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The Basic 3

The Basic 3


3 Must-Haves to Help a General Audience Enjoy Your Show.

It’s hard for dancers to look at the dance with fresh eyes. We carry too much baggage from our dance education, and the tastes and biases of the dance communities.

So I asked my husband Jon to share the general audience’s perspective.

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This was professionally transcribed, but it probably still has some errors. If you catch any, drop me a line at I’d love to hear from you!

Nadira Jamal: You’re listening to More Than Steps. The podcast where we geek out on how belly dance works, one copy run at a time. I’m your hostess, Nadira Jamal.

Hey, this is a special episode of More Than Steps. Usually, I record these while walking to the coffee shop in the morning. But I am not doing that today for two reasons. One, it is really cold outside, and the other reason is that I am not at home. I am in the car today with my husband, Jon.

Jon: Hi there.

Nadira Jamal: We are driving back from a visit with my family in [Bethelu 00:00:34] for Christmas, and we have got eight hours in the car together. So, I asked Jon to share a few tips on how to make your dance more enjoyable for a general audience.

Now it is very important to get input from other dancers and dance metros, but sometimes it’s also important to get input from the kinds of people that we’re dancing for, a general audience. That’s because in general, it’s hard for dancers to look at a performance with fresh eyes. We bring a lot of baggage from our dance education, or from tastes and biases of our own dance communities.

Jon is in a great position to give us some advice about what a general audience enjoys, because he’s gotten over the glitter shock, right? He’s seen enough belly dance to know that this is a traditional art from, and not just a pretty girl in a costume. But he doesn’t come to the dance with all of the baggage that we have.

Jon, what’s one thing that keeps you from enjoying a belly dance show?

Jon: I think the biggest thing is when the dancer doesn’t look like she’s enjoying the show. When the dancer looks like she’s having a great time up there, her enjoyment is contagious, and the audience is gonna pitch up on that. Smiling obviously goes a long way, but if that’s not your thing, anything that indicates your enjoyment. If you just pause and close your eyes and imagine you’re eating your favorite food in the entire world and really savoring it, that’s also gonna come across as enjoyment.

Nadira Jamal: I’m a big fan of smiling, but sometimes the music is also not conducive to that. Let’s say you got a sad song. My take is that when you enjoy that emotion even if that emotion isn’t happy and you let us see that, that really helps us enjoy it too. Is that your experience too Jon?

Jon: I think that’s definitely true. Yes.

Nadira Jamal: Jon, what’s another thing that keeps you from enjoying a belly dance show?

Jon: I think it’s when it’s obvious that the dancer is not engaging with the audience. I think one of the best ways to engage obviously is eye contact. I can imagine that it’s awkward to make eye contact with a bunch of strangers while you’re nervous about dancing and trying to follow the music, it doesn’t necessarily have to be eye contact.

If I can tell from your body language that this is your jam and you’re just gonna dance like nobody’s watching, then that’s great too. But when you look frozen or nervous or anxious or even just concentrating, you’re not at the same emotional space that the audience is.

Nadira Jamal: When I see somebody who’s having that experience, I don’t necessarily feel judgy about them, but I do kinda feel bad for them, and that impedes my enjoyment. Is that true for a general audience member too?

Jon: Yes, I think it’s definitely the same feeling. I’m not sitting there saying, “Oh wow, this person is a bad dancer.” I’m just saying, “Okay, this is music playing and a dancer dancing, but it’s not this unified performance that will make everything a lot better.”

Nadira Jamal: Jon, what’s one more thing that keeps you from enjoying a dance performance?

Jon: I think it’s typically in a restaurant environment, where maybe I’m not sitting in the first row of tables. Where I can’t see what the dancer is doing with her legs or hips, or in fact her lower torso. If I’m not sitting in the front row, all I can see is shoulders, head, and maybe some upper torso.

Having been to many performances, I know that during a drum solo for example, the dancer is doing some very challenging movements with her hips, but I can’t see that.

Nadira Jamal: Alright. As dancers, we have no control over the sight lines in our venues. So, whether you’re dancing at a restaurant, or let’s say you’re at a [haflo 00:04:30] where there are chairs on the dance floor. Very often, only the folks in the front couple of rows can actually see all the things that you are doing as Jon pointed out. There are a few things that you can do to make sure that what is visible is still interesting. One great choice is arm movements, or shoulder and chest movements, those can go a long way.

When I’m sitting in the audience, and I don’t have good sight lines, I also really enjoy seeing a lot of body angle changes, or level changes, or spinning turning. That can often add a lot of interest. But even just using your expression and little tosses of the head, can also help the audience see a lot of the smaller accents that you might be doing in your hips, so at least they know that there’s something happening at that moment in the music.

Jon: I think that’s true. I think even if I can’t see your hips, if you’re keeping me engaged in the performance through other movements, then that will help tie the whole show together.

Nadira Jamal: Awesome. Well thank you so much Jon.

Jon: Thanks, you’re welcome.

Nadira Jamal: Alright. Just to summarize what we’ve talked about. The three big things that can keep an audience from enjoying your performance are you not showing them that you’re having a good time, not engaging with them, or not paying attention to what they can see because of the sight lines the room.

We also have our first listener voicemail from La Jeanne in Arizona.

“Hello, Nadira. This is La Jeanne from Phoenix, Arizona and now the mountains in Arizona and I began dancing many years ago and I used the sword, I was very intense and very much into the drama of dealing with the sword and I was tired of watching everybody do the same thing over and over. And so I began developing different techniques. And one of them that I had was I would take the sword balance on my head and drop it and catch it on my hip.

I was younger and thinner then. And one time in a performance, I accidentally cut myself with my sword, but I didn’t notice. And I noticed that this huge crowd was just locked on to me and I’m thinking, “Wow, I must be doing really well,” until I looked down and realized after I brought my sword back up to the top of my head, they were all watching me bleed, not gushing, but it hurt. And it was very funny, but I did get a standing ovation.

So, anyway, that was my experience and I love your work. Bye.”

Thanks, La Jeanne, that was a great story!


Your Turn

Which of these gives you the most trouble?

What keeps you from enjoying a performance?

Got a question or topic that you’d like me to talk about on the show?

I would love to hear from you.

Leave a comment below, or better yet, leave me a short voice message. Maybe I’ll even play it on the air!


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If you’re excited to work on these tips, but have trouble making time to practice, check out my online course, How to Build a Sustainable Practice Habit. A new DIY version is now available!

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