The Importance Of Photography In Belly Dance

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leyla-cleopatra-300What kinds of photographs draw you into a website or photo gallery?

As a website owner I have come to realize that change and updating are essential to good traffic. So photographs are a major investment for me because there are so many things I can do with them. But how many dancers understand this investment and address the issue of spending money on photographs as necessary? As a professional dancer it is so important to upgrade your portfolio with yearly photographs. Photographs are a review of the different stages in the career of a dancer.

With all the great photographers out there why wouldn’t dancers use photographs to show the dance world what they are up to? If a dancer or troupe is advertising a show or workshop and I can’t go, I usually look forward to photographs of the event. There is a statement that is made to each and every person looking at your website. Photographs bring this statement right into a dancer’s home. So this means it is so important to invest in a photographer for shows and events. As the years pass on you’ll have a wonderful archive of photographs and even videos of all your hard earned creative efforts.

Find a photographer that understands dance and can photograph motion or poses well. Also a photographer needs to be honest with you. If you choose a bad color for your costume or pose than he or she needs to tell you. There are certain colors that photograph better out in direct sunlight versus colors in a lighted room. There are certain times in a day that are better to be photographed in if you choose to shoot outdoors. Make sure you are aware of the right kind of make up for outdoors. The bottom line is a good photographer will talk with you before the photo shoot and help you decide what is best for you.

Let’s talk about themes. A few years ago my husband made a suggestion that I impersonate a famous person that I admire for my next photo shoot. Well of course you know who came to mind, Cleopatra. There’s a little bit of her in all of us. The photographs were done by a photography business called Ten/100. I had decided I wanted to be a modern day Cleopatra. The end result was timeless. I could have been from Ancient Egypt or a sexy vixen of today. Fortunately the photographer understood what I was trying to recreate and he also understood my personality. It is so important when you work with a photographer that you feel very comfortable with them.

The Cleopatra theme worked and was the beginning of my amazing journey in photography. Since each year can be any theme that you want, make sure that you create a unique experience for each photo shoot. So for my next adventure I decided to become King Tutankhamen’s wife, Ankhesenamun. The movie “The Mummy” inspired this idea and an amazing photographer, Pat Berrett made my dream come alive. I was body painted by Pam Trent exactly like Ankhesenamun was in the movie. Pam did an amazing job and by the time she was done I felt like a Queen. We went out to a desert oasis thirty minutes out of town and Pat photographed me in that amazing late afternoon light just before dusk. I stood upon these amazing sand dunes with this bronze body paint all over me and the details of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Those are my most favorite photographs to date. Pat believes that each photo shoot is just like a performance. Everything should be talked through days before including your costume, make up, poses and the elements if it is outdoors. If this is done than your photo shoot will make you feel like you just received a standing ovation!

So let’s talk about posing versus non posing. I think the one reason why more dancers don’t update their photographs isn’t just the money but they don’t know how to pose or what to do once they are in front of a camera. It’s easy to freeze and even harder to figure out what to do with your arms and legs. So one thing that Pat Berrett does, is he usually will suggest music so that the dancer feels more in her element. If you want photographs that depict the theater or stage atmosphere, than arrange to be photographed during a performance. This will be a good chance for the photographer to use the lighting that is already there.
These are my favorite photographs because I don’t have to worry about posing. And these kinds of photographs usually will depict the spirit of the moment. Besides that, you can’t beat being on stage! Dancers can pose all they want in front of a mirror but I think what will create a wonderful pose is the interaction between the photographer and dancer. The photograph you create will represent you to the dance world and your audience. So make sure it is as unique as possible, which means bring out the actress in you and work with your photographer to make your photographs timeless.

All of this brings one question to my mind. Why do dancers use photographs from 10 to 20 years ago? Your photographs need to tell the truth about who you are. I feel sexier and better than ever. So I don’t want to look younger than what I am. And as you can imagine if I get work out of State or abroad, than I better look like my photograph. As performers it is our job to stay in shape and look our best. There are many ways to photograph yourself to hide whatever you don’t want to show. Find a photographer that understands your concerns and problem areas. The one thing I love about Pat Berrett is that he makes me feel like I’m the best thing since sliced bread. He understands that I am selling myself as a professional belly dancer. And that isn’t always easy. So one important issue that a photographer must understand is that you are trying to define your own unique style. I am a very different dancer now than I was 20 years ago. My photographs from back then show my inexperience. I have a relaxed and secure look to me now. When people look at my photographs I want them to see a professional dancer with years of experience under her belt. Decide with your photographer what image you want people to see when they view your photographs.

Your photographs are a story board that represents your career. They are also a way of making money. They are intellectual property and you can use your own image to make you money. I will have 4X6 photographs made and give them away to customers and fans at the restaurant that I dance at. Usually people will come up and ask me to autograph them. When I autograph my photos, people usually want my business card. Not only do they have my card but a memory of me signing my own photograph. So when they are thinking of hiring a dancer down the line, they will remember me. You have to figure a way to build up your image. What better way than with photographs.

So let’s talk about costume colors and sizes for photographs.
Years ago I had a favorite costume that had a bra that could fit ten of my breasts in each bra cup. At the time I was a very small B. So as you can imagine people would do a double take when I was on stage dancing with my stuffed bra and when I was walking out greeting everyone in my cocktail dress. Ok, it was dumb on my part but I really liked the costume. The photographer who took my photos in that costume said nothing to me. When you are deciding on a costume for your photos, make sure it fits you and is the right color for either indoors or outdoors. My costume was bright pink and looked terrible in outside light. But get me on stage and it looked dynamite. So the few photos that I still have of that costume are of me on stage but with my bra cut down to fit my size. I realized shocking people wasn’t part of the image I wanted to portray. But I realized this only after seeing the awful photographs of me outside.
I learned a lot with that photographer. The most important lesson was choosing the right costume for outdoors and secondly making sure my costume fit appropriately. And just to let you know, with the amount of make up I had on…Frankenstein’s bride had nothing on me!
The unfortunate thing here is that the photographer didn’t communicate with me at all and I didn’t know enough at the time to talk with him in advance. Talk with your photographer and show him or her your costumes and props ahead of time. Decide together on how you will wear your make up for your themed idea. It’s a lot of fun and the result can be pretty amazing.

Today I am able to create themes that I have been dreaming about for years and I can look the part with confidence. I know enough to be able to ask the right questions to make sure I get the best possible shots. But most importantly I work with a great photographer who takes the time to talk with me and we discuss together what we want to do. It’s a partnership that when it works is pure magic.

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About Leyla Najma
Lifelong professional Belly Dancer dedicated to providing "Belly Dance Instruction That Is Easy To Understand And Learn That Connects The Dots"

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