There is nothing belly dancers like more than getting together and having a good time. Good friends, food, drink and laughter and the chance to dance – preferably a dance where you can get your sparkle on and perform. They might tell you chocolate, wine and shoes are top of their list but performing, strutting one’s stuff trumps most everything else really.
Or is that just me?
For those of you who are not belly dancers (if not, why not?) let me explain about haflas. A hafla is a party or get together for belly dancers. Sometimes it is a small get together of local dancers and groups who demonstrate what they’ve been learning in recent classes. Sometimes they are dances performed by a list of invited dancers to a theatre-style audience. Sometimes there is social dancing (my favourite sort of hafla) sometimes there is not.
Most often the hafla is an end-of-term rite of passage for many dancers and is approached in either cautious fear or extravagant anticipation. Performance can be either a dirty word or a passport to happiness. Your choice.
Sometimes the need to perform is simply an expression of desire, pain or love. One just needs to get up and tell a story, to release the valve on the pressure cooker brain or heart. And that is fab, the dance that erupts from such beginnings is usually honest and awe-inspiring and I love it.
Sometimes the performance is just ‘what you do’ when you have learned a dance in class – you demonstrate is to others. For some people, attending the hafla is all about that but there is another, vitally important element of being a performer and that is : being an audience member.
It IS possible to go to a hafla and not dance and still have a gob-smackingly good time. Watching dancers, engaging with dancers is scientifically proven (yes really) to release the same feel-good chemicals in your brain that actually doing the dancing does. But science fact or not, it just FEELS good to cheer on a friend, to watch another gorgeous dancer and concentrate on her technique. Okay, sometimes it’s hard to crush that beady-eyed little green-hearted monster who is jealous of the looks, size, shape and abilities of other dancers, but it can be done. It must be done.
As dancers we need to watch and learn from other dancers. We need to watch and focus our attention on performers, by all means steal a good move, take note of a clever combo, memorise that footwork, but BE THERE with them in their dance, not chatting or texting or watching it through a video camera or uploading pics to facebook.
Dancing is a gift, not just for the dancer, for the audience. Manners and simply human decency demands you accept the gift in the manner it is meant- if someone offered you a gif- wrapped box, would you turn away and talk about something else to a third party? I think not.
The best haflas (for me) are those that allow enough willing performers to get up and dance without boring the audience to death (otherwise known as ‘death by hafla’), and then allow enough time for the erstwhile audience to get up and dance and be social. After all, if your performers have moved people to love the dance, you should give them an opportunity to actually do it.
I love performing, I can’t deny it. I can go whole months without prancing about in front of an audience… but eventually I just HAVE to get up and do that funky stuff and I look around for somewhere (anywhere!) to perform.
Equally, I love dancing socially. I love the darkened joy of a mirror-ball lit dance floor, bumping hips with other dancers and the sheer freedom to just dance. There’s nothing to beat that moment when, a dance track ends and you stand there, panting in near exhaustion on sore feet and think about returning to your seat. Then the next track comes on, you exchange looks with each other and cry “I LOVE this track!”, and off you go again.
There”s a dance meme that comes up time and again on Facebook ‘Dance like no one is watching…’ it says. It’s a good notion, but as belly dancers we know the truth of it – it should probably read: “Dance, and make sure they’re all watching!”.