Sometimes I have had dancers come to my studio with horror stories regarding first time performances. Even as I write this I can remember my first performance many years ago in Taos, New Mexico. I had been training for two years and my first teacher felt it was time for me to debut my first choreography. If I wouldn’t have had the two years to prepare I probably would have passed out at the very thought of performing in front of people. But I was very fortunate because good training and lady luck changed my dance world.
The familiar horror stories seemed to be based on similar facts that made it clear that just because somebody has been dancing for a while doesn’t mean they are ready to dance publicly. The first experience a dancer has with dance should be given extra care by teachers and fellow dance friends alike. We all know that the real world is full of unexpected situations that pop up out of the blue. The first time out should be a rite of passage for dancers and a preparation for being on a stage and in front of a supportive audience. Student recitals are excellent ways for students to be in a “safe” environment. First time performances at restaurants can be just as safe if the studio or dance friends come along as a support system.
I know for some of you that this might seem like “Duh” Leyla but as Daniel was interviewing me for BDV today it occurred to me that I had students who came from other studios who were put in front of an audience without warning. A student named Maria comes to mind because she told me that without warning, her teacher had her go out and dance in front of an audience at a local restaurant in town. The studio was doing a monthly show at the restaurant and she felt that she was not ready to dance but that her teacher kept pushing her towards the stage. She was totally humiliated and ready to quit dancing. We had to start back to square one in order to get her past the experience and ready for a new future in belly dance. Our first class was dealing with the feelings of giving up before she ever got her feet on the ground. Five months later her debut was at a small coffee shop in town where she performed two choreographies that she put together herself. She was the best gift the Angels could have given me. To see her smile showing some attitude on stage reminded me that with divine timing and training the true essence of the belly dancer in everyone emerges ready to perform.
Sometimes we have students who jump at every chance to perform and with each individual student as teachers we have to decide how to prepare them on their belly dance path. Some are ready at 3 months while others don’t feel confident until 7 months to a year. We have to understand each students belly dance journey and sometimes that is easier said then done .
Another student told me that her teacher asked her take her place at a local restaurant knowing she had never danced publicly before. She didn’t tell her any details as to how to dress or what to expect. She told her to dance to her music and that she usually left her cds at the restaurant. When this student went to the restaurant in her teachers stead, the owner was not notified and upset and she found out her teacher had taken the cds with her the week before so there was no music to dance to. Unfortunately for her, she had to dance to the restaurant music which was a mishmash of Middle Eastern, Indian and Spanish music. And for a beginner dancing to music they have never heard before is like walking the plank knowing they will have to jump. At the end of the evening she said she felt deflated, unprepared, ignored by the patrons and treated rudely by the restaurant owner. She came to my studio a few weeks after her experience in tears.
There is always a flip side to every story and I have had them occur. I have had students perform and get drunk afterwards………start fights with other dancers and try to take gigs away from me. Maybe they weren’t ready to perform or maybe they just didn’t have any etiquette even with what I tried to teach them. Dance is a very personal endeavor so there is no telling what the story is of each student who walks into our studios or classes. Ultimately we have to know that with each student we did our best and that the belly dancer emerging within each of them knows when to come out and perform.
Just wanted you all to know that Daniels Birthday is April 21st which means Thursday! HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the best husband in the whole world!
Teacher’s Interview Corner (Belly Dance Village)
Look for Najla’s interview coming up the 23rd, this coming Saturday. It was a lot of fun talking with her so check out what Najla’s doing with her belly dancing in Ohio.