Bookmark and Share   | 

Where Do You Fit In as A Belly Dancer?

(ZAGHAREET! "For Beginners" (May/June 2006)
by Anthea Kawakib Poole

Do you feel it in the air? Performance time is here again!

I had a pleasant surprise looking through the last issue of Zaghareet! magazine. Karen Cericola (with help from Leyla Najma) wrote an excellent article about the difference between haflas, seminar shows, and restaurant performances, with helpful information concerning what to expect in terms of music, costuming, audience expectation for each venue. 
This issue I want to write on a related subject: if you’re a beginning performer, on which ship should you set sail when The Stage begins calling you?

Siren Song of The Stage

For many of you now in belly dance class, the annual recital is on the horizon. Or if not, your teacher may be providing other opportunities for you to perform.  The “performance high” is very sweet indeed, and you can develop a taste for it quickly. After just a few experiences you may find your appetite increasing, so that you begin to look for more performance opportunities.  It sounds rather like a drug doesn’t it?  The accompanying release of body-mind chemicals like adrenalin and endorphins explains that–you CAN  become addicted to the feelings those chemicals create.  And then you need to “manage your addiction”.

If you’re in search of more performance opportunities, the allure of a troupe is two-fold. You’ll have company, help, and support in your quest for the performance high, and also, the fun multiplies when you share it with others!  If you can’t find a troupe to join you may even decide to start one on your own. But before joining or starting one, give it a bit of thought. Troupes are a complex subject, just like belly dance itself. There’s more there than meets the eye.

There are various types of performing groups, but all boil down to either professional or non-professional.  Non-pro troupes are also sometimes called amateur or hobbyist groups, and there’s nothing denigrating about those terms.  Whoever is leading the group will make the decision on which kind of troupe it is; so if you join, you are carrying out THEIR vision, not necessarily your own.  If the two coincide, so much the better.  But you had better check that out beforehand, don’t you think?  Imagine taking your family car onto a racetrack & trying to run with the pros...not a good idea!  And a race car tooling about town is not maximizing its potential either.    

As most troupe directors know, new members don’t come into the group fully developed–each one will continue to learn, grow, and mature (at least we hope so); HOWEVER, now--instead of the semi-anonymity of class--the new member’s growth (or lack thereof) will happen in an intimate setting, under the full and very interested scrutiny of the other members.  That’s enough to give anyone pause, except that most dancers don’t realize that when they sign up!  

Finding Your Best Fit

If you are now in a troupe, do you feel like you fit in and are carrying your share of the load? Is there a disconnect between what you CAN do and what you’re SUPPOSED to do? Don’t try to fool yourself - because that’s usually the only one who WILL be fooled! Remember that brain-teaser “what doesn’t belong in this set”? It’s easily apparent to the objective eye when components of a set are mismatched. So be comfortable with your place in the performance world; acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses. You can always move forward, but first you must know–and accept--where you are.

Here are two verbal clues there’s a mismatched member in the group: Serious-Dancer says, “So-And-So doesn’t take this seriously” and Casual-Dancer says, “This is supposed to be fun!”  Seriousa’s not going to be happy in the casual group; and Casuala’s not going to be happy in the serious group.  It’s not about value judgments on which are the “real” dancers or “real” troupes, but simply about finding the best fit.

What Else Is There?

Not enough choices? There may be another option open to you: a “group”, as opposed to a “troupe”. Maybe they’re the same animal for you, but I find it convenient to categorize “troupe” as a dedicated group of performers who always work together; while “group” is whatever bunch of individuals happens to perform together in a show. For instance, I have students who know group choreographies they can perform together in a show; however, we’re not a troupe. It’s sort of like a dating couple that opts to live together versus getting married - less expectations, less commitment. (And yes, it’s ultimately less rewarding if you want the relationship to “go somewhere”.)

If The Stage starts calling you, evaluate your abilities and goals as they compare to the available options of joining or starting a troupe or group. Try to find a good fit, just as you would if you’re away from home and need to eat:
The same holds true of troupes (and indeed even belly dance classes), so “know before you go”. Vive la difference!

Back to Articles