-3-11 Assiut / Assuit, Fascinating FAQs
However, mosquito netting was invented by the Egyptians and dates back thousands of years.
- 9-28-11 Aubre Hill, New Fussion Energy in Taiwan
As time has passed, the local community has found itself on a changing path. The heavily choreographed (written notation) dance trend remains the staple of the main stream while increasingly, local dancers (and instructors as well) have begun to realize that there is something else in addition to set notations of dance movements to learn.
- 9-27-11 Competition Strategies, A Judge’s Suggestions
Choosing a costume that fits and flatters your choreography is equally important. If you want to highlight your amazing hip work, be sure to choose a costume with lots of fringe and tassels on the hips so the judges cannot fail to see that hip work.