Consider Your Audience

by Alizah Afet (Amy Smith)

I want my audiences to be as open-minded as my characters. - Jason Reitman  

Is one type of audience member preferred over another? 

I was pondering this after corresponding with a dancer about her upcoming events. She expressed concern that, at her last event, while the house was full, not a single belly dancer showed up.

My first thought was: “WOW! You sold out!!” Granted, in this particular dancer’s case it was a smallish space, but to fill your event seating to capacity is always gratifying. For performers, there’s nothing like looking out from the stage at a full house. These days, with so many events happening concurrently or so close together, event producers are happy to have warm bodies in seats - dancers, neighbors, friends, family members, and random strangers dragged off the street.

I’ve also had the opposite experience - where a dance event audience was full of nothing but dancers. Of course, it’s great to have the support of your local dance community. In many ways, we are the ideal audience. We all understand what it takes to put on an event. We want to support our dance colleagues and friends. We understand why a performer might make this artistic choice of music, or admire the exquisite work that went into a hand-made costume. Lastly - and this is not a small thing - we enjoy seeing belly dancers perform!  

But sometimes - especially after attending several events within a short time span and seeing the same people over and over - I feel like we are performing only for each other. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing! But I think many of us got into performing thinking that we would be sharing our art with the larger non-dancer community (I call them “civilians”). We share our art because we love it, and we want them to love and understand it, too. Even in this enlightened age, belly dance (of any style) suffers from misconceptions of what the dance is about and why any one would perform it, so dance events can be educational. If I had a nickel for every time a civilian told me “I get it! Belly dance is sensual, not erotic!” I would be able to quit my day job.

It’s much easier to accomplish this goal for some venues - restaurants, for example, where people are coming in to get a meal anyway. Getting civilians to purchase tickets for a theatrical type venue is far more difficult. So I say to that dancer with whom I was corresponding: “DOUBLE WIN! Full house of CIVILIANS!!!"

As a sometime event producer, the bottom line is - always - to get rear ends in seats, so we can keep on producing these events. But wouldn’t it be nice to have a healthy mix of dancers and civilians in those seats?

About Alizah Afet
Alizah strives to be a good audience member and to try and always bring a civilian to provide cosmic balance. She publishes Belly Dance New England.