Socializing with Audience, Relaxing Upper Body, Tattoos
by Yasmina Ramzy
posted July 15, 2009
Question #1, Socializing with Your Audience:
I was reading your "Ask Yasmina" column on the Gilded Serpent website and you mentioned never socializing with audience members. I recently got a job dancing at a new Arabic cafe and it’s quite small. There are no back rooms for me to hide in. The owner has requested that I stay from 10pm till 2am every Friday and Saturday. I have made good friends with some of the audience members and newcomers often request that the Bellydancer sit and talk with them about what it is I do. I always make sure I am covered up and act professional. Also, I believe strongly in keeping my act magical and it’s hard when I have to stay in the cafe for so long on display. Sometimes people arrive at 2am expecting to see me dance. I’m afraid that if I continue to do this every weekend I may loose my magic. Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated.
Answer: I agree with you in your fear of losing your magic by hanging around and discussing your personal life with the audience. The owner most likely wants you there for four hours so he/she can accommodate the varied schedules of the customers. To be at the beck and call for four hours really diminishes the importance of your role as an artist and the art form itself.
It may take a while but you and the owner need to train the audience to arrive on time if they want to see a performance. In the end, everyone will benefit.
The club will be lively and full at show time which leaves a good impression and you will be inspired to perform better. If there are two set show times, then it is best to hire two dancers. If only one, that dancer should have a designated table for owners and staff where she can relax, or she can hide in an office, the kitchen or leave and get a coffee next door. Either way, the owner will be paying for two shows which should still be cheaper than four hours of on-call labour. With a set schedule, you are now free to take other gigs in between or after.
Training your audience to respect you and your art form may sometimes initially be met with resistance, but eventually everyone wins. I have run an Arab night club for over four years that features eight musicians and a dance artist who performs twice in the evening; once Raqs Sharqi and the second show is Folklore. These are at set times. There is a table designated for her and other visiting artists. Before she is introduced to the stage, the audience gets a lecture or list of rules on how to conduct themselves during the performance.
Such as: During the performance all audience members must:
- Stay seated
- Not dance with the dance artist unless invited by the artist
- Not talk or make noise unless it is in direct appreciation of the performance
- No serving staff may serve during this time
At first , many audience members thought this was a joke but now the regular patrons take it upon themselves to admonish newcomers who do not abide by the rules.
These patrons are now proud to be part of a respected event. Needless to say, Layali Arabesque is packed every week and is the most successful Arab night club in our city of Toronto, Canada.
Question #2, Relaxing Your Upper Body:
I am very new to Bellydance and would like your advice. I have a problem with letting my upper body relax and flow. What do I need to try to make it easier?
Answer: It is very difficult to help someone with a technique issue that it is not in front of me in person or at least on video. Each student’s issues are unique and there are a huge number of possible issues you could be concerned with. One common problem is holding tension in the shoulders. Letting go of this is like saying ”don’t think about pink elephants”. However, being conscious of this and making efforts to relax is a start.
Many people make the mistake of trying to move the chest with the chest or the upper back muscles. Try relaxing EVERYTHING from your ribs and up (including the shoulders of course) and move the ribcage only with your stomach muscles. Let your chest and ribcage just rest, float and enjoy the ride that the stomach muscles are creating.
Many women have psychological issues preventing them from performing a free flowing chest shimmie. Dina once told me that a chest shimmie is not correct unless it can be done with your arms above your head. In other words, the movement comes from below, not from the shoulders. It seems that if we take the focus off the breasts and put it on a ruffled blouse or bra with fringe, it can get easier. Try sitting upright and cross-legged on the floor or in a sturdy a chair. Now practice your chest and ribcage movements. You will find it easier in this position. Try to remember how this feels and then translate it to a standing position and eventually while walking.
Question #3, Tattoos:
I’d like to “Ask Yasmina” about working professionally as a Bellydancerwith a tattoo(s)…is it a liability?
Answer: Our company just completed a performance for 800 high-rollers at a large and prominent Casino last week. The management sent a special make-up team to our dressing room before the performance to cover all tattoos. This was the rule of the Casino for all performances.
When I produce our own theatrical and artistic performances, I allow tattoos (and enjoy the display of diversity) as long as they are not so large that it is a distraction to the uniformity of the costuming aesthetic. For these productions, our audience is diverse and can usually appreciate the beauty of a tattoo.
For the Middle Eastern audience, this is not always so….so far. It really depends on which generation you are dealing with. There are still some who associate tattoos with Bedouin culture and thus consider a tattoo to be uncivilized, uncultured and uneducated and even use the term “dirty”. This is in the same category as visible body hair (Arab women are often waxed or sugared – halewa – for every inch of their body including the entire arm). Obviously, living in Europe or the Americas will change their attitude after a while but the residue of this thinking is still there.
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