Balancing two personas in one, harmonious life!
“It’s like Bruce Wayne and Batman.” So I tell people when they ask why I have stage name. “Jessica” is a lovely name, but it was also the most popular female name in the year that I was born (which I shall not divulge) and it doesn’t sound very exotic. “Oriana” is wispy, mesmerizing and alludes to a mysterious seductress of unknown origin slinking through the night like a silky feline. It definitely doesn’t sound like an English-Irish girl from a low-class dysfunctional family that originally was a painter and taught public school.
Aside from sounding pretty, my true intention of a stage name was to create a new character for myself. Being “Oriana” means slipping into a new persona through the process of changing my costuming, makeup and demeanor. My original character concept was that Oriana is a socialite of the 1930’s who ran away from home to experience the world as a traveling performer. She is as exuberant, popular, witty and glamorous as much as she is curious and coquettish. I was trying to channel The Great Gatsby before it was cool.
The further I got into my dance career the more pronounced my double life became. Jessica is somewhat of a homebody. Geeky, intelligent, sweet and shy. Oriana is the pretty popular girl. Jessica probably did Oriana’s homework so that Oriana could go cheer-leading at the homecoming game that night. How do these two people exist in the same body? Is there medication for this?
My real life Clark Kent job is in a bakery for a popular grocery chain here in the south. I’m lucky enough to like my day job, but in essence it is retail. It’s long hours of standing on my feet in food production. I wear a name badge that 90% of customers won’t notice and generally people don’t look at my face when I acknowledge them. They point at what they want in the case and grunt at me. (Maybe they haven’t realized that we have knives and large ovens. Maybe they also haven’t seen Sweeney Todd.)
Scene. Cut to evening. It’s Friday night at a nightclub where I’ll be performing. I’m sitting at a table as Oriana. Men are flocking to me. Women are telling me how beautiful I am. Everyone wants to know where I’m from, how I became a dancer, where I get my costumes. When I get up to use the restroom, eyes will follow me across the room. I could flip a table and everyone would probably be OK with it, because I am a golden Goddess that landed her Pegasus drawn chariot just moments earlier to entertain them that evening.
How does this phenomena occur? Girl, have you watched “What Not to Wear?” At the risk of sounding shallow, appearances really do change people’s perspectives of us. The most common defense of the victims: “But people should judge me by my character, not by what I’m wearing!” I totally agree. Unfortunately, we will never ever get the chance to know each and every single person we meet on an intimate basis to realize that, oh, she’s a really sweet girl despite her PINK sweatpants and Uggs.
We are accustomed to uniforms. If you wear nurse scrubs, people will assume you are a nurse. If you wear dress pants, a blouse, and carry a briefcase people will assume you’re a paralegal. If you wear stained clothes and don’t comb your hair people will assume you’re down on your luck. If you show up wearing a costume covered in sequins and glitter, people will assume you’re pretty awesome and will want to talk to you. My work uniform consists of white scrub pants, a white scrub shirt, a white apron and a lunch lady hairnet. I’m usually covered in icing Jackson Pollack style. So, basically I look like a hospital orderly that went paint-balling. Not very sexy.
Bellydance does have a “uniform” of sorts. Some kind of bra top and a skirt, generally flashy and heavily accessorized. There’s a lot of skin showing and for my style of dance a long, flowing mane is a must. When your outfit is dripping with rhinestones and your makeup screams fashion model, that sends a very different message. To be honest I used to feel very hurt that people (men especially) only really noticed me when I was Oriana. You mean to tell me that I’m only attractive when I’m wearing some uncomfortable costume, contacts, ten pounds of makeup and a wig? Really? What I realized over the years is that it didn’t make me a more beautiful person-it makes me more of an interesting one. I look like I have a story to tell. Being flashy means “Look at me! Talk to me! I dressed this way to get your attention!”
Once I realized this fact, I began to use my alter ego to my advantage. If Oriana gets a lot of attention, what do I want people to take from it? What should Oriana’s clothes and makeup tell people about her? I went back to my original character concept. That tells me what colors, fabrics, styles I should wear. I asked myself what I would really love to wear if money wasn’t an option. I gave myself a fantasy shopping spree on Pinterest. I started incorporating the opulence of Vegas showgirls, and the ingenuity of Rupaul’s Drag Race. I now pick my costumes accordingly, or better yet, design my own.
That’s how you go about blending two lives: if you must present yourself in a certain way, how can you incorporate your true self into it? It does seem cliche but with all of this Law of Attraction business floating around in the ether, doesn’t it follow that if you dress for success you will achieve it? If you dress richly you will be? If you present yourself as beautiful, you are. I’m not saying toss your sneakers and blow all of your money on new clothes right this second. I am saying that if you are popping tags at the the thrift store, with only twenty dollars in your pocket, buy the jeans you really like. That’s the first step to merging your own true self with your fabulous alter ego. Eventually, you’ll find that the two were really the same person all along. At least until you have to provide your license and registration to the nice officer.
A St. Petersburg, FL native, Oriana began her interest in the arts at a young age. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Art with high honors at Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, and has been performing in popular venues for over seven years. Oriana dances with grace and energy in the Cabaret and Classical Egyptian styles–performing with zills, wngs of isis, fire, veils and more! She is also an active member of New Moon Circus. Find her on Facebook or learn more about her on her site. She offers words of wisdom, encouragement, and reality on her blog Shake and Bake: The Confessions of a Budding Competitive Bellydancer…with Cupcakes.