From the first skating holiday showcase I participated in when I was 5, to just this holiday season, I’ve literally been performing my entire life. I admit that I take it for granted that I know many of the implicit and essential elements of being a performer.
Of course, not everyone has had this experience. And now that I’m running rehearsals for the Berkeley Salimpour Collective, I’m learning what our adult dancers need to know before they take the stage for the first time. Some knowledge has been obvious, and yet other things not so much… and they catch me by surprise.
So, I created this guide for first time performers, specifically those who are dancing with a company or troupe at festivals, student salons, and community stage shows. Taking the stage for the first time as an adult can be scary, challenging, and exciting. I hope that this helps you take the stage with ease, poise, and confidence.
Before the Show
Attend all the rehearsals. If you cannot make a rehearsal, tell your director at least a week ahead of time. Of course, emergencies happen, but advance notice is not only appreciated, it shows that you respect the time of your director, fellow dancers, and the act of performance itself. Be on time for these rehearsals.
Attend all the classes. Rehearsals are not a substitute for technique classes. Your development as a dancer happens in class, so take all the classes.
Have your costume in order at least two weeks ahead of time. This means that you have all the parts, pieces, and elements ready to go. This also means having appropriate and matching undergarments.
Get yourself a nice gig bag. Most of us seasoned performers prefer a carry-on size rolling suitcase. They’re the perfect size for your costumes, make-up, and any additional items you might need, like snacks, water, and other essentials.
Make sure you know how to do your make-up, hair, and nails. Your director should have a guide for you with looks, brands, colors, and how much (answer: more). Try a practice run at home, take some selfies, and send them to your director. If you are a first time performer, stage make-up and hair might be a bit daunting. You’ll get better with practice, which is why we have student salons and performances.
If the show is public, ask your friends and family to come. Performances feel way better when you have people who love and support you in the audience.
The Day of The Show
Arrive at the venue earlier than your director tells you. This is your “call time.” It’s always best to allow way more time to get ready and arrive at the performance venue than you expect.
If you have a difficulty before the performance, contact your director or their designated helper. And try to fix it yourself first before asking for help. If it is a real emergency that will affect the performance or your safety, definitely contact your director. But sometimes, it’s best to not bother them. I’ve scrambled to retrieve last-minute forgotten items or costume bits without my directors ever knowing. As they say, the show must go on.
Pay close attention to the instructions of your director. This is particularly important if you have the opportunity to do a run through on the stage itself, a tech rehearsal, or a full dress rehearsal. I’ve found that the direction and instructions given the day of the show are often forgotten in the rush of adrenaline and excitement. So make an extra concerted effort to listen, process, and remember these last minute changes… because there will be last minute changes.
During the Show: Backstage
Either sit in the audience or be invisible and quiet backstage. Some events don’t have a backstage, such as student salons. Some do, and have big curtained wings. If you are in the audience, be a respectful and pleasant viewer. If you are backstage, make yourself invisible. If you can see the audience, they can see you.
Take up as little space as possible backstage. Often student galas have a lot of performers, and space is limited. Be considerate of others and try to keep your things together, organized, and in a small space.
During the Show: In the Audience
Wear your cover up if you are watching the other performers. Every other belly dance blog says this, but it does bear repeating. If you don’t have one, ask your director where to get one. (Confession time: It’s the item I’m most likely to forget when packing for a show!)
Say only pleasant and positive things about the other performers. No one wants to hear you snark. It’s not a good look. If you have partners or friends who might snark, remind them to keep all comments pleasant and positive.
Put away your mobile phone and be present in the moment. Sometimes emergencies happen, but in our age of constant technology, having a live, in-person community can be a rare experience. Treasure it and interact with the other humans.
During the Show: Your Performance
Use your dancer’s walk when entering and exiting the stage. Ball-heel, ball-heel. Look up and out, not at the floor. Relax your shoulders and carry your arms with energy. The stage is a hollowed space where we are transformed from pedestrian to performer, particularly for belly dance. Again, if you can see the audience, they can see you!
Face your bum away from the audience if you have to place or pick up a prop. Remember: the audience can see you. They can see everything. Especially if you bend over with your booty facing them.
After the Show
Say only positive things about your own performance. What we say to ourselves creates our reality.
Thank your director and the show organizer. They’ve probably worked way harder than you realize to make this performance a reality, and to give their dancers a safe and supportive environment in which to share our work.
Now, all that said: not everyone wants to perform… I mean, if you’re in a student troupe, that probably means you’re going to perform. But you don’t have to. Some people just enjoy coming to class, moving together with others, and the exercise that comes with attending a dance class.
But if you are performing… make sure you follow these tips for a successful show!
Did I miss something? Share your tips for first time and new adult performers in the comments.
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