When Do You Know it’s Time to Perform?

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When is it Time to Preform? - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance BlogSometimes 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.

Birthday News!!

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.


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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"


2 Responses to “When Do You Know it’s Time to Perform?”
  1. patiencepie says:

    I have been reading your articles and love them, but I am shocked at something said in this article. In the fourth paragraph you say some students are ready to perform at 3 months and some at 7 months to a year. Are you sure you don’t mean 3 years or 7 years!?! I have been going to classes every week for 3 years and can not even imagine dancing by myself in my living room. Should I quit? Because if new students are good enough to dance in public in 3 or 7 months, then I don’t know what I have been thinking. I watch a lot of dancers and I have been under the impression that it took years to become a good quality performance artist. I do live in a rural area with very few teachers and I thought the ones I had been going to were pretty good. If someone has had dance like ballet or jazz and is young and fit, I can see how with practice and dedication they could pick it up quicker than say…normal everyday middle aged soccer moms like me. Obviously, I am not aspiring to be a professional dancer but I had hoped someday I might be good enough to join other gals at local fairs and parties. If I have learned so little in 3 years…well I am a bit discouraged.

    • Leyla Najma says:

      Hello Patiencepie,

      You have a brought up a very good question. First and foremost “NEVER” compare yourself to anyone else. You are special because only you can move in your dance your way. Divine inspiration is expressed differently in each individual dancer.

      As far as my students and the various aspects of when they were ready, I meant what I said. But you have to understand one thing. With a studio I have had women who came in who have taken dance their whole lives. They bring these styles in with them. Some ballet, others jazz and tap but no matter what they bring with them only the individual person knows when they are ready.

      Hey, I wasn’t ready until 2 years and my teacher had to basically twist my arm to get me to do my dance debut. We are all at various levels. Let me make it clear that in order to dance well you have got to eventually get out and understand the performing aspect of what you are learning. You can’t stay in a “safe” zone and understand the best part of the dance form you are learning which is to dance it for an audience. The stage is such a blessing from God!!

      Many dancers who you think are top professionals started just like you and probably had the same thoughts of quitting. This includes yours truly. My first performance was a nail biter, panic stricken heart stopping experience but if I didn’t get out and perform I would never understand what my teachers were talking about when they said, “There is nothing like dancing in front of an audience doing something you love.” I finally understood what they were talking about after I performed.

      Don’t quit………..there is no time limit to learning this dance except what you decide. Each and every student I had in my studio was taught by me from their individual points of view of their dancing and their individual needs. I had women leave me because I made them dance in my class by themselves and others left and came back after experiencing other studios that didn’t give them the personal attention. I love watching women grow in this dance……….you are a flower that is blooming at her own pace and time. Give yourself how ever long you need to grow and understand this dance.

      Ask your teachers to help you work on the areas that you need help in. And if you like videotape yourself and send it to me and I will be more than happy to give you some pointers on your dancing. You have a support system here just remember that. We want you to keep dancing and we all hope to one day see you perform but when it’s right for you. So what I am saying if you quit, we will never be able to see the beautiful dancer that you are, and that would truly be a tragedy!

      Hugs and Blessings,