Crafting a Set 1

Dancer with a fan in her right hand holding her skirt in her left hand
Location matters!

With Spring fast approaching, the events queue starts filling up rather quickly. Now is a good time to review the previous year and prepare for the upcoming season.

Over the years, I’ve had to plan or co-plan sets for these events, ranging from last minute “please put together a CD for the group performance tomorrow” to “there’s a 30 minute performance in two months”, and I wanted to share my impressions and notes for those who could find them useful. A lot will sound rather obvious if you have done this before, but wasn’t to last-minute-scrambling-first-time me, so I’m writing this series for *that* potential person.

Carolina Nericcio says that any ATS® presentation needs to be a combination of three factors: steps, music and costume. I firmly believe that when preparing a set for a particular event, even if you are not performing ATS®, all three elements need to be aligned not just with each other, but with the event.

Now might be a good time to remind you that I come from a design background, where choices are rarely “because I say so”, and instead are analysed and weighted against each other, both for functionality and for impact with the target audience. So what follows will be heavy on analysis and far less a case of choosing a shiny option. If you know your process is different, the next few posts might not work at all for you, or they might still help you figure out how some of us think. This is how *I* go about to do it, it doesn’t mean you are wrong if your process is different.

How do we do that? Start gatherting the bits you know:

  • what is the occasion? is this a town festival? a re-enactment? a friend’s wedding? a charity run? is there a theme for the occasion?
  • who is your audience? general public? kids? other belly dancers?
  • where are you dancing? is it an open field, a stage, street tarmac, a dance floor within a marquee, or multiple locations? Is it by the sea, on the beach, on top of a hill? How will you need to get there? Car, train, walking?
  • when? what’s the season, and what is the weather likely to be like? morning, afternoon or evening?
  • how long? have you been given a time limit for the set?

Now that you have the details above, you can figure out how they affect your set:

  • Occasion: if there’s a theme, your costumes and music should have some relevance. For example, if there’s a pirate theme, pick music that has a bit of a sea shanty flair to it. If there’s a significant time period to it, for example a re-enactment event, music and costume should be appropriate for the time period. Wedding? Do the bride and groom have some requests? Charity run? could probably do with lively, uplifting music.
  • Audience: other belly dancers are more likely to be receptive to an experimental piece; but for general audience, it’s far more likely that they will expect pure entertainment, and if we are not delivering, they will walk away. Choose pieces appropriate for your audience.
  • Location: if you are dancing on grass or tarmac, you probably won’t want super fast turns as they grip your feet; tarmac would also mean no floor work. Consider whether location impacts atmospheric conditions: I did not for a set right by the seafront, and picked a lively skirt and Flutter Fan piece. The flutter fan was threatening to blow off my hand at any moment, and I’m lucky the skirt didn’t cover my face, although it showed off plenty of my pantaloons! (see the photo above) If it’s multiple locations, do you need different sets for each location? If it’s a theatre, what colour background would you have, and cannot use for your clothing or props?
  • Weather: Temperature and general weather will obviously impact costume choices, but if the date is in a notoriously rainy or windy month, you might also need to make allowances for these, or even include in your application/contract that certain conditions can be hazardous and see about alternatives.
  • Duration: make sure you stick to the set duration, taking into account the time for introduction, goodbyes, and music and groups changing, particularly if you are part of a line up of different performers. If your slot is 15 minutes, that’s for everything, not just the music and then extra time for people to switch and get in formation for the next song. Be mindful of your fellow performers!

You will notice as you read the above that the options of possible music and performance reduce as you fine tune the performance environment. And this is OK, it makes your choices easier. With my workflow, the pieces evolve organically most often than not, but they follow roughly a similar path: I would start by selecting the music, then allow the dance to follow, and finally the costume. Next time, I’ll write about my music selection process.

Do you have any tips for good sets? leave a comment below!

You may also like...

2 Responses

  1. April 3, 2020

    […] have talked about how I approach a gig, select my music, create my dance, consider my moves. Hopefully by now you have an idea of what […]

  2. September 23, 2021

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *