Thursday, 23 July 2015

Writing your bio for a bellydance performance

Let me introduce myself....

I promised this for the dancers who are attending my hafla this weekend, so I had better get on it...

When you are performing, whether at a show, restaurant or a hafla, it is usual to provide some kind of bio or introduction for your performance. For many dancers this is a struggle. Firstly because not all dancers are writers and secondly because many of us feel awkward about talking about ourselves. But never fear, I am here to help!

Why write a bio?

It's a fair question, why not just let your dance speak for itself? Well, some events do that, but if you are dancing in a show with an MC, they will want to say something. What they say will prime your audience for your performance, and you want your introduction to be an appropriate representation of you and your dancing.

If you don't provide an introduction they might just announce you by name (will they use the right one, will they pronounce it right?) or they might add all kinds of things, snippets from your website, something your said to informally describe your dance over email - who knows? You might know the MC well and feel you can leave it in their hands, and if you are comfortable with that, then it's all cool, but that's not always going to be the case.

It's entirely possible that if you do submit a bio, they will edit it to fit in with the other introductions, or add to it regardless, but at least you had a hand in it!

Another thing to consider is that your introduction is a venue-wide networking opportunity. Are you a teacher with classes or workshops to promote? Are you a solo dancer who is looking for potential troupemates? Let them know.

So what goes in an introduction?

You can put in pretty much anything you like, but here's some ideas:

You need to include your name, you might start with it, or end with it, or put it somewhere in the middle, but it's important. If your name might be mispronounced, put a phonetic breakdown in brackets too. I have an Arabic surname, but in my case it comes from a family line that came to the West several generations ago and use Western pronunciation. I get many variations if I don't let people know my preference.

You probably want to include something about your background, where you come from, if you teach or are part of a group, if you are a student performer then it is good to credit your teacher. If you are a newer dancer and this is your first solo, or even if it's not, you can let people know. Hafla audiences tend to be super supportive of new blood!

What are you dancing? What's the style? What's the music? I can take or leave this bit, depending on the audience. In an audience of other dancers, it might not be worthy of mention, if your audience is less well-versed, then maybe a brief explanation of the origins of the style will help them.

Next part is about context, what are your inspirations for this piece. Did attending a workshop with a particular teacher heavily influence this dance? A life event? Did the music just move you? More generally where do you get inspiration? What dancers do you love to watch? Did you come back from a Middle Eastern holiday bursting with ideas? Again, any dancer/musician/location names that the MC might struggle with will need a phonetic breakdown.

Credits. Did someone else write your choreography? Then you must credit them. If you learned it in a workshop then adapted it, make that clear - it's their intellectual property. If you are a group but one member wrote most of the choreography, credit them. It is also good to credit any teacher, or otherwise, who helped you prepare for the performance. You might also want to credit music editors or anything of that ilk, but don't turn it into an oscar speech.

More than one of you?

If you are dancing with others, you need to introduce all of you. With a live drummer, they will have their own bio to run alongside yours. This can make things a bit lengthy so if I am dancing more than once, I will have my full bio for my solo, but the "duet" introduction will focus on the drummer.

Doum Tekka and I performing at Gina's Bellygees hafla earlier this month - Photo by Angie Budd

If you are in a troupe, you can include information about how the troupe came together, who leads the group etc. If there are more than 2/3 of you, there probably won't be time to include much detail about the individuals, so focus on what you have in common.

What shouldn't go in the introductions?

This is me, your milage may vary, but there are some things I can do without...

Long introductions. The audience doesn't need to know every teacher you ever studied with, your education history and what you had for breakfast. Keep it interesting, relevant and brief. Some shows are notorious for long introductions - I can think of one in particular where I know I can reliably scroll through the first full minute of video before any dancing happens - but most of the time people just want to see you dance.

Instructions for the audience. OK, so this might be a very personal bugbear, but I really dislike being told how to react to a dancer. If I am told that I will be AMAZED by a performance, my inner contrary teenager sits back, folds her arms and says "come on then 'amaze' me". Of course the more sensible and supportive dancer tells her to shut up and engages with the performance, but it is worth considering that if you tell your audience to expect something spectacular, you have to deliver.

How the audience reacts is their choice. As an artist you can only present your piece, what they do with it is not your responsibility. That's especially important to remember when you have a tough crowd. Instead of telling them that they "will be moved" by your dance, tell them what inspired you, and let them take the performance in context and experience it for themselves.

Make it yours

It's always good to have something unique to you, a little quip or whatever reflects your personality. Watch out for cliches, there is no point in the MC reading out the same phrases for every dancer!


That being said, if you are still a bit stuck, here are a couple of idea to get you going:

Our next dancer has travelled all the way from [hometown] to be here. He has studied under [teacher] for 3 years and this is his very first solo piece. Inspired by a his recent visit to Egypt and the work of Mahmoud Reda. Please welcome [name].

[Name] and [Name] have been dancing together for 4 years after meeting at [dance festival]. [Dancer 1] teaches weekly Rasq Sharqui classes in her hometown [place], she has recently travelled to [place] to train with [teacher]. [Dancer 2] is based in [town] and is the troupe director of [troupe]. Today they are dancing to [song name] which is a song about [subject] from [location].

[Troupe name] are local dancers and students of [teacher]. Tonight they are really excited to share a piece, adapted from a choreography they learned from [teacher] at [festival]. This dance is in [style] which originated from [some background]. Ladies and gentlemen [troupe name]

These are focussed on a hafla-type venue. If you are performing in another context, you will have to think about what references your audience will understand, and what they will relate to.

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