How to Interact with Your Audience
Interacting with an audience can be an incredibly difficult thing to do. You need to be masterful in how you present yourself, and in reading people. For someone who has never done any theater or isn't naturally outgoing this can be challenging. Smiling, keeping your costume on your body, and remembering your choreography is already a lot!
in this blog post I will give you a few tips and tricks to encourage a more fun performance environment.
1. Work on a friendly smile.Nothing melts another person's heart more than a welcoming and open smile. For the most part you're going to be dancing to people who are not familiar with belly dance. This can make a lot of Americans incredibly uncomfortable. Often I hear the comment "I don't know where to look.” Break the ice with your smile, make it okay for your audience to watch you.
2. Be willing to be a little goofy. Though sometimes it is beneficiary to be the serious ice queen dancer, you’re going to want to use a little humor when appropriate. Think of yourself as the host of the party. You want to make every guest feel welcome and one of the easiest ways to do that is a little bit of humor. A cheeky hip bump to the waiter that passes by, a little eyebrow waggle, maybe even sticking out your tongue on beat. All of these limited things can make somebody laugh if well timed. Find ways to put these moments in your opening song, just don't overdo it.
3. Don't be afraid to talk. This may or may not work for your situation. Some restaurants or events ask that you not speak to their clients, so make sure you know this before you give it a try. In any situation, I am never striking up a full conversation. That being said I will make small statements if appropriate. For example, if it's a clients birthday, I will say “happy birthday thank you so much for coming”. Or, “What you're eating looks good!” Or even a simple, “Hi!” works marvelously. You want to seem approachable and open. Doing things like this has made my audience feel comfortable and even more willing to participate with me.
4. Audience participation. Though I generally don't recommend this for newer dancers because it can get out of hand very quickly, it is a great tool to use. Getting an audience member up to dance with you or giving them a mini lesson, can bring down the walls of the room. This is easiest done with children as they generally don't have fear of embarrassment. Always make sure to check with the parents before you take a child up. As for adults, this is where things can get tricky. Finding an audience member who's willing to dance with you is not always easy. Here's some of the things that I look when picking an audience member.
Are they watching attentively?
Are they dancing along in their seat?
Are they clapping along?
Are they taking pictures and video?
Are they the guest of honor, bride and groom, is it their birthday?
It's pretty easy to tell these kinds of things, and it's even better if you have a waiter help you out by telling you if there is a special event happening. Never bring someone up who is intoxicated. Trust me it's never worth your time and they're likely to do something that will embarrass themselves, possibly bring harm to you or themselves. Also be weary if someone says “No”. Do not continue to beg, just say “Well if you change your mind let me know”. Always leave the option open. Also do not let somebody come up who's being overly peer pressured by their group. That can be a hard line to define as some people like that pressure and others don't. If somebody is legitimately upset about getting up with you don't make them do it. In situations where I have had that happen, I make the people who are pressuring to come up to dance instead.
5. Clap along with your music. This is best done when you have an audience who is actively watching you. Letting them know it's okay to make noise will encourage further interaction. Doing this at the beginning of your set could be beneficial but usually it is best done at the most intense parts of the middle of your set.
I hope that a few of my tips help you out with your dance journey. Being an entertainer is more than just being good at your craft, it also requires providing the audience with some sort of feeling. Whether that's letting them be blown away by your isolations, clapping to the rhythm of your finger cymbals, or remembering you and your name because you were so kind and open to them. Provide your audience with an experience they will never forget.
Kat is a Tacoma, Washington based belly dancer and instructor. You can find more info about her at www.taccomabellydance.com