Gilded Serpent presents...
Dancing with the Devil!
The Devil's Details, Show Ethics for Professionals
Part 1- Booking a Party
I recently read an article written for aspiring professional dancers
Circle. It covered the four corner posts of our profession;
Commitment (money, physical effort, time), Talent, Presence and Determination.
These are indeed the very essence of what makes a good dancer great.
But there are a whole slew of other details, The Devil's Details, that
can make or break a dancer, once she arrives on the circuit. Those are
the topics I would like to cover in this article; the dirty little details
no one talks about much, but that should be discussed.
It is difficult for newcomers to pick up many of the
nuances a seasoned performer learns the hard way over time.
That is why I decided to put together a quick and dirty list
- to help dancers just breaking in do justice to our profession.
I am also a great believer in Murphy's Law - if something
can go wrong, it will. (You will see numerous references to it
throughout.) It is better to be prepared than unwittingly succumb
to Murphy's random whims. When a dancer looks good, she, or another,
will get called back to perform again. When she looks bad, customers
might be turned off to our lovely art form forever. Therefore,
a bad dancer not only ruins things for herself, but for all of
Often, the amount of fun a dancer has when she performs is directly
proportional to her business skills, not her artistic talent.
During what can be stressful hours of over-enthusiastic partying,
it literally pays to have mastered the business side of our beloved
profession. Because if a dancer can translate one job into a steady
flow of paying engagements, she can actually turn a profit instead
of just dancing for fun.
I have broken up my words of wisdom into 5 sections;
- Booking a Party,
- Booking Agents,
- Professional versus Amateur,
- What Not to Do and
I didn’t originally intend for this to be so long, but once
I got going I realized there was a lot to cover. For the professionals
out there, if I have missed something or you don’t agree with
me, please send me an email and I will add your comments to a
PART 1: Get the information up front, at the time of booking:
Most ‘misunderstandings’ can be avoided if a dancer knows the right
questions to ask in the beginning, when she accepts a job, rather than
discovering unpleasant surprises after she has put her make up on and
driven all the way to work. I have written these guidelines only as stream
of consciousness tips and have not listed them by any order of importance:
- Nationality of customers (Middle Eastern, Indian,
Westerners, etc): Different cultures will have slightly different
expectations from your show. You must learn what those differences
are (a discussion far beyond the scope of this simple article).
Knowing who your audience is can help you choose appropriate
music, costumes, props, etc.
- Place: Besides the location, ask about parking, directions
and for a telephone number of the venue (in case you get lost,
are late or have a last minute question). When you are in a
rush, knowing where to park in advance can be a lifesaver, particularly
if it’s a busy night or a crowded area. Do you know the area?
Is it safe? Will you need to bring a companion/body guard? How
long will it take you to get there? Add 20 minutes for Murphy’s
- Time window / flexibility: Do you have another place
to go to before or afterwards? Do you mind sitting around waiting?
Does your customer need for you to be flexible? How will waiting
affect the price you quote? (Your time should mean extra
- Travel allowance: Is the place far away? Will you
need to charge extra for travel or a hotel room to spend the
- Type of party: Will it be family friendly, a birthday,
wedding, shower, bachelor party, etc? Will you need to bring
something special for the guest of honor (a fez or sultan hat,
an extra hip scarf)? It saves embarrassment on both sides to
mention up front (on your web site, etc.) whether you will or
will not do all-male parties.
- Costume requirements: Are the guests conservative
(religious considerations)? Will you be expected to change your
costume for any reason (appear several times in front of the
same audience, perform a complete Middle Eastern style show,
etc.)? Do they have a color preference (the hostess is having
a black and white party, she hates purple…)?
- Payment: Don’t be shy. Now is the time to nail down
the amount, method (cash, check, deposit), time of payment (at
the time of booking, before you go on, after you finish, at
the end of the evening) and who will be paying you (the booker,
the restaurant owner, the customer, their best friend who hired
you as the surprise for the party, the musician…). There can
be any number of excuses if someone doesn’t want to pay, so
it is important to set everything straight before you go anywhere.
- Music: What will you be dancing to, live music or
a CD? If it’s a CD – ask if the customer has a country
or style preference. Will you be using props in your show? Will
you need special music? How long would the customer like the
show to be (also a payment factor)? Will you be expected to
do more than one set? It is always wise to burn an individual
CD per show and put your name on it. Don’t leave extra tracks
at the end that a DJ would have to scramble to stop. There may
not be a DJ…
If you burn your own CDs test them before you actually
use them. Make sure they work. Always have a back up CD. (Most
dancers I know bring an entire binder of music and check out
the audience first before deciding on a final CD.) Use a sleeve
to protect against scratching, cat hair or spilled soda. If
there will be live music - ask what nationality music the band
will be playing and for their contact information. It is helpful
to get a possible list of songs from them in advance.
- Written record of booking by email, fax or letter.
The bigger the party, the farther you have to travel or the
more dubious the club owner, the more important this becomes.
- Contact info for the booker, who may not always be
the customer or the one who pays you.
- Communicate what you need for your show: a
space to change, room to dance (including a floor free of hazards),
a CD player (if using prerecorded music), a mirror and secure
storage space for your things. If you use a prop, also explain
how much space you will need to avoid disasters.
Don't forget to check out author's bio
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Ready for more?
The Devil's Details, Show Ethics for Professionals by Yasmin
- 5-4-07 Part 1- Booking
When a dancer looks good, she, or another, will get called back to
perform again. When she looks bad, customers might be turned off to
our lovely art form forever. Therefore, a bad dancer not only ruins
things for herself, but for all of us
- 8-29-07 Part 2-
The Cross Cultural Factor
Warning. There is a great deal of passive aggressive face-saving
behavior in this profession. It is not always woman friendly either. Respect
is not a given...
- 10-15-07 Part
3- Separating the Girls from the Women
If a performer conducts herself as a professional she is much
more likely to obtain repeat engagements and referrals. No one wants to be
seen knowingly hiring an amateur. It is bad for business and a customer’s
- 12-5-07 Part 4 - What
NOT To Do
Show up drunk or stoned. No more needs to be said
- 1-28-08 Part 5
- Beauty by Yasmin
For new dancers, mastering the art of glamour can be daunting.
But take heart, while internal sensuality requires character work, external
beauty is easier to fix
6-27-06 Om Kalthoum, The Voice
of Egypt by Yasmin
She was without contest the most well-known singer of the Arab world.
She was also the most influential woman of her time in the Middle East.
12-13-05 The Zar by
We do know that today thousands of women in Africa and the
Middle East use this music to cure all kinds of illnesses. They literally
dance until they drop.
We Got our Video Groove On by Zari
Ultimately however, it seemed that getting a video is like getting
a gig: sometimes, you have to create your own opportunities.
4-18-07 Antique Textiles:
Renewed Life for Dance by Najia Marlyz
In fact, we often danced for many little luncheon gigs in offices
and other places as a surprise birthday gift—to the music of our
own solo sagat. Now, that is a skill that I have never seen anyone repeat
since the early seventies!
4-17-07 A Marriage Made
in North Beach by Amina Goodyear
The stage was alight with the flames of the candelabrum’s
candles and the eerie glow of her costume. Fatma’s costumes were
always comprised of material that glowed in the dark as her show began
with no light—except for “black light”.
4-17-07 Finger Cymbals by
Melina of Daughters of Rhea
Above all this cross-cultural cacophony soared my mom’s
perfectly paced zills, right left right, right left right, right left
right left right left right. If you put me in a room blindfolded, I could
distinguish her playing from any other dancer on earth.