All About That Risk... No Trouble!
Bella Ballroom Dance in Orange County recently had its anniversary party for which I was anticipated to perform. This would be the first time any current or prospecting dance students would see me perform since I started teaching at the Newport Beach dance studio in April. It would also be the first dance performance my colleagues would see from me. I made an executive decision, took a performance risk and decided to dance as… *gasp!*… myself! Let me explain.
Any classical or international dancer understands that to be considered excellent there are certain dance standards to adhere to. Cultural contexts and musicality formats must be respected to represent an ethnic dance appropriately and correctly. While there may be some room for expression, a plié will always be a plié. Regardless of the style, if a dancer is going to stay 100% true to a formatted or traditional dance, they will experience some limitations.
When I decided to “perform as myself” for the anniversary party, I chose to just move: freely and without adherence to any genre of dance. I left the stage persona behind and pumped up a hidden faucet of my personality. It was a risk. When people know you as a bellydancer, they expect to see you bellydance and they get excited to see all the bells and whistles that Raqs Sharqui has to offer. There was a good chance my performance’s absence of bellydance would disappoint them. Additionally, I was performing for a crowd of ballroom dancers. A ballroom dancer’s foundational values rely on patterns, technique and formatting. It was a risk to break barriers and do something completely unconventional for this dance-trained crowd. Beyond this, my biggest risk of all was exposing my own personal vulnerability. You are your art and your art is you. As singer Erykah Badu expressed and popularized, “Keep in mind that I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit!”
So I went for it. I All About My Bass’ed it for an unsuspecting audience. I worked the room and moved my body in a way that felt good and true to me. In retrospect I can say that I became a personification of the song’s message to whole-heartedly embody and be proud of who you are.
The result? While a performer never really knows how an audience actually perceives them, I can say that I felt personally gratified for being true to myself and sharing this juicier side of me. I graciously received warm compliments and by the end of the night I was hired by one of the guests to do the same performance at their upcoming wedding in Huntington Beach! Sometimes you just got to “do you” and prosper. I celebrated self-acceptance and the results landed me another dance show in Orange County!
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Dancing at the wedding in Huntington Beach was equally fun and fulfilling. I got to be a surprise for the guests. Unfortunately and ironically, the MC announced me as performing “Middle Eastern Dance.” I cringed backstage wearing a black feather boa and pinstriped fedora hat preparing to dance to American Pop music. There was nothing Middle Eastern about the show and I feared for any unknowing associations that would be made by viewers after the performance. Sometimes when you dance outside the box, people just don’t know where to put you. (Which in turn describes my biggest marketing challenge! How can I promote a multifaceted dance performance and teaching service that’s not categorized? Comment your thoughts below!)