Monday, March 4, 2013

On "You're *JUST* ATS®, You don't need to emote"...

I was at a performance recently and was sitting at a tale with my troupemate and three other people who I did not know. At one point the conversation turned to the workshops that had just been announced for our local Guild of Oriental Dance's Annual Show. The discussion was around why there were so many workshops related to emoting. The one woman who was most engaged in the conversation turned to me, dismissing my contribution to the conversation by saying, "Oh, that's right, you just dance ATS®, you wouldn't know about emoting." She then proceeded to shut me out of the rest of the conversation by directing the paths of conversation away from my direction.

To say I was disgusted is an understatement. We were there performing and watching others perform so it wasn't the time to get into it and let her know that, hey, I know about emoting and it's importance. Yes, I dance ATS®, but that doesn't mean there isn't something to say about the expressions we make when we dance.

One dancer commented on Facebook saying, "There is an intense and powerful presence flowing through the dance that conveys way more than artificial facial expressions could. As long as you can exude joy and not nervousness/stage fright, the audience is not going to 'miss' your presence." Brava! You win 500 points!

In other styles, one NEEDS to make an expression. In "traditional" forms of belly dance, the music used has so many changes in it, that your presence on the stage alone is NOT enough to keep the audience engaged. Your face is important to oftentimes tell the audience how the music is supposed to be making them feel right now. The dancer is responsible for musicality always, in ATS® or other forms of belly dance, in other forms I would say the dancer's musicality is far more crucial because she has to tell the audience what the music is doing. She does this by emoting.

With ATS® musicality is important to a dynamic performance, but not everyone has it, (a post on musicality is in the future...) so what a dancer can lack in musicality she can definitely make up for in her presence. While we don't necessarily emote every phrase change or tempo shift of our music, there is a fair amount of facial expression. When I dance, I am happy as a clam, and I emote that. There are some who have a straight happy face when they dance and that's OK too. When I dance slow vocab, I like to keep a look of "I have a secret and you'll be lucky to find out..." Unlike dancers of other styles who need to tell their audience what the music wants them to feel, I want my audience to see and feel like I am having fun regardless of the music. Later, when they notice my musicality and note the outrageously great time I am having, that just makes for an even better performance.

I want my audience to be cued in to the fact that I am here and present and aware and not just toying with their emotional responses by telling them how to feel through the music. I want my whole presence to let them know. If they have walked away wondering what that was all about, then I haven't done a good enough job being present. Moreover, if I haven't been present, my dancing is going to be lack luster. It's all hand in hand, really.

One local dancer who I really enjoy watching (there are a few of them like this, I am just going to pick on her...) is Shannon Townsend (Shanaz Bahara). She is so unbelievably perfect at musicality, emotive response to the music and engagement with her audience like so few dancers are. She doesn't dance ATS®. I really don't honestly know what to call her save for fusion (she does some amazing stuff locally called Geek Slink and that might be a whole other beast entirely....look out fusion world!) She doesn't do the pre-sets like I see a lot of solo style dancers do.

At the end of the day soloists and group improv dancers alike would likely all benefit from a class on stage presence, a class on musicality and a class on dancer presence. By dancer presence I mean just what I highlighted above: Being present in your dance, not just on the stage.

I would really like to hear what you have to say on the matter of stage face. This and musicality are on my docket right now because of all of my planning for the few bigger deal shows we have coming up. Next post will likely be on stage face; Specifically, looking like you're bored.

Until then dancin' lovelies...



  1. this is really great. manufacturing silent film faces onstage, as if that transmits anything close to real "emotion," is corny and diminishes the sort of psychic power the dancer can have when she keeps a little to herself (the "secret" you spoke of) or just allows herself to have the happy face that dancing gives her. I've been seeing a lot of silent film acting in the (non-ATS) bellydance performances I've been watching, and it is a little uncomfortable to watch, in the same way that obviously manufactured, false emotion in bad acting is uncomfortable to watch in a play or movie.

  2. "Your face is important to oftentimes tell the audience how the music is supposed to be making them feel right now. ... I want my audience to be cued in to the fact that I am here and present and aware and not just toying with their emotional responses by telling them how to feel through the music."

    Ah, no. Cabaret improv dancer here, and you have it backwards. When I dance, I am expressing to the audience how *I* feel, not how they are "supposed" to feel. If I am doing my job right, I am telling the story of the particular piece of music as well as a bit of the story of my life. How they respond depends on their own particular context and how they interpret my story. My goal is to communicate and share, not manipulate.

    Sure ... an unskilled or newbie dancer can be very fake or corny. Just like a bad actor or singer. That doesn't mean that a good actor or singer who brings us along in the story is being manipulative or making up for some other deficiency in their art.

    I understand your defensiveness against the notion that ATS does not involve "emoting," but please do not totally mischaracterize what we traditionalists are doing.

  3. I understand what you are saying, but I also perform by this quote by Masha Archer, (paraphrased because I can't reference it right now,) "What we are saying is WE are great and YOU (the audience) are lucky, you have to appreciate us." and we make them feel appreciative by how we present ourselves on stage. You call that manipulation, I call it stage presence. All stage presence is manipulation no matter what your style is.