Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Belly Dancer At The Wedding? Huh?

A few days ago I posted this on my FaceBook status:

I told this random guy the other day that I was a bellydancer and that I performed at a lot of wedding receptions. He immediately looked shocked and said "Why would any bride want a beautiful woman at her wedding reception?" Some folks only see the negative, drama-laden side of things ...

I had never considered this, but apparently, this point of view is quite common. A colleague of mine, Carrara Nour commented on this that she had been told similar things by wedding planners as well. I fumbled to answer that guy with a "Well, it's not about the dancer's looks, it's about the entertainment she can provide" or some such chatter. It was an incomplete answer for sure. We've all heard that the bride should be the prettiest one in the room, and that it's bad form to upstage the bride in any way. This whole topic really got me to thinking about the different perceptions we all have of the world, of weddings in particular, and of what folks expect from wedding entertainment.

Well, why would a bride choose Middle Eastern Dance as wedding entertainment? In fact why do brides choose any of the things they choose? (For convenience, I'm using the term "brides" because they are usually the ones who organize the wedding, and their wishes are often the most influential. Several others usually help in the decision-making process.)

A bride will select one centerpiece design, one band or DJ, one color scheme, one venue (just to name a few) over several others because she wants to make a certain kind of impression, and to bring her wedding-day vision to life. In this case, all of the various elements that go into the making of that wedding day will be a reflection of her, her feelings, and her circumstances as they stand on that day in time. If those elements--the food, the guests, the entertainment, the decor, and the timing of it all--are wonderful, then she is all the more wonderful, too. The beauty of the setting lends its beauty to everyone by extension. By this rationale, a beautiful, joyous bellydancer can be seen as an embodiment of the joy of the day. The bridal couple and their families are expressing their joy; they want their guests to feel happiness, too.

Yes, that's it!  

The bellydancer symbolizes the the joy and beauty of the day. She is a living, breathing representation of the couple's love for each other.

The dancer may be the most beautiful woman available for the gig. However if that dancer lacks the technical skill and experience to deliver that message, or worse yet, isn't a good entertainer and therefore can't convey and embody the happiness she's there to impart, her beauty won't seem so great. Many guests will lose interest early on and use the dancer's show as a good time to get that drink and maybe visit the restroom. On the other hand, a dancer who is a great entertainer makes everyone else feel great too; the guests will be mesmerized and won't want to miss anything.

And that's what it's all about.  I sure wish I'd had this answer ready for that guy ....

Happy dancing, everyone ... and keep some snappy answers handy!

Friday, July 8, 2011

June & July ... Time for Progress!

June was a very busy month, and looking back, I just don't know how I got through it all!

Father's day was the 19th, and as many of us know, it's a very busy day for bellydancers; there is always a demand for lecture-demonstration shows in nursing homes, and these are always some of my favorite gigs to have. For starters, the folks in care facilities are some of the most gracious and grateful audiences one could ever hope for; they are mostly from an earlier generation and therefor have a much longer attentin span than many people out there in the world today. They're not trying to multitask 24/7 and they're not overwhelmed or on "sensory overload" the way the rest of us so often are. This means they can pay very close attention and absorb some of the subtle nuances that can be lost in a "lots of excitement all the time" situation. Because of this, I have an opportunity to present some things that wouldn't be appropriate in a more lively setting, perhaps numbers that build in dynamic over the course of a piece, or that might be too "serious" for the nightclub setting.

Another thing I enjoy about performing in care facilites is that part of the show consists of lecture and explanation, so I get to learn new things too. It's important for me to brush up on my planned material before I do a presentation, and in the course of my study, I always seem to discover something new. As a closet academic, I love this. The more 'ya know, the more 'ya know 'ya don't know!

Nursing home gigs are often the first "baby" gigs dancers get, and as such, I sometimes hear more established dancers pooh-pooh them, as they're not very glamorous and they're not in posh settings. For me, however, these jobs serve a valuable purpose. There are the obvious public service, educational, giving-back-to-the-community aspects of course, and this is certainly of value to us all and our responsibility as conscientous artists. And then there are the (secret!) benefits to me: I get a platform and an excuse for some of the works-in-progress I may be developing or something I learned in a recent workshop, and I can test this material on an appreciative audience. I have to brush up on some of the pieces I like to keep in rotation for corporate events, and by doing those numbers regularly, they're all that closer to being ready if I get called on short notice. Sometimes I've spent a great deal of time learning a choreography for just one event, and want to get the satisfaction of doing it again (with permission, of course) and getting more mileage out of all that rehearsal. By the same token, I can break in new costumes (face it, that new costume will NEVER show it's true nature in the living room or rehearsal studio, will it?!), a new veil wrap, a new prop, or so forth in front of a discerning but very forgiving audience. It is a goal for the rest of 2011 to cultivate this part of my business.

Father's Day also featured a concert of contemporary, experiemental, and classic Middle Eastern Dance at the Anahid Sofian Studio. It was a short but high-quality concert and I had the pleasure of rehearsing and performing Azza Amon's veil choreography to Aicha alongside her and my friends Tammy and Caitlyn. I believe this concert was the first of what Anahid would like to be a quarterly series of studio concerts featuring diverse styles. I wish I had photos from this ... perhaps I will, soon.

It was with mixed feelings that I boarded a plane the very next day and took off for ten days in Oregon. On the one hand, I was hesitant to leave NYC with so many projects begging for my attention and so many exciting things going on; conversely, I hadn't had a chance to be really, really "off duty" in a very long time. I didn't realize how wound up I really was, and having a week of total retreat (no phone, no internet, no TV) with good food, fresh air, plenty of sound sleep, some excellent bodywork, and loving kindness with Mom has given me a fresh perspective and a new lease on life. I feel like a different person! Why must we always learn and re-learn this the hard way?

My goal for July is to refocus my energy on developing and cultivating new opportunities in dance and to de-clutter my life, physically, mentally, and energetically. Although my enthusiasm is boundless, my time, energy, and resources are finite, so it's time to focus on what I love most and what will serve me and my fellow creatures best. Stay tuned ....

My blessings to all of you and your loved ones!

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