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

Exploring Stage Personalities




Creating a "character" is a helpful way to overcome shyness and add personality to a performance rather than merely baring the teeth in a forced smile. Some dancers use the character they have constructed as a tool to protect themselves from feeling deeply wounded by criticism: "That wasn't me up there, it was this character I created, so it wasn't really my soul they were criticizing."

The characters suggested in this article are not intended to impose limits or boundaries. Instead, they are offered as inspiration for dancers to explore character types that are different from what they usually bring to their stage. By exploring music and costume choices that apply to these different characters, the performer can discover ways to vary her act, express a range of moods, and offer shows tailored to multiple types of audience expectations.

Versatility can open doors to new types of gigs for working dancers, and offer more creative satisfaction for the performer. The bint el-balad character may fit best with an educational program for children at school, whereas the dala'a may be exactly right for a late-night performance in a sophisticated night spot.

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




El Bint el-Balad

The term bint el-balad means "the country girl", and the concept resembles what those of us in North America might call "the girl next door" or "salt of the earth".

Character traits include:

  • Sweet
  • Likeable
  • Cute
  • Not sophisticated
  • Non-threatening
  • Wholesome
  • Approachable
  • A bit mischievous or cheeky

An example might be Naima Akef. The famed Reda Troupe dancer Farida Fahmy was often referred to as bint el-balad.



El Oukht

El oukht is Arabic for "the sister". She is young, perhaps in her early teens, and she's dancing at a family party with only her parents and siblings to watch. Her dance is joyful and mischievous, but still innocent, perhaps tinged with a bit of rebellion. When she dances, she pokes fun at friends and relatives. One moment she is playfully mimicking the way her older sister or cousin dances, the next she's imitating the way her uncle rides his horse, and the next she's making a funny face at her little brother to make him laugh. She's not afraid to let her inner child express itself.

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




El Dala'a

The dala'a is the sexy, flirtatious dancer. She's playful, and teases the audience with her sex appeal.

In her younger years, Tahia Carioca would have fit this archetype. For example, her performances in the movie Shatie el Gharam (Shore of Love) showed the spirit of the dala'a.

Samia Gamal's private dance for Farid al-Atrache in the movie Afrita Hanem (The Genie Lady) as shown in the movie scene to the right offers another example of this character.

Dina is a more current dancer who frequently uses this personality type in her performances.

Samia Gamal



El Ma'alima

The ma'alima in Egypt is a force to be reckoned with. She may run her own business, which is no small feat in a country where public life is dominated by men. Or, she may rule her household with an iron fist. The ma'alima is also viewed as a master of her art. She's a more mature character with life experience, but not necessarily old.

As a dance character, the ma'alima is self-assured, in charge, commanding the audience to pay attention to her. She is strong and confident. This is the character that modern-day strong, independent women in North America can relate to.

Fifi Abdo would be an example of a dancer who expresses herself as a ma'alima. She is renowned for portraying a ma'alima character in a play, wearing a white men's gallabiya and smoking shisha.



El Sufi

This dancer possesses a strong spiritual foundation in her life, which may or may not come from organized religion. For her, movement is a type of meditation, a prayer, a ritual. She uses dance to seek connection with a higher power, and at times may reach a state of tarab (ecstasy) while dancing. Spectators may feel she is sharing something sacred with them, bestowing a blessing, expressing passion, or invoking power.

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




El Sitt

The character of el sitt is that of a dignified, ladylike woman. Her demeanor expresses a certain amount of life experience. She's not necessarily old - she may be a young woman with an aura of being wise beyond her years. Her serenity and calm draw the audience to her, and therefore she doesn't need flirtation. Sometimes dancers expressing el sitt may offer a motherly persona.

Soheir Zaki personifies this character quite well. The image to the right is a movie still from al-Fatenah w-l-Salouk (Beauty and the Scoundrel).

Soheir Zaki



El Malika

"Malika" means "Queen". This character is a cross between El Sitt and El Ma'alima. She conveys strength, dignity, benevolence, and a sense of power that lurks beneath the surface. She moves with the serenity of inner confidence and a feeling of being secure in her position. She has no fear of hecklers, because she can easily deal with anyone who tries. She is accustomed to being a celebrity and graciously bestows smiles upon her admirers. And yet, El Malika realizes that abuse of her power creates problems of its own, so she exercises wisdom in the use of that power.



Maybe None of These Describe You?

These character types are not intended to be limiting. Perhaps none of them apply to you. Just remember that dance is a type of theater - and theater consists of portraying a role on stage which is not necessarily the same personality as the actress herself. The person you become when you perform can be different from the person you are in your daily life. It can be fun to be someone else every now and then.

Ultimately, you are seeking to craft a stage personality that helps you connect with your audience in a way that makes you comfortable at the same time you entertain them. Try play-acting aspects of different roles in your performances, and discard the ones that don't feel comfortable for you. Perhaps along the way you'll discover nuances that you can add to your primary character.

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




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