Do You Need

A Belly Dance Stage Name?

by Shira

You love belly dancing. And you've gotten good enough to start performing. You've been invited to dance in a student recital, or do a bellygram, or appear on-stage with a troupe. And now someone has suggested to you that you acquire a dance name. Huh? A dance name? What's that, and why do you need it?

A dance name is similar to a writer's "pen name" or an actor's "stage name"--it's a name that you use when appearing in public as a dancer. Maybe you need one, but maybe you don't. Maybe you want one, maybe you don't. Whether or not you do need one depends on you, how dance fits into your life, and what biases your teacher or troupe director may have. This article will help you evaluate whether or not you need a stage name, and if you decide you want one, how to pick it.

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What Is A Dance Name?

In short, a "dance name" is a pseudonym you go by when you are functioning as a belly dancer. It is the name you use when you do a performance in public, go to eat dinner at a restaurant where you would like to have a job performing, teach classes, meet with musicians, go out on the town with your dance friends, attend dance workshops, and otherwise move in dance circles. If you introduce yourself under your dance name as you form new friendships, you may develop a circle of friends who don't even know your "mundane" name.

For the most part, the practice of adopting a dance name is a North American and Australian/New Zealander phenomenon. In the Middle East and throughout Europe, dancers usually function under their own names. Whether or not you adopt a stage name is really a question of whether you want one! You can be a perfectly credible dancer performing under your own legal name, but if you think it would be fun to have a nom de danse, then go for it!

A dance name may or may not be a legally-recognized name. Some dancers get checking accounts and post office boxes under their dance names, but many others don't. You may incorporate yourself into a business under your dance name, in order to keep your dance-related finances separate from your household finances, but you don't necessarily have to do that. You may use your dance name as the domain name for your Internet web site.

In short, where you use your dance name is really up to you. Decide which situations are ones where you will use your dance name, then consistently follow that decision.

Dance names are usually of Arabic or Turkish origin, but there are dancers who choose names of Greek, Armenian, Persian, North African, or other origin. You might select from among the names that are commonly used in a particular Middle Eastern culture, but you could alternatively select a name from a science fiction book, mythology, the Bible, or even something you totally invent yourself.

Drawing Of Dancer Posing With A Veil

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Do You Need A Dance Name?

Obviously, the first question is whether you should even bother selecting a dance name. Here are some ideas to help you consider that question--if you decide that yes, having a dance name is right for you, then you can go on to decide what it should be.

Do You Even Want A Dance Name?

If you think the notion of picking a special name to go by when you're dancing is silly, then it probably doesn't make sense to choose a dance name. If you think it would be fun to have a dance name, even if you're not performing anywhere and you never plan to go professional, then go ahead and pick one--after all, why not?

If you're not sure, keep reading, and see whether the comments below help you make your decision!

What Do The Pros Do?

Dancer Drawing

The answer to this question won't help you much. Some pros, such as Morocco, Dahlena, and Cassandra do have "professional" names. Others, like Bert Balladine, John Compton, Suzanne Del Vecchio, Horacio Cifuentes, and Kathryn Ferguson are successful using their normal everyday names. A dancer named Salome in Ohio actually changed her legal name to Salome, and goes by that name for everything she does in life. Of course, some people like Khedaoudj and Suhaila Salimpour were given names when they were born that function well as stage names.

So, no matter which way you decide to go for yourself, you'll be in good company. It's probably safe to say that the vast majority of dancers who perform in public or teach probably have adopted "dance names" to promote their image as a credible performer of Middle Eastern dance, enhance the mystique of the dance, and nudge the audience into expecting something just a little exotic.

What About Security And Privacy Issues?

Are you reluctant to pass out business cards featuring your dance career with your "real" name on them? Are you afraid you would be the target of harassment or other unwelcome attention if the public were to know your real identity? Would you feel more comfortable with using a stage name rather than your legal name when you are introduced in public as a dancer?

Some people are very sensitive about this issue, and for others it doesn't matter much. If you have strong feelings about wanting to use a stage identity as a "mask" that hides your normal persona, then adopting a stage name is probably a good idea for you.

What Does Your Teacher Or Troupe Director Say?

Your belly dance teacher may have a strong opinion on this issue. Ask her why you should or should not have a dance name, and consider the response. You should weigh your teacher's input, but make your own decision based on what's right for you.

If you are a member of a troupe, then your troupe director may strongly want you to adopt a dance name for use on promotional material (web site, press releases, flyers, etc.) for the troupe. Your troupe director is probably trying to cultivate a certain artistic "image" for the troupe, and using dance names for the participants may be an integral element in her vision of what that artistic image should be. If you want to be part of that troupe, then you may have to be flexible and adopt a dance name, at least for use when you're appearing with them.

Who Is The Dancer Inside You?

For some dancers, the person who gets all dressed up in coins, sequins, flowing chiffon, or other costume items is just an extension of who they are anyway. They may be extroverted, flamboyant, and theatrical, and belly dance is just another way to express that. Or, for them belly dance may be a means of expressing their spiritual, artistic, or creative side--a side that they have openly acknowledged for many years. Is that you? The person you are on a normal daily basis may well be someone you, your family, and your friends can easily conceive of stepping onto a stage and delivering a mesmerizing belly dance performance. If that's the case, then you may not need a dance name, unless you simply want one as a "prop" to enhance your portrayal or help you get into the mood to dance.

Other dancers may have issues with shyness, self-confidence, modesty, or self-image, and find it hard to imagine themselves twirling about in coins or sequins. If that is your situation, you may find that adopting a dance name lets you create a whole new person: a person who DOES possess the self-assurance to step onstage with confidence and deliver a terrific show. Maybe "Susan" is terribly intimidated by the notion of actually dancing in public, whereas under the name "Samra" she can discard the inhibitions and step into the shoes of the artist within her.

If this sounds like it might work for you, first you create the name, then you add the outward attributes that belong with what you believe you need to be when it's time for the "dancer" side of you to emerge: confident posture, vivacious behavior accompanied by ready willingness to make small talk with strangers, glamourously-done hair and nails, elegant clothing even when you're not on-stage, etc. When functioning under your normal everyday name, you wear your normal clothes and behave according to your normal patterns. But when you put on your dance identity to do a performance, watch a belly dance show, eat at a restaurant that features dancing, attend a class, or fraternize with people you have met through your dancing, then you put on your more elegant clothes, do your makeup, and adopt your alternate behavior. At first, you'll feel like an actress playing a part, but eventually you'll become accustomed to the routine and it will become more natural. Ideally, over time, as you become more comfortable with the role dance plays in your life, you'll be able to merge the two identities, taking what you like best from each and growing yourself into a more assured, confident, well-rounded adult. Dancer Drawing

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How Do You Choose A Dance Name?

To simplify, there are two different ways you can go about acquiring a dance name--one is to choose one for yourself, and the other is to let someone else name you. Take care in your choice--think about something that not only appeals to you today, but isn't likely to become embarrassing to you in the future as you mature, change interests, and acquire new circles of friends. Obviously, it is possible to change your name in the future if you feel the urge to do so, but it'll be a hassle retraining everyone who has become acquainted with you under your original name.

How About A Last Name?

Most dancers use just one name: for example, "Artemis" or "Zahira". However, there are many who adopt a last name to go with it. This is a particularly good idea if you plan to use a name that you're aware of other people already having.

Dancer Drawing

You could attach the word "bint", which in Arabic means "daughter of", followed by either your mother's name or the name of your first belly dance teacher--for example, "Jamila bint Samra" would mean "Jamila, daughter of Samra".

Or, you could attach the word "om" followed by your eldest daughter's name, such as "Fatima om Anna," which means, "Fatima, mother of Anna."

Finally, you could just pick two names that you like, such as "Farida Hana."

Some troupes use the same last name for all their members, and then pick individual dance names.

A great article, Names For Dancers And Other Graceful Souls, written by Me'ira that explores these ideas further can be found on the web on the Belly Dance Home Page.

Be Practical

Yes, I know the word "practical" doesn't exactly go with being creative and artistic. But before making a decision, ask yourself whether that name can stand up to everyday use. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Will musicians who are announcing you be able to correctly guess the pronunciation?
  • Will an unpronounceable-looking name make a prospective customer decide to call someone else rather than embarrass himself by calling you and pronouncing your name wrong?
  • Is there already someone locally famous who uses a name very similar to yours--someone you might be confused with?
  • Will it be easy to spell for people who want to write it down?
  • Is it a name you won't be embarrassed to still be using 2 years from now? 10 years? 30 years? Some dance careers do last that long!
  • Is it something people will be able to remember easily?

I've had dance friends who ended up changing their dance names because they got tired of people mispronouncing or misspelling their names, confusing them with someone else, or otherwise stumbling over them. Pick a name you think you'll still enjoy using indefinitely into the future.

In Search Of A Good Name!

Here are some possible places to look in your quest for a dance name:

  • An Arabic, Persian, Armenian, or Turkish dictionary
  • The Bible
  • Your own imagination (but be careful--you might invent something that is obscene or ridiculous in certain Middle Eastern languages!)
  • Web sites that list Middle Eastern names with their meanings
  • Characters from Greek, Egyptian, Sumerian, Babylonian, Persian, or Assyrian mythology
  • Characters from science fiction, swords & sorcery, or other fictional sources
  • Characters from Middle Eastern fiction, such as the 1001 Nights
  • Books suggesting baby names in Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Greek, or Armenian

Here are some web sites that offer suggestions for dance names:

Here are some books that offer suggestions for Middle Eastern baby names:

  • Multicultural Baby Names: 5,000 African, Arabic, Asian, Hawaiian, Hispanic, Indian, and Native American Names. Written by Marie-Jeanne Abadie. Published by Longmeadow Press, Stamford, CT, U.S.A., in 1993.
  • 2,000 Asim Arabi Li-Tifluka (2,000 Arabian Baby Names). Written by Nahda S. Salah. Distributed by International Bookshop, 1986. In Arabic and English.

Whatever name you choose, it's not a bad idea to look it up in an Arabic dictionary, a Persian dictionary, and a Turkish dictionary (yes, all three!) just to make sure it's not obscene, ridiculous, or sacrilegious in the languages most widely spoken by Middle Eastern people. You'll also want to make sure it's suitable for you: if you're a blue-eyed blonde with pale skin color, the name Sauda (which means "black") would be a peculiar choice.

Letting Someone Name You

Who would name you? It might be your teacher, a musician, a Middle Eastern friend, or a club owner. Before blindly accepting the name that someone wants to bestow upon you, check it out in the Arabic, Persian, and Turkish dictionaries to make sure they didn't jokingly endow you with an insulting name. Also, ask yourself whether you respect this person enough to accept a name from her/him, or whether you want to distance yourself from her/his ideas. Just because someone wants to name you doesn't give him/her the right! You decide whether that person has earned the right to name you!

What if someone tries to give you a dance name you don't care to accept? Simple, go ahead and pick something else instead that you feel fits you better, and just don't use the one they tried to give you.

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Now Make It Your Own

Okay. You've picked out a name. Now that you have it, you want to make it your own. How? That's pretty much up to you. Here are some ideas:

  • Have A Naming Ceremony. If you are so inclined, design a ceremony or ritual for yourself in which your formally adopt the name as your own in honor of the tradition in Western society of having a christening ceremony for a baby.You can either do this in private, or invite close friends and family.
  • Business Cards. Order business cards featuring your new name and any information you wish to provide on how to contact you. Even if you don't perform professionally, you might enjoy the fun of having the cards to give to new dance acquaintances that you meet at workshops, festivals, and other belly dance events.
  • T-Shirt. Go to one of those custom T-shirt shops and have a shirt made with your new dance name. Wear it to belly dance festivals, shows, and other events.
  • Tell People About It. Tell your classmates and dance teacher. Ask them to introduce you under that name when you perform.
  • Use It. If you write a note or send a greeting card to a fellow dancer, sign it with your new dance name. Sign your e-mail messages with it. Introduce yourself under that name when you meet new people.

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ARTWORK CREDIT: All drawings on this page were done by Shira. Copyright 1998 by Julie Anne Elliot. All rights reserved. If you want to use them elsewhere, you must first get permission. To request such permission, contact Shira.

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