Is there anything better than dancing with a live band? It’s something every dancer should try, even if you are terrified in the beginning. It’s a whole other connection, a whole other skill set to have. It’s not about your technique so much as it is about your ability to improvise and just listen.
Luckily, there are ways you can prepare yourself for dancing with a live band even if you’ve never done it before!
1. Listen to as much live music as possible
Check out YouTube for so many modern versions of the classics and see how their orchestra interprets it. See how other dancers interpret the songs. Listen to the original song in its entirety so you can learn the FULL song. Most of Oum Kalsoum’s songs are at least 40 minutes long so when you tell a band to play ‘Daret el Ayam’, they’ll ask you ‘which part?’ (if they don’t automatically assume to play the version most dancers use anyway. But you want to be different than every other dancer so you should surprise them ;) ). Even if you don’t get a chance to communicate with them beforehand, knowing the full version will help you recognize it so you can be prepared.
2. Know your rhythms and classics
I’ve said it before in my blog post about improvisation and I’ll say it again – you need to know your music. If you ever do get a chance to dance with a live band and you get to pick the song, they’ll need to know it by name. Again, listen to the original. If you have a drummer, you need to be aware of what type of rhythms they might play. Dancing a live drum solo is a whole different blog post altogether but it still stands: you need to know your stuff. The more music you listen to, the more you'll notice a pattern of rhythms that follow one another that fit seamlessly. If you do get a chance to speak with the drummer beforehand, ask them how they usually start off and finish just to get a heads up. They may ask you if there are any rhythms you want them to play (Saidi, Saudi, etc.) Every drummer is different and most are nice enough to let you in on their style. They’re not trying to make you look bad!
3. Focus on the melody
You don’t have to hit every dum and tek – that can look too frantic and robotic. Instead, try and see how you can follow other instruments that aren’t percussive. For example, if there’s a violin taqsim, see how you can interpret it using slow & gooey movements. Embrace the stillness and throw in a few (appropriate) gestures (don't go full pantomime though). Are there lyrics? Even if there is no singer present when normally there would be, see how you can dance to the lyrics. Show the audience you know what you're talking about (but again, don't go all pantomime on them). When you stop trying to focus on hitting every beat, you get to relax and actually enjoy dancing. It’s not about how fast you can shimmy or how quickly you can travel, it’s about how you made the audience feel & connect with the band. You’re all sharing the stage together so act like a team.
4. Less is more
When in doubt, leave it out. If you look frantic on stage, the audience will feel it. Most bands are trying to make both of you look good so they won’t try to trick you or anything. Even if they are playing way too fast, don’t feel pressured to try to catch up. The dancer controls the band, not the other way around. If they feel you are frantically bouncing around, they will try and match your speed and it will just be a big shemozzle all around. Avoid faking emotions just because it's a sad song. You know what I'm talking about. Stay real. Take a deep breath and go back to the basics. Keep it simple, silly.
And no matter what, always acknowledge the musicians at the end! After you take your quick bow, turn around and give them one, too. You’d be surprised at how many dancers forget to do this!
What tips do you have for bellydancers getting ready to dance to live music for the first time? Post in the comment section below!