Exploring your dance persona- have you met yours yet?

I had a few thoughts occur to me this week after participating in a wonderful class party hosted by Siddiqah of Fat Cat Bellydance here in Ottawa. My Bellywood with Halyma ladies came out to test drive our latest routine and one thing I had asked them to start considering at last week’s class was to create a character and start to play with that character for the routine.

The nature of this routine has a silly little story, which the audience is unlikely to notice, but it gives us as performers a direction to come from when approaching the moves.

So, upon seeing the execution of the routine at Friday evening’s party, I realized, as a teacher, I can help enlighten my students more by actually spending a few moments focusing on the dance persona and the difference between the everyday person and the “superstar” or “Diva” who graces the stage.

So first, let me introduce Tracey:

Tracey/Halyma peeling fish...
Tracey peeling fish…

Tracey sews, bakes, has a fabulous husband, is sometimes seen as grumpy or scary { both usually pre-coffee/ in need of food, or peace and quiet}, enjoys camping, canoeing, cider,terrorizing their  dog, Sprocket, and generally being a creative problem solver with introvert tendencies. She loves food, walking, and wearing comfy sweats and simple clothes that allow her to move and work with her sewing. She can sit and bead for hours, even longer when coffee and a muffin are supplied! And she enjoys quietly working alone.


And then there’s Halyma:

Halyma Darwings-Cartoon

Slightly over the top, smiles as much as she can, plays with the audience, always wants a new costume and new music for every show, and tries to make sure everyone gets a chance to see her.  She loves to invade your personal space until you smile too and likes to try to look pretty – even if Tracey has been over indulging in the carbs!  She’s happy getting out and  talking to people and introducing more and more people into her fave dance forms!

And yes, obviously, they are both me.  But I was Tracey a long time before I met Halyma and started to get to know her.

When I first began dancing publicly, which I did not think I would do when I first started taking lessons, I looked at the floor, I did not smile and am grateful the early videotapes of my performances have all disappeared.  But I did watch myself after every show and realized where I needed to change things up a bit. I am not talking about self criticizing where all the time is spent putting oneself down. I am referring to watching for ways to improve, enjoying the moments of, “Oh yeah, I felt great at that spot”, through to, “Oh, that’s what I look like when I am thinking too much…”.

And now, I teach, so I should also teach about ways to self-improve to my peeps! Sorry it took me so long, ladies!  But now there’s no excuse, I’ve brought it up in class and have a blog post about it!

I asked my students to think about:

What do you enjoy when you watch another person dance?

What aspects of how they choose to present themselves can you relate to and start to emulate?

When you watch yourself on video, how can you improve?

What are the positives that can be built upon and exaggerated into your own magical Dancer?

And if you already have a dance name { not everyone does, not everyone needs/wants one, but it really helped me}, let her come out to play!

I realized I should express a bit more about this, and so…

Why do you dance?

Why do you perform?

And some suggestions that may or may not help 🙂

Even if you are trying to be sultry, coy, or anything seductive in your facial expressions, make sure your eyes are smiling.

If you are nervous about performing a choreography and how you might forget the moves, ( I relate, and forget quite often) keep it professional on stage – you screw up, it happens, KEEP SMILING and catch up. And practice- seriously practice.

If you are not sure, practice in front of a mirror.  I remember having a discussion with an actor once as she commented she hated seeing herself in the mirror as it distracted her from actually bringing out the emotions from within, and I totally saw the point of that. Dance is like acting a bit, but it’s also like modelling, and it’s about creating beauty.  Sometimes you need a bit of feedback to know if you’ve got the look you want. Practice with a mirror , then close your eyes and feel what your face and body are doing. Or use a camera and record yourself and again feel what you want to express.

There are so many more intense directions one can take as a dancer to help explore your dance persona – acting classes, other dance forms, using make-up and costumes to help develop your style.

I welcome more suggestions if you have found ways to help get out of your everyday person and becoming the goddess of dance within – please share them – we can all benefit!

9 thoughts on “Exploring your dance persona- have you met yours yet?

  1. Great piece. More teachers need to bring this up with their students. Enabling dancers to realize their artist persona, who in their heads they imagine they’d like to present confidently, is probably more important than that dreaded choreography they’re sweating over getting just right. As an audience member, I don’t remember watching a choreography, I remember how a dancer embraced the joy of dancing. Witnessing that beauty is amazing. I commend your intentions to enable students to find their own way to that state of grace

  2. Well said, and good questions to ask oneself. The Siddiqah persona wants and works hard to create and share a serene, confident, simple and joyful expression of movement to melodic music; but often wobbles, struggles, and feels constrained by physical limitations, inhibitions, self-doubt and structured choreography – even her own! Strangely enough though, she comes alive, flaunting those aging, inconvenient curves and shining shamelessly in venues like outdoor community fundraising events, free dancing in a group. There, she can show the world that life and beauty doesn’t end after age 50, and delights in seducing others to join in the fun…bit of an odd gal, and definitely a work in progress!

  3. I’ve actually thought quite a bit about this. My dance name is Asiya. It means healer or reliever of sorrow. Since I’m a nurse, that struck a chord with me. It also has a soft pleasing sound. When I dance I want to be soft, elegant and pleasing and make people happy. When I was going to do my first solo last year it seemed very important to me to have a dance name. Somehow it made me more free to take some risks.
    I also find I need to have a story in my head about what the music evokes in me: a character, a story, an emotion… Not just music and choreographed steps.
    I have noticed that I dance better in class when I wear harem pants or a skirt vs yoga pants. I feel it helps me be in a “dancer” head space as opposed to feeling like I’m in an exercise class.
    And of course Asiya loves all the luxurious flowing fabrics, bling and exotic make-up that Yvonne can never indulge in on a daily basis!
    Thanks for this post!

  4. Hi Ladies: Tracey it’s me Donna—congrats on new speciality
    A warm hello from cold North Bay.
    Saw this post & had to send my thought too!
    I have tried over many years to direct my students to this personal projection with their dance. I so want them to see & feel the dancer they have inside and be fantastical enough to feed it to the audience.
    My teaching joy is a student who “comes into thier own” in the dance…gets me every time

    1. Thanks Donna- nice to hear from you! Hope you are doing well. And yes, it’s always magical when you can see that spark ignite in a student !

  5. Jumping in a little late… but better than never. This is one of my favourite subjects among dance instructors.
    I agree with everything others have said and it is obvious that they are doing a great job.

    I try to teach my students that the music and a character will help evoke the emotions and story the choreography is trying to convey. It helps them to ‘get out of their heads’ a bit and get into their bodies. To feel the music deeply, in their heart and soul and let that flow out through the body and translate into dance.

    I like having a dance name and persona because it is not Gailene who goes out on stage to dance in public, it is Zamira. The added benefit being to squelch my paralyzing stage fright. I can’t remember a choreography to save my life but I’m getting better through my partnership with Heather. I still mess up occasionally but I hear that it often not noticeable… I’m sure people are often just being kind 🙂 And that’s OK because dance is supposed to be a stress-free, relaxing and fun activity.

    I’m a natural born story teller… ask anyone who’s spent 10 minutes with me 😉 So telling a story through dance is my focus. My students are always told what the story is before learning the choreography. They are given direction on who their character is, the emotions they are trying to project and only then they learn the technique that will best suit the story and express the emotions we want the audience to feel.

    One last thing… I like to include at least one move that engages the audience so that a connection is made. Something that makes them feel the dancers are reaching out to them and beckoning them to enter the world being created for just a short time.

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