When it comes to dancing, and taking it to the stage, or in the case of some forms of bellydance, taking it to the drum circle or the restaurant floor, the devil really is in the details. The glitz of the costume, the stage perfect makeup and hair, and the glittering and jingling jewelry mean nothing at all if the dancer cannot hold the attention of her audience. It may not seem like anyone is really looking at the dancer’s face, or hands as she shimmies and shakes, and glides across the stage. We are all looking at the hips and the moves that catch the eye right? For the most part, yes. It is true that the execution of the moves is noticed consciously by the audience, even the untrained watcher can see if a move is well performed or not, but what about the finer points. These are the things that set a good dancer apart from a great dancer.
Smile, They Will Notice
Concentration face. The “Oops, I hope no one noticed” face. And, the plastered on cheerleader like smile. We notice. The audience sees it. Whether you are a dancer, or a bodybuilder in competition, or a gymnast, there is something about the face that really sells it. In the beginning it may seem impossible to think about what your face is doing while trying to figure out if your feet and hips, and arms, and shoulders, and legs, and every other bit of your body are going the right way at the right time. That is why you should start thinking about it from the start. One of the first things I teach in my classes is to look into the mirror with confidence. A goofy smile is not required, but making eye contact is. This does not mean you should give your audience the stare of doom and never look away, but dance is a conversation, and we all know we should look at people when we are communicating.
That flawless smile can come off as soulless and false as well. Thing about what the music means to you. How do you feel as you are moving your body? Allow those emotions to flow through not only the curve of your lips, but from your eyes as well. We have all heard the expression, smile with your eyes. The audience will be drawn, naturally, to the dancer who engages them and, at least emotionally, invited them to participate in the dance with her. A stone face, no matter how perfect, is not inviting.
Give Them a Hand
In certain styles of bellydance the posture of the hand is just as important, if not more so, as the posture of the rest of the body. In the folk dances of India for example, each of the hand gestures or mudras have a meaning. This is the same for Hawaiian dancing as well. While you may not be interested in learning all of the finger language of bellydance in all its incarnations, there are some basic things to avoid.
Flat, stiff fingers can be lovely in small doses or if creating a shape with the hand, but most of the time fingers and hands can be more relaxed. Making a solid fist the entire time you are dancing is not recommended either. In some cultures a closed fist can be considered threatening or simply more masculine. So, what is a good standard hand posture. This is my favorite thing to teach, and I can promise you will laugh, but you will remember. How many reading this have gone bowling? Typically, the middle two fingers are inserted into a pair of holes placed very close together. The thumb is extended away and inserted in a hole about the hand’s length from the other two. The remaining fingers (pinky and pointer, for those who might be a bit confused) are then left to rest on the curve of the ball. The next time you step into bellydancer mode, think of going bowling. Even if your hands tense or relax, they will still look relatively nice from the perspective of the audience.