So your big day is approaching, and the performance jitters are setting in.
You've been working hard to develop your belly dance skills by going to class and practicing at home, but now you'll have to do it on stage in front of a bunch of strangers, and you can't help but feel a little bit scared and overwhelmed.
Don't worry, we've got your back! Simply follow the tips on this post and you'll feel a lot more comfortable and confident in your ability to make this go right!
1. Know Your Music Inside & Out
If you haven't heard your music enough times to be sick of it, you probably haven't heard it enough! There should be no surprises in your music.
Listen to it every day, making sure you know which phrases/sections come after which and that you are able to notice all the nuances and changes in your music.
If you're not there yet, keep on listening!
2. Know Your Choreo Inside & Out
If you're doing choreography, especially if it's in a group setting, you should also know your choreography inside and out. Don't wait until the day before (or worse yet, the day of) to start cramming the entire choreography into your brain.
The week prior to your performance, be sure to run through the whole choreography for at least a few minutes. You can practice the whole thing just twice or three times, as long as you do it every single day you are bound to eventually remember it.
Be sure to notice the parts you are struggling with in your practice, and give those sections extra attention. Is there a transition you are unsure about, or a move or section you consistently forget? Address that with your teacher next time you see her/him, and be sure to give those short sections a couple of extra practice runs.
Your brain and body need time and patience to commit all that choreography to memory, so be patient with yourself and tackle a little bit each and every day.
3. Practice Smiling
We perform the way we practice, so if you're practicing all these movements and steps with a blank face, you will have a totally blank face when you perform.
Your face is made up of muscles just like your arms, legs and torso. You had to teach your feet to step here and there and you had to teach your hips to drop here and lift there, otherwise you would not be able to do any of the steps and moves in your choreography.
Your face works the same way. If you're not teaching your face to smile during this or that section, you can't expect it to do it when you perform.
So put a big smile on your face when you practice! Or, if your performance calls for a different feeling other than joy/happiness, practice expressions that correspond to the other feelings you want to evoke instead.
If you can, it's never a bad idea to record yourself and watch the video to make sure your expression looks the way you intended. You'll be surprised at how many times you might think you're smiling and you're actually not!
4. Do a Dress Rehearsal. Or Two. Or Three!
Make sure you practice in costume at least a few times. You want to ensure that your costume is functional and comfortable. If anything feels uncomfortable, see if you can make adjustments prior to the day of the performance.
Make sure all your important "bits" are in place, and if you feel like anything might, ahem, pop out in unwanted places, definitely make the adjustments needed to prevent any costume malfunctions from happening!
Check all hooks and snaps to ensure they are all secured, and if your belt or any costume pieces move around as you dance, figure out ahead of time how you will secure those pieces in place so you can have everything you need with you on the day of your performance. Large safety pins pinned from the inside of the costume are always a good bet for securing belts to skirts or giving bra bands an extra layer of security.
5. Practice Entering and Exiting
From the moment you appear on stage to the moment you disappear from your audience's view, you are performing. It doesn't matter if the music hasn't started yet or if it has already ended; if your audience can see you, your performance has already started.
So practice entering with a confident smile and dancer's posture and engaging your audience with eye contact from the moment they first see you, until the very end. If you're starting on stage, maintain this carriage until your music starts and through the end of your music and your walk out.
Practice holding your ending pose for 1-3 seconds, taking a bow, and then exiting gracefully.
6. Practice Making and Recovering from Mistakes
Mistakes are a natural part of life. When you're on stage, you might forget a part of your choreography, or you might stumble, or a piece of your jewelry could get caught on your costume or prop... anything can happen!
If you make a mistake during practice, this is the perfect opportunity to practice recovering from it seamlessly and naturally. Try not to frown or sigh when you make a mistake, even in practice. How you practice is how you will perform, so if you "practice" frowning or making noises when you make a mistake, that is what you will do when you perform! Instead, consciously maintain the expression of your piece no matter what happens, even if you make a mistake.
If you have to make something up for a couple of seconds, it's not a big deal. If you're soloing, there is no way anyone would know unless you show it on your face. If you're in a group, you will be able to see someone else out of the corner of your eye to figure out your place in that part of the choreography.
Your mistakes will always feel like a big deal to you, but the audience will most likely not even know. So no matter what happens, you can recover. No matter what happens, life will go on. Just keep going and keep having fun with it!
7. Do a Makeup Dry Run
If you're used to doing your own makeup, you can skip this step. But if you don't normally wear loads of makeup to go out, try doing a makeup dry run the night before or a few days before your big day, to make sure you can achieve the look you are going for and get a sense for how much time you will need on the day of the performance.
If you're not sure where to even begin, makeup tutorials on YouTube are always a great place to start. Just search for "belly dance makeup," or "stage makeup" or even just "makeup" on YouTube, find a look you love and can see yourself in, and follow along with it.
Here is one I like, which achieves a look that works very well for belly dancers on stage:
Consider your venue and lighting. If you will be up on stage with lights shining in your face, "less is more" is not a concept you'll want to go for. More is more! Be sure to line your brows and go heavy on the eye shadow, eyeliner and mascara/eyelashes. Your stage makeup should be heavier than your regular "going out" makeup so that your face and expressions will be visible from a distance.
If, on the other hand, you'll be performing outdoors during the day time fairly close to your audience, you can go a little lighter. Use your judgment :)
8. Have a Checklist Ready
The day before or a few days before your performance, write down a checklist of everything you will need that day. Your checklist should include:
When your big day arrives, give yourself plenty of time to get ready. Estimate how much time you will need to shower, do your hair and makeup, pack up, and drive to the venue. Add an extra 30-60 minutes to that estimated time, just in case there are any last minute issues, mishaps, or traffic.
Try to arrive early so you have time to get to know your venue and space, socialize and settle in. Once you are in costume, if not performing, you should be wearing your cover-up.
10-20 minutes before you go on, make sure to warm up backstage. Do some shimmies and stretches and drill some basic moves or combos from your choreography. Pay close attention to your breathing as you do this. Take the deepest breaths you possibly can, breathing into your belly and releasing any stress or tension as you breathe out. This will help calm your nerves.
After you get off stage, do a quick cooldown. Take deep breaths and do a couple of stretches backstage. Then change back into your clothes, or put your cover-up on before you leave the backstage area.
If there are other performances on the show, try to watch them when you are not getting ready, warming up, performing, or cooling down. Try not to leave the show before it ends or arrive after it starts, it is very poor etiquette to come in only for your own performance and then leave. If you absolutely must leave early or arrive late due to a prior commitment, please make sure your teacher and/or the organizer are aware ahead of time.
10. Just Have Fun!
We know you've worked hard for this moment and that you want to do well. But please, don't forget to have fun and enjoy the moment! Once you arrive at the venue, know that you've already done all you could to prepare and now it's time to let go of all stress, pressure, and expectations and just have fun.
Socialize, make friends and be supportive of other dancers. If you see something you like about someone else's performance, let them know... it could make their day!
Be proud of yourself for taking this step and pat yourself on the back for doing it. Pamper yourself and allow yourself to feel absolutely beautiful. When you are performing, take in and enjoy the attention, love and joy that is emanating from your audience, and reflect this beautiful energy back to them.
Try not to take yourself too seriously. It's just dance, and it's supposed to be fun! In just a few months' time, you will have forgotten most of the choreography but what you will never forget is how you felt when you were on stage. That is what matters the most... and if you allow yourself to feel great, your audience will feel it too!
So have fun and spread the love and joy that is this dance. Enjoy every moment of your journey, even the scary ones. They will feel the most rewarding and keep you coming back for more!
Yamê is a Brazilian-American belly dancer based out of New Jersey, USA.