To Impress or to Express?

“If you are an artist of any kind, you’ve probably faced this dilemma many times. Even more so if you are a performing artist or a live entertainer when sometimes you’ll need to decide on the spot.
We, as belly dancers, are fortunate to be able to choose between these extremes and the wide range of options in between. Going from the “impressive” side such as including acrobatics, fancy foot work, dramatic poses, impressive prop work, to the “expressive” side, where we try to express our deeper emotions, or to convey our tarab experience to the public, using minimal movements, is full of choices.
With such a large range, how do we decide and how do we find a balance? In my opinion, that depends on a number of factors. For me, the first and foremost driver is the music itself. Our job is to bring the music to life by using our body as an instrument, or to “be the music”, as many of my previous teachers used to say. As I say to my students often times, listen to the music – it will tell you what to do. In almost every Egyptian song you’ll find parts where you can impress your audience and parts where you can freely express yourself.
The second factor is your audience. It’s important to know who you are going to dance for, to know their expectations, their knowledge or previous exposure to belly dance and their ethnic background. Some people may not get your “tarab” feeling because they haven’t seen anything like that before, or don’t understand it and instead were expecting more hips action, while others may be completely unimpressed by your splits and beautiful fan veils work. Knowing who your audience is and discussing their expectations with them makes your music selection, hence dance style, a much easier decision.
Last, but not least, another factor is your personal preference as a dancer, your dance style in general, and what your body can do safely and convincing. Obviously, it’s wise to avoid acrobatics if it doesn’t look easy and comfortable, or the reverse, expressing emotions that don’t look authentic and sound on you. That narrows down our choices once again.
However, that doesn’t mean that you should do anything you want/can/know in your show. Whereas expressing yourself, or showing your creative dance style or presenting a dance in the most authentic form are important to you, you are there to entertain an audience who paid to see you. So now we face another dilemma – how much to be “authentic” and how much to be “creative” in my dance style? But more about this in the next blog. 
To conclude this blog, I know there is much more to talk about this topic, and I’m not attempting to exhaust this topic (or any others, for that matter). It’s important to know that these extremes exist and they are visible to the public. As belly dancers, we need to find the fine balance between how much to “impress” and how much to “express” while on stage, and these are my broad guidelines.