I hope you have been enjoying your belly dancing challenges! Here’s your next one!
First of all, what is stage presence? Basically, it’s how you act on stage. Do you look at the floor or at the audience (or OVER the audience?) Is your posture correct or are your shoulders hunched? Do you look nervous, or are you smiling and having fun? It’s not necessarily WHAT you are doing on stage, but HOW you are doing it.
Beginner: Before you rebel on me and run away screaming about not ever performing, think on this: I never wanted to perform either, and now look where I am!! I wish I had started on stage presence at this stage of my dancing career, rather than later on. When you FIRST start learning is the BEST time to learn stage presence. Even if you think you will never, ever, ever, ever get on stage, try to cultivate stage presence. How? Smile. When practicing your drilling, think of smiling. Don’t frown, or stick your tongue out, or stare at yourself in the mirror like you’re trying to start a fire. Relax and smile. Check your posture. Are your arms out or sagging down into T-Rex land? Is your chin back and up or are you staring at the floor? Your challenge is to try checking every 16 counts or so at first, just a check-in with your body to make sure everything is still where it’s supposed to be. If it’s not, stop dancing, reset, and begin again.
Intermediate: Now is when you will start to think about performing in front of friends and family, perhaps at a student hafla at your studio, or at a casual festival in front of a supportive audience. And now is when you will really need to start to learn how to perform in front of people. Your first performance will be terrifying. But you can get through it! You know your choreo (or your combinations), so now start to think about everything else. When practicing, remember the most important parts of belly dancing stage presence: relax, smile, and make sure your posture is good. Your chest should be up and lifted, and your knees bent. That will also help you relax and make your shimmies and other hip movements bigger and stronger. Don’t look down to your audience if you are on a raised stage. Look out, keeping your chin up. And practice that way! That’s your challenge: make sure you check in every 16 counts or so for posture, where you are looking, and what your face is doing.
Advanced: There’s nothing worse than a technically beautiful dancer with no stage presence. You NEED to connect with your audience. Smile at them. Draw them into your performance. Take their breath away. This is a hard technique to learn (one that I still struggle with!), but there are things you can do to help. If you are on a raised stage, you’ve been told never to look your audience in the eye, and that’s usually the case. But once and awhile, look down at one of them. Make eye contact and pour your performance into your eyes. Even if only one audience member walks away thinking, “Wow, she really connected with me…” that’s perfect. Some of the most intense performances I’ve ever seen was where the dancer stared me down, almost to the point where I was uncomfortable, and then seemingly danced JUST FOR ME. Of course she really wasn’t dancing only for me…there were hundreds of others watching. But the other audience members will also see that connection and be riveted to their seats, wondering if you will dance just for them next. In your practice, always check the basics, of course–posture, facial expression, your character–but also pay attention to how you project yourself in your dance. It’s still important to smile during practice so that you get in the habit of it, but also think about how you come out onto the stage, how you exit, and the personality you are trying to project. Are you being silly, or sensual, or flirty? Is the piece dark or sad or slow? Learn to project those emotions so that anyone watching you feels those same emotions. Your challenge: grab a friend or loved one, put on your headphones (so they can’t hear the music), and have them guess what emotion you are trying to portray (the music often gives it away). Ask them if they felt it, too, or if they just saw you dancing to silence. For an even greater challenge, have them try to guess the song!
Stage presence is a toughy, so keep going with it. Try the exercises at least once a day, and always try to stay aware of HOW you a performing, not just WHAT you are performing. Happy dancing!