Like dancing in a Bollywood movie

Like dancing in a Bollywood movie

Wedding entrance

Photo by Suhas Goel

I’ve been dancing in India for almost three months now, and I have performed inย a lot of different venues. There are nightclubs and restaurants, parties at people’s houses and corporate events in hotels… But the most impressive venues are the Indian weddings.

A wedding is the highlight of an Indian life, soย no expense is spared. I’ve read of cases in the newspapers where people have taken out a loan on their house to be able to give their children worthy weddings. With the accompanying events a wedding can last for a week, so wedding planning is a significant market.

Indian wedding

Photo by Suhas Goel

There are special venues dedicated for the wedding events – wedding halls and farms. The latter have very little to do with farms in our sense, there are no lambs or ducks running around ๐Ÿ˜‰ The term just stands for an open air venue. Both, the halls and the farms are lavishly decorated – dancing there I often feel as if I am on a set of a Bollywood movie. A wedding venue has a grandiose entrance where the guests are photographed as if they were on a red carpet, a stage for the happy couple, a stage for performers, and different seating options scattered around the place. The venue is usually edged with a buffet serving food from all over India and often from abroad. And all that is decorated in an extravagant manner, with yards of fabric, colourful lights, floral decorations, fountains etc. In many cases all this beauty is created for one night only, and the for the next event a new dream setting is built.

For a Westerner an Indian wedding is a bit unusual. We are used to having the whole celebration revolving around the couple, but here they arrive only towards the end of the night. And even that they usually do separately: the groom shows up first, and the bride follows later. But the guests are not bothered by their absence – they spend their evening conversing, eating, dancing and watching the show.

Photo by Suhas Goel

Photo by Suhas Goel

The entertainment program is usually very tight, there is always something going on on the stage. In addition to an oriental dancer (or dancers) there are performances by musicians, singers, tannouras, bollywood and bhangra troupes etc. The Indian audiences love extravagant performances, so we use a lot of props here – wings, fan veils, sword, dancing on a tabla etc. Sometimes the props are provided – for example, I have danced inside a 12-foot balloon!

It is a common misconception in India that oriental dance originates from Russia, and that all bellydancers are Russians. So I spend a lot of my backstage time explaining what will really be presented on stage, and how they should announce me ๐Ÿ˜‰

And when in front of the audience, I think the interest is mutual. I enjoy observing the women in beautiful sarees, the older gentlemen dancing their hearts out, the colourful turbans and polished mustaches of Punjabis, the kids dressed up in traditional Indian clothing… these people sure know how to celebrateย a wedding!

The original of this post was published in Estonian in the Estonian bellydance newsletter RaksEstonia.

The Roses of Dwarka

The Roses of Dwarka

Already before I came to India Najla told me that one of the most important aspects to working here is the community feeling with the other dancers. Because here, unlike with my recent contracts, a number of dancers work and live together. And, the bond that has developed between us is special indeed.

In our little flat in Dwarka (a sub-city of New Delhi) we are representing four different countries, four different languages, and four different stylisations of bellydance, ranging from Saida Helou to modern Egyptian. The diversity means that we can spend hours discussing dancing, cultural differences between us, and of course, India! We’ve even developed our own set of jokes, complete with theme songs and all!.

Working dancers are, of course, night creatures. During the busier times, after we get home from work we sit in the living room with tea, biscuits and Nutella waiting up for others. We work different venues and different events, so those nighttime tea hours are like briefing sessions โ€“ we discuss who worked where, what happened, and most importantly, what was the food like ๐Ÿ˜‰ Food is a very important aspect of a dancer’s life, so sometimes I would arrive home from work at 1 a.m., only to find a Ukrainian girl, still in her stage make-up cooking borsch in the kitchen ๐Ÿ™‚ When the schedule is less busy, we still stay up late โ€“ it is not uncommon that midnight finds some of us rehearsing while others make pancakes.

The beauty of it all is that there is no rivalry or conflicts between us. We trade recipes, give each other fitness tips, go shopping and sightseeing together. Basically, we are like a little circus family ๐Ÿ˜‰

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On not taking it personally

On not taking it personally

My first show of 2015 took place in a little lounge-type of place. It is situated on several levels, has low seats and tables and no stage area as such. I have danced there before, and I know there is no point of using any props or dancing large mejances there, as space is limited, and usually the people just get up and dance with me… and sometimes, if they are in a very elevated mood, they just get up and dance despite me ๐Ÿ™‚

This night was no exception. Be it a baladi or a drum solo, I was surrounded by people happily dancing away. I ended up with not a lot of space to dance in, and not a lot of people to actually look at me. But I did not mind it at all…

During the drive home I started thinking how my perceptions of performing have changed over the years. As an artist, of course I do seek attention, and enjoy it when I perform. But that does not mean I get upset if I don’t get devoted attention from my audiences. In addition to being an artist I am also an entertainer, and my task is to make the audience enjoy themselves. Finding the balance between art and entertainment is however very individual and differs for every performance. In this particular case my job was to help people enjoy themselves, and this they did. So no offence taken…

In the course of time I have also learned how to handle feedback better. Most of the people have an image in their head of what oriental dance should look like. And everyone will have an opinion about your dancing. It is very easy to be disturbed by the corrective or negative comments you may receive. But as you become more aware of your dancing, and your environment, you will also learn to filter the things said to you. So, depending on the person and on the context you can chose yourself if you want to take what has been said into your heart, merely consider it, or just smile nicely and shrug it off in your mind ๐Ÿ™‚

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