Dancing with the Devil!
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The Devil's Details, Show Ethics for Professionals

Part 1- Booking a Party

by Yasmin

I recently read an article written for aspiring professional dancers on HIp 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 us.

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
  • Beauty.

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 future update.

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 Law.
  • 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 money.)
  • Travel allowance: Is the place far away? Will you need to charge extra for travel or a hotel room to spend the night?
  • 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.

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Ready for more?

The Devil's Details, Show Ethics for Professionals by Yasmin

  • 5-4-07 Part 1- Booking a Party
    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 image.
  • 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 Yasmin
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.

5-1-07 How 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.


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