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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Belly Dancing to Distraction

by Shira



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Most belly dancers want the audience to enjoy their performance, applaud, and come back to see them again in the future. We want our dancing to be remembered as fun, entertaining, and enjoyable to watch. However, sometimes without our realizing it, our performances contain elements that distract the audience's attention.

Here are true-life stories. Before you accuse me of picking on other dancers, please be aware that some of these stories are about me, and "learning experiences" that happened in my own performances!

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by PixieVision, Glendale, California.




She Assaulted the Musicians!

The musicians took their place on stage and warmed up. They announced the Tasha, the lovely dancer, who wafted into view in an Egyptian-style entrance, carrying her flowing veil behind her. The audience was entranced.

Tasha took her place on stage, just in front of the musicians' platform, and began to spin. The audience noticed that the musicians were struggling to keep playing because they were trying to avoid being repeatedly smacked in the face by the edge of her veil. As she continued dancing, everyone was either sympathizing with the menaced musicians or chortling at their dilemma. The dance itself had lost their attention.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.




June Is Busting Out All Over!

The music started, and the dancer was announced. June materialized on stage wrapped in her veil and began to dance. Her enthusiasm for the occasion was contagious, and soon the audience was clapping in time to her high-energy music. It was a great beginning!

June's opening song eventually concluded and flowed into a soft, lyrical piece of music. With beautiful, graceful movements she removed her veil and began to dance with it. With the veil removed, the audience couldn't help but notice that her costume bra was much too skimpy for a family restaurant. One family who hadn't ordered yet got up and left. A group of young college men gazed eagerly at her breasts, hoping a nipple would pop out. A woman accused her boyfriend of gazing excessively at June's attributes and soon they were fighting.

The veil portion of the dance ended, and a lively song began to play. Two women started talking about how embarrassing it would be for this dancer if she popped out. Soon the audience was buzzing with whispers. When she did a tiny shoulder shimmy, several people in the audience gasped for fear they would see something they didn't want to see.

Eventually June's music reached another slow section. She turned her back to the audience, and proceeded to descend to the floor in a wonderful backbend. But nobody admired the skill required to do it. They were too busy speculating with each other about whether the shifting of her breasts caused by the backbend would be the final trigger that would release them from their sequined cage.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Michael Baxter, Santa Clara, California.

Everybody was certainly gazing at June in rapt attention. But it wasn't her dance they were watching.

The next day, when people told their friends about the performance, they didn't talk about her lovely musical interpretation, intricate technique, or soulful emotional expression. No, they only spoke of watching her chest in horrified fascination, wondering if her nipples would come out to play.

When June originally planned her costume, she thought she was emphasizing one of the more attractive parts of her body. She also thought her costume was perfectly normal. But she took it too far — she emphasized her bosom so much that people didn't notice anything else about her show, and some were offended.

Also, she didn't realize that what looks normal to us belly dancers (because we see it all the time within our dance community) does not look normal to the general public. Her costume would have been fine at a festival where the audience consists of other belly dancers, and it might have been fine in an adults-only nightclub setting. However, it was excessively revealing for a family restaurant where the audience consisted of people who brought their children and might be seeing a belly dancer for the first time in their lives.




The Fan Club!

Along with some of her friends, Marlys was performing at a nursing home. The audience were seated at the edges of the room, with the performers appearing in the center. The ceiling was about 8 feet high, with a large ceiling fan lazily turning.

Everything seemed fine during the opening numbers. But when it came time for her to do her veil solo, the audience couldn't help but notice that the veil kept striking the ceiling fan. Throughout her dance, they gazed at the fan, wondering whether the blades would catch the veil and rip it out of her hand.

As it happened, Marlys was able to complete her dance without incident. But unfortunately, nobody remembered a thing about the beautiful dance she'd worked so hard to present! They had been watching her veil flirt with the ceiling fan throughout her entire dance!

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision Productions, Glendale, California.




Full Moon Rising

Selena was on an elevated stage, in a family restaurant. She was wearing only one layer of skirt, with no pantaloons under it. There were slits in the center front, which she arranged to expose her bare legs up to mid-thigh.

As she danced, the slits opened up and gave the audience a clear view of her white panties which contrasted with the color of the skirt. They didn't look like the type of dance trunks you'd expect to see on a ballroom dancer — they looked like underwear. One man in the audience was furious that this dancer was blatantly exposing herself to his 4-year-old son. Another woman studied the panties trying to determine whether that was "Monday" she saw embroidered just above the crotch. A group of fellow dancers watching her whispered to each other about how the least she could have done was to choose a color that matched.

It was partly because the stage was elevated, and partly because the skirt's slits revealed more than Selena expected. Throughout her entire 20-minute show, the audience was treated to a continuous view of her panties, and they really didn't like it. She should have been wearing dance trunks or shorts that looked like part of the costume, and she should have selected a costuming and dance style that would not have flaunted them so obviously. This performer was a belly dancer, not a cheerleader or ice skater, and she should have dressed accordingly.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by "K", Santa Clara, California.

Flesh-colored underwear would not have been an improvement. It would have made the audience fear she wasn't wearing anything at all under her skirt.

A black thong wouldn't have been the right answer, either. That too would have made people believe Selena wasn't wearing anything at all.

Things Selena should have considered:

  • She should have followed the lead of ballroom dancers and worn dance briefs or shorts that looked like part of her costume.
  • She should have made it a point to learn about the raised stage ahead of time, and considered what audience members looking upward at her would see.
  • She should have considered that this was a family restaurant, and she should have made choices that would not alienate parents who brought their children with them.



The Wandering Zipper

The dress was brand-new, and this was its debut performance. Jewel connected with the audience in the sold-out house and the show was off to a great start.

However, during the drum solo, the zipper in the back of the dress started to creep downward. Jewel and the audience didn't notice at first. But then she went into a slow turn, which caused the zipper to sneak down further. A collective gasp came from the audience just as Jewel noticed a breeze on her back that shouldn't have been there.

She stopped spinning, faced the audience, gave them a knowing smile, reached behind, and did a body wave as she pulled the zipper back up. The tension broke, and the audience applauded. She finished her show.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Lina Jang, New York City, New York.




Sometimes It's Better to Cut Your Losses

The troupe was performing a choreographed sword routine. Suzanna's sword began to slip, so she put her hands up to adjust it. However, the adjustment wasn't quite right, and it slipped again. She adjusted it again. And again. This continued throughout the dance.

The audience noticed the problems that Suzanna was having, and soon people were nudging their neighbors and whispering about "that poor dancer". They quit watching everyone else, and with morbid fascination they focused on this one person, awaiting the next sword wobble.

The dancer with the rebellious sword should have quit trying to steady it after the second failed attempt. Depending on the choreography, she could have either kicked the sword out of the way and finished the dance without it on her head, or she could have unobtrusively left the stage with it. Either one would have been better than continuing to draw attention to herself and her problems throughout the entire dance.

Another time, a male dancer performed veil work with a cape on an outdoor stage. The wind sprung up and tangled him in his cape. Rather than fighting the wind for his entire dance, he untangled himself and deliberately tossed the cape out of the way with a bit of humor. The audience laughed and applauded — the tension created by his dilemma was broken. He then finished his dance without the cape.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.




The Wrong Accessory

Melanie was performing double veil in a Christmas show. On her head, she was wearing a Santa hat. The entire show went flawlessly — not a blooper in sight.

Afterward, an audience member came to Melanie and congratulated her for her skill. The spectator said that when she noticed the Santa hat, she immediately became concerned it was going to interfere with the veil performance. She said she didn't even remember what Melanie's show really looked like, because she kept gazing at the Santa hat waiting for it to fall off or tangle in the veils. She was very impressed that the hat stayed on the dancer's head the whole time, and that was obviously a tribute to Melanie's skill.

Well, maybe.

Another way to look at it is that Melanie erred in wearing the Santa hat in the first place. If it drew attention away from the dance, it was obviously an incorrect costume decision.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Evelyn M. Elliot, Strawberry Point, Iowa.




Closing Thoughts

It's always advisable to examine our stages ahead of time and evaluate whether any of our costumes or props may be unsuitable for a given situation. We need to consider stage size, band location, and features such as ceiling fans. These things could affect the success of the props and dance moves we are thinking of using.

While most of us would enjoy selecting costumes that show off our shapely legs or generous bosoms, we need to choose carefully. Yes, a certain amount of bare skin is expected by audiences, and the sexiness is often appreciated so long as it's appropriate to the situation. However, a daring costume can cause the audience to gaze in fascination at the exposed body parts, rather than appreciating your polished technique and musical interpretation. If your audience remembers after your performance that you were in danger of a possible wardrobe malfunction, then your costume was a distraction.

While we can't anticipate everything that could go wrong, a dancer who cares about providing a performance worth watching understands the need to anticipate possible sources of distraction so she can avoid them. She:

  • Practices in her costume in advance and asks a knowledgeable colleague to critique any distractions it may present.
  • Makes costume repairs promptly, before wearing the costume again.
  • Visits the place she'll be performing ahead of time to understand what choices she should make to accommodate stage size and shape, band placement, etc.
  • Watches many other dancers perform and notes whether their shows include distractions that she herself should try to avoid.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision Productions, Glendale, California.




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