We live in an era where nearly everyone has a social online identity and it’s difficult to separate one’s personal from professional life. It used to be easy to step out on stage under whatever name you pleased only to leave behind the oriental fantasy at the end of the night. Now there will always be Facebook photos and YouTube videos to connect her to you; the digital world is an unmasker of secret identities.
So how does a dancer identify herself in the digital age? There is already great advice available about choosing a stage name. I’m not going to readdress what’s already been thoroughly discussed in such thoughtful detail by others. If you’d like more information about where to find or how to pick a name you should read Do You Need a Stage Name? by Shira, or How to Choose Your Stage Name by Taaj. What I would like to present, however, are some considerations for dancers who are thinking about going pro and would need their name to serve them as a brand.
A few assumptions
If you’re a belly dancer that plans to one day teach or perform professionally you’re going to need an online presence. Yes, I said it. An online presence is a necessity for professionals. It may just be a website, but more than likely you’ll also have an online social presence like a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, a blog, or a YouTube channel, as well. This is what makes choosing a stage name in the digital era different. We now have to consider how that name will fit within a global network.
I’m also going to assume that the digital age has brought changes that are neither good or bad- just different. A lot of people are quick to criticize or praise the use of social media. Let’s just assume for now that, whether we like it or not, it’s part of our brand. Our job as professionals (or as up and coming professionals) is to learn about the market so that we can make the best decisions.
Is choosing a stage name going out of style?
As Ava Fleming, Michelle Joyce, and Rachel Brice might tell you, it certainly is becoming more common for dancers to perform under their legal name. I think this is a result of the evolution of the dance in this country, as well as the evolution of its perception by the general public. However within more traditional styles, especially when the dancer may be working with an ethnic audience, choosing a stage name is still common.
Do you really need a stage name?
Creating an alternate dance persona can be fun. It can give you courage when you first start to perform. It may help you create a sense of mystique or authenticity for the audience. It can also help protect your identity if you really really need to separate the dancing from your personal life. These are still good reasons to choose a dance name, but I also think they are becoming less important and less relevant.
I think there is something very powerful about a dancer who is bold enough to step on stage as herself. It has also been my experience in the six years I have been Ananke that the pseudonym has become less enticing and more off-putting for potential clients and students. They seem more uncomfortable calling me by my stage name when they have the choice of my legal name.
If I were making the decision today? Hmm… I might not be Ananke.
Tips for choosing a stage name in the digital era
- Make sure the name is unique. This is where having the internet really comes in handy! Do a thorough search on Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, and YouTube to make sure that there aren’t any other dancers, troupes, or businesses with that name. Adjust the spelling and add a last name if needed to make it totally yours. I strongly urge you to avoid common names, such as Nadirah or Scherezade, even if you have a unique spelling and last name.
- Try the name out first. Perform a few times in a casual setting with the name you’re thinking about using. It may look great on paper or in your head, but it might not feel right when you’re dancing or when the announcer introduces you. Ask people at the show for their opinion. What did your name make them think of when they saw it in the program? Did it fit the dancer who came out on stage? Trying out a name at a show is a great way to test the market’s reaction.
- Have a two part name ready. Maybe you’ve already chosen a first and last name for the stage. Even if you’re going to go the single name route, have a second word prepared for online social profiles. Often when you sign up for an account on a website or online directory they’ll require you to enter a first AND last name. I always sign up as “Ananke Dance”. It’s easy just to add ‘dance’ or ‘dances’ after your stage name to complete the profile. The goal here is just to be consistent, so that if someone is interested and searches for ‘Ananke Dance’ they’ll be able to find your other profiles.
- Reserve the name for yourself. You might not be ready to go professional at this point, but when you do you’ll want to own your stage name on major sites like Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. My favorite place to go is Knowem.com where you can check the availability of your name across hundreds of social networks. Register on the networks that are most important to you, or find new networks you may want to add to your existing online network.
- Decide how you want to separate your personal and professional life. It’s important to start thinking early about where you will use a dance name versus your personal identity. You may choose to use a website only as your dance persona, have separate accounts for your personal and for your dance persona, or divide them in some other way. For example, I have a personal Facebook profile but a Facebook page for dance. I only have one Twitter account, but it’s for my dance persona only. I have two Pinterest accounts, one to serve me personally and another to serve me professionally. Decide where it’s important to make these divisions (and how many times you want to login and out everyday).
Questions, thoughts, reactions?
What else would you consider when deciding upon a stage name? Does it still make sense to choose a name in this day and age? Why or why not?