Always remove one thing before you leave the house. Less is more.” Coco Chanel
These famous words can be applied to more than just fashion and I’m a strong believer in applying them to belly dance. How often do you watch a show where everything but the kitchen sink was featured and you saw little to no actual dancing? You’ve got wings, veils, canes, swords, candles, fan veils, trays, candelabras, and the list goes on and on. On several occasions, I’ve seen groups bring out everything in 5 minutes or less. And it’s not just the overuse of props that can overpower a performance, but the overuse of gimmicks, movements and sometimes even how many formations you have on stage (we’ve all seen plenty of group performances where there were so many formations, we didn’t know what to focus on). And let me tell you, I can’t remember a thing about their performance or even what they did with the props, only how I left feeling overwhelmed, anxious and confused.
As a strong advocate for ‘less is more’, I’m here to tell you why you should consider adopting this philosophy in your next performance:
You will give the audience a chance to take it all in
If you need a breather mid-performance, your audience probably does, too. Don’t be afraid to sometimes just not do anything. Stand there like the proud, confident person you are and awe your audience! Virginia once said in a workshop many years ago, “sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is nothing at all.”
You will showcase your personality & style
When we first start, we learn our technique by doing it exactly as our teachers do. Then something happens after your 10000th class and you start to add in you. The technique stays the same but you’ve made it your own. Don’t be afraid to copy your favorite dancers because after a while, you will see yourself in their movements. Even Saida once mentioned that she tried to dance exactly like Amir Thaleb and even Jillina and eventually she formed her own style. Next time you take a workshop, take a look around and see how differently everyone can interpret the same choreography and how it resembles each individual dancer.
You will let the music be heard
You don’t have to physically interpret every lyric or instrument. A dancer’s job is to complement the music, not overpower it. Don’t beat it to death with movements that don’t fit or overpower the music.
So how can you start incorporating less is more into your belly dance?
1. Remove one thing
Videotape yourself next time you practice and are choreographing. See what you can take out. You don’t need to do a travelling choo-choo shimmy with a chest circle and head slides while playing zills. Aziza wisely advocates that “you are enough. What you know and what you have is enough to keep the audience entertained.” Push yourself to produce great performances by showing your creativity, musical interpretation and physical ability but don’t compromise the quiet, silent parts. The white space of a canvas is just as important.
2. Check your belly dance closet
In her workshops and talks, Yasmina Ramzy makes a strong point for how she chooses to dress her Arabesque company members with little to no sequins and how that made a huge impact on how her audience members perceived and respected their performances. She says that when you remove the sequins, the audience focuses on the choreography, formation and connection with the music. They’re not distracted by your $1000 Swarovski encrusted costume. This isn’t to say that you should ditch the bling altogether but think about how you could modify your belly dance wardrobe. Even an ill-fitting costume can distract from your performance.
3. Head back to the basics
Remember how you received tons of compliments from your friends & family after your very first belly dance performance? Today, you probably cringe and wonder how you ever performed in front of people when you knew only the basics. We all have those moments. That’s not to say beginner belly dancers shouldn’t put themselves out there because that defeats the purpose of experiencing the dance outside the classroom. But the point is your friends and family truly thought you were great because you were enjoying yourself even though you only knew the basics. You're going to see that even the most basic of movements won't look so basic now that you've got more years of practice under your belt becauase you've made them your own. There’s a time and a place for complicated drills and patterns but it’s not all the time. Basic movements always have a place and time in belly dance no matter how long you’ve been dancing.
4. Think about how you want your audience to feel
Human beings strive on story telling. Search the Internet for what makes a good writer, marketer, performer, boss, etc. and you find it all comes down to how good of storyteller you are. What’s your story? How does your music fit in with your story? How can you tell the audience yours? Don’t choose music you can’t connect to. You don’t need to have experienced great suffering in order to bring out a tear-jerking performance but you need to at least be able to imagine the feeling you want to express. To quote the great Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
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