The Greats




July/August 2001 Issue



by Amira Jamal

When is a student ready to perform, and what goes into aft that readiness training? This is a question I have been asked

over and over by students and colleagues alike. It is more difficult to answer than the same question asked by a ballet  dancer, who studies, often from age 3 or 4, in a formal certificate program, then graduates to  being a little mouse in the Nutcracker, then goes on to be in Bu the corps de ballet of a city-wide company, and then perhaps bet works her way into being a soloist for the company. It is more difficult to answer than the same question asked by a doctor, who goes through a pre-med program in college, then medical school, then internship, residency, and perhaps specialty fellowship. These are prescribed courses of education to turn a student into a professional in the chosen field. Is there a prescribed course of education for a belly dancer?

 Yes and no. There are things that a dancer can do to become skilled enough to perform, and those will be discussed here. But the other side of the coin, because training for belly dancing is less rigid and prescribed, is that you are never quite sure how to define "ready." As my friend, Amina Delal often says, "Your lack of experience is merely due to your lack of experience." At some point, ready or not, a dancer has to jump onto the stage. I liken it to being a surgeon. All the years of medical school training, even including all the times the doctor-in-training has cut into cadavers or animals, will never ever prepare that doctor for the first time a cut is made into living human flesh. Think of getting onto that stage for the am first time as if you have a scalpel in your hand. It's both terrifying and exhilarating, and you just have to do it, whether you perceive yourself ready or not. But, just as you would not perform surgery without years of training and education, you cannot perform on stage without years of training and education -even though those years of training and education might bell not appease the worry and fear that you have that you are not ready.

 I had my first "professional" experience when I was neither fully trained nor educated. All I can say is, thank heavens I was too naive to know how horrible I was! Mostly I just loved to dance and this passion and joy made up for a lot of inadequacy -but only in the eyes of people who may have never seen a dancer before, and in whose naive eyes I was hot stuff! I wasn't out to fool anyone, I just truly did not know what the standards were for a professional dancer. Let me say here that I did not impress the restaurant owner who paid me for the two shows he had promised, but insisted I go home after the first! I did not catch on with that "insult" and continued to make plans to move to New York to be a professional dancer and to continue my studies. In this day of the internet, workshops, publications, and videos there is no excuse for not  knowing what the standards are for being a professional dancer. That is fodder for another article. Right now I would like to address the training and education side of the issue and explore when ready is ready.

 The bottom line is, you will never feel you are ready. But, you have to look objectively at what your training has been, and decide -almost on a piece of paper -if you are ready for your first solo performance. Have you studied, with serious commitment, for at least 18 months ? Have you taken many workshops outside the tutelage of your own teacher? Have you faithfully been to all the performances within your geographical and financial reach, so that you have seen a variety of dancers? If you live in an area with few live performances, do you purchase as many videos as you can afford? Do you own a well put -together costume? Have you listened and practiced with a variety of dance music, not just the tape or CD that your teacher recommended? Do you know, unfailingly, the various parts of the dance routine? Can you play your zills well ? Can you dance for more than two minutes with a veil? Are you willing to put forth the best grooming you can (good teeth, shaved underarms, pretty hair, appropriate makeup, etc.)?

 As an ancillary to these questions, can you identify different music? (i.e., can you tell the difference between Egyptian music and Armenian music? Can you spot "new age" music a mile away?) Do you know how to dance a karsilima- do you even know what a karsilima is? Do you know the difference between a chiftitelli and a taksim ? Can you identify the

taksim instruments as you hear them? Have you taken figure skating lessons? Adult ballet? Jazz dance? African dance? Do you own a coverup for your costume ? Does listening to bellydancing music take precedence over listening to anything else (especially during all that time you spend in the car)?

Have you had an opportunity to dance for friends? Have you had an opportunity to dance in a student recital? Have you tried to make your own opportunities to dance where the audience might not be so critical- such as in high school or community college multi-cultural fairs? Do you take advantage of performance opportunities that are part of workshops?

 Make a list and check off what you do and what you have accomplished and then check off where you still need some work. Make it a summer project. Treat it as if you are getting a college degree. What purchases do you need to make? Would you purchase a textbook, but not buy a CD? What scholarly journals do you need to have? Would you purchase a subscription to an academic journal, but not spend the money to subscribe to some of the wonderful bellydance magazines that are out there? What classes do you need to take? Would you take a pre-requisite for a course, but not take a workshop that a teacher different from yours is giving? Would you take as many academic classes as needed, but not be willing to find the time and money to study dance more than one day a week? What materials do you need? Would you buy required materials for an art course, but not buy appropriate footwear and dancewear? What extracurricular activities would enhance your education? Would you take a field trip for a class, but not travel out of your way to see a showcase of dancers?

 If you treat your dance education with the same commitment and respect that you would treat any other branch of education, you will be ready to perform even if you do not feel ready to perform. Feeling and knowing are two very different things. Look at the list on paper. Know that you have done everything to prepare yourself. Know that there is nothing like experience except experience, and that you must at some point jump in. Don't get caught up in what you feel, trust what you know. !

Visit Amira Jamal's new website at: www.amirajamal.com



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