Here’s something you may not know about me: I have belly-danced in restaurants. I’ve danced on stages, too, but I prefer restaurants to the stage.
I won’t pretend it’s not nerve-wracking. You can see your audience clearly when they scowl or laugh or look terrified. There is some danger of stepping on a fork or someone’s foot, to say nothing of trailing your veil right through their soup.
But it’s also less difficult than it sounds.
For one thing, the boundaries are pretty obvious. There are physical boundaries, of course – tables and chairs, sometimes columns, Christmas trees,or wandering humans – but there are also behavioural boundaries. Do not shove any portion of your anatomy in anyone’s face. Do not force anyone to stand up and dance with you (I realize some dancers break this one). Keep track of your position in space so you don’t trip up the waitstaff or tread on small children.
Secondly, though – and this is counter-intuitive – the thing that makes dancing in a small venue not-so-scary is exactly the same thing that makes it most terrifying: the audience is right there looking at you. Sometimes looking you in the eye.
And that, for me, is the entire point of dancing.
That’s what I was talking about yesterday, with that Genki Sudo video: when you’re dancing, you’re saying something. More skilled dancers than I are able to speak in more subtle and sophisticated ways, communicating through intricate choreography, athleticism, and sheer grace. Someone like myself, whose enthusiasm outstrips her native ability by a ratio of about 2:1, has to rely a bit more on charisma and personal connection.
The audience looks me in the eye: I have to be looking back at them. What magic is possible in my performance hinges entirely on this.
I’m not going to make anyone see the world in some radical new way, not at my level of skill. The best I can hope for is to convey something of what the music makes me feel, something of why I’m doing this at all, why it feels so vital – so crucial – for me to be up there, a human among humans, completely present in myself and this moment.
I love dancing because it forces me to be present in the world. I live so much in my head, usually, but performance is directed outward. Performance is for other people. It enables me to be generous in a way I’m normally not, to offer up the most elemental parts of myself as a gift: joy, sorrow, playfulness, fury, exhilaration. Love of music. Love of motion.
You have to speak your truth and be utterly convinced that it’s worth saying. Accept your own authority on the matter. That part isn’t so different from writing; it’s all one art in the end.