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“Karşılama” – cutting through the confusion

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I see it so often: an American dancer with years of knowledge and experience refers to a performance as “karşılama” or “karsh” online. A native Turkish person or specialist in Turkish dance says “that’s not a karşılama”. The American dancer feels slighted. The Turkish person feels frustrated and unheard. What’s going on here?

“Karşılama” comes from the Turkish root word “karşı” meaning facing – it refers to a folk dance, typically (but not always) done to a rhythm in a 9/8 time signature, where the dancers are face-to-face.

Turkish music theory is different from Western theory, which has led to some odd conventions in how Western belly dancers talk about Turkish music. Most of the “names of rhythms” (i.e. “karşılama” or “çiftetelli”) that we use are actually the names of folk dances where the rhythm in question is typical. This makes it easier for us to talk casually about music and rhythm selections for performances, but it starts to break down when we dig deeper, or when we work with native Turkish musicians.

More significantly – “karşılama” in particular is used by many Western dancers to refer to any Turkish or Greek piece of music in 9/8. This is not correct. There are many classical, folk, and Romani pieces of music from Turkey in 9/8 rhythms that have nothing to do with the karşılama folkdance. In Turkey it has never been typical for Oryantal dancers to perform to karşılama-style music. So how did we get here?

In the 1950s and 1960s, the New York dance scene was full of dancers from Turkey. Özel Türkbaş, Nejla Ateş, Saliha Tecneci and more danced in the New York clubs, making an indelible impression on American belly dance. The musicians working in New York with these dancers, though, were primarily Greek. Greeks have their own tradition of juicy 9/8 (and 9/4) folk music, and also share a number of musical traditions and folk dances with Turks, due to their long, entangled history. The Romani 9/8s common in a Turkish Oryantal set wouldn’t be likely to be familiar to them, but they would absolutely know karşılama, or “karsilamas” as it is known in Greek. There are also Turkish songs of Romani origin (“Mastika”, “Rompi Rompi” etc) that are well known to the Greeks, but Greek musicians tend to play them with a brighter, more karşılama-style sound, and using the karşılama-style 9/8 rhythm. Thus, using a fast karşılama song for a finale became an American belly dance tradition.

More recently, Western dancers have developed a stronger interest in both authentic Turkish Oryantal shows, and in Turkish Romani dance. This has led to confusion as some dancers learn to separate Oryantal from Roman, and both from karşılama, and other dancers well-rooted in the American Cabaret tradition continue to use their own terminology which conflates them. There are some well-known dancers in the U.S. who really know their stuff when it comes to Turkish music, who still refer to a 9/8 piece or even a Romani performance as “karşılama” – why? If you’ve been in the belly dance world for any length of time, you’ve seen online debates over the use of the term “belly dance” itself. It’s neither an accurate translation of “raqs sharqi” or “oryantal dans”, nor an accurate description *of* a dance that is more hip-focused than belly-focused. When those who use the term are asked why, the answer is nearly always “because that’s what the public knows.” If you advertise a “raqs sharqi” class you are unlikely to get much response. If you advertise a “belly dance” class people know (or think they know) what they are getting. Likewise, “karşılama” is so entrenched in Western belly dance vocabulary that it is the shortest, most direct way to express what you are planning to present, even if it is a misnomer.

So what should you take away from all this? Maybe nothing more than a deeper understanding. If you are diving into Turkish style belly dance (“Oryantal”) and/or Turkish Romani dance (“Roman Havası”) you should know the difference between Romani and karşılama-style 9/8 music, and when each is appropriate to use. If you’re a vintage “AmCab” dancer, dancing to a karşılama song for your finale is a well-established Western belly dance tradition. My purpose here isn’t to declare either group right or wrong, but to help both sides communicate with more clarity. Hopefully, with knowledge of context and history, we can do just that.

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False lashes – worth the challenge

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I frequently hear other dancers lament how hard it is to learn to apply a strip of false eyelashes for performances. For me, they aren’t really optional – I have hooded eyes, which leaves me little to no space for dramatic eyeliner, AND low eyebrows, which leaves me not a lot of space for eye-popping eye shadow. If I want my eyes to be big and expressive (a must for performing) false lashes are essential. They do take some practice. Fortunately, they are re-useable, which means you can buy a pair and try putting them on several times in a low-pressure situation, instead of breaking them out for the first time when you have a gig. I started off with Ardell 305 lashes, which only go on the outer half of your eye, before working my way up to a full strip. These days I usually go for Eylure 121 lashes, which aren’t too long (I don’t want them to hit my eyebrows when I open my eyes, which is a thing that happens to me with some lashes) BUT the outer third of the lashes is a double layer, which gives them extra oomph.

 

Application tips:

  • Unless you are using demi lashes like the Ardell 305s, you are supposed to trim them the right length for your eyes. Hold one up to your eye so the outer edge of the band is at your outer eye corner, and make a note of where your eyelashes start to disappear close to the inner corner of your eyes. That’s where you should snip the band of the lashes.
  • Most strip lashes are longest at the outer edge. You can get more of a sideswept, winged-out appearance to the lash by applying it a littler further out on your lashline, or a more flirty, straight-up wide-eyed appearance by moving it in a little. (I like winged-out, but then, see above re: low eyebrows). Once you master getting the lashes on your lashline, getting a feel for how far out you want the placement is the thing that will take the most practice.
  • Many lashes come with glue. I still recommend buying a tube of Duo brand lash glue – the one that dries clear. If you have latex sensitivities buy the Duo latex-free.
  • Some people really like to apply lashes using a pair of tweezers, or one of those funny little plastic lash applicators. I prefer using my fingers. Try all three methods and see what works for you.
  • If you’re applying fresh, never-worn lashes, wrap them around your pinky finger or a makeup brush for a few seconds, and/or roll the lash band back and forth, to take the stiffness out of the band and give it a curve.

OK, here’s where my method is a little weird. Almost any video or article about applying lashes gives the same advice – apply the glue to the lash band, and wait about 30 seconds for it to get really tacky before trying to put it on. The idea is that it will grip better and not move from where you put it. Which is a valid approach, and if it works for you, stick with it. I’ve never heard of anyone doing it the way I do, which is: apply the glue (I’ve used both regular Duo and the latex-free, and they both work with this method) to the left lash and put it down. Apply glue to the right lash band and put it down. Immediately pick up the left lash (about 10 seconds should have elapsed). Tilt your head back so you can half-close your eyes and still see yourself in the mirror, grip the lash at each end with thumb and forefinger, and bring the lash band down on your own eye lashes, close to your lash line. Using your lashes as a guide, slide it up until you feel it hit the skin of your eyelid. Immediately do the same with the right lash. You can see why I don’t wait – if you let the glue get too tacky it will stick to your lashes and not slide up to the roots. Wait a couple of seconds and give the inner edge of the band a poke to make it lie flat (it always wants to pop up).

Some of you are probably wondering if my method makes it more likely that you will pull out your own eyelashes when you remove the false lash. I have not found this to be the case. I grab the lash at the outer corner and peel it off inward. Then if I’m not throwing away the lashes, I pick the excess glue off, give them a spritz from a spray bottle of alcohol, and put them back in the pack for next time. If you get false lashes wet they lose their shape and become unwearable, so go lightly with the alcohol. Eventually your false lashes will get raggedy looking and makeup-y, and you’ll pitch them and open a fresh pair.

A word or two on false lashes and mascara – some people like to apply their lashes and then apply mascara to “marry” the falsies to their real lashes. I have no idea how one gets mascara off false lashes without ruining them, so if you want to re-use your lashes I recommend skipping this. I DO apply mascara before putting on my false lashes, though – usually a tubing mascara that I know won’t sweat off. I don’t care if it makes my lashes look thicker or longer (’cause I’m putting on falsies for that) but – by the time I get to this point my own lashes usually have foundation, powder, and/or eyeshadow on them, and no longer look black. If I want them to blend in with my fake lashes I want to turn them black again – hence a swipe of mascara.

I love false lashes – with a little practice you can pop them on in no time, and they make such a huge difference to a performance look. Like all makeup, they are temporary, so go forth and have fun!

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“Whack-a-Mole” theory

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This weekend at Shimmyathon I got to introduce a bunch of new students to my “Whack-a-Mole” theory of teaching and learning dance. For those of you not familiar with Whack-a-Mole, it’s an old arcade-style game that is probably better viewed than read about:

The idea is, the mechanical moles keep popping up, one or two or more at a time, and you keep whacking them back down. The better you get at the game, the more moles you can handle at once.

I was not a dancer as a teenager, but I was a pretty serious huntseat equestrian. Starting out, there are so many things to remember at once – keep your heels down, keep your knees turned in, grip the horse with your legs, keep your hands low, give with your elbows to keep a constant connection from your hands to the horse’s mouth. You’d concentrate on one or two and the others would go out the window. My instructor’s approach was to call out, reminding me of the ones I’d forgotten, keeping my attention shifting constantly to cover all the points until some of them became automatic.

Confession: I’ve never actually played Whack-a-Mole. But I imagine it feels much the same – your attention keeps shifting from mole to mole because you can’t monitor every hole at once. Over time, you get a broader view. That one mole in the lower right corner becomes automatic – when it pops up, you whack it down immediately before it even registers that you saw it out of the corner of your eye. That makes it easier to focus on the moles on the upper left that you still have to think consciously about.

Dance can be like that. First, all the components of a single move – keep your knees soft, pelvis in neutral. Slide your hip over to the left, then release that knee as you push the hip down. Pay attention to your obliques, your core muscles, whether your weight is forward, back, or center. OK, you’ve learned the maya. Now add a shimmy, graceful arms, and finger cymbals. That’s a lot of moles to whack.

In class, it’s the teacher’s job to stay one mole ahead of the student. OK, you can layer a shimmy on a maya easily? Next mole: add graceful arms. If you pile too many moles on a student at once, you run the risk of them getting frustrated and giving up, or sort of half-learning all of them and never really getting solid technique in their rush to whack 8 moles at once. If you just drill them and drill them with the number of moles they are comfortable with, they get bored and never really advance.

Workshops are different – you are teaching folks at different levels, and often offering a lot of material at once, more than can be immediately absorbed. Or, as I said this past weekend, “Here are a bunch of moles. Whack the ones that are working for you today. Write down the rest of them for later.” A suggested order for mole tackling is always helpful, but the rule of thumb is start with the footwork and build upwards from there.

In my classes and private lessons this makes for a great shorthand – “too many moles!” an overwhelmed student can say, and we dial it back. “Are you ready for another mole?” I ask when they seem to be getting comfortable. And my favorite: “You never run out of moles.” There’s always another nuance, another aspect to tackle. I expect I’ll be 90 and still finding new metaphorical moles to whack with my dancing. The potential is endless.

a mole
No actual moles were hurt in the writing of this blog post. I like critters.
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On the Importance of Habitual Good Posture

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I’ve seen it more than once – the dancer on stage has beautiful, strong, fluid arms, a lifted upper body, graceful neck and open chest. From the diaphragm up she is magnificent. And yet, something is wrong. Her hip movements are imprecise and unsupported. Her abdominal work is weak. Her footwork isn’t clean, and her balance isn’t strong. “What went wrong there?” I wonder.

Later I see her offstage, walking across the room to talk to friends in the audience. Her head and shoulders slump forward, her chest is collapsed, her upper spine curves over. Aha.

To realize your full potential as a dancer, good posture cannot begin and end at the studio door. Many students automatically straighten up in class and when their feet hit the stage, and think this is good enough. But it’s not just a matter of “remembering” to hold your body in alignment while dancing. Habitually allowing your upper body to slump creates muscle imbalances – short, tight muscles in the front, and weak, stretched-out muscles in the back. Those muscle imbalances don’t magically disappear when you straighten up to dance – the pressures they create go elsewhere in the body (the kinetic chain is a fascinating thing). The dancer I describe above overcame her habitual upper body posture for the stage, yes, but she spent her whole performance fighting against that tightness, compensating for that weakness, and her poor hip and footwork were the result.

Many students dance for fun and recreation, and prefer not to carry responsibilities from the studio into their daily lives, and that’s fine. But if you’re feeling frustrated with your dancing, and not sure what is holding you back, some analysis of your daily posture might be in order. It may be something you can work out yourself, or with your dance teacher. Or you might want to book a session with a practitioner of a bodywork discipline such as Feldenkrais or Alexander technique.

One of the best, most classic stretches for anyone with a desk job is the doorway stretch – back when I wrote software for a living, my physical therapist prescribed this stretch for me to do three times a day. It needs to be done often to work, but it’s easy and effective, and can be done anywhere there is a doorway. Enjoy!

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Selecting a cover-up

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Anyone who has studied with me can attest that I am a stickler about cover-ups. My students know that I expect them to wear cover-ups over their costumes when not onstage at an event. I was recently talking to a student about what to look for in a cover-up for her first performance. Over the years I’ve had lots of different cover-ups, and through my experience I’ve got a pretty good list of requirements and considerations for buying one. You don’t need a cover-up that ticks all of the boxes all of the time, but some of these may be points you hadn’t thought about.

  1. Opens in front so you don’t have to pull it off overhead. (**This is the single most important consideration right here. Seriously. Caftans that go on and off overhead are a pain.)
  2. Opens quickly – no messing with a zillion tiny hooks right before you go onstage (zippers or well-sewn snaps are good).
  3. Has enough closures to not fly open and show your costume when you are walking down a hallway (a single snap or tie won’t do this, unless it’s a wrap style). If you’re wearing it outdoors it needs to not whip open with the breeze.
  4. No hook fasteners, velcro, or general fuzzyness that could get caught on your costume. (I have a gorgeous unlined Egyptian caftan that is fine with beaded costumes, but I have to keep away from rhinestones because the soft loose threads inside will catch and make it impossible to get off quickly.)
  5. Light and breathable enough that you won’t sweat to death at an outdoor gig in the summer. (I found this to be more of an issue than being cold backstage – your mileage may vary. Or you may want a warmer cover-up for winter months as well.)
  6. Pretty enough that you could talk to audience members while wearing it (no raggedy bathrobes please).
  7. Long enough hem to hide most of your skirt/pants underneath (mystery is one of the reasons for wearing a cover-up).
  8. Long enough sleeves to hide costume arm pieces (not always a requirement but if I’m wearing gauntlets I feel like showing them gives away too much of the aforementioned mystery).
  9. For shows in theatres: black. This isn’t important at club or street faire events (and you may specifically prefer a colorful one for those), but in a theatre you want to be invisible like a stage hand backstage.
  10. Rolls or folds up small – doesn’t take up too much space or weigh too much in your dance bag.
  11. Washable or dry-cleanable. You’re going to get sweat on this thing, and wear it in close proximity to other people.
  12. Doesn’t wrinkle. I’ve never had a cover-up where this was a problem, but it’s something to keep in mind.
  13. Roomy. Don’t buy a beautiful close-fitting robe only to find it won’t fasten over your ornate bra or full fluffy skirts.

 

Did I miss any points? Let me know in the comments. 🙂

 

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Leaning toward connection

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Mostly the Introverted Performer Project has been about turning your introvert traits to your advantage. Seth Godin’s recent blog post, though, is a reminder of one introvert trait we might want to make an effort to overcome.

It’s not hard to find studies online pointing to actual structural and neurochemical differences in the brains of extroverts vs introverts, suggesting, among other things, that extroverts are most driven by the potential of reward, where introverts are more sensitive to the possibility of punishment. But we can make a choice, to focus on connecting with those who love our work, rather than fearing those who will criticize it. Check out Seth’s post for an exercise that will help you to avoid stifling your own “beauty and greatness.”

Seth’s Blog: The two-review technique

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Lida, Introvert and Performer

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New Introverted Performer Project post from the very insightful Lida!

Lida, photo by Michael Baxter

How does being an introvert affect how you prepare for a performance?
Part of my experience as an introvert is a default mode of observing rather than engaging, and a finite amount of energy available to spend on engaging. On performance day, I like to build up my energy throughout the day so I have enough to share with the audience without having to be carted home. This means opting for low-key activities versus an action-packed day, and including at least one thing that makes me happy and relaxed. At the venue, I’ll watch those who perform before me to absorb the warmth and joy their performances create — I find it simultaneously calming and energizing. Backstage I’ll joke around with fellow dancers to relax, but as I warm up it’s important to spend a few minutes focusing on the essence of my set and the various emotions I’m about to share. It’s a bit like reviewing a “mission statement” and also serves as a reminder that performance isn’t about me — it’s about a collective experience I help create.

How does being an introvert affect your connection with your audience?
Because my energy is contained for much of the time, I feel it is more intense and focused than it would be otherwise. This is incredibly helpful in conveying moods and creating connections. If fully released, my energy could fill an entire hall — and that is the challenge here. When one’s default flow is set to “low”, it takes time and practice to open the gates and let it all rush out. I find restaurant shows less demanding than stage because of how close the audience is — there is less of a gap that my energy needs to jump in order to reach them and I get instant feedback on how I’m making them feel. I also genuinely enjoy joking with them, and empowering them to dance and be free, if only for a few minutes. That kind of positivity can make a big difference in a person’s day and attitude, and knowing this fuels me to the point where I find it quite easy to be the “party girl” for a bit.

How does being an introvert affect the other aspects of your performance career (i.e. marketing, networking, negotiating)?
My day job in marketing has helped me immensely, although it can still be challenging to put myself out there with the same vigor as extroverts. The marketing and networking world has historically rewarded the extroverted qualities of being incredibly assertive, outgoing, and a general “life of the party”. However, because the world has become so saturated with aggressive marketing and networking everywhere we turn, aspects of introversion can now serve us well in this area. For example, introverts are great at creating and maintaining a group of deep connections instead of many shallow ones. In a time when people crave to be a seen as individual humans instead of marketing statistics, this is a useful skill to have. When it comes to networking, I do dabble in extroversion when the situation calls for it, although it takes much more effort than it would for a true extrovert. Negotiating is another area that I think works best when extrovert and introvert qualities are blended. In business, I try to put aside my natural tendencies and research the methods proven to be most successful, though I find that the introverted qualities of saying less and observing situations are always helpful.

What’s your relationship with your introvertedness? (Does it bother you, do you see it as something to overcome, have your learned to leverage it, etc?)
I used to find it frustrating to live as an introvert in a country where extroversion is so highly prized. Even friends and family don’t always understand — I might be perfectly happy people watching at a party and yet because I’m not always conversing, dancing, playing, or expressing myself, they’ll assume I’m not having fun. Over time, I learned to value the many benefits that I gained as a result of introversion, including a sense of calm, deep knowledge of self, and laser-like focus. However, I worked (and am still working) on incorporating extroverted qualities into my life, simply because these qualities can make me a happier person by getting me out of my head, and help me to reach the goals I set for myself. Many elements of extroversion make it easier to meet new people, find and follow up with opportunities, and make others feel good about themselves. I strive for the best of both worlds.

What advantage does being an introvert give you over extroverted performers?
The introspective mindset with which I live each day has helped me in many ways. It’s second nature to dig deeply into the emotional content of music. I can create a well-thought out, detailed, and complete performance to convey this particular meaning to the audience. I can use focused energy to effectively engage the audience. And while it takes time to build, the confidence that comes from turning inward to ponder and understand the layers of self and the world brings a grounded and profound presence to the stage. Introverted dancers have a great opportunity to showcase poignancy and inner power.

What haven’t we asked that you’d really like to tell us?
I’ve been “blessed” with the double whammy of introversion and shyness since childhood. Discerning between the two and overcoming what needed to be overcome has been a lengthy process in which dance had a major role. Dance started as something I did for myself with no intention of performing, and blossomed into a life-changing path. I gained confidence, learned about my strengths and weaknesses, met friends, and pushed myself to do new things. All of this helped me understand how to get rid of my internal barriers so I could strive to be the best version of my true self. I know many others have traveled a similar road and I’m grateful that we can share our experiences.

About Lida:
Lida was born in Iran and raised in the wonderfully diverse Bay Area, where she discovered a vibrant bellydance community and trained with many accomplished instructors. She loves all kinds of Middle Eastern dance, but especially Turkish and classic American bellydance, as well as the dances of Iran. Her other passions include art history and tea.

Visit her online at lidabellydance.com

See Lida in action!

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Exit Music – Knowing when to exit a live show

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Just a short post today, folks, on the biggest gap I see in dance students’ educations when it comes to live music: exit music.

I attend a lot of live music events. I maintain the Facebook page and Google calendar for Mike Gregian’s Open Zills at the Athenian Corner in Lowell, MA, which is, for many dancers, their first experience dancing with a live band. And the most awkward thing I see, over and over, is those who don’t know when it is time to leave the stage. You can see the panic in their eyes – “When do I make my exit? I’m stuck up here and I don’t know what to do…” The band is wondering how to signal them to leave. Dancers in the audience are wringing their hands in sympathy and wondering how to help. Non-dancers in the audience can feel the awkwardness and aren’t sure what the cause is.

What is actually happening: the band has played your final song, wound down so you can take a bow, possibly called for a round of applause for you. As you straighten up from your bow, they begin playing lively music again. This is where many student dancers, confused, begin performing again. The band isn’t going on with the show; they are playing your exit music, so you aren’t walking off the stage in silence. You might want to take a few moments here to circle the stage, gesturing your thanks and appreciation to the audience. I encourage my students to follow this with a “Vanna White” – stand to one side and grandly gesture to the band. Then, get the heck off the stage. I like to grab my discarded veil with a flourish, and play my zills as I disappear from view.

You can see a video of my exiting to exit music here:

Now you know. 😉 Go forth, have a good time, and keep dancing to live music alive!

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Sara, Introvert and Performer

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Please welcome the latest in the Introverted Performer Project from Boston’s own lovely dancer Sara.

Sara, photo by Najmat

How does being an introvert affect how you prepare for a performance?
I prefer to prepare for a performance in my own way, which means in solitude, selecting music that resonates, imagining the entrance/exit, and what the floor space is like. I am easily over-stimulated and prefer less planning vs. over-thinking the situation. There are very few friends I will discuss the show with, music or costuming choice. One thing I will do if it’s for a venue I haven’t been to, is to go to the club or restaurant to see how others manage and run their shows. I like to see where the band is set up, where I am entering from and how the venue’s layout is. I am also interested in the lighting situation and if one even exists. I do this more for the purpose of seeing how make-up needs to be done. Before a show I like to have some quiet time prior to reground myself after being stimulated by meeting so and so and shown this and that,and probably sitting for a bit with friends. Being out and social is an energy depleter for me, (although I do enjoy it in spurts!) I try to minimize how much I do get out and interact with the exception of close friends I go with. I love to observe the audience and band and vibe of the room when possible to know what I am going into.

How does being an introvert affect your connection with your audience?
For me, this became more comfortable over time (years in fact). I originally ventured into Middle Eastern Dance with a troupe, so that is really what helped me not be as afraid. I was surrounded by friends and knew we were looked at as a whole, not individually. I had them around me to protect me from sticking out. I realized in classes that dancing solo brought out a completely different energy in me that I had never seen or felt before. I liked it, although I realized it was out of my comfort zone. I wanted to explore it though, and with encouragement from teachers and friends, I saw quickly how supportive an audience can be for a soloist. It fed me. I loved to see that others were excited to see me outside of the troupe environment, so much so that I didn’t think about being in the spotlight. I wasn’t sure why, but I felt there was something there to pick at and find out what was buried. Gradually over time and gaining comfort in dancing for unfamiliar faces, with unfamiliar bands, I developed the confidence to look at people in the eye, to try and at some point look at many to make them feel what I did when a dancer I loved looked at me and acknowledged me appreciating them. It was a soul connection that words couldn’t explain. By dancing for an audience and at the right time connecting with them, I felt touched by their heart and that I also helped them forget their worries and pain and things to do and to just be in the moment with me.

How does being an introvert affect your choices of things like makeup, costuming, props, venues you choose to perform in, etc.?
It’s interesting because in day to day life, I wear minimal make-up, rather boring clothes, zero jewelry. Pretty plain. I have had other dancers not recognize me in class when they see me without the makeup. I like to not bring attention to myself in my day to day life because its just not a priority. Onstage however, I bring out a woman that inside me that comes out to play only when dancing. I love makeup, I love sparkling and I love the showside of dance. It is only there for shows however, or going to see friends perform. I only dance at venues when asked and if I like how I am treated there. I like to be appreciated. I am always happy to dance for those that take care of their dancer and recognize the art form.

How does being an introvert affect the other aspects of your performance career (i.e. marketing, networking, negotiating)?
Being an introvert absolutely affects this in that I will post rarely about shows, or share videos. I am not of the mindset that believes overposting helps the turnout of the audience. I appreciate who goes to the event but do not ask people to go. I love to see people if they are there! I will not post as I know coming from the advertising world, this has adverse affects. If someone likes my dancing and asks to know when I am dancing, I share it with them. Chronic posting of events is quite a turnoff to me. Once or twice in the bellydance world is plenty. We all know whats going on thanks to social media.

What’s your relationship with your introvertedness? (Does it bother you, do you see it as something to overcome, have your learned to leverage it, etc?)
As I get older I have learned to embrace it and am protective of the needs I have from it. I use to overbook myself. I have learned now that it doesn’t serve me or my show to bounce from one thing to the next. If I stop enjoying it as its makes me feel drained to be out too much, there is not point in it. I don’t want to lose my joy in dancing and training and classes by overdoing it. Less is more in my book, in more ways then one!

What advantage does being an introvert give you over extroverted performers?
This is a little hard to answer, as I am not really sure. I do know that when I see extroverted performers, I do not feel as moved. This may be an energetic thing, but I like to see sides of dancers that are not often exposed. That thrills me to see them come out of their shell. I am able to feel more connected to them and I feel its more authentic as they are sharing their stage persona, which is often quite the opposite of what most see from introverts day to day.

What haven’t we asked that you’d really like to tell us?
I didn’t start dancing to perform for others. I had no desire, plan or care to. It became a process of coming out into the bellydance world and it was nourished by amazing teachers. Its a process that takes time and requires patience. I think that dancers that may be introverts are absolutely capable of conquering the fear and anxiety by practice, time, and skilled performances. These are all achievable with intention. Dance even when you are scared, trembling, shaking! It will take you to emotional levels that nothing else is capable of.

About Sara:
Sara is a Boston-based dancer and has studied with the areas most acclaimed intstructors. Shadia, Najmat and Phaedra are the foundations and motivational teachers that threw Sara into the dance world of this area. Over the last 8 years, she has traveled near and far to study with her favorite dancers. She enjoys learning about the culture and history of Oriental Dance. She feels the healing aspects of dance are life-changing. When not dancing, she can be found in the event planning industry choreographing deadlines.

See Sara in action!

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Hayam, Introvert and Performer

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Introducing our next Introverted Performer Project contributor, the lovely Hayam!

Hayam, photo by Ashley Elizabeth Photography

How does being an introvert affect how you prepare for a performance?
When I begin to prepare for a performance I spend a lot of quiet time alone visualizing and listening to my music. I find that my connection to the music in particular is what helps me come out of my shell while onstage. I will generally have the songs I plan on dancing to on a running loop both on my iPod and in my head. Sometimes I will lie down on the floor and listen to the song, breathing deeply and imagining my movements and emotions in conjunction with the song. Whether it is a romantic song by Warda or a poppy drum solo, I take my time and work my way through the piece to make sure that I will convey the right energy. When I practice I also try to maintain the same energy I will be dancing with onstage… rather than plodding through the motions as we tend to do after repeating an exercise over and over again. As I practice I am especially aware of my facial expressions, making sure that they match the piece. I find that especially for introverts, facial awareness is key. We as a group tend to be prone to resting b****face!

How does being an introvert affect your connection with your audience?
As an introvert, performing in front of an audience is generally the last thing I ever thought I would do. It took me a long time to be comfortable with the concept of dancing for others and even longer to begin to enjoy it. I take joy in how a dancer can move an audience, and am thrilled when I am able to do it myself. I live for creating a twinkle in someone’s eye or the quirk of a smile on their face. I may not be able to do this in every aspect of my life, but I sure can do it on the dance floor! I have also finally stopped experiencing the paralyzing fear of the chance that the audience doesn’t like me. Some people may like me, some people may not, and that is ok. I focus on the positives and dance for those willing to engage with me.

How does being an introvert affect your choices of things like makeup, costuming, props, venues you choose to perform in, etc.?
Despite being an introvert, I have a penchant for the wild and crazy when it comes to my look. I like bright colors, I like sparkles (go figure), and I like spicy costumes. This isn’t too different from my day to day life…I think I just embody all things sparkly as a human in general. Shoot, as I write this my hair is blue. I could be perfectly happy wearing a feather boa and giant glitter platform sneakers in public…but I would hope nobody would come and ask me about it!

How does being an introvert affect the other aspects of your performance career (i.e. marketing, networking, negotiating)?
I have always seen networking, negotiating, and marketing as a necessary evil. I suck it up, put on my best go getter face, and do it. I would be perfectly happy to retire to my own little corner when it comes to these matters and I actively have to remind myself to “schmooze”. I never regret stepping outside of my box though, I have met many friends this way and have heard some incredible dance experiences. The networking experience in itself is a very valuable educational arena that I would encourage other introverted dancers like myself to participate in. I know we tend to get very comfortable giving “likes” and comments on Facebook, and we hide behind emails and texts. It is important that when you are at an event and you see someone you admire or want to know, you go talk to them! It is also important to remember that many of the great dancers of our time are not on social media and your best bet is to meet them and hear what they have to say in person.

What’s your relationship with your introvertedness? (Does it bother you, do you see it as something to overcome, have your learned to leverage it, etc?)
Being an introvert and a professional dancer is a tricky combination. I think I still have a long way to go before I am able to master the balancing act that is being a performer and an introvert. I still get very nervous before performances and yet nothing beats the thrill of coming offstage knowing I made a connection with the audience as well as with my piece. I don’t think that I will ever “overcome” being an introvert… perhaps just continue to mask it when necessary and harness it when I can.

What advantage does being an introvert give you over extroverted performers?
I think that introverts naturally have a lot of natural empathy that extroverts may or may not experience. As an introvert I feel better equipped to tackle the feelings and emotions behind my dance as well as those of the audience. I think introverts spend a lot of time quietly pondering the many layers of the onion, a la Shrek, and are able to bring this into their dancing.

What haven’t we asked that you’d really like to tell us?
One thing that I have found very empowering as an introverted performer is dancing to a live band. I think that introverts tend to be fearful of trying new things in public without having practiced. This inherent perfectionism makes dancing to a live band for the first time a daunting trial by fire. Despite this, I honestly believe nothing can lift an introverted performer up like dancing to live music. Interacting with the live band makes you solely rely on your instincts and your empathy. You must be in touch with your emotions, the band’s emotions, and the audience’s emotions at the same time. You have to open yourself up to others to generate a collaborative performance. A live band performance is a thrilling rush that comes with many rewards, especially for the introverted dancer.

About Hayam:
Hayam is a Worcester based Belly Dancer, formerly of Boston. She is mentored by Basimah of Potsdam, NY and practices Egyptian style belly dance. Hayam is also heavily influenced by Aegela of Ohio and Shalimar of CT. She is a former member both of Basimah’s Habibis directed by Basimah, and of Troupe Little Egypt directed by Shalimar. She now performs regularly as a soloist in the New England area. Hayam has recently taken to studying the application of dance anatomy and kinesiology to belly dance. When Hayam isn’t shedding glitter on stage she can be found pursuing her doctorate in veterinary medicine…because people are gross!

You can find her on the web at: hayamraqs.com

See Hayam in action!

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