Thursday, May 31, 2018

Lunaria's Oh My Goldness! Cabaret

Back in April, the belly dance cabaret fusion company I dance with, Lunaria Dance Theatre, produced and performed our second annual full-length production. Lead by our director, Mellilah Jamal, this time the theme was, Oh My Goldness! Our show ecompassed cowgirls to Marily Monroe to Bob Fosse to disco, and quite a few other genres and themes in between. Here are some pictorial highlights. Photos by Chris Yetter and David Horowitz. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Get the Belly Dance Police Out of Your Head

We've all been there: worried about what others might think or say about us. Desiring praise, hoping to avoid criticism. It's a natural human emotion to want to be liked and accepted, especially when we put ourselves into a vulnerable position. And there's really nothing like getting up on stage to perform in front of a crowd of people that will do that quite as fast.

When you're performing, your presenting yourself and your art and opening the door for the audience to provide their feedback; good or bad. And of course, we want our audience to enjoy the performance we are presenting to them.

However, too much attachment to the avoidance of criticism and the desire for praise can really be a huge stumbling block. Approaching performance with this mentality will leave you stuck in your head. It will make you wonder if you're doing it "right". If the audience is enjoying themselves. If your technique is strong enough. If your makeup is perfect enough. If your costume is glam enough.

It's what I like to call the belly dance police syndrome. Instead of dancing your truth, you're putting your focus and energy into dancing what you think others think you should be doing/looking/moving like. Trying to do it "right", instead of doing it true to yourself.

Performing in this mode results in an endless array of self-questioning and self-doubt that will only hamper your ability to open up, be vulnerable, and present your true self on stage. In short, the belly dance police, real or imagined, will shut you down fast.

So I'm here to tell you this: get the belly dance police our of your head. Get your instructors out of your head. Your peers. The latest snarky post you read on the Interwebs. And mostly importantly, get yourself out of your head.

Perform from your heart.

So now, I hear you saying, okay, yes, great advice, I agree with you, but how do I actually do that?

I won't claim to be an expert on self-confidence, being open, and not concerning myself with what others think. These are certainly skills I have yet to master and I'm sure will be a life-long work in progress. But these are all things I continually work on finding a balance with. And it's not to say that you will ever get completely to a place of not caring. If you did, you'd likely end up on the opposite side of the spectrum as a sociopath, and that's certainly not the desired outcome either. But it's about not letting fear hold you back. So here's some tools and tips to try out.

Fail. Yes, you read that right fail. Enter a competition and don't win. Forget your choreography on stage. Clumsily drop the prop you are working with. Have your jewelry fly off and across the room. Get your veil stuck on an overhead ceiling fan. Have your shoe get stuck to a paillette on your costume so that you are suddenly an involuntary flamingo. (By the way, these are all things that have happened to me.) Because here's the thing; failing shows you that something bad happened, and guess what? You didn't die. Your dance career isn't over. The world didn't come crashing down. Failing is a part of life and it gives us valuable advice on what didn't work, so we can move forward with fixing it next time. It makes us realize that hey, we are still okay. Something fearful happened and I am still going to dance another day.

Repeat. Performing, opening up, connecting with the audience. These are all skills that require time, practice, and patience. So get out and do it. A lot. Say yes, and then say yes some more to performance opportunities. Rome wasn't build overnight and neither are you. As they say repetition is the key to success.

Unhook. To really be yourself, to be vulnerable, to be successful as an artist, you need to unhook from both praise and criticism. Your value as a performer is not tied up in what a particular audience may or may not think of you. So I'd like to propose a novel concept. This concept actually comes from Tara Mohr's book Playing Big. And here is the idea: "When you receive feedback - negative or positive - remember that the feedback doesn't tell you about you, it tells you about the people giving the feedback." Wait, what? Why did no one tell me this years ago? After I initially read that, I had to sit with that thought for awhile, because I think it's a very powerful approach to interactions with other people. It's an approach that doesn't allow other people to control our emotions and states of being. It doesn't mean that other people's feedback isn't valuable or that we shouldn't consider it. But it means it's a point of view, food for thought that we can consider and then choose to work with or leave behind. But that ultimately, it's not personal, it's just one person's outlook.

Update. Often when we find that we are being driven to seek a certain kind of praise or feel especially stung by a certain kind of criticism, it's usually being driven by a doubt or mirroring a belief that we hold internally. But rather than continuing to seek external validation, the work needs to be done to address that inner doubt or fear, and update it to an empowering belief. You have to shine light on the dark places, work through it, and release it, so you can move on.

So there you have it. A few ideas and practices to try incorporating both in your dance, and in daily life for that matter, to reclaim your personal power, perform from a place of authenticity and vulnerability, and shine your inner star. Because nobody other than you can dance your dance.