ad 4 Fahtiem





Egyptian Goddess

Gilded Serpent presents...
The Devil's Details, Show Ethics for Professionals
Part 5 of 5-
by Yasmin

previous parts of this article listed at bottom of page

A professional belly dancer is supposed to be larger than life. Traditionally, she was Marylyn Monroe, Mae West and Ginger Rogers, all rolled into one. At the very least, she was sensual and beautiful to look at. 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.

  • Never let your customers see you without makeup or in grungy cloths. Protect your image and mystique. If you are unfamiliar with the accoutrements of glamour, go to a specialist to learn the tricks of the trade. Don't be your own guinea pig. In my opinion, visits to a makeup artist and stylist are some of the best career investments you can make. And don't think you don't need help. Plain-Jane was NEVER part of the persona. Even the Pharaohs wore eye liner.
  • Shave legs and arm pits. No one wants to see body hair, particularly in the Middle East. That is a definite no-no in their culture that dates back to the pyramids. It was an ideal hiding place for lice .
  • Properly groomed eyebrows. Your brows define your facial features. Have them shaped by a professional esthetician the first time around. Then you only have to maintain them. Once upon a time in Persia uni-brows were considered sexy. But now, it is uncouth to have bushy or invisible eyebrows.
  • Professional make-up application. Some of Cairo's most well known dancers spend hours in the makeup chair before they go on stage. They know that no matter what God gave them at birth, they can always make it better with pancake, blush and under-eye cover-up. Make-up can fix the shape of your eyes, lips and nose, all with highlights and shadow. The further away the audience, the more liberally you can apply it, particularly on the eyes. The dark smoky kohl look is a standard of classic Middle Eastern dancing. Can the audience see your eyes under the lights? Does your lipstick fade to nonexistent with red spots? Is your skin too pale, do you look like a ghost? Have a friend check your makeup in the beginning when you first start performing. Do you have a pancake line on your chin or neck? Do you sweat? There is nothing worse than watching a performer's foundation or mascara run. Ever see 'owl eyes' on a dancer? It's not a pretty sight. If you do sweat heavily you will have to invest in waterproof make-up and a portable package of tissues for on-stage touch ups. 
  • Hair. A thick shiny mane is the trademark of Egypt's belly dance stars. Most of them either wear wigs or extensions. Big hair seems to be a norm, with good hair being off the face. Bangs are not in fashion - they read "foreigner." Longish hair is also expected in a cabaret setting. If you color your hair, make sure the roots aren't showing, particularly if they are gray. It sounds silly to say, but I have seen dancers with bleached blond hair and black roots two inches long. Again, it ruins the mystique.
  • Nails. Clean, filed and painted nails are essential, particularly for your feet if you dance bare foot. The hands are such important visible parts of the dance that any good performer will ensure hers are presentable.
  • Torso cover-ups.  Again, you must be objective about your appearance. A little flesh around the hips is good, but too much should either be covered or lost. The ideal body type for a Middle Eastern dancer varies by country, so check the nationality of most of your potential customers. Turkish and Lebanese audiences are much less forgiving about fat than Egyptians. Rolls of flesh are not good for any of them. Stretch marks should also be covered. Usually the owner or hiring agent of a restaurant / nightclub will supervise the dancer selection process. They look for body types that make their customers happy. Unfortunately, talent alone is not good enough. You have to look the part.
  • Costume that fits. Everyone has a different body type and it is up to the dancer to assess her own figure. The person selling a costume has a different agenda than the person buying it. Therefore the vendor might not be the best judge of whether something fits or not. Choose a costume that emphasizes good features and hides bad ones. Costumes that are too tight bunch and create rolls. It is a bad idea to buy a costume that doesn't fit, even if you plan on fixing it or losing 10 pounds. Are you sure it will look good once it's taken in or out? How do you know where those ten pounds will come from? Will you really lose them? Will you really have the time to sew? It is better not to buy something unless you can see exactly how it will look on you. Even if the costume were a bargain, it would still be overpriced if you never wore it. Is it too short or too revealing? Audiences really don't want to see your underwear. That is information they could do without. Family friendly is generally the norm in the United States. Will your new acquisition make anyone uncomfortable? It is best to err on the safe side, particularly if the purchase price is high.
  • Research Middle Eastern popular culture. There is a lot to be learned from watching MTV style Middle Eastern clips. Think about their makeup and costuming. How could you adjust it to accentuate your features and appear more authentic, i.e. Middle Eastern? Do you know what reads as "classic belly dance" era beauty? How is it different from the current cultural ideal?

 This article turned out to be much longer than I expected when I sat down to write it over a year ago! Yet it is just an introduction to the issues professional dancers face. You will learn the finer points after you've been hired several times. That is why a performer's first job is the most important, the one remembered after the others are long forgotten. Being prepared for it then is crucial. When you understand the business, it is easier to enjoy the art - which is, after all, The Point. No one in her right mind enters this profession unless she enjoys dancing, not in the Western world at any rate. Respect yourself and your co-workers. They too, love what they do and don't want their jobs ruined by an inexperienced newcomer. Learn the tricks of the trade, become a respected member of the dance community and contribute to our art form. Knowledge is power. Use it to turn pleasure into profit. Not just for yourself, but for all of us in the profession.

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Ready for more?
5-4-07 The Devil's Details, Show Ethics for Professionals by Yasmin

  • 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

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.

11-13-07 Where Have All The Cover-ups Gone? by Ashiya and Naajidah
What happened to professionalism? Mystery? Decorum and good taste?

1-22-08 “Dancing In The Streets; A History of Collective Joy” Authored by Barbara Ehrenreich, A Book Recommendation by Delilah
In her book, Barbara Ehrenreich takes one back to the original motivations of dance along a historic journey of how human impetus to dance, has been repressed by societal hierarchy, and religious zealots.

1-16-08 Backstage with the Reda Troupe by Debbie Smith
Seeing the company in performance six times was truly a wonderful experience, because each time I saw some new detail or subtlety in the movements, the costuming, the structure of the dances, and in individual performer’s presences on stage.

1-15-08 Cairo’s Streets Come Alive: Baladina Egyptian Dance Theater and Sharia Mohamed Ali by Erin Crouch photos are by Adrian Fenty
October 13, 2007, Chicago, Illinois. A modern temptress steals a man away from a traditional woman, who then finds a new man of her own. Perhaps a necessity for a dance company composed of mostly women, men seemed a hot commodity in the performance.




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