Performance or Dancing?


I 'perform' for an audience, but I 'dance' for myself. Is this the general idea?

When I hear music and want to move - I'm dancing. I express myself and the music with little forethought, the more so if I feel that I'm not being commented upon by a watchful audience.
When I want to get my costume out, get the make-up on, put my name 'on the list' with a designated style and music track, and sort out a choreography or pre-think the mood I wish to portray - then I'm performing.

Performing does involve 'dancing', but performing sets standards that can inhibit (will my technique/costume/make-up be good enough; what if I get the routine wrong; is my music authentic; will the audience like me; will my fellow dancers like me; am I good enough to be here?), and barriers that can stretch and enhance experience (what if my costume/music/legs go wrong; I've never used that type of prop/music/costume before; I've never danced on stage/on a table/on a boat/on a film before; what if the audience join in/ignore/heckle me?). You are purposefully stepping outside an area of safety and exposing yourself, no matter how low key the 'performance' might be. You are setting yourself apart to be observed (solo or in a group) - declaring yourself as being worthy of being watched.

Some haflas I go to end up being all about 'performing' and not about 'dancing'. Some can be real stress-fests - more concerned with how photogenic the event will be for the DVD than with making the dancers and audience relaxed and comfortable - which is not fun to be part of. Even the freestyle dancing ends up being under bright lights and on the stage area - making what should be just 'safe' dancing into even more 'performing'. Performing is good if that is what you want to do, and enjoy the thrill and challenge (and the limelight), but sometimes it can be too overwhelming and inhibitive for some people. With haflas that forget that 'dancing' isn't about standing out and being noticed, but about sharing and connecting with yourself and others in a safe environment, it can put people off from joining in at any level.

What do others think about the difference between 'performing' and 'dancing', and which do they feel the haflas/parties available to them in their area focus on more? There should be room for all tastes, but I vote for more haflas where the 'performing' involves dancers who are able to make mistakes, fluff the choreography, get the music wrong, have a laugh and carry on, or elect to sit down and let someone else dance instead. I've been to these haflas too and they really are more enjoyable. Or better still, haflas with no 'dance platform' at all - just food, music, chats and friends. Dancing if you want to, and no worries (or queries) if you don't.


New member
Nice thread.... I have limited experience with haflas but have assumed they are meant to be fun social events... a place to catch up with other dancers you haven't seen in a while... a place for group recreational dancing ( free dancing with others at the same time.. not up there by yourself)... a place to shake down a new choreography in front of a knowledgeable non threatening crowd (practice performing?)..

But getting twisted up because someone somewhere is filming it for a DVD... That's not on for a hafla.... you film for the DVD at a performance where everyone is putting their best foot forward... on stage ... at a show....

Having someone video you at the hafla so you can use it to improve yourself is not what I'm thinking of....

I think you learn to dance for yourself... you become a happier person because you dance... but everyone who bellydances has the idea of performing in their mindset... whether they perform or not is up to them....

Happy Holidays... Jim


New member
I think it is more complicated

when i dance in public i also dance for myself, sometimes too much for me. And if i dance without costume, make up, and only for fun in a party where i am a guest like any other and not in a gig, i still know that i perform. It is just completely different performance setting. I mean, we perform everytime we are in a public setting, where one is talking to a business meeting or giving a conference presentation or tries to persuade the mayor that the neighbourhood deserves their park re-vitalised etc.

So, a private party where we all dance with our everyday clothes anyway we want, is also a place where we perform. We just do not perform for people to receive a pro dancing happening. We are still there having in mind that people may look at us, and being conscious that we reveal things about ourselves while dancing no matter what. We renegotiate our social relations at any moment, just like we do things for us or we fall into dancing ecstasy irrespective of audience in a stage performance.

Better to think of the settings each time. I mean, for bellydancers who have the dance as their traditional dance and never dance on a scene, it is still a performance. Your boyfriend, employer, in-laws, friends, enemies, antagonists and strangers watch you dancing - this is important because it affects your everyday life and everyone knows who you are, where you live and what you do for life. Your dance is affected by this truth and is performed so that it can accomodate everything, your urge to dance, your feelings, your story and the social interactions before and after the dance. This is performance.


New member
I've never been to a hafla, but assumed it would be like a bellydance party? And people kind of all dance and it's fun. And possibly a place to share what you're learning or tips on costuming etc etc

I have been in amateur theatre since I was 16 (25 now) so performing is very much second-nature to me. I have to say, I love to dance on my own in the house or with friends and family, but I do LOVE performance. I agree there is a difference between the two and I get a different enjoyment from both - but a big part of bellydance for me is the "look" and also (hopefully in the future) when I can perform a really WOW!-inducing performance with a sword/amazing moves/beautiful costumes AND joyful soulful dance.


New member
"Dancing" is movement (usually to music - but it can be in your head). When you dance the purpose is just the movement. "Performance" is about communicating with someone else; you might be communicating what the music says to you - or showing a folkloric style - or entertaining - or moving emotionally - to sharing joy. Lots of reasons to perform - but in each there is a layer over the basic dance. You need o be aware of what you are projecting and how you are connecting with the audience.