One of my dear students (from my PRIVATE ON LINE COURSES) asked me:
– What makes an exceptional dancer?
Difficult questions require difficult answers. Besides, I don´t think there´s a single answer to this question. Let´s just give it a try.
First, there are different concepts of what an EXCEPTIONAL DANCER is. The audience´s culture, education level, mentality, religion and other factors dancers cannot control or predict shape, to a great extent, the way people define an EXCEPTIONAL DANCER.
Egyptians, for instance, value CHARISMA, UNIQUE FINGERPRINT, PERSONALIZED PRESENTATION, EMOTIONAL INTERPRETATION, CONNECTION/DIALOGUE WITH THE AUDIENCE (and musicians, if there´s an orchestra)and SOUL in every single movement/moment. They understand their dance as a LANGUAGE, not as an exotic aerobics ritual. Therefore, they expect the dancer to SPEAK that LANGUAGE.
Foreign audiences don´t have the same background as Egyptians. They tend to focus precisely on those things Egyptians laugh at: acrobatic movements; the already cited “exotic aerobics”; the amount of movements, props and impressive (?) tricks a dancer can pull out of her/his sleeve.
Having generalized, let me tell you there´s no perfect audience. My favourite are still Egyptians: I´ve spent almost a decade of my life performing for/with them and I know how deeply they understand what I do. There´s no bigger pleasure – bliss! – than performing for an Egyptian audience. Yet they´re not ideal. Conservative ideas, prejudices, religious rules, history of dance associated with prostitution and other sad pearls have tainted the way they see and treat dancers, no matter how talented they may be.
Having crossed the golden bridge – from Egypt to the World – I´ve been resuming what gathers EVERY audience as one; what makes everybody click, despite cultural & mentality differences. That common denominator may well be what makes an EXCEPTIONAL DANCER.
There are technical things to have in consideration: dominium of the dance vocabulary and its coordination with each music style; musicality; knowledge of cultural context; posture (physical, emotional, psychological, even spiritual); self-awareness; the ability to listen and co-create with the music, not only translate it in a passive process so many call “dance”; sensibility to details in musical composition & orchestration; interpretation skills and so forth. The list is huge! Between these, and many other skills, I´d pinpoint one: HAVING SOMETHING MEANINGFUL TO SAY through your dance. I´d also add: having a beautiful inner world; loving, strong, kind, open, alive. Egyptian Oriental Dance is an x-ray for everyone who dares practicing it – whoever you are will be totally exposed. If your inner gardens are empty or infested with worms, that´s what your audience will see when you dance. You gotta check out who you are so you know what your dance will speak about.
As it probably happens with every creative area, having something to communicate makes THE difference. Being an interesting, beautiful human being too.
If you feel you have nothing to say – offer your audience -, I´d suggest you don´t perform. You can always dance at home, for yourself. But, if you´re a professional dancer who performs but has nothing to say, you´re in trouble. If all you have inside is hate, frustration, anger and thirst for applauses, then you should probably work on yourself, as a person, and then think about dance.
Instead of blah, blah, blah (empty movements that mean nothing to the dancer and, consequently, to her/his audience), a PERSONAL LANGUAGE with a MESSAGE/STORY/INTENTION must be there. Instead of “look at me” cries, give them your overflowing & loving inner life. It´s rare. Almost unseen. It´s Egyptian Dance.