attempting to handle a drunken and agressive sultan.
The Devil's Details,
Show Ethics for Professionals Part
the Girls from the Women:
What differentiates amateur from professional
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 image. Again these are only stream
of consciousness tips in no particular order.
- Rhythm. Be
on beat. This is a cardinal rule for all forms
of Middle Eastern dance. The music must be interpreted the
way it is played, not the way you think it should be. There
is nothing more painful to watch than an offbeat dancer –
no matter what the style.
the music or be good at improvisation. With CDs it’s
easy, you burn the CD, and you know what’s on it. You can
practice to it - before you perform in front of an audience.
You can listen to the pauses in the songs and between tracks
and think of ways to fill them. You can memorize where
the big accents are so that you hit them. On the other
hand, if there is a live band, you have to improvise, even
if you know the song. Each band will play its own rendition.
Your job is to do justice to whatever you hear. For example,
someone with live music experience knows to pause slightly
before each new phrase, to ensure what she thinks comes
next actually does.
tips – family friendly costume placement. For most
dancers, a stranger reaching into their costume is an uncomfortable
situation - until they work out a system. Everyone is different.
Usually the solution involves a joke, a wink, a turn of
the hip or shoulder, so that private parts stay private
and customers still share a happy moment of appreciation.
The sides of the belt, a shoulder strap or an armband are
all very acceptable places for bills to be slipped.
- how to split them with the band (if there is one). What
happens to tips during and after a performance is usually the
biggest bone of contention between a dancer and musicians.
The more money involved the higher the stakes for all concerned.
When I worked in Europe and the Middle East there were
two different ways that tips were handled. Either every
member of the show, musicians and performers, took an equal
share of the night’s total income (for the lower class
places) or each performer had their tips split three ways,
with a third going to the artist, a third to the band and
a third to the house. A smart dancer learns to pick out
the big bills in her costume or on the floor and to remember
roughly how much she put into the communal pot (if she
empties her costume on stage). However the split will be,
communicate about it before the show to avoid misunderstandings
tips. A dancer does not go scrambling around the floor
collecting money. It makes her look cheap and low class.
Ask a staff member of the booking agent to arrange for
someone to collect your tips.
participation. Some audiences will want to dance
and others will not. Some nights you will find lots of
people to get up and make fools of themselves and other
nights not a single good sport. No matter what,
a dancer should never force an audience member against
their will. At the other end of the spectrum, a performer
should also figure out a method to gracefully escort people
out of the limelight. If you need the stage to yourself,
don’t hurt a guest’s feelings. Also, learn how to do your
show with a sidekick. This is extremely helpful when children
get up and their parents expect you to baby sit as well
as be the main attraction.
control. A performer is the master of her universe
while she is on stage. That means if someone is out
of control, particularly on stage, the dancer must address
the problem. If a drunk does not disappear on his or her
own (by ignoring them), he or she will need help. What
kind of help separates a pro from a newbie. Getting angry
in front of a room full of people is not the solution (a
sense of humor is always your best bet). Gently guiding
the disruptive force out of the bright lights is better.
If that doesn’t work, leave the stage to work the audience
for a while. As a last resort know whom to wink at to get
help. A restaurant is an easier venue than a private party.
At parties, you are usually on your own. Just remember
that all the people present are guests of your customer
and you have been hired to entertain them, not to make
them feel guilty about their indiscretions.
expression / performance wall. Traditional Middle Eastern
dance is an audience friendly performance art. That means
your audience wants you to smile at them, with them, for
them – not at the back wall or for the genie on the ceiling.
They want your smile to be real, not plastered onto your
face like an accessory. True facial expressions ebb and
flow according to the music or eye contact with audience
members. They are not carved in stone and immutable. It
is easy for a beginner to succumb to a ‘deer in the headlights’
stare when she first appears, particularly if there are
theater lights and a raised platform. A good trick is to
focus first on the front row and establish a relationship
with several audience members. Then transfer your feelings
to the rest of the room. Even though you can’t see individual
faces farther back, they are out there, watching every
move, and they expect you to dance just for them.
demeanor before a performance. Nerves do terrible things,
like give you stage fright and make you want to throw up.
But infecting everyone around you with anxiety is not a
good idea. It makes you look bad and annoys everyone else. It’s
OK to be scared but keep it to yourself. Talking about
it will only make it worse. Everyone gets butterflies in
their stomach. That’s part of the adrenaline rush. But
it is more helpful to concentrate on how you want your
show to go, rather than on all the dreadful things could
happen. Positive thinking works wonders.
looking pictures, web site and business cards. In a
word, marketing. Professionals know that to make their
art profitable they must promote themselves, like any other
commodity for sale. Your public image is a customer’s first
impression of you. Do your pictures look amateur? Were
they taken in front of a sheet, in a basement or in your
back yard? Was your make up done well (did you wear any
at all)? Are your business cards printed with cheap ink?
Is your web site difficult to navigate? There are many
sites on line that have good advice for beginners (like
samirashuruk.com or shira.net). Do research. Study the
sites of well-known dancers. How do they encourage bookings?
Have you arranged for links from the places you work to
your own web site? Is your bio well written? Do you tell
the truth? Padding a resume is not a good idea. Do you
carry promotional materials with you when you work? It
is always good to invest in professional pictures with
lots of different costumes. Nothing exudes confidence more
than a professional promo package.
preparation and inspection. And nothing screams amateur
louder than a cheap costume poorly put together. Loose
hooks, ripped seams, gaping bra and belt, underwear showing
… are all clues to the hapless audience that their
performer of the evening was not prepared. Take five minutes
before you go to work to make sure everything fits, that
the hooks are sewn on tight and that all the bits and pieces
are really in the bag (like the right underwear. Murphy’s
Law - if you are not wearing underwear, your skirt will
fall down. Or, you will be so worried about flashing that
your show will be a disaster.) It is also important for
a dancer to know what costumes are appropriate for which
settings. A nightclub atmosphere might support tighter
see-through skirts, where a family restaurant would want
a more covered look.
for children in the audience. Dancing for children
can be rewarding or a pain in the neck. Children have no
preconceived ideas of our art form, so if they like you,
you see it on their faces. Some may be shy with big round
eyes, but most just want to have fun. That means they can
jump up on stage at any moment, sometimes when you least
expect it. Murphy’s Law says it will be when you are swinging
your cane or sword around at its fastest. That is why it
is always a good idea to check the audience for little
critters. Turn your radar on them so if you see movement
from that direction you are forewarned. Again, some parents
think it’s OK to let their kids play onstage during the
show. It is up to you then, as the master of ceremonies,
to set limits, graciously. If the parents are hopeless
however, you must grin and bear it. Pas de deux,
standards. Every region has its own pricing structure.
It is up to the new dancer in town to find out what the
established community charges. Nothing will make her enemies
faster than inadvertently cutting the pay scale in half
for every hard working dancer in town. Again, samirashuruk.com
has some excellent articles on the subject, along with
some regional pricing.
the Law. Every state or even county is different. It
is the performer’s job to know the rules and regulations
that governs her region, such as where and if she can accept
tips in her costume or whether her stomach needs to be
covered. Are there prop restrictions (i.e. no fire or swords)?
Generally the local liquor board covers tipping and costume
issues and fire safety is up to the individual venue.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Devil's Details, Show Ethics for Professionals, Part 1- Booking
a Party by Yasmin
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
Devil's Details, Show Ethics for Professionals, Part 2- The Cross Cultural
Factor by Yasmin
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...
Copyright Law for Belly Dancers (or for any Performing
Artist by Yasmin
Hollywood blockbuster movies down to clips on YouTube the law is
the same and it applies to anyone who uses someone else’s
music for their own purposes.
Jamila Experience by Yasmela
of these feelings fled as soon as Jamila walked through the door. A
big impressive woman clad entirely in black...
BellyPalooza: the Daughters of Rhea Belly Dance Festival by
Elaine, Most photos by Allen J Becker
4, 2007, Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland. The weekend
of dance workshops and performances took place once again in
Baltimore on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus, one of the most
elegant venues imaginable for such an event.
8-11-00-Yasmina's First Club Gig a
silly comic strip by Lynette
"You're so beautiful! Wouldn't you like to audition
to dance for us?"
the Language of Belly Dance by Shems
dancer’s path should be the same, moving from technique to
refinement to pure inspiration.
the Veil by Yasmina Ramzy
I excused myself first and then asked her “why on
earth would someone obviously not of Middle Eastern heritage actually
choose to wear the veil?”She smiled knowingly and gave me an
answer that still keeps me thinking today.