Belly Dancers... Their Stories, Their Experiences and Their Confessions

From Kari Peters to Kavita

belly dance, belly dancer, recitals, Recitals are a tricky endeavour; you have many students, of various skill levels and age, all wanting to look their best while entertaining an audience full of friends, family, and strangers. Now add in a studio that teaches belly dance, ballet, stretch, tap, jazz and Zumba, and you have a recipe for gray hairs.

That’s the challenge Kari Peters faced when putting together a recital for her studio, Shimmy Dance in Cobourg, Ontario. Luckily, Kari Peters had help to make her recital a success. She had Kavita, her belly dance alter ego. The two work together to achieve her goal.

“Unity,” Kari wrote in an e-mail to HipMix.net. “I didn't want to produce another ‘recital’ of individual, isolated dances. I needed a challenge that would inspire me and my students to deepen our understanding of dance.”

Kari Peters choreographs her dances like a puzzle. Each piece is a different age group of dancers, with a choreographed piece of movement. The puzzle pieces are never set into place one by one. Instead, they come together all at the same time, producing a vivid picture of sometimes similar movements, and sometimes complimentary. No one on stage has to stand and watch someone else perform; everyone is engaged, even the audience.

Such an intense practice involves coordination, extensive planning, and lots of practice. Aside from the 15 to 18 weeks it takes to learn the choreography leading up to the recital, Kari said she plans 5 big rehearsals with everyone in the performance.

“These can quickly get out of hand with so many people (25 for Alice) who don't see each other often, so I make sure I plan ahead,” Kari said.

But her planning isn’t just about the choreography. Though the dance moves are obviously important, a large part of performance is lighting, sound, setting the stage, recording and costuming the dancers. Kari did her planning, and let The Cameco Capitol Arts Centre in Port Hope, Ontario take over.

“Our theatre is very professional so for our shows I've never felt I had to go nuts with settings or backdrops,” Kari said. “My dancers provide the colour and set the mood.”

belly dance, belly dancer, perfromancesThe lighting and sound crew watch rehearsals, and coordinate their settings accordingly. With a professional stage crew, Kari is able to focus on what matters: letting her students shine. And when you have kids in the mix of a show, you know preparation is key.

“We had a stage prep workshop so just about every student had everything - costumes organized, pins, makeup, body glue, hair stuff, all props,” Kari said.

She may have everything planned, but one can never account for every possibility. Inevitably something goes wrong, and Kari has experienced some humorous disasters.

“[A] student wore black socks, I still laugh when I see the video, the stage and curtains were black so it looks like she's dancing on stumps,” Kari said. “I lost my shirt in a performance. One giant chest pop and the whole audience heard the rip. Luckily I was wearing wings so I covered up and ran offstage.”

But Kari recognizes that the art of dance is in the unknown. That’s why she’s chosen to pursue dance for so long: the challenge of reacting when reality sneaks into your performance.

“You are living art and you must make the best out of every outcome,” Kari said.

To perform to the best of her ability, as show time approaches she must let go of Kari Peters, the choreographer, become Kavita, the performer.

“The detachment is very important for me artistically because up until this point in the process I am in every detail- costuming, choreographing, working on developing the strengths of each individual dancer while getting the most out of groups as well,” Kari said. “It's at this point I can focus on my performance.”

Considering her role in the recital was as the Queen of Hearts, it was important for her to concentrate. Her transformation is well known to her more weathered students. They know that as the red circled date on the calendar approaches, students need to step up and help out.

“On show day I am Kavita and she will not answer their questions,” Kari said. “They all know they can go to my other Troupe members, and one of two backstage Moms to make sure their hair and makeup are done properly.”

She may give the performance over to Kavita, but after the stress of being on stage, Kari can lean back and appreciate the weight of her accomplishment fully.

“My main goal was to inspire my students and engage the audience. As always I want my students to first appreciate themselves, then each other and the wonderful creations we can make. When we enjoy ourselves, our audience (our community) does as well,” Kari said.

Having been through two of these large performances, Kari has some advice to dispense to anyone who is thinking about choreographing their own show.

“The stakes feel higher when we work so long on something but in those last moments I trust that I've done everything I possibly can and I let go.”

 

Take a lesson from Kari Peters in how to de-stress after a big performance.

 

Pictured at the top: Kari's daughter, Kiaha

Pictured in the middle: Kari Peters in the opening scene of her Alice in Wonderland production