A whole new month! A whole new week! Time for another challenge!
I’ve blogged about this before, but I thought this would make another good topic for the weekly challenge. What is stage presence? It’s the command you have of your audience as a performer. It’s not about just getting up on stage and dancing. Stage presence is your character, how you present yourself, how you interact with the audience, and then…way down the list…what techniques you are doing and how you are doing them.
I hear it a lot — and I agree with it — that many professional dancers would much rather watch other dancers having fun (even if the technique is so-so) than a mechanically perfect dancer whose head could be screwed off and replaced with another and there would be no difference. To put it a little harshly, if you are dead from the neck up, then you might as well not even be there. If you aren’t having fun, the audience isn’t having fun. If you aren’t feeling the emotion or character you are trying to convey, then the audience won’t get it.
Dance isn’t just about what awesome techniques you can do. It’s about the performance. That’s what we do, we perform. I’ve blogged a lot about creating characters and challenges for adding drama to your performances. If you are new to the weekly challenge, try out one of those maybe this week. Or, take a peek at this one:
Beginner: Again you may be telling yourself (or shouting it at the screen) that you have no interest in performing, and that is totally, totally fine. However, this is the perfect time to start learning how to perform, not just do movements. Don’t wait until your technique is solid and you are chomping at the bit to perform to try to learn these skills (if you do decide you want to perform). These skills are like any other: they take time and practice to master. Starting now will only help you in the long run, and they are fun anyway. This week, while you are drilling or practicing your combos, try imagining yourself on a stage. Don’t get nervous, because you really aren’t on stage! But think about what it would be like: the lights shining in your eyes, you in that beautiful costume, performing to your favorite song. What sort of character are you? It doesn’t have to be anything complex, just think about who you want to be on stage. Do you want to be Dina or Randa? Pretend you are Zoe or Rachel! (a caution here: don’t compare yourself to these dancers, for that way lies frustration and disappointment. Instead, just imagine you are them, and project what you think of as essentially Dina or essentially Rachel onto your own skin*). Do this every day you practice, and maybe mix it up a little!
Intermediate: Whether you perform with a student troupe or not, this really is the time to make sure you are starting to get performance skills practice in your regular practice. It’s more than just smiling on stage. Smile while you practice, or project whatever other emotion your teacher has told you to try for that performance (fusion troupes often have other emotions, but it’s perfectly okay to just be happy). And we’ll take it a step further. If you are supposed to be happy while you are performing, start thinking about things that make you happy. Yes, you are trying to remember choreography, but hopefully you have practiced it enough your body could do it while you were sleeping. And being too nervous before a performance can sabotage your memory. Relax and think of something happy while you practice. It will make your smile genuine instead of the plastered on, “I’m-really-nervous-and-would-rather-be-somewhere-else-but-I’m-here-so-SMILE!” smile. If happy isn’t your emotion, then use whatever it is while you practice. If sad, think of something sad (but don’t make yourself cry! You don’t want to smear makeup on stage!). If angry, get angry.
Advanced: I watch a lot of belly dance because I enjoy it. But too often the piece I enjoy the most is the one that is off-the-wall, silly, or just plain fun, not the technically perfect one. Or maybe it’s the truly imaginative one, or the different, unusual (maybe even avant-garde) one, regardless of technique. Yes, technique is important. But so is stage presence. You should be practicing stage presence just as much as your technique. Imagine how wonderful it would be to see an engaging, fun, AND technically perfect dance! Use the previous exercises to improve your stage presence this week. But the most important challenge for you this week is this: make a commitment to working on stage presence not just for this week, but for the rest of your career. Every day this week, look in the mirror when you practice–drills or choreo–and try to find that character, that spark, that bit of silliness or fun or scary, and work it into the stage persona. Will it to come out and make a home in your dance practice. Nurture it this week, and make a promise to it that you will continue to do so, forever and ever.
*There has been some discussion about copy-catting and finding your own style recently. I wanted to add here that I do not think it is okay to copy other dancers’ styles. However, this is a perfectly valid exercise for new dancers. It’s not about copying their style, but about learning how to perform a character, and most dancers, even new dancers, will know these famous dancers only as “characters” not as someone to “copy” or “steal” from. There is a caution here, too, though for newer dancers: while it is okay, in the beginning, to try on new styles and characters, it is important to remember that you are not Rachel Brice or Dina. Use them as inspiration for your own style, when you get to that point.
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My first blog about costuming was about mistakes people make in the costume itself. Today I wanted to blog about the most forgotten aspect of costuming: makeup. Little did you know that when you decided to become a professional belly dancer that you would also have to become a professional makeup artist as well!
Most dancers do not realize how strange it is to see a dancer in a lovely sparkly costume with no makeup. Or not enough makeup. She seems…unfinished, and, frankly, unprofessional. But makeup can be overwhelming to the new dancer, especially when you’ve blown the bank on your first costume. But makeup doesn’t have to be scary. YouTube is bursting with makeup tutorials (my fave), and there are also professional makeup artists you can take sessions with to help you, or you can buy makeup DVDs or books and teach yourself. There are also belly dancers who offer workshops for makeup for stage. Here’s where I will make my statement: I am not a professional makeup artist (so please don’t ask me to do a workshop). Everything I learned was through videos, workshops, and hours spent practicing and doodling. But I have performed a lot, and I know what looks good on stage.
Of course, merely the thought of how much makeup you need is also enough to make your wallet hide under the bed. But there are ways to make it not so overwhelming. There are six makeup essentials that I use consistently more often than anyother items I have bought. These are the absolute minimum, but you will get a lot of mileage with just these products.
- Good foundation – I can’t help you with this one; go to a makeup counter and have them help (tell them it’s for stage, and they’ll know what to do). MAC, NYX, and Ben Nye are going to be the best, but Revlon ColorStay is a good drug store alternative and it goes NOWHERE.
- Powder – loose or pressed, translucent is easiest
- Only 4 eyeshadow colors: pearly white (or off-white), gray, brown, and black. Why these four? Because these are what are going to look best on nearly everyone’s face and what is going to show up best on stage. And the brown…it’s not for your eyes. Use it as contour. You might even just get away with black if you are a Tribal dancer or are going for a super dramatic look.
- Black gel liner – don’t bother with liquid or kohl (at least for now), they are often too hard to use or don’t show up well enough.
- Strong red lipstick – the most common color used, and will look fantastic on most people and with most costumes. If you want, you can tone down the red and go to a pink, but be careful because pink doesn’t always show up well under lights. Pick a violent pink that hurts to look at too long (I hate pink…can you tell?)
- Blush – pick another violent pink color, or ask your makeup artist what colors will work better for you
It sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. There are, of course, other things you will want to add later, like a good concealer, eyelid and facial primer, glitter, other eyeshadow colors for extra glam, etc., but you can get away with just those above items for your first few performances.
So now that you have all this makeup, what do you do with it? Practice, practice, practice. Just like dance, you have got to practice your makeup techniques. Putting on gel liner is easier than liquid, but you still have to learn how. Mess around with your three eyeshadows (remember the brown is for contouring, not your eyes) and see just how many looks you can do with just those colors. Watch lots of videos (here a fun tip: when you are stretching and holding to increase flexibility and can’t do anything else, watch a makeup video).
And here’s the mistake nearly every dancer makes: not enough makeup. If you are dancing at a casual hafla, you may think you can get away with eyeliner, blush, and lipstick. Think again. In dim lighting, your face disappears. In bright light, you will look like a large white (or dark) blob. Not flattering. Think of every dance opportunity–even haflas–as a chance to get good photos or video of yourself, and a chance to check to see how your costume and makeup looks under different lighting and conditions (like sweating). That restaurant you dance in for fun now may be where you dance for pay later, so you also want to make a good impression on the staff by looking as professional as possible. Do your whole face for EVERY performance.
Keep this in mind: stage makeup looks scary and unnatural up close in normal lighting. So pack it on until you look like a freak, and then you just might have enough! Here’s another tip: I watch drag queens put on makeup.