Photo of Shira



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

Belly Dance Tips & Tricks & Hacks for Performing



Table of Contents



General Performing Tips

By Shira

  • Deciding What to Perform. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should!
  • Learn To Do Makeup. Are you one of those people who really isn't certain just how to apply makeup? Then go to someone who sells cosmetics and get them to do a makeover for you. Most Mary Kay cosmetics sales people will come to your home and teach you and your friends how to use their makeup. Or, you can go to the cosmetics counters of your favorite department store and ask for a makeup lesson. If you like what they did, you can then purchase the exact product from them that they used on you. If you didn't like what they did, then you'll know what to avoid.
  • Outdoors. If you'll be performing outdoors, it's probably better not to plan on doing veil work in your show. The wind can wreak havoc with your attempt to do a lovely, graceful veil dance.
  • Outdoors. If you'll be performing outdoors, wear shoes. Grassy performance areas may contain hidden dangers such as broken glass. Outdoor stages may be hot enough to severely burn your feet.
  • Bring A Spare. Burn a second CD with your music, and bring both to the show. Bring an MP3 player with your set in a playlist by itself as well. That way, if something happens to your original, you'll have the backup available for use. Or, if the CD player quits working, you'll have the MP3 player. If you're part of a troupe, designate someone else to bring the spare CD and a third person to bring the MP3 player, so if you forget yours, they'll have theirs.
  • Building Credibility. Treat every performance as though it were an audition for the next one. Always wear the best costume you can afford, apply your stage makeup like a professional, fix up your hair, make your stage presence sparkle, and dance with passion. You never know who might be in the audience, so always give your best. Miles Copeland recruited Rachel Brice for Bellydance Superstars after seeing her perform at Rakkasah. Another dancer told me she was approached by a scout for Americ'a's Got Talent after performing in a community variety show. Even if you're not a professional dancer, your performance could influence whether you're invited to appear at other community events. So give every performance your very best effort!

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo of Shira by Carl Sermon of Reel Sound and Light Productions, Los Gatos, California.

  • Introduce Yourself to the Audience. Backstage at a show, well-known dancer Bert Balladine once said, "When a great dancer first makes her entrance, she parades around the stage to greet the audience. When a really great dancer makes her entrance, she does it twice." In other words, when you first appear, people will be busy looking at you and your costume, and won't notice your initial dance moves. So, stride on-stage with confidence, greet the band with a pleasant nod or gesture, greet your audience with a pleasant nod or gesture, give the audience a few moments to take in the sight of you, and only then start to actually dance.
  • Facial Expressions. You might express different moods throughout your show through facial expression, such as enthusiasm, acknowledgement of a friend in the audience, joy, mischief, "I'm glad you came to see my show!", "I feel great today!", or pleasant introspection.
  • Facial Expressions. Stay away from trying to look seductive. Many audience members, men and women alike, find it offensive, and it makes you look ridiculous.
  • Choosing a Costume. Think carefully when choosing a costume for a given performance. The type of costume that other dancers appreciate may be very different from what the general public wants to see. Other dancers often appreciate the latest fashion, whereas the public often prefers a more traditional look. Choose the costume that is right for the audience.
  • Get Your Priorities Straight. Try to do what will be enjoyable for your audience to watch rather than what will be personally fun for you. The two can be very different.
  • Complacency. If you are dancing at a regular location or event, never take those opportunities for granted. Never let yourself become complacent. Always assume that the place where you dance is also being approached by other dancers, so make sure they have many good reasons to keep you around!
  • Competing. If you're entering a competition, ask for a copy of the judging score sheet ahead of time and read it carefully to make sure the performance you're planning will measure up to the criteria it's looking for! Most competition organizers will make this available, but not everybody asks.

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


By Saqra

The dressing room is not a rehearsal space. Especially with music and/or finger cymbals. This is right up there with manspreading for public rudeness. Understand that people notice and remember your actions. In a field where your advancement is based on networking and relationships, you don't want to start limiting your appeal for no real reason. Good manners are never a mistake. We all do make mistakes, but this one is easy to avoid. Your mileage won't vary.

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


By Despina

Despina teaches and performs belly dance in Australia.

  • Women In The Audience. Be friendly to the women, and pleasant to the men: Whether you're doing a restaurant show or a one-off function, make the women your allies. Most women are a great audience, but some can be catty. Jealous? Who knows? The fact is you need to be nice to them — but not in a fake way. Be sincere, but make that extra effort. A sour face in the audience can throw you off and snide comments can bring you down. Men often appreciate just about anything that looks good and some of the more cultured men will particularly appreciate your talent. What you don't need is their partners becoming angry every time they look your way. Avoid this by paying extra attention to the women before, during and after your show. Who knows — maybe they'll want to become your students when they see you demonstrate that belly dancing is an art form with a lot of class!
  • Keep Smiling. The only thing your mouth should be doing during a show is smile. Don't perform with your mouth wide open as though you're a teenager in a tacky talent quest or rehearsing for an adult magazine pose. It's just plain ugly, so don't.

By Amy Walker

  • Whether The Weather. Use plastic bags with the sealable zip tops to protect MP3 player or CD's if you're performing where it might rain!
  • Litter Bag. You won't always find a convenient wastebasket in the dressing room. Use plastic bags from the supermarket as portable garbage bags for used cotton balls, tissues, etc.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo is of Despina from Australia.


By Paola

Paola is an Italian dancer living in the Netherlands.

  • When You Lose A Finger Cymbal. Sometimes finger cymbals come off while you're dancing. If that happens, look for the missing one and pick it up. Lay it on your left hand (the "less" quick hand when you play) between two fingers, directly under the thumb-cymbal, which is still kept in place by the elastic. Keep the wrist a bit up, and continue playing like that. If another cymbal cuts loose (most unlucky performance), you can do the same trick with the other hand (only it's a bit more difficult to play, because the right hand plays more quickly).

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo of Paola.




Staying Organized

  • Makeup Bag. Get a makeup bag that will be specially used for your dance makeup. Stock it with all the cosmetic items you are likely to need when you do a performance: eye shadow, eyeliner, eyebrow pencil, lipstick, foundation, blush, and anything else. If some of these are items you use on a normal daily basis, then purchase duplicates of them to keep in your makeup bag. Keep it permanently packed with these supplies. Then, when the time comes to do a performance, you can just grab the makeup bag and go, confident that you won't forget anything.
  • Assemble A "Survival Kit." Buy a gym bag that you dedicate solely to hauling your dance paraphernalia, and stock it with standard items that you regularly need when you are preparing to go to class or performances. Some possible things to include in it: a pair of finger cymbals, safety pins, a spare pair of underwear, your makeup bag, a practice costume, a notepad for jotting down notes, etc. Keep it permanently stocked with these essentials — that way, you're always equipped to just grab it and run out the door when you're in a hurry.
  • Checklist. Make a checklist ahead of time of everything you'll need for your show. Be specific — instead of having a line item for "Costume", have individual entries for "Bra, Belt, Necklace, Earrings, Overskirt, Underskirt, Veil, Matching Underwear, Body Stocking" etc. Include all props, jewelry, makeup items, and odds & ends such as safety pins or hairpins. When you pack for your show, review the checklist to ensure you have included everything. After the performance, as you pack to go home, again review the checklist to make sure you take everything home that you brought.

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





Working with Live Musicians

By Shira

  • Introduce Yourself. If possible, introduce yourself to your musicians before your show. Learn their names, too. Establish a human connection with them. Tell them you're looking forward to dancing with their music.
  • Avoid The Biggest Pitfall! First and foremost, listen to the music and dance accordingly. The biggest gripe of musicians is that they dislike playing for a dancer whose movements have nothing to do with what's happening in the music. Pause when the music pauses, make transitions when the music makes transitions. Listen for what mood the music is trying to convey (joy, excitement, daydreaming, grief, etc.) and try to convey that same mood through your actions and expressions.
  • Rule of 4's. Apply the "rule of 4's" — Middle Eastern music tends to run in phrases that let you repeat the same movement 4 times before transitioning to something different. The first time you do the step, you're just getting into the flow of it. The second and third times, you're more confident with it, and the fourth time you can think ahead to what to do next so you can make a smooth transition to whatever you're doing next.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by André Elbing, Bärbroich, Germany, at one of Shira's performances in Egypt.

  • Learn The Songs. Build a collection of music that features the popular songs most commonly used by the live musicians in your community. Listen to those songs over and over again until you know the songs well enough to hum along and anticipate what comes next. Practice to those songs over and over, trying on different moves with different parts of the melody to find out what works well for you. Some songs, such as "Habena", "Tamra Henna", and "Aziza", have "stops" in them, which are abrupt pauses in the music — become familiar with those, and make sure your movements pause in attractive poses when the music pauses. Once you're familiar with the songs that are popular with your musicians, you'll be much better equipped to dance with the music rather than against it. By knowing the song itself, you'll be able to anticipate what the musicians will do next.
  • Partnership. Treat your musicians as people, as your partners. As you come on stage, make eye contact with them and smile in acknowledgement. Continue to make eye contact occasionally during your show. If the music winds down at the end of a song, look at the musician so you can stop together. At the end of your dance, acknowledge the band, encouraging the audience to applaud for them.

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

  • Be Informed. Several days before the show, if there are particular songs you would like to have played for you, find out what the names of those songs are. That way, if the musicians offer you an opportunity to request particular music, you can be prepared with an informed response. Warning: although most musicians appreciate it when a dancer shows enough interest in the music to make requests, there are some mean-spirited musicians who get irritated if the dancer dares to ask for something in particular. You need to decide which risk you're willing to take — that of annoying the musicians by exhibiting no interest in the music that will define your show, or that of annoying the musicians by making a request. If you know someone who is already acquainted with this particular band, ask them what they would recommend.
  • Give Direction. Be prepared with a response in case the musicians ask what you would like to have played for you. If you don't feel inclined to request specific songs by name, at least be prepared offer some direction in terms of what nationality of music you like (for example, Turkish versus Arabic), what rhythms (for example, bolero for the veil work or karsilama for the finale), or whatever. Beware of saying, "Just play anything," because that could be construed as lacking respect for the artistic skills of the musicians and could result in some really disappointing music. When you really don't know what to ask for, try saying, "I find that I get the best music when the musicians select songs that they really enjoy playing. What would you most enjoy playing for me?"
  • Acknowledge The Musicians. As you enter, you probably greet the audience. But you should also greet the musicians — make eye contact, smile genuinely, maybe even nod. When it's time for your exit, pause and "present" the band with an arm gesture and a large smile. Encourage the audience to applaud for them. If you liked what they played for you, then after you've changed your clothes, seek them out during their break and verbally tell them how much you enjoyed their music, and what a pleasure it was for you to dance with them.

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


By Sulisha Kanouni

Suilisha Kanouni dances in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.

  • Agree On Signals. In dancing with a live band, politely suggest before your show that you would like to signal them when you are ready for a music change. As an experienced dancer, you know about how long a piece of music needs to be before you need a change, or if the audience should become disinterested. This also gives you some control on the pacing of the show, and lets the band know in a subtle way that you do not want to be at their mercy, because sometimes they can be merciless. The easiest way to signal the band is to turn around, face them, and look at the "head" musician.
  • Request A Song. Before performing with the band, do request at least one song. This lets them know that you are a knowledgeable dancer who understands the music you perform to, and again, sends the subtle message that you want some control over your show.
  • Psychology. Act confident, yet friendly. Psychology plays an important part in dealing with a band. And if you're a good dancer, they will be more willing and even proud to work with you!

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo of Shira by William M. Smith, Iowa City, Iowa.




Professional Gigging

By Shira

  • Before Going Pro. Go to as many professional performances as possible at local restaurants and shisha bars. Ideally, go at least once a week for a year or more, rotating between different places and watching different dancers. Study how the established pros handle interactions with their live bands, with hecklers, and with working odd-shaped rooms. Professional gigs are very different from student-friendly haflas, and there is much to learn from watching the pros manage the situations.
  • For A Party. While performing at a party, remember that your purpose is to entertain, not to explore your "art". Three years later, which will be the more treasured memory for partygoers — the memory of you expressing yourself, or the memory of the birthday boy getting up to dance with you? Of course, your show should focus first on delivering a polished performance, but remember that their purpose for asking you to dance was because they wanted entertainment. Make sure you leave them with fond memories to enjoy for years!
  • When To Leave The House. When going to a gig at a location you haven't been to before, make a guess at how long it will take to get there, then leave the house 15 minutes (or more) earlier than that. That 15-minute buffer allows you time to take a wrong turn on your way there, discover that you have to stop for gas, or get caught in slow-moving traffic en route.
  • Equipment. Even if the person who hires you assures you that a sound system will be available to play your music, take along your own boombox. Chances are you won't need it, but you want to be ready in case you do! It would be embarrassing to discover that the site's sound system plays only CD's when you've brought your music on an MP3 player, and there's always the chance that the site's sound system will be set up wrong, will blow a fuse right when it's your time to dance, etc.
  • The Professional Edge. Sometimes event organizers and clients don't choose their dancers according to who is the most local or who is the best dancer/troupe. Instead, they choose according to who is the most pleasant to work with. The dancer who returns calls and emails promptly, tries to be flexible (within reason), and tries to tailor her show to what the client wants instead of what she personally likes to do will often be the one who gets the gig.

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




Related Articles

Explore more thoughts on accepting tips from audience members, plus more "tips & tricks" articles.



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