We Got our Video Groove On
The San Francisco
Bay Area is a funny place to be a “sequin soloist”.
you can’t throw a rock without hitting a belly dancer, chances
are she’s tribal. The tribal scene is flourishing, and the best
tribal dancers in the United States are connected to the area.
If you don’t belong to that scene, sometimes you get a little
jealous. Non-tribal dancers want a social life too!
tends to get in the way of this laudable ambition since the work
we do is generally solo, and involves running from place to place
in order to make a living. Some venues feature two or more dancers
in the same night, but by the time Dancer B arrives you’re already
off to the next gig someplace else. We like one another, but scheduling
constraints make it hard to coordinate facetime and, of course,
chances for group activities are rare.
Due to the
demands of soloists’ hectic weekend schedules, we can be found
yapping on our cellphones between gigs, emailing YouTube clips
to each other at 3:00 am after a night of shows, or surfing each
other’s websites. When we can find time to visit one another in
person, it’s like a slumber party.
This is how
it started: all of us were complaining that we wanted a DVD. I
would be chatting on the phone with Michelle
Whoever it was, at some point in the conversation, someone would
exclaim “I want a DVD. Why don’t we do a DVD? We should
all do a DVD together!” This idea would then be talked about as
though it had never occurred to either of us before. I think the
reason that it took so long to move to the next stage is that
making a video seems pretty daunting.
however, it seemed that getting a video is like getting a gig:
sometimes, you have to create your own opportunities. Like creating
your own venues, the beauty of making your own video is the prospect
of creative control. No being filmed through a drum head! No pyramids
or seagulls inserted in the foreground by editors with bizarre
taste! No upskirt shots! Oh, the very idea was sublime.
But how to
go about this? With an optimistic attitude, I decided to look
into producing a DVD. Armed with samples of the Bellydance
Superstars, the PeKo videos, the Natural Journeys
series, and the videos of World Dance New York, I approach
a “real” production facility. “I would like to know how much it
would cost to produce a video like this,” I tell them. It couldn’t
be too much, right?
Lesson in Economics
A few days later, the estimate arrives, outlining the
costs per day. Stage rental, $1000. Power usage, $100. Three cameras
with tripod, $1,500. Audio, $450.00. DVD replication with cases
and labels, $5330. And so forth.
line? The estimated total to produce 1,000 copies of a DVD of
quality similar to the samples was $30,887.06. Not including video
with the production studio, I give up a lot of my requests. The
shooting time is reduced by 50%. I switch to the smallest possible
shooting stage, promise to provide a volunteer sound technician,
and remove all extra line items -- including one of the three
cameras. The stripped down production will not be able to capture
any long shots of traveling steps, and still the costs to produce
a thousand DVDs are estimated at $17,182.06.
provides some interesting info when queried on Tribe: “An instructional
video that gets favorable word-of-mouth buzz might be able to
sell about 300 copies the first year. A performance video that
gets favorable word of mouth might be more like 100 copies.”
remain optimistic, I call on the power of visualization. Unfortunately
I have trouble envisioning the belly dance community shelling
out $171.82 per copy to see my DVD. I forward these messages to
my friends who have expressed interest, then eat a giant bowl
of ice cream to console myself.
One day in
2006, a message arrives in my email inbox from Michelle
Hey, let's make a belly dance DVD
I think that I have talked with all of you at some point about
making a DVD, but the cost and the many details prevented it
from ever happening. Well, the time is now! My husband
is a TV producer and has lots of professional editors and cameramen
for friends. These are REAL professionals with actual jobs in
TV (not some Arabic guy who cleans carpets for a living but
also makes movies, wherein he envisions you dancing in front
of the ocean or something)… There will still be some
expenses (renting a crane, renting studio space, the packaging
and duplication of DVDs). Here are the things that we need to
sort out: What is the compensation for the dancers?
What sort of financial arrangement seems fair?
Where will we film it? Who has done research already?
I think it would be fun to perform on a stage somewhere with
great lighting options.
This sounds interesting. I send back a message of interest, along
with some odds and ends of information that I have acquired in
my research. Then with my fingers crossed, I hope that the project
somehow manages to come together, although I can’t imagine how
it might work. The
next morning, I receive another email.
Hello Lovely Belly Dancers,
I have talked with several of you and have decided to take sort
of a different approach to this project. The philosophy
will be that everyone donates their time and resources, and
everyone has equal rights to reproduce and distribute the video.
As it turns
out, Michelle is the perfect person to coordinate this project
– far better than I would have been. Gifted with boundless energy,
a supportive husband, and advanced degrees in psychology, she
somehow manages to wrangle everyone into being in the right place
at the right time with grace and charm. With a skeleton
crew, we quickly realize that everyone on the cast needs to pitch
in and help. Allocated a puny shooting budget of $500 (contributed
from money the Joyce family had earmarked for down payment on
a house), we roll up our sleeves and get to work…. ·
-Sandra is on it! Magically producing a Moroccan temple from
thin air, we are amazed by its dome ceilings, theatrical stage,
beautiful tilework and multiple fountains.
crew - Michelle’s husband is drafted last-minute, when one
of the camera men suffers an emergency family situation.
editing- Post-shoot, Michelle logs 160 hours in front of
the computer before giving up on tracking her time, declaring
that she’d “rather not know.”
materials Check. Zaheea produces several website designs
to choose from, and also creates postcards and flyers.
designs the box-cover.
keep coming together... and at every possible problem, one of
us is there to help out.
In an interesting twist, once we have begun to work on our own
project, other things start to happen as well – Mira Betz
and Sandra are both tapped for PeKo videos in
Hollywood, and IAMED contacts Michelle regarding possible dance
slots in an upcoming show. Two of the dancers will be dancing
in Turkey during the proposed weekend. Another will be in teaching
workshops out-of-state. And Zaheea has begun
work as a field archaeologist, which requires that she stay onsite
at digs. Are we ever all in town at once, I wonder? Although
the shoot is originally set for summer 2006, it becomes necessary
to push it back until fall, and then till after the holiday season.
Time flies, and suddenly it’s 2007.
1, 2007. 1:33 pm
Subject: DVD filming
The dancers who are confirmed for the DVD shoot on Sunday, January
21 are me, Zari, Luna, Nanna, Sandra, Mira and Zaheea.
I am so excited about this powerhouse lineup!!
What to expect at the shoot: Each dancer will be performing
for about 6 minutes. We will each dance through our set
twice (back to back)... but if you feel you need to do it a
third time, that is okay. There will be 2 cameras there,
so the first time they will be filming a wide angle, the second
time they will be shooting close ups and medium shots.
“Huh,” I say.
“I guess it’s really going to happen!”
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
The Grand International Bellydance
Tour or How We Fled India at Midnight, Eluding Our Captors and
Evading our Go-Go-Dance Responsibilities. or What Would Fifi Do?
by Michelle and Sandra. ...It
may not have been such a problem for us had the prostitutes not
been posing as bellydancers!
Tips on Getting Tips
audiences don’t know that they are expected to tip. Don’t
take it personally.
The Joy (and Pain)
of Collecting Tips by Sandra
I've been collecting tips for almost 10 years now, and it's only
in the last 2 or 3 years that I've really felt confident about
Adventures in Turkey
2006 by Michelle Joyce, photos by Michael Baxter
am not exaggerating when I say that Sandra actually threw herself
into Bella's arms and wept when she first laid eyes on her.
Calling all professional
dancers! How much do you charge? by Nanna Candelaria
the years, we dancers have unwittingly kept the general rate ridiculously
low in restaurants and nightclubs.
Antique Textiles: Renewed Life for Dance by Najia Marlyz
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!
A Marriage Made in North Beach
by Amina Goodyear
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”.
Finger Cymbals by Melina
of Daughters of Rhea
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.
Randa Kamal in Cairo The Photos
of Susie Poulelis
fortunate to travel to Cairo on business in April '06, and managed
to take some time to see a few sights and, at least, one dance
performance: Randa Kamal at the Marriot Zamelek's Empress Nightclub