This week, Bellydance by Amartia is proud to feature the fabulous Latifa as our guest blogger.

Latifa, baltimore bellydancer, bellydancer baltimore

We are so lucky to be Middle Eastern dancers, because of the creativity and self-expression of this dance form. We can choose what style of dance we perform, from traditional to the most avant-garde. We can choose the music we dance to, the costume style, our hairstyle and makeup. Taking it a step further, we can choose who we are onstage. Unlike actors, who have assigned roles, we can make up our character from scratch.

Many dancers choose to dance under a stage name. Say you decide that you want to be called Esmeralda when you dance. Well, guess what? You get to decide what Esmeralda is like. Is she sassy? Or cool and confident? Full of joy? If you can come up with a full description of her, you can then apply this to your dance performance. How would she greet the audience when she enters the performing space? What would her expression be when the music changes from the dynamic intro to a soft flute taqsim? What would her interactions with the audience be like? Understanding the dance persona you have created will make all of these things easy and second nature.

If you use the same name in real life and on stage – which is much more common now than it was in the 20th century – your stage persona can be an idealized version of yourself…. The self you want to be. If someone were making a movie and including you as a real-life character, how would you want to be portrayed?

You can fill in the details of your stage self by playacting with yourself. Imagine yourself in various situations, and ask yourself how your stage self would react. You can also think about how you want to be perceived by the audience, and figure out how, by actions, expressions and postures, to make that come true.

You might be saying, “But this is artificial! I want to be genuine when I perform!” When we’re onstage, we must be larger than life – we can’t just be our mundane selves. We must be entertaining and give the audience a reason to watch us. When we perform, we always edit ourselves for the audience. We don’t show up to dance in the clothes we would throw on for a quick trip to the grocery store. We wear more makeup than we do when we’re taking out the trash. No, on stage we try to look our best, and the larger than life dance persona fits right in with the fancy clothes and makeup.

So, how does a dancer get started with deciding what her dance persona should be? It’s sometimes helpful to try on different personalities and see what you like and what you don’t. Think of iconic figures from pop culture, find clips on youtube, and imitate that person. You could try Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, one of the many incarnations of Madonna, Jessica Rabbit – there are many possibilities. Study the expression and body language, then try them on for size. Yes, you can choose one thing from one person, and something from another. Remember, you’re the artist who is creating this persona!

Also, bear in mind that your on-stage personality can change, according to your mood or the music you’re dancing to. Have fun discovering the different facets of your onstage self!