Nadira Jamal, Belly Dancer

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"You never get a second chance to make a first impression" - Head and Shoulders Dandruff Shampoo Commercial

Nadira's Treatise on Entrances

(A work in progress)


The introduction section of any performance can make or break it. the very beginning and very end of a performance are the most memorable to your audience. By using the introduction effectively, you can establish a relationship with your audience and create a sense of drama and excitement that will linger long after you leave the stage.

General Guidelines

  • The Sixty Second Rule:

    Your audience will register very little of what you do during the first 60 seconds of your show. They will be dazzled by your costume, your sparkling personality, your blazing zils, and the fact that there is a real live belly dancer in the room. Fancy hipwork will not impress them at this point, because they won't know where to focus their attention. A better goal is to establish a first impression and a relationship with your audience.

    The keys to forming a good first impression are presentation and simplicity. You can present yourself well through proud posture, engaged facial expression (usually smiling), and zils (they're like your own personal drum roll). You can help your audience absorb that impression by keeping your movements simple but exciting. Spins, dramatic poses, very simple hip movements and just walking will seem spellbinding if the presentation is there. And they will seem MORE spellbinding than your more complicated moves because your audience will understand them (which makes them feel smart, which makes them feel good about themselves, which makes them feel good about YOU).

  • An Introduction is Just That!

    The introduction is the time to establish your relationship with the audience. If your show were a conversation, it's the chit-chat that gets you started. It's not as deep, complicated or meaningful, but it helps you develop the common framework you need to have that conversation.

    I like to think of this as a three-part process: acknowledge your audience, invite them to acknowledge you, and acknowledge the band. (An article on the exchange of energy between the three is in the works, and will be posted to my articles page when it's ready.) You can acknowledge them through eye contact (but be sure to avoid looking downward too much!), with sweeping arm gestures (of the "there you all are" type), and with curtseys and other traditional gestures of greeting. It is just as important to give your audience the opportunity to acknowledge you. This makes them feel like part of the show, which is a big part of what makes a live performance so exciting. You can do this with gestures of presentation (like spreading your arms wide or upward in a "here I am, you lucky people, you!" pose), inviting them to clap, and simply by giving them plenty of time to admire you. The third component is acknowledging the band. This is important for its own sake, but it also helps cement your relationship with your audience. First, it is polite and reflects well on you. Second, it helps the audience understand the link between the dancer and the music and see your body as an instrument. My favorite way to acnowledge the band is to circle the dance space, and look each band member in the eye and smile as I pass them. You can also take a moment to give them a bow, to sweep your arm towards them, or both. You should certainly ALWAYS acknowledge the band at the end of your show, but it's nice to do it at the beginning too.

  • Posess Your Space

    Bert Balladine's Entrance Rule states: "If a dancer is very good, when she enters she will proudly walk onstage and walk in a large circle around the stage to greet her audience before she starts to dance. If she is very, very good, she will do it TWICE." This is part of establishing your relationship with your audience, but it also helps you posess your stage (where "stage" is often loosely defined). Taking an exultant, confident walk (or two!) around your dance space fills it with your presence, and helps make you seem larger than life. (Plus, it helps you get a feel for how much space you have to work with!)

  • Keep Them Wanting More

    Melina of The Daughters of Rhea taught me this truth in a balancing workshop: if you start simply and increase complexity and difficulty, your audience will be impressed at every increase. If you introduce your best material early on, they'll assume it's easy and grow bored with it. The introduction is like an appetizer; it should whet their appetite, not sate it.

Special considerations for American style entrances

  • Dancers doing an Amerian style show typically enter in some kind of a veil wrap. This often obscures much of their bodies and the fringe on their costumes. Don't waste your energy on tight, complicated movements. Your audience will only be able to see larger, simpler movements (like full-body undulations and big hip twists).

  • Zils are an integral part of an American style show (although they've gone out of fashion in the Arabic style). They are like your own personal drum roll. They announce your presence and add a wonderful air of excitement, exoticism and skill to your performance. Learn at least two basic patterns (like shave-and-a-haircut or triplets) and use your cymbals for your entrance, even if you have to take them off for the rest of your show.

Special considerations for Arabic style entrances

  • The entrance segment of an Arabic style show often features "a piece of cloth" (i.e., a dance veil), which the dancer flourishes in the first minute or so of her entrance. This is a great tool for presenting yourself and posessing the space.

  • Fifi Abdo and the other great stars from "over there" are particularly good at keeping their entrance pieces simple.

Special considerations for Theatrical entrances

  • Theatrical shows (as opposed to restaurant shows or bellygrams) place you much farther from your audience. Plus, the distinct separation between the stage and the house throws up another barrier. To overcome this, you must work harder to connect with your audience. If it's feasible, entering through the house is a great contrast to this barrier, making an instant connection.

  • Theater stages also tend to be much bigger. Taking possession of your space is especially important, so you don't look lost in that big void. Drama is your friend; you need big attitude to fill a big space.

  • Some theatrical pieces begin with the dancer or dancers already on stage, rather than with an actual entrance. The same principles apply, but must be used differently. For example, eye contact may be impossible, so your smile and gestures have to take on the burden of establishing a relationship with your audience.

Fake It Till You Make It

In the introduction or any section, dance with conviction and attitude. A smiling person always seems attractive, regardless of their features. In the same way, a confident dancer will always seem talented. A teacher I studied with used to tell us during the cool-down to picture the audience "on their knees, grateful that you are standing in front of them, just doing arms". If you believe you're worth it, your audience will too.

Nadira Jamal

copyright 2004

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