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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Do You Need
a Belly Dance Stage Name?


By Shira




Table of Contents





You love belly dancing, and you've become good enough to start performing. You've been invited to dance in a student recital, or do a bellygram, or appear on stage with a troupe. Now someone has suggested to you that you choose a "dance name". Huh? A "dance name"? What's that, and why do you need it?

A "dance name" is similar to a writer's "pen name" or an actor's "stage name" — it's a name that you use when appearing in public as a performer. Maybe you need one, but maybe you don't. Maybe you want one, maybe you don't.

The decision on whether to adopt a stage name depends on you, how dance fits into your life, and what recommendations your teacher or troupe director may offer. This article will help you consider the pros and cons, and if you decide you want one, how to pick it.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Lina Jang, New York City, New York.




What Is a "Dance Name"?

In short, a "dance name" is a name people use when functioning as dancers. People use dance names when:

  • Performing in public
  • Teaching classes
  • Meeting with musicians
  • Going out on the town with dance friends
  • Attending Oriental dance workshops and other events
  • Serving as their "brand name" when marketing their dance-related projects
  • Otherwise moving in dance circles

Over time, belly dancers often develop a circle of friends who don't even know their "civilian" names.

Dance names can be typical names in your own culture that you like the sound of. For example, if your real name is Beulah Uggins, you might choose a somewhat more elegant-sounding stage name such as Bethany Rose. Hollywood has a long tradition of using stage names as part of packaging image. For that matter, so does Egypt.

Some belly dancers choose dance names from Arab, Turkish, Jewish, or Armenian culture. This practice used to be very common in the U.S. before 1990, but has declined in popularity since then. There are pitfalls associated with using a stage name from a culture that is not your own. A dancer should think carefully and seek guidance before doing so. I offer some assistance in looking at this question in another article here on this web site.

Stage names are common throughout all styles of belly dance. Typically, a dancer's choice will be influenced by these factors:

  • How concerned is she is for personal safety (avoiding stalkers)?
  • How concerned is she about privacy?
  • Does she plan to work professionally, or does she plan to dance solely as a hobbyist?
  • What type of client does she hope to attract?
  • What are the current trends among the belly dance community with respect to stage names?
  • What style of belly dance does she embrace?
  • What does she want to do?

You can be a perfectly credible dancer performing under your own legal name, but if you like the idea of having a nom de danse, then go ahead nad choose one!

A dance name may or may not be a legally-recognized name. Some dancers incorporate themselves as a business, set up checking accounts, and open post office boxes under their dance names, but many others don't. Some have even legally changed their legal names to something dance-related. Some have even trademarked their stage names, but most people don't find this necessary.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.



Do You Need A Dance Name?

Obviously, the first question is whether you need a dance name. Here are some ideas to help you consider that question — if you decide that yes, having a dance name is right for you, then you can go on to decide what it should be.


Do You Even Want a Dance Name?

If you think the notion of picking a separate name to use when you're dancing is silly, then it probably doesn't make sense for you to do it.

If you think it would be fun to have a dance name, even if you're not performing anywhere and you never plan to work professionally, then go ahead and pick one anyway. After all, why not?

If you're not sure, keep reading, consider the comments below, and then make your decision!

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.


What do the Pros Do?

The answer to this question won't help you much. Many professional belly dancers do use "dance" names. Many others have been successful using their normal everyday names.

Either choice is valid.

There is a long history of people using stage names in other aspects of show business. Sometimes they feel their original names don't fit the public persona they are trying to create. For example, Marilyn Monroe's pre-show-business name was Norma Jeane Baker. John Wayne's pre-show-business name was Marion Mitchell Morrison.

This logic may also apply to some belly dancers - a dancer whose real name is "Mildred Moosekin" might feel that performing under such a name could destroy the glamorous image she is trying to create. A different dancer may feel very comfortable with the image her real name conveys. It's all a matter of personal preference.

Stage names have long been used in Egypt. According to Priscilla Adum's research, Badia Masabni's daughter Juliette used the stage name of Laila El Chakraa (the blonde Laila) or Laila Al 3amriya. Badia gave the stage name Samia Gamal to young Zeinab Ali Khalil Ibrahim Mahfouz at the time she hired her.


What About Security & Privacy Issues?

Some people are very sensitive about security and privacy, and for others it doesn't matter much. If you want to keep your legal identity secret from people who encounter you through dance, then a dance name could be useful.

For example:

  • Could there be adverse consequences for you in your "day job" if people who know you in that aspect of your life were to learn that you belly dance?
  • If a prospective employer were to type your name into an Internet search engine, would dance-related entries in the search results hurt your chances of getting the job?
  • Would members of your family feel ashamed or be upset if your dancing became public knowledge?
  • Are you concerned that someone you used to know and are now hiding from (perhaps a violent ex-husband, a stalker, or a mentally ill person from your past) might learn your whereabouts if you dance under your true name?
  • Are you afraid you would be the target of harassment or other unwelcome attention if the public were to know your real identity?
  • Are you concerned that you might acquire a stalker once you start appearing in public as a dancer?
  • Would members of your church react badly to seeing your name advertised in connection with belly dance?
  • Are you the kind of person who likes to keep your private life private?

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.

If safety or privacy are important to you, then a dance name is recommended. It doesn't need to be Middle Eastern. It could be a normal name from your own culture.


What Does Your Teacher or Troupe Director Say?

Your belly dance teacher may have a strong opinion on this issue. Ask her why you should or should not have a dance name, and consider the response. You should carefully consider your teacher's input, but make your own decision based on what's right for you.

If you are a member of a troupe, then your troupe director may strongly want you to adopt a dance name for use on promotional material (web site, press releases, flyers, etc.) for the troupe. Your troupe director is probably trying to cultivate a certain artistic "image" for the troupe, and using dance names for the participants may be an integral element in her vision of what that artistic image should be.

If you want dance with that troupe, then you may need to be flexible and adopt a dance name, at least for use when you're appearing with them. However, you don't need to use it when dancing separate from the troupe if you don't want to.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.


Who Is the Dancer Inside You?

For some people, The Dancer who dresses up in coins, sequins, flowing chiffon, or other costume items is an extension of who they are in real life. Their normal personalities may be extroverted, flamboyant, and theatrical, and belly dance is just another way to express that. Or, belly dance may be a means of expressing their spiritual, artistic, or creative side — a side that they have openly acknowledged for many years. Is that you? The person you are on a normal daily basis may well be someone you, your family, and your friends can easily conceive of stepping onto a stage and delivering a mesmerizing belly dance performance. If that's the case, then you may not need a dance name.

Other people may have issues with shyness, self-confidence, modesty, or self-image, and find it hard to imagine themselves twirling about in the spotlight. If that is your situation, you may find that adopting a name to use when you are being The Dancer lets you create a whole new persona: a person who does possess the self-assurance to step confidently on stage and deliver a terrific show. Maybe "Susan" is terribly intimidated by the notion of actually dancing in public, whereas under the name "Amira" (which means "Princess" in Arabic) she can discard the inhibitions and step into the shoes of the artist within her. Over time, people who use a dance name for this reason often grow into those qualities in their "mundane" lives as well.

If this sounds like it might work for you, first you create the name, then you add the outward attributes that you want The Dancer to possess: confident posture, vivacious behavior, willingness to make small talk with strangers, glamourous hair and nails, elegant clothing even when not on stage, etc. When functioning under your normal everyday name, you wear your normal clothes and behave according to your normal patterns. But when you put on your dance identity to do a performance, watch a belly dance show, attend a class, or fraternize with people you have met through dance, that's when you transform into The Dancer.

At first, it may feel uncomfortable, as if you're pretending to be something you're not, but eventually the routine will become more natural. Ideally, over time, as you increasingly integrate dance into your life, you'll be able to merge the two identities, taking what you like best from each and growing yourself into a more assured, confident, well-rounded person.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.




How Do You Choose A Dance Name?

There are two different ways you can go about acquiring a dance name — one is to choose one for yourself, and the other is to let someone else name you.

Take care in your choice of name — look for something that not only appeals to you today, but also isn't likely to become embarrassing to you over time as you mature, change interests, and acquire new circles of friends. Obviously, it is possible to change your name in the future if you feel the urge to do so, but if you have built a large fan base under the original dance name, then changing it could lead to confusion.


Letting Someone Else Name You

If you let someone name you, take care to choose someone who is worthy of your trust. This is especially true if you are asking that person to help you choose an ethnic name from a culture you don't know much about.

First, ensure that the person is sincerely trying to help you. I've heard stories from some dancers who were very dismayed to learn that the names suggested to them were actually pranks rather than honorable suggestions. For example, someone might suggest the name of a science fiction character that you're not familiar with, but when you read the book or see the movie you may find out that the character is devious, scheming, untrustworthy, violent, and hated by all.

Second, it is wise to ensure that the person wanting to name you knows enough about Middle Eastern culture to make a sensible choice. For example, a belly dance teacher might propose the name "Aziza" for her student because she knows it is a woman's name from the Middle East and the title of a song, or "Badia" because of the major role Badia Masabni played in the history of raqs sharqi, not realizing it sounds outdated to many of today's Arab people in the same way Americans might think the name "Gertrude" or "Beulah" is outdated.

Ask yourself whether you respect this person enough to accept a name from her/him, or whether you want to distance yourself from that person's ideas. Just because someone wants to name you does not mean that you are required to accept it! You decide whether that person has earned the right to name you, and whether you feel the name is suitable.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.


Should You Choose a Middle Eastern Name?

There is no easy answer to this question. Sometimes the answer would be yes, sometimes no. There are several issues to consider. In fact, there are so many issues to consider that I have written a separate article about it. Click here if you're interested in using a Middle Eastern name and would like help in exploring the issues connected with doing so.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.


Be Practical

Yes, I know the word "practical" doesn't exactly go with being creative and artistic. But before making a decision, ask yourself whether a name you are considering can stand up to everyday use. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Will the name you're considering cause you to be listed early on an alphabetical list, in the middle, or near the end?
  • Will people who are announcing your performance be able to correctly guess the pronunciation?
  • Will an unpronounceable-looking name make a prospective customer decide to call someone else rather than embarrass himself by calling you and pronouncing your name wrong?
  • Is there already someone locally famous who uses a name very similar to yours — someone people might confuse you with?
  • Will the name be easy to spell for people who want to write it down?
  • Is it a name you won't be embarrassed to still be using 2 years from now? 10 years? 30 years? Some dance careers do last that long!
  • Is it something people will be able to remember easily?
  • Will it drive you crazy if other people pronounce your name wrong or spell it wrong?

I've known dancers who changed their names after a couple of years because they got tired of dealing with the above issues.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.


How About a Last Name?

Most dancers use just one name: for example, "Tiffany" or "Zahira". However, there are many who adopt a last name to go with it. This is particularly advisable if you plan to use a name that you're aware of other people already having.

If you're not planning to use a Middle Eastern name, you can pick names from your own culture that work well together and sound pleasing when said out loud together. For example, Ariana Rose or Melanie Lauren.

Some troupes use the same last name for all their members, and then pick individual dancer names.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.



In Search of a Good Name!

Here are some possible places to look in your quest for a dance name:

  • A name from your own culture that sounds appealing to you
  • If you want a Middle Eastern name, see the article about Middle Eastern stage names elsewhere on this web site
  • Your own imagination
  • If you're involved in the Pagan community, perhaps you could use your Pagan name
  • Characters from science fiction, swords & sorcery, or other fictional sources
  • Characters from Middle Eastern fiction, such as the 1001 Nights
  • A name from the mythology of ancient Egypt, Babylon, Sumer, or Greece

Whatever name you choose, be careful — you might choose something that is obscene or ridiculous in certain Middle Eastern languages! Do some research before finalizing the choice.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Kaylyn Hoskins, Solon, Iowa.




Now Make It Your Own!

Okay. You've picked out a name. Now that you have it, you want to make it your own. How? That's pretty much up to you. Here are some ideas, but of course you should do what fits your own personality:

  • Have A Naming Ceremony. If you are so inclined, design a ceremony or ritual for yourself in which your formally adopt the name as your own in honor of the tradition of holding a christening ceremony for a baby. You can either do this in private, or invite close friends and family.
  • Business Cards. Order business cards featuring your new name and any information you wish to provide on how to contact you. Even if you don't perform professionally, you might enjoy the fun of having the cards to give to new dance acquaintances that you meet at workshops, festivals, and other belly dance events.
  • T-Shirt. Go to one of those custom T-shirt shops and have a shirt made with your new dance name. Wear it to belly dance festivals, shows, and other events.
  • Tell People About It. Tell your classmates and dance teacher. Ask them to introduce you under that name when you perform.
  • Use It. If you write a note or send a greeting card to a fellow dancer, sign it with your new dance name. Sign your e-mail messages with it. Introduce yourself under that name when you meet new people. Set up a blog using the name.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.




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