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

Dear Shira


Belly Dance Prop Transitions for Troupes



The Question

Dear Shira:

We are a group of three and we are just starting to do little private performances. Now we have a program of entering with candles, switching to tambourine. And we are working on veil and cane to add to the program shortly. Where do we put the props? Considering that we don't have a break in between, should we put them on "stage" before we start? But then the surprise would be gone! And how do we get them back afterward? Every person carrying two candles, a veil, tambourine and a cane would look pretty loaded, don't you think?

--Puzzled With Props



Shira Responds

Dear Puzzled,

Before you go much farther, I'd like to encourage you to take a step back and give further thought to the content of your show. It sounds as though you may be trying to cram too many different props into a single short proptastic show. There are better ways to make a troupe performance look interesting and varied. Props are like spices: a small taste can be delicious, but too much can ruin the flavor.

I remember a troupe performance I saw in which the choreography to each and every song used a different prop, and the effect was much too busy. The performers looked more like trained seals showing off their collection of tricks than like dancers offering a dance performance. I would encourage you to put at least one dance that uses no props at all in between each prop-oriented dance. Props are most effective when they're used to provide a change of pace.

That said, there are a number of ways to manage getting assorted props on and off the stage. Think about how your choreography can be modified to accommodate transitions between songs. Here are some ideas:

  • Bringing Props On-Stage At The Beginning Of The Show. Have one dancer enter the stage carrying a large basket with all the props in it, and another with a small table. Set the basket on the table. This works when the props are small, such as tambourines and candles. If you're using canes or swords in the show, put everybody's props into an umbrella stand or large lightweight jug, then have one dancer enter carrying that with the props all in it.
  • Getting The Props When They Are Needed. Build a transition into the beginning of your choreography that involves going and fetching your prop from the basket or umbrella stand at the back of the stage. This should be as integrated as possible into the dance and should look like part of the dance.
  • Getting Rid Of Props At The End Of A Dance. As a song that uses props draws to a close, have one or two dancers collect the props from the others and leave the stage. The next song in the program can be one without props. Since you have three members, this can be either a solo or a duet, while the prop collector waits offstage for the next song to start.
  • Picking Up Offstage Props. If the next song on the program uses props, have half (or more) of the dancers exit the current song early. They can pick up their props and get ready for the next song. When they return to the stage for the next song, they can bring with them the props to give to the remaining dancers. Integrate this into the choreography to make it look like an essential part of the dance.


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

  • Use Stage Hands. Many troupes have additional people associated with them who may be willing to help out: children, spouses, or students who are not yet ready to perform. Perhaps one of these people would be willing to put on a suitable costume and make a production out of bringing props on-stage or removing them when you're done using them.
  • Take Turns. It's not necessary for every dancer to perform every song in every show. While one group is performing with one set of props, the next group can be backstage getting their props ready for the next song. As the current song ends, the people who were performing it can leave the stage and the next group can enter. For your finale, arrange to have everyone dance.
  • Audience Help. Perhaps you can plant someone in the audience. Before your show, make sure that person is seated close to the stage, and give her/him your props. At the appropriate time in the show, use a brief 30-second cut of transition music to have everyone in your troupe leave the stage and go out to greet the audience. As you pass by the friend's table, drop off props you are done using and pick up the ones you need next.
  • Transitional Music. If necessary, put 10-15 seconds of drum rhythm or music as a transition between dances, and use that to pick up or get rid of props. But do this only as a last resort — your group's performance will look much more polished if you integrate the transitions tightly into the main choreography of your routines.

The above ideas are things I've done in the past. With these to inspire you, perhaps you'll think of yet another solution that blends smoothly into your overall performance. Whatever you do, remember that it needs to look like part of the dance. Integrate it as much as possible so it seems to flow with everything else you are doing.

When the show is over, you can either gracefully pick up the props and carry them offstage, or simply leave them there. If you are performing as part of a larger event, ask the stage manager whether you are expected to remove your own props — many times, they're willing to provide a stage assistant to remove props for you after you've left the stage. If you are the only performers for a given event, then after you've changed back into your "civilian" clothes, you can come back to unobtrusively retrieve the props.



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



About this Column

Shira has received many questions from readers over the years related to various aspects of the dance. In this column, she picks some of the more interesting ones to answer publicly. Details contained in the questions are sometimes removed or disguised to protect the anonymity of the person who asked the question.



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