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Don't be a bellydancing scapegoat!

Gilded Serpent presents...
The Devil's Details, Show Ethics for Professionals
Part 2 - The Cross-Cultural Factor
Middle Eastern vs. Western Audiences,
Party Bookers, Restaurant Owners, Musicians, etc

by Yasmin

Knowing how to navigate cross-cultural waters is an essential skill for any successful belly dancer. Differences in communication styles, attitudes and traditions can affect every aspect of your job. Sometimes it can mean the difference between getting hired or not, paid or not, or called back or not. Understanding your audience’s reactions can turn a lousy show into a great one. Why did all those women stare at you with daggers in their eyes? Why did someone try to stuff dollar bills down your bra or stick one on your forehead? Were they trying to cop a feel and/or smear saliva on you? Have you carefully watched the audience, how they interact with you and each other? If a certain type of behavior is annoying (on or off the stage), think through an appropriate way to discourage it without offending anyone.

The information you obtain up front will usually depend on the nationality and type of booking agent. Private parties booked directly by the customer will always be more straightforward than those booked by an intermediary DJ, musician or club owner. These people may not actually know all the details when they book the dancer, other than the date and how much they are willing to pay. It is best to be laid back if you want the job and finalize things the week before you are due to perform (but NOT the night of the show once you are already there).

Being detail oriented, efficient and organized comes across well to Americans but not necessarily to Middle Easterners, who take a more ‘go with the flow’ attitude.

My approach has usually been to settle the money right away and take the rest as it comes, unless I have multiple bookings that night and time is an issue. Then it is important to communicate this lack of flexibility to the booking agent so they can’t come back to you on the night of the party and say, “You never told me you couldn’t wait around for an hour…”

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…

In times of trouble it can be helpful to remember the saying, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Know that it is NOT selling out to be sweet but firm in the face of adversity, especially with Middle Easterners. Tempers flare, stress happens, but it is foolish to end up on an eternal blacklist for one hotheaded remark. That is not to say don’t stand up for yourself. Just try to leave your emotions out of business conversations. It is after all only a job. Perhaps you will wake up the next morning with a different perspective. One more thing, if a situation turns into a question of honor for a Middle Easterner, things can get blown all out of proportion. It doesn’t matter who is wrong or right. Saving face is what is important, and if the dancer is not careful she will often find herself turned into a scapegoat.

The best advice I have ever read about the double talk in our profession is an article written by Artemis Mourat entitled Top Twenty Club Cliches, about what owners/bookers say when they don’t want to tell dancers the truth.

Musicians as Middlemen
These are hiring agents worth their own paragraph. It is important to remember that they are also colleagues and in the same boat as you when something goes wrong.  But their priorities are different. They will be at a party all night instead of for one 30 minute show. They may have to play for several acts without a break. As the night wears on alcohol can get the best of reason. The musicians may have to deal with inebriated customers, which adds stress to an already high-adrenalin situation. If a dancer doesn’t get paid for half an hour’s work it is extremely annoying. But if the band doesn’t get paid, the booking musician and all the people working for him are out an entire night’s work - that the musician will have to reimburse the others for whether he collects or not.

That musician is under far more pressure to please his customers than you are.

Musicians tend to assume that all dancers know the ins and outs of performing to live music. They take for granted that she understands the musical cues, pauses and band interaction common to dancer/musician communication. Musicians also do not take kindly to being ridiculed in front of an audience. Remember that there are infinitely more ways for them to make a dancer look bad than the other way around. In the West, dancers are a dime a dozen. Musicians rule. If they don’t want you to work, you won’t work. It is better to stay on their good side, even if it means putting up with occasional frayed nerves and flaring tempers. If something is important to you, say so, but it’s better to settle things at booking, rather than on the night of the performance.

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Ready for more?
5-4-07 The 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

7-16-07 Music Copyright Law for Belly Dancers (or for any Performing Artist by Yasmin
From 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.

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?"

8-26-07 The Dunes, Report on North African Fusion Band by Linda Grodahl
Tim Abdullah sings so soulfully, that even though the words are in a foreign language, you think you know what he is saying, and the other band members bring everything together for a joyful music experience.

8-23-07 Roots Raqs –An International Belly Dancer Goes Home to Macedonia by Paola
The musical folklore of this region deserves full debut in the World Music scene, and those of us in the MED community worldwide are ripe for the breath of fresh air that Chochek and Gypsy Brass Music can bring us. It is an original, organic and time-honored fusion, brought about by history, geography, and most importantly, tolerance and mutual cultural celebration.

8-15-07 Amina's North Beach Memories Chapter 6: Bert, by Amina Goodyear
On my first Monday at the Casa Madrid, Bert came to support the place and me. Well, what he saw was equivalent to a San Francisco earthquake.

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