Photo Credit: Alisha Westerfeld
Write moments of stillness into your choreographs. I think this is essential if you want photos of your troupe on stage. While you shouldn't plan your whole choreography around the photos, you can add a few moments of pose where no one will notice. For instance between tracks, before the music starts or before the final bow. Talk to your photographer before the performance and tell them when to expect the photo ops. Better still, send them a video of your practice and shout "now" during the filming. It is also important that you tell your troupe to pose for their photo at these points in the performance. You want a full smile and perfect posture. Its not the time for one of them to scratch an itch !
In this photo my troupe, Neshee Dolu, have a pause during the opening of their veil dance at Rakkasah 2016
Turn up early for the sound check. While you should check with your host or hostess, most venues are open a few hours before a show to set up lights, check on the sound system and generally get ready for the big event. Don't get in the way of the serious work that needs to happen, but ask if you can arrive early and take advantage of the stage area for a few quick photos. Its the perfect time to check your make up and costume will work under the stage lights. You can also ask your photographer to take a few moments to work out the perfect spot for your photographs.
In this photo Poppy Maya took advantage of the live band playing to the audience to the right, and the flowers that had been set up for a wedding the next morning.
Photo Credit : Alisha Westerfeld
Hire your own venue. While this may sound expensive, consider your local venues and how you can frame them in a photo. Does your local community center have a stage? Maybe you could use the band stand at your local park, or even the beautiful floor to ceiling curtains at a local hotel. Talk to your venues about being flexible in your timing. Perhaps you can visit the local golf club the day after a big wedding and take advantage of the decor before it is removed on Monday morning.
This beautiful stage is actually part of a cabana ! We hired it for an hour, brought our own lighting set up and Poppy Maya played with her wings on the stage. She repeated a couple of combos so that her photographer could anticipate her moves and get the shot of the wings in motion. We loved this final photo so much it ended up as a full page in "Becoming a Belly Dancer"
Fill a restaurant with your friends and family. You have no idea how much a restaurant will love you if you book a table for twelve friends at their usual quiet time! They will be more than happy to let you pose for the perfect picture. Visit them first to find out when your venue will be quiet and assess which table you can book to cause the least chaos around you. If they have a room with just one or two tables, or a T shaped room, ask if you can have that whole area. Tell them what you want to do and ask their permission ahead of time. Make sure to follow up with an email, so you have a paper trail in case the staff on duty question what you are doing. Pack your friends and family into the background and pose away! Don't forget that you all need to buy dinner - and be prepared to be generous in your tipping ! We used this method extensively for photo shoots for both "Becoming a Belly Dancer" and "Teaching Belly Dance"
In the photo, right, Basinah dances with the owner of House of Kabobs in Sunnyvale, CA for a photo for "Teaching Belly Dance". The audience includes my husband and lots of other friends and family !
Photo Credit: Alisha Westerfeld.
- Find your light - not all areas of the stage are lit equally. Check out the light pattern on the floor to work out where to stand to get the best light. You are most likely to be lit from above on a stage, so be aware that your nose, chest and tummy may cause shadow. "Bathe" in your light, so all your best parts catch the glow!
- Never ask your photographer to use flash photography during a performance. The flash can blind you. Equally don't use a flash at the side of the stage. The audience will be able to see it.
- "Behind the scenes" photos should always be done with the permission of everyone in the room. Just as you shouldn't take photos in the restroom, don't take photos in changing rooms or any area that people may be changing. Be aware of mirrors and accidentally including others in your backstage photos.
- Check out the background before you plan your photos. A rip in the backdrop, or fire exit can spoil the shot. Take a minute to look around and check for minor problems that you can fix before the photo is taken.
- Use Photoshop wisely ! Editing software is great for adjusting the light, picking out the colors in your costume, and removing the gum from the floor..... however, performance shots can loose their appeal if you brush up everything. Softening your skin, enhancing your curves, and elongating your lines are all great in more glamorous stills, where you are aiming for a dream like quality.
- In performance you will naturally pull faces, your hair will fall out of place and your costume will create creases. All of these can add character to your photos. When picking out your top five, keep one or two that are not traditionally perfect, but that reflect who you really are.
There are thousands more great tips like this for the aspiring belly dancer in"Becoming a Belly Dancer: From Student to Stage". We took all our combined knowledge and shattered the illusions so that the belly dancers of the future can skip the potholes and move on their careers!
"Becoming a Belly Dancer: From Student to Stage" is a stagecraft handbook for belly dancers and its available now from Amazon:
Photo Credit : Dawn Devine
Sara Shrapnell is a belly dance writer, teacher and performer.
She has taught more than 4,000 belly dance classes, both in the UK and US. She now teaches in Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore in the SF bay area, as well as workshops world wide. Her classes are known for their humor, detailed breakdowns and cultural context. Students who have studied with Sara have gone on to teach and perform in all styles of belly dance and many have made their living through performance or teaching.
Sara’s first book “Teaching Belly Dance” was published in 2014. Her second "Becoming a Belly Dancer: From Student to Stage", co- written with Dawn Devine, Alisha Westerfeld and Poppy Maya, is a stagecraft handbook for belly dancers of all styles and levels. Both are available on Amazon.
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