Pantomime

Duvet

New member
I’ve been asked if I would choreograph two bellydance routines for a local village pantomime (Sinbad in February 2013).
Has anyone got experience in doing this?
Should I run a mile, or embrace it with open arms as a challenge?

I'm aware that pantomimes can be stereotype-fuelled bad jokes and innuendos at the best of times, and I fear the bellydancing scenes will probably involve either pretty girls dancing for the Sultan, or men in drag as a comedy interlude. But could this be an oppurtunity to at least get them doing 'proper' bellydance rather than a pop video routine, and instill a bit of understanding into the cast (and then hopefully their family and friends) that there is more to it than that?
And, of course, I'll also get some experience in creating, teaching and staging a choreography, and a bit of local publicity.

What do you think?:think:
 
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Jameelah

New member
After reading your post I came up with an idea. (im assuming your a male bellydancer)

A thief could be run away from sultans guards, and into a harem of bellydancers where he has to pretend to dance to hide from the guards. At the start he can really bad but then at the end be really good and the bellydancing ladies could then carry him off as a finish.
Let me know how it goes because I'm looking into doing something similar as a charity fundraiser.
Good Luck
 

Pleasant dancer

New member
I once did this with my (then) teacher and a small group of ladies from the class who were used to performing. The four of us did a short (2 1/2 minute!) routine in oriental costume, sort of "dancing girls in the palace" routine. I think it might have been Sinbad or Aladdin - can't remember! :lol:

My teacher also did a short, simple choreography for the little girls who were part of the panto, they had the usual Princess Jasmine type costumes on. If I remember rightly the adult dancers (us!) were the stars of the show, let's face it these things tend to be acted by amateur groups with big egos and I think a bit of real dancing (yes, we were quite good and did it properly, looked wonderful etc, and yes I'm boasting!!).

Back to topic..... Duvet there's no reason why you shouldn't do this, IMHO, after all they will probably go ahead and do it anyway, and someone with a bit of proper oriental dance knowledge can keep it from being too cheesy and add a touch of authenticity. Will you being teaching complete novices? Perhaps the group could get some local belly dance group to do at least one of the scenes?

Best of luck!
 

Duvet

New member
Well, I’ve had the pantomime script sent to me. It’s all been written, and I’ve no say on the plot line or setting of the bellydance scenes, and the dancers will depend on the auditions from the village. I don’t think they’ve settled on the music yet, so I might get a say in that. Any ideas if I do?

Stage directions for the first routine; “some shapely and scantily clad belly dancers come from the inn [The Eunuch’s Arms] and perform their exotic dance” in front of a group of pirates.

The second routine will involve two of the male characters dressed up in “a comic duplicate of the Belly Dancer’s costume with a female wig and yashmak.” The scene involves much flirting with the Pirate villain and a comic belly-dance routine.

So, just as I feared. But as Pleasant Dancer said, they’re going to do it anyway, so might as well try and minimize the damage.:confused:
 

Farasha Hanem

New member
I wish you all the best with your damage control. I'm sorry you don't have any say in the writing or plot line. Personally, I don't like it because it plays right into the stereotype that most of the GP holds to when it comes to bellydance. :(
 

da Sage

New member
Well for the tavern scene, the bellydancers could play it straight, and the pirates could ham it up. I'd rather see the pirates act lecherous, than the bellydancers.

I'm guessing in the pantomine the (character) dancers would be performing for pay from the pirates, not just because they like dancing in taverns? I would like to see collecting the money worked in (the head dancer could urge the pirates to contribute money: need more gold coins, not enough, need more - NOW you have a show!), making it obvious to the (real) audience that the dancers are dancing as a job, not to advertise other services. ;)

Also, it would be cute if a young handsome pirate, or a rough scary pirate, gave a flower to one of the dancers at the end of the performance. They could both be very bashful about it; it could be a fun and sweet bit. Then the head dancer could hurry the dancers away with the money they just made.

I think it's not out of line to ask that the bellydancers be portrayed as ladies during your scene. I do think it would make the show stronger than OMG, sexy dancers from nowhere!

As for the crossdressing male dancer...it's a classic comic bit. Try to make the actor look good-I don't think there's ANY point in not cheesing that up.
 
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Daimona

Moderator
I say: Go for it!
(And I also like da Sages suggestions..)

I made a dance for a play once as well: The setting was quite simple, and some locals trying to please a visiting sheik with various forms of entertainment, such as line dance, salsa and more. To make the story short, he wasn't pleased until the last number (the belly dance act, big surprise, huh?). I made a super-easy choreography to some cheesy music (Emad Sayyah, probably Ma 'Zoufat Semiramis from this album, IIRC) for the 6 girls and did the soloist part as the mysterious veiled dancer myself (I think they learnt a lot during the process). I knew several people in the audience and got great feedback after the show, as they didn't expect me to dance as well as I actually did (to quote one of them: "Hey, she knows this dance, and does it well!"). I know the plot sounds cheesy, but at least it became a lot more classy than it would have been if I hadn't been involved.

As long as you get good enough time with your dancers, it'll hopefully be fine.

I've seen others that have gone with the stereotypes (including a "dancer" who got to learn the basic moves from a book with no knowledge of putting a dance or costume together), and it has been some truly awfully cringing experiences..

And for music recommendations, do check out that Emad Sayyah album. It is a bit cheesy, but I think it may work well in that setting as well and even add a bit of comedy musicwise.
 

Farasha Hanem

New member
da Sage knows stage!

I like the idea of having the bellydancers play it straight and having the pirates being the comic relief (I can't help but see Johnny Depp being the lead ham in drag!). xD :lol:

Oh, gosh, a belly dancing Johnny Depp DOES sound intriguing! :shok:

SETTLE down, little butterfly, SETTLE down... :confused:
 
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Erik

New member
(I can't help but see Johnny Depp being the lead ham in drag!). xD :lol:

Oh, gosh, a belly dancing Johnny Depp DOES sound intriguing! :shok:
Sorry to weasel in, Farasha. In case you didn't know, Johnny Depp does what you describe (well, sorta-kinda) in the film "Ed Wood."

The character Depp played was a real man who happened to be a cross-dresser in real life, which made for an interesting subplot. The dancing may not have been the best, but it was a comedy scene, and he did it in the trappings of a female dancer.
 
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Duvet

New member
Well, the panto is this week! Most of you won’t be interested in this, but I’ll indulge myself and write this anyway, just so you know how it’s all gone.

The remit was: two female bellydancers, and two pirates disguised as bellydancers, one of which was to look competent, while the other would dad-dance. I heard nothing until I was told to attend a rehearsal at the start of January. So I toddled along, not knowing the level of dancers, the music, nor the length of the piece. Having got there, the two women hadn’t turned up, and the pirate and musical director were too busy with other rehearsals. Not quite a wasted journey, though, for a whisper evidently went around the room that ‘That bloke over there is a bellydancer’, which came as a surprise to some as they ‘Didn’t think I’d look like that’!

Undaunted, I attended rehearsals the following week, but this time not only had the two ladies not turned up, they’d both pulled out of the production! They said the parts were too small to warrant their commitment, leaving the producer pulling his hair, and me wondering whether to call on a couple of dancing friends to help. This time, however, I did get to hear the musical director’s musical choice - a piece based on ‘Beyond the Sea’ with overtones of the ‘snake charmers’ tune. The length of the piece would be up to me.

So back again on the third week, having vague ideas of what moves to use, but with no expectation that anyone would actually be there to teach them to. But two ladies had volunteered to step into the breach – Hooray!! And the pirate was there – Hooray!! And one of the ladies had bellydanced before – Hooray!! And as she explained to the pirate, “Don’t worry if you can’t do it, we’ve had children so its natural for us” – Huh?! I had to point out the incongruity of that statement in light of the fact that she was taking bellydance tuition from a bloke.

The rehearsal was fun, especially working with the musical director, because as she played she responded to what I was dancing, as I was responding to what she was playing. This was like a drum solo, but translated to an electronic keyboard! So we came up with the bare bones of a routine, about two minutes in length. So should I teach the moves first, or just plough straight on with the choreography? The dancers had already been following me (with varying degrees of facial confusion and embarrassment), and on being asked, said they’d rather learn the choreography and be corrected as we went along. This was their normal way of learning a routine, and as we only had four weeks to go, with limited rehearsal time, I though it more realistic, although not ideal. But we did decide that the next rehearsal would be an hour long, which might just give me time to teach a little technique.
 

Duvet

New member
So the next week we could start. I turned up, finally knowing the music, the dancers and the length of the piece. Now for the teaching. Trying to teach individual moves and technique straight off proved unproductive. The pirate was extremely embarrassed about moving his hips in any direction, particularly when being watched; one of the women thought she was being more flexible than she actually was, or was moving when she though she wasn’t (without a mirror this proved hard to combat); and the third person was so enthusiastic about it all that she was showing the others how to do it before I’d even shown her myself! It seemed easier to keep control and keep them focused by running through the routine first.

That worked a lot better. I couldn’t see them dancing behind me, (Where are they boys and girls? They're behind you!!) but they were not slow in asking about weight distribution, which foot to step on, how to do a particular arm move, etc, which was great, as I had to think myself and make sure that what I said really was what I was doing! It showed that they had danced before. They seemed to pick the routine up really well, so I sat and watched them do it on their own. They certainly had the choreography within twenty minutes, but transistions, technique, timing, hand and arm positions? – pretty good considering, but still some way to go. The producer then announced that all that he wanted was for them to look ‘professional’ on stage, and "To look as if they knew what they were doing". In three weeks? I think he’d been watching too much ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. We went over the routine some more; the moves, timing, positioning, etc., and checking on the understanding of what they were doing. Then the rest of the cast started to turn up, early. Lots of kids, who were amused to find us bellydancing. So we ran through the routine once more for them. Our first performance! And no one fell over!!

The following week we had two rehearsals (Hooray!), albeit very short ones (Boo!). But the pirate didn’t turned up to either. (Oh, yes he did! Oh, no he didn’t!) And we had wardrobe issues. The costumes the dancers were to wear for the show included belts that made hardly any noise at all – stiff thread with coins so light they hardly moved, and spread so far apart that they hardly touched the coins on either side. The belts I’d let them practise in were my own, from Egypt, with a heavy noise and lots of sparkle. The dancers rebelled and refused to wear the stage costume belts. They wanted to be able to hear themselves move. Even the wardrobe mistress agreed the costume belts were a disappointment; perhaps someone could sit by the stage and jangle something as the dancers moved inorder to simulate the effect? I’m not sure she was getting the point.

But another problem was the female dancers not taking a bow at the end and leaving the stage in a hurry. They were so relieved to finish the routine, they just wanted to get off. I suggested that after the bow, they start exiting with walking hip lifts which would turn into the ‘Morcombe and Wise’ dance and the music would change to ‘Bring Me Sunshine’. At least they were now confident they’d finish on something really familiar and receive a positive response from the audience, which they could milk. Everyone seemed to relax after that, slow down, and find the whole thing more fun. Maybe not 'professional', but with two weeks to go they began to look like they knew what they were doing (or rather, they knew what they should have done - which is half way there).
 
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Duvet

New member
Last week was the final week of rehearsals. But our practise slot was cast wardrobe fitting time as well, so not much time or space to practise. The pirate turned up this time, and tried on his bellydance outfit - bra and harem pants. He looked quite good, except his bra kept falling off! His hairy chest accentuated the whole comic effect just right, although he felt he needed to shave his shoulders (!?). Lots of kids again, trying on costumes and taking photos of him in his outfit. He was getting more attention than the Dame!

Due to lack of space we retreated into the neighbouring chapel. The pirate had obviously been practising, as, despite missing two weeks, he knew the routine better. I’m not sure how the chapel congregation would have felt about three bellydancers (one a man in drag) dancing amongst the pews, whilst I watched and directed from the pulpit, with the musical director accompanying the dancers on the chapel organ. But it did give a chance to practise what to do if something went wrong (ie you ran out of room, something prodded you from behind, or you walked into something).The pirate’s mistakes were really a bonus, as they were funnier than trying to be serious and get it right. His facial reactions were too comical not to miss.

But I did miss the first stage rehearsal, due to being misinformed about the schedule. I was disappointed, but was told the dancers went down well with the desired effect. It sounded like a success, but I wouldn't know until I saw them at the first dress rehearsal.
 
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Duvet

New member
Its all over now. The panto as a whole was lovely. Cliched, awful acting, bad jokes, forgotten lines, and finished on a really good number that left you feeling you'd seen a grand show. Perfect Panto! I, however, was preoccupied with the bellydancing.

The ladies did end up wearing my coinbelts, and the costumes were great, but they wore yasmaks! Really big yasmaks that covered all of their face, came down to the navel, and detracted from the moves. Not a good choice at all. They got through the routine fine, despite the musicians loosing the music - but they kept on regardless. At least in that way they were 'professional'. But they'd barely had three hours of my time, and unfortunately and not surprisingly, it showed. But, what they did was fine for panto, and they looked like they were enjoying themselves (as far as I could gauge - the yasmaks meant you couldn't see the faces!). However, the worse bit for me was that the dance did not fit the context of the scene. Despite the director choosing the music and agreeing that the routine was what he wanted, seeing it in context I was conscious it had completely the wrong energy.

The pirates' dancing...hmmm. Again the yasmaks were too big, and hid their hairy chests and facial expressions, which were comic features lost. And neither were wearing a coinbelt (so to my eyes they looked 'naked'). The audience found two blokes in drag hilarious (as expected) but both pirates looked too embarrassed, and it froze them in getting on and dancing. The pirate doing his own thing was great at times, but kept loosing energy and freeflow. But what he did do he hammed up to good effect. The other pirate (who was meant to be doing the routine) looked lost. He was thinking too much about what to do and wasn't funny to watch. Perfectly understandable considering the lack of input he'd had, but it would have looked better if he had just been left to his own devises.

Despite my reservations however, it seems the audience enjoyed the bellydancing slots. I guess thats the most important thing.

I'd love to be able to say that I taught the dancers a fantastic routine, made them look professional and recieved tons of compliments. I can't. I taught them a routine, they were as good as you could expect considering, and I've had no compliments, but lots of thanks. I've enjoyed being involved and would do it again (or should I not? I'm not sure I achieved anything by being involved).

Certain things come out:

1. Make sure the piece fits the context. Obvious, now! And I do it when working out the running order for my own shows/performances. Despite reading the play, I hadn't picked up that the music I had been given didn't quite fit the scene. I allowed myself to be led by the director, when I should have thought about it myself.

2. Make sure there's enough practise time. I really should have got some ground work done in technique, but I lost the first two weeks, and the remaining time was too short to get technique and the choreography in. Three hours was a ridiculous amount of time to give me, considering I'd been initially asked over eight months ago. Yet the trouble with getting more time to teach properly is that the time spent on the piece becames disproportionate to the length and importance of that piece in the whole production, and the amount of time people are willing or able to give.

3. Vet the costume. Fortunately I was able and willing to lend them my coinbelts, but the huge yasmaks just spoilt the outfit, and I would have chosen different moves that wouldn't get the arms tangled up!

4. Don't sweat it. It's panto. While I want them to look good because it reflects on me, I have to give priority to them enjoying it, and whether it looks good for the panto. On those accounts it was a success.

5. I need more experience in teaching. Ironically, this was part of that experience.
 

Pleasant dancer

New member
That sounded like fun, despite your reservations. Don't sweat too much on the things like music not fitting the scene, I doubt very much if the audience noticed (at least those that knew nothing about the dance!).

A good few years ago I danced in a pantomine with my (then) teacher and 2 other students. We were asked to dance for 2 - 2.5 minutes (!) We already had a class dance to Setrak's Farhab Shabab (folky style number) which is about that length. So, we danced in full glitter and bedlah to a really folky piece of music!! Worked a treat. Audience thought we were wonderful (and a welcome relief from all the naff jokes, bad acting etc that characterize panto) :D

The important aspect was that as we could already dance we were in charge of what we did. My teacher also taught about 15 little girls a simple veil dance as part of the panto. Think it was Ali Baba (can't remember!) must look out the programme...

We had great fun, although 4 performances in a row, including a matinee was quite tiring, all that makeup and glitter etc for a short 2 minutes piece, twice on Saturday! I have real respect for professional actors who do 6 shows a week! :clap:
 

Duvet

New member
Oh my, has it really been four years since that experience?!!

And I've just had an e-mail from the same company asking for help in this years panto in February! Well, nice to have been remembered. Shall I take the plunge? I think I will. "Oh no you won't!" Oh, yes I will!, etc.
 

Duvet

New member
There's a few things I learnt from last time, and I'll incorporate them into this upcoming experience. It will be fun!!
 
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