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

Your First Performance



Table of Contents


After months of belly dance classes, you finally have an opportunity to perform! You're excited — this is your very first performance, and you want it to be great! Here's how to make this an event you will always be able to remember with fondness.

Generally, your first performance is something you'll know about in advance. One of the best cures for stage fright is preparation. So, as soon as you've learned that you'll be performing, prepare! Many dancers don't do much to prepare because they "don't have time". But often, there are preparations you can make that can be done at the same time you're doing something else such as commuting to work.

Making the effort and time to do these things will give you much more confidence when you step on stage because you'll feel much more ready when the time comes. That confidence will add sparkle to your performance! So, start preparing several weeks before the big show. If it's worth doing, then it's worth doing right!

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




Mental Rehearsing

Put a copy of the music on your portable music player. Listen to the music over and over again in your car, on the commuter train, while you're grocery shopping, and while you're vacuuming the house. Listen to it so many times that you know exactly what's coming and when. Listen to it so many times that you find yourself getting tired of it.

If you'll be performing choreography to this music, think through the steps as you listen. For each verse, and each chorus, imagine yourself doing the appropriate dance movement. This drill will help you anticipate exactly what comes next. You can do this mental rehearsal in many settings where it would be impossible to actually get up and practice the steps.

If you'll be doing an improvised solo to this music, imagine yourself dancing as you listen. For each phrase, think of a movement that would look good with that particular phrase. Pick 3-4 movements that would work well with each part of this song, and then when you get to a place where you can practice, try them and see if they really do work. Drill the same 3-4 movements over and over. Once you feel as if they are ingrained as part of your dance, add 2 more movements to your "mental" practice sessions, and then add them to your physical practice sessions.

If you're standing in a long line in a public place, such as the post office or grocery store, start mentally "singing" your music and dancing to it. This will help you identify places where you don't yet know the music thoroughly, or places where you don't yet know what dance movements to do. Jot down a comment to remind yourself of where those spots are, and work through them when you have some time to physically practice.



Preparing Your Costume

Some teachers set rules for what type of costume you should wear in your first performance. Others tell you to wear whatever you like. Either way, you'll need something suitable.

There are few things more frustrating than trying to attach the last bit of sequin trim to the bottom edge of your skirt backstage 15 minutes before your performance is scheduled to begin! Start creating your costume the instant you learn you're going to perform. Give yourself time to find a suitable fabric, choose the right trims, and get the sewing done. Even if someone else will be making the costume for you, allow plenty of time in advance. Set a goal of completing the costume a minimum of 10 days before you perform.

Once the costume is ready, practice in it! Some of the disasters that occur on stage are due to dancers who tried on their brand-new costumes while standing still but didn't practice moving in them. Even professional dancers fall prey to this. Wear your new costume to class. Put it on when you practice at home. Wear it for a length of time that is double the expected length of your performance, to allow time for bloopers to make themselves known.

When I had a new costume custom-made for me in Egypt, I wore it to a troupe rehearsal. It felt fine when I tried it on in Egypt, but when I wore it for an hour of dancing, I discovered that the belt was too loose and it slid down over my hips to the floor! Thank goodness I wore it to a rehearsal so I could have time to move the clasps before I performed in it!

Wear everything for your practice — your jewelry, your hairpiece, your veil, and your shoes. Practice with the same music and props that you plan to use in your show. How else do you expect to learn that the rhinestones on your belt will catch the lace in the veil you want to use and tear it, or that your new shoes give you blisters?

Practice every type of move you are likely to do in your show. Does your bustline stay in place when you do a backbend? Is your skirt elastic so loose that the skirt slips down over your hips and to the floor when you shimmy? Is your belt just loose enough to slip down and expose your rear cleavage? Does your dress gradually wander sideways, so that the cutouts expose your private parts in a sequin frame? Does the zipper stay up? Do the tops of the gauntlets fall down to your wrists? Identify everything that could be an issue with this costume, and ask your teacher for advice on how to fix the issues that you're not sure of.



Look At Your Stage

If the show will be in a public location that you can visit ahead of time, visit the place and look at the stage. Look at where the audience will be sitting versus where you will be dancing. Note whether they will be watching you from head-on only, or from all sides. Look at the size of the dance area, and imagine yourself with a delighted smile doing the dance you have prepared on this stage. Imagine the applause that will follow.

If you can, find out what the backstage area looks like, and explore the dressing room. Imagine yourself feeling relaxed and happy in this setting.

If possible, take a photo or two of the environment that you can look at again later. Periodically look at the photo and imagine yourself dancing there flawlessly and joyfully.

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




Head for the Mall

  • If there are any items you need to purchase, do that now. (See the checklist below for ideas.) This could include blank CD's, makeup items, costume pieces, hair accessories,
  • If you don't already know how to apply stage makeup, go to the makeup counter of your local department store and ask a sales person to give you a lesson in how to apply makeup. Don't forget to buy some - it's only fair!
  • Or, book an appointment at your local salon/spa to have your makeup done, paying attention to which products are used and what they do. In either case, be sure to tell the person doing your makeup that you want stage makeup, not normal everyday makeup.



Two Days Ahead of Time

Rushing to finish last-minute preparations can be very stressful. Your performance will go much more smoothly if you can walk in the door feeling calm and well-prepared. Here are some things you can do to avoid common last-minute headaches:

  • Program telephone numbers into your mobile phone for your teacher, the event organizer, and anyone else you may need to call in case you get lost or run late.
  • Program your handheld or car GPS with the location of the show.
  • If you plan to use public transit to get there, check all applicable schedules and connection points.
  • If you plan to drive there, check a map or GPS system to determine how long it will probably take that time of day, then add extra time to allow for possible delays due to traffic, etc.
  • Enter an event into your smart phone's calendar containing the location of the show. Set the alarm for 10 minutes earlier than the time you need to leave home in order to arrive on time.
  • Charge the batteries for any cameras or video recorders you plan to use.
  • Load your music onto your portable music player, or burn CD's. (Better yet, do both.)
  • Pack as many items from your checklist (see below) as you reasonably can pack in advance.
  • Charge your mobile phone. If you use a portable GPS device, charge that as well.
  • If you'll be driving to the performance, fill your car with gas.



Supplies Checklist

Your personal supplies will be different, of course, but this one offers ideas on how to create a checklist of your own. If you type your checklist into your computer and update it as you think of changes you want, then over time it will evolve into being a perfect fit with your needs.




  Printed Directions On How To Get To The Location Of The Show *See footnote
  Printed Address For Location Of Show *See footnote
  Printout Showing Phone Numbers for Your Teacher, the Organizer *See footnote
  Printed City Map Showing Location Of Show *See footnote

Costume & Props

  Any Props Needed For Your Performance (Cane, Sword, Finger Cymbals)
  Bra/Belt Set
  Jewelry: Earrings, Necklace, Wristbands, Hair Ornaments
  Body Stocking
  Dance Shoes
  Extra Pair Of Underwear to Match Your Costume
  Extra Safety Pins

Hair Supplies

  Extra Ponytail Elastics, Bobby Pins
  Hair Spray

Other Garments

  Caftan Or Other Cover-Up To Wear Over Costume Before And After The Show
  Fresh Clothes To Put On After Show: Shirt, Pants, Bra, Underwear, Shoes, Socks

Makeup Supplies

  Small Mirror
  Eye Shadow, Eyeliner, Mascara, Concealer, Highlighter
  Lipliner, Brush, Lipstick
  Foundation, Blush
  Eyebrow Pencil
  Extra Makeup Brushes, Sponges, Applicators
  Makeup Remover
  Facial Tissues

Contact Lens Supplies

  Contact Lens Case, Cleaning Solution, Wetting Solution
  Spare Pair of Contact Lenses 

Other Items

  Bottle Of Water To Drink Before And After Performance
  Camera, Spare Film or Media Card, Charger
  Video Recorder, Extra Media Card, Charger
  Two Copies of a CD With Your Performance Music
  Boom Box or Portable Music Player With Headphones To Listen To Your Performance Music Backstage While Getting Ready
  Extra Cash
  Any Necessary Emergency Medical Items (For Example, Inhaler Or Insulin)
  Mints to Calm Your Nerves Backstage
  Anything You Promised to Bring for Someone Else (Costume Items to Loan, etc.)
  Notepad & Paper (You Never Know What You May Need to Write Down)

* Even if you have phone numbers and addresses programmed into your mobile phone, sometimes technology doesn't work. For example, your battery could die. Printed copies of key information will provide a backup in case this happens.




The night before your performance, pack everything on your checklist. Set all the items together in a single place. That way, you won't forget to grab anything the day of the show.

If there's anything you can't pack the night before for some reason, write a note to yourself identifying which items have not yet been packed. Place that note right on top of the tote bag that contains everything, so it can remind you the next day of the last-minute items you need to add.



In the Dressing Room

If you want, play your music one more time and mentally go through the choreography as you apply your makeup and get dressed.

If you're thirsty, avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine because they can trigger a need for you to use the restroom before you dance. They can also dehydrate you, and alcohol can impair your sense of balance. Water is a better choice, but don't drink too much of it immediately before the performance.

Go to the bathroom just before you get into costume.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Kaylyn Hoskins, Solon, Iowa.





You're excited! You're now backstage, and you'll be the next dancer. Now what?

  • Take several deep breaths. This has a calming effect.
  • Do not tell yourself, "I'm so scared!" Instead, tell yourself, "I'm so excited!" Use the energy generated by your nervousness in your favor!
  • If one of the other people backstage talks nonstop about being terrified, being afraid she'll make a mess of everything, etc., get away from her! Escape! Don't let her behavior contaminate your enthusiasm with her fears! She is talking about her fears as her way of coping, but if you start trying to calm her down you won't be taking care of your own needs. Let your teacher help the other student cope — that's her job!
  • Listen to the music being played for the dancer ahead of you, and start dancing around to it. Remind yourself of the joy you find in dancing by doing your own private dance.
  • Adopt an attitude. Tell yourself, "I look beautiful today! I love the music I'll be dancing to! This will be fun! What a friendly-looking audience! I can't wait! At last, I'll get to do what I've been preparing for!"
  • As the dancer ahead of you leaves the stage, draw yourself up into your proudest, most beautiful posture. Legendary dance instructor Bert Balladine used to advise doing some small hip drops backstage while you're being announced to pump yourself up. Again, remind yourself that you are a wonderful human being about to share something you love with a friendly group of people.



On Stage Itself

Once you're on stage, think about enjoying what you're doing. You're there to have fun, right? So, have fun! If you see a friendly face in the audience, smile brightly and nod at that person — even if it's someone you don't know! Listen to your music, and let the joy you find in dancing carry you through. If you're dancing with your classmates, catch the eye of one of them and wink at her. Zaghareet for the sheer fun of it.

If you're performing choreography with a group, remain focused the whole time on doing the dance as you learned it. Think. If someone else does something different from what you intended to do next, do not immediately copy her — it's entirely possible that she is the one who is making the mistake, even if she is your teacher! Trust yourself. Steal a glance at everyone else and see whether they are doing the same thing as you. Don't change what you're doing until you're certain that you're the one who is wrong.

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





Take a good drink of water, and dab your face with a tissue. Either put your cover-up on over the top of your costume, or put on the change of clothing you brought with you. Relax. Reward yourself by doing something fun with your friends. You've earned it!

When you get home, immediately take your costume out of its bag. If it needs any repairs, make them now. Let the perspiration air out overnight before you put it away.



Related Articles

  • Handling Bloopers. By Saqra. Tips from a highly experienced dancer on what to do if something goes wrong.
  • Performer's Power Pose. By Shira. Fill yourself with confidence backstage before you perform.





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