Dancing a set at a restaurant is something I love and hate at the same time. The dynamic is so different from a belly dance show because people aren’t just at the restaurant to see me dance- they’re also there to eat and converse with their friends. A show that is dedicated entirely to the performance typically has the audience transfixed on the dancers; the music is often too loud to speak over, and there isn’t much else to focus on except for maybe the drink in your hand.
The flurry of conversation, the way a good meal can dominate your senses, and the constant distractions of a restaurant environment can be intimidating for a performer. That is to say, I have to compete with the food and conversation for the attention of the audience. Sometimes, when a restaurant is full and the people have chosen that place primarily because there was going to be a show, the excitement and commotion of the restaurant adds to the set and makes it easier to perform. Then there are the times when I will look around and suddenly realize that not one person is watching me. Those moments generally only last for a few seconds, but during that time, I have to perform entirely for myself. It becomes like dancing alone in my room, except that at the restaurant there are people sitting all around. Occasionally, it can be a good thing when no one is watching; if I mess up no one sees.
Another benefit is that traveling from table to table, which takes up a good portion of the song. A shimmy here, a shimmy there- simple dance steps and easy to fill up time. Of course, the negative of going from table to table is that sometimes I feel as if I am intruding upon someone’s dinner. There have definitely been cases in which a table of people didn’t realize there was going to be a show, and aren’t entirely thrilled that music and dancing are interrupting what they had hoped to be an intimate and quiet dinner.
Overall, though, I love dancing at restaurants. I love the diversity of the people- that belly dance is exposed to people who would never attend a belly dance show. It’s great to be dancing and to look around and see a little kid imitating me, while over at another table an old man is attempting to do a shoulder shimmy as a joke for his friends, and the waitresses are watching me with rapt attention, the desire to dance being sparked.
In Costa Rica, I dance at several restaurants, including Café Rio Negro, Chili Rojo, Loco Natural, and Que Rico Papito! at the La Costa de Papito hotel. A perk is that all the restaurants feed me in addition to payment. There is something so satisfying about finishing a dance set and then immediately sitting down to a good meal. All the restaurants I mentioned serve delicious food and if you ever find yourself on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, they are well worth the visit.
Sometimes the nights are slow, sometimes they are packed full of people, but the food is always good!
Also, dancing in Costa Rica is a good lesson in adaptation. I have been unable to find a suitable travel case for my sword, so when I'm down in the jungle, I use a machete. The locals can never believe their eyes when they see me balancing a machete on my head. And really, a machete is just so bad ass. I mean, would you mess with a girl who had a machete? It definitely keeps the cat calls at bay!