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Sensuality is Not a Dirty Word!

Sensuality is Not a Dirty Word!

 
Have you ever watched a dancer who was completely captivating?

I’m sure you’ve had this experience: time slows down, every movement is exquisite, and you can practically feel the dance in your own body. And yet you can’t put your finger on what, exactly makes her so mesmerizing.
 
Chances are, it was her sensuality.
 

Don’t Shy Away from Sensuality

 
Sensuality is one of the most under-used performance skills, but also one of the most powerful.

For one thing, focusing on your senses relaxes you and helps you stay in the moment. You move with more intention and grace, and are much less likely to rush from move to move. It’s a great antidote for scribbling!

More importantly, sensuality is a gift to the audience. Dancing feels great. And part of what makes belly dance so special is that we get to show the audience how wonderful it feels to fully be in your body. It’s beautiful to watch, but more importantly, your example invites them to experience their own embodiment.

When you shy away from sensuality, you’re withholding that gift.
 

Why Do Dancers Avoid Sensuality?

 
Dancers shy away from sensuality for many reasons:

  • We’re so worried about being seen as “bad girls” that we overcompensate
  • We may not feel like we’re “allowed” to experience our bodies and senses
  • We’re so focused on what we’re doing that we miss out on the experience of dancing

 

But I Don’t Want to Be a “Sexy Dancer”!

 
This is the biggest misunderstandings about sensuality: sensuality is not the same thing as sexuality.* Sensuality is just an awareness of your senses. There is nothing “naughty” or sexual about that.

After all, babies are the most sensual people: they are much more aware of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell than adults.

 

So How Do I Bring Sensuality to My Dancing?

 
To bring sensuality into your dance, you just need to focus on your senses. But that’s easier said that done, so let’s try an exercise:

1) Set the mood

Put on some music that moves you. I recommend a chiftetelli or other soft, slinky music. If possible, turn off or dim the lights.

2) Try some simple moves

Don’t worry about “performing” or even “dancing”, just play with movement.

3) Focus on your senses, one at a time

Sight: Without looking in the mirror, picture the pathways your body is tracing as you dance. Then picture what your body looks like as you dance. (Again, do this without the mirror- no cheating!)
 
Touch: What does the movement feel like in your body? What temperatures are you aware of? Include your body, the floor, the air, your clothing, and any props you’re holding.
 
Smell: What does your skin smell like? Your perfume? Your dance space? (Tip: try this again with incense burning)
 
Taste: If the music were a food, what food would that be? Sticky caramel? Fragrant curry? Spicy peppers? (I know that sounds wierd, but humor me – it works!)
 
Sound: What sounds are you making as you dance? Include your breath, your feet, your hip scarf, and anything else you can think of. What does the music sound like? Focus on just one “voice” in the orchestra at a time. Don’t worry about dancing “right”, just drink in the sound.

4) Reflect

Take a few minutes to jot down some notes about what you experienced. Which senses were easy to focus on, and which were difficult? What felt good, and what felt “off”?

5) Continue to observe

For the next 24 hours, observe how you use your senses in everyday life. Are you paying more attention to some than to others? Try to focus on each one of your senses at least once during the day: smell your cat’s fur, listen to the hum of your car’s engine, etc.

The more you become aware of sensuality in your “regular life”, the more automatically it will appear in your dancing.

 

Watch Out for the Sultry Face

 
One caveat: when you take this into a performance context, don’t try to “communicate” your sensuality. This leads to the infamous “sultry face”, which looks silly and gives people the wrong impression.

Your sensuality will communicate itself. Just let the tension out of your face and breath, and focus on your senses. Your body will do the rest.

 

Summary

 
Sensuality is an incredibly powerful tool for creating beauty in your performance, and a wonderful gift to share with your audience. Many dancers confuse sensuality with sexuality, and so it’s often under-used. But you can bring it into your dancing by paying attention to each sense as you move. But don’t try to actively communicate it to the audience, or you run the risk of doing the “sultry face”. Just relax and focus on the experience.

 

What You Can Do Right Now

 
Put together a playlist to use while you practice working with your senses. If you have time to practice now, try the exercise listed above. If not, schedule a time to do it.
 

What Do You Think?

 

  • Are you using sensuality in your dancing already?
  • If so, do you have any tips to share?
  • If not, what’s getting in your way?

 
Leave a note in the comments.
 
 
* Not that there’s anything wrong with sexuality either. It’s a unique part of who we are. It’s being seductive on stage that paints belly dance in a bad light. But that’s a whole other conversation.

  1. Great article Nadira!

  2. Thanks for this article on sensuality and how it applies to dance and how to practice it. I think it is a often neglected topic when it comes to dance.

    Della

  3. Great writing! Sensuality seems to be missing from belly dancing these days, so I’m glad that you wrote this article. It’s also an essential element to dancing a captivating taqsim; I feel like I am at my best when I get to slow down and feel the muscles in my body moving, etc. The other great thing about slowing down and taking your time is that you learn to better feel the movements, and you can make your isolations cleaner and better 🙂

  4. Thank you for your article. I always enjoy your analytical approach, since my mind works along the same line. It was good to see the sensual vs. sexual addressed. It seems, there are quite a few people, who aren’t aware that there is a difference.

  5. Thank you so much for the reminder NOT to do the “sultry face”. This applies in all aspects of life too. Great advice.

  6. Many of my students are worried about being “authentic”. Your reference to babies being the most sensual creatures is a great answer to that – who is more authentic than a baby! Thanks for putting it so well!

  7. I have never had another teacher discuss sensuality as experiencing your senses. That really helps, thanks!

  8. I just caught this article on a “from the archives” replay, and I think it’s a great contribution. So many of us, I think, have struggled with sensuality/sexuality in the dance when we should be free to authentically celebrate it. Yours is a well thought-out take on the subject. Thank you!

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