Michelle keeps up with business while vending at the Carnival of Stars festival. A smittten cartoonist sits beind her.
Gilded Serpent presents...
Three Web Apps for Busy Dancers
by Asim/ Woodrow Hill

Dancers don’t have time to poke ‘round the latest web apps (applications) to see what’s useful! That is time you could be spending trying out that cool step combination you learned last week. For me, it was the “Umi Fish Combo” from Awalim in Georgia. I’m not sure I’ve got it yet, but someday soon…

In the meantime, dancing makes you busy. Since part of my day job is to keep up with technical information, I thought I would write about three free useful online services for busy dancers, and see if these can give you a hand—without killing your Bella Budget! These are services about which I can comment, because I use them daily! (However, I have to cite the boring disclaimer that “I get no pay from these companies for writing about their services.”) Herein is my pure opinion, and opinion only, and I cannot be held responsible for what these companies do or do not do. Yet, I can tell you what they have done for me!

Perhaps the most useful site is Jott.com, which, on the surface, is just a way to leave voice mails. Where it comes in handy is in its ability to do two things:

  1. Send e-mail with a transcription of your e-mail,
  2. Send voice mails and transcriptions to a group of people at once.

This means you can “drive and note”, without taking your eyes off the road except to dial. If you’re constantly traveling to dance events, thinking of things during the long drives, this is a killer—even a lifesaver. I use it a lot just to leave myself notes on things to do; they drop in my e-mail, and I will receive a reminder the next time I open it up. For dance troupes, maybe it’s even better, because you now have ways to give the whole troupe a status update on the run, and all at once! Imagine re-scheduling a dance practice, at the last minute, without phoning a half-dozen people. Or, imagine telling your troupe that you have just remembered that they need to park in the back of the festive site, or else, their cars will be towed away!

Of course, the big drawback is that you have to set up all the details. Jott’s interface is still kind of “techy,” with lots of knobs and gears for you to pull. Worse, the help is divided into a scatter-shot quirky, but helpful, text-only section called “Wiki/FAQ,” and a set of descriptions and videos located under the heading “Why Jott?”   The descriptions and videos are actually very helpful for grasping what the service can do for you, yet they are frustrating because they do not help you do it. You’ll want to spend some time looking at the service before committing to it, but it’s time you’ll retrieve down the road.

The GrandCentral service (now owned by Google) isn’t as much of a time saver; it’s “just” a way to treat phone calls as easily as you do e-mails. And yet, I found it invaluable in saving me from the slings and arrows of having your phone number publicly available. As this dance form gets more notice, and dancers work more and more closely with non-dancers, there’s a growing need for a level of privacy.

(I felt a similar need when I did work for a multi-thousand-persons event, supporting nearly one thousand classes, including quite a few dance classes!) It was critical that I have the ability to be contacted anytime, yet also try to control whomever called me.

GrandCentral gave me many of the tools I needed. Acting as if it were voice mail on steroids, you get a new phone number that dials any other numbers you want dialed. You put in contacts, group them, and then tell GrandCentral how to handle them, from “ring and connect them right up” to “screen them” to “drop the call into voice mail”. Voice mails are mailed to your e-mail.  You can listen to them online, and you can also have the voice mails messaged to your phone, where you can call and listen to them.

You can also detail levels of protections for unrecognized calls, which makes it powerful for dancers trying to avoid annoying calls. Now, instead of having to listen to annoying blather to get to the important voice mails, you can see on the site what calls came from where, and choose the ones you want to hear. Additionally, you can choose to block any random calls, or record them on the fly, or whatever it takes. You can even choose different messages for different groups, so friends will hear one message, and random calls (potential clients) another message altogether.

With all the options, this is a killer application for many publicly performing dancers; especially the solo raqs sharqi artists who need to put a number on a business card.

All this power is surprisingly well laid out. Although it is complex like Jott, (perhaps even more so) it is placed under your thumb in two tabs off the main interface. All the help is in one section under Support. (Although, sadly, no video help exists.)

One issue is that the Beta version limits the groups to 4. You’ll need to “think creatively” to recall that your troupe members are listed in “Friends”…or are they listed with “Others”? It would be best to make a note, and keep it around. Another is the simple recall of all the options when a call comes in. Although the service will tell you the options when it sends a call along, if you're not paying attention, it's still a point to try to remember that Option 4 is "record the call." GrandCentral does offer a wallet-sized card for such notations, though.

Perhaps my biggest warning concerns price! During the Beta for GrandCentral, almost everything is free. However, it’s possible some services will cost something, at some point. You’ll want to be a bit cautious, and keep an eye out for e-mails from these guys as you keep using it.

The third service is one many dancers already avail themselves of- web-based e-mail. Many of us use mail from the service (DSL, cable, dial-up, and so on) that brings the Internet to our doorstep. Some folks already have a G-mail, or Yahoo, or other address that's for dance-related information, and that's a good thing. I would go an extra step, and get an address at a service that is just for dance business. This is the e-mail you put on your business cards, and promotional material, and anything that's public about you as a dancer. It is not simply to avoid negative people, if that should become necessary. A separate e-mail that is attached to a service that does well with catching and diverting spam, means you can put this e-mail on the Internet, and still avoid the majority of spamming issues. It also means that the e-mails that arrive are only about gigs, and the hope of making a few more dollars dancing!

Of the various web services available, I use, and strongly recommend, Gmail! One of my reasons is that you can designate an address specific of a group, and track from where people are getting your e-mail address, which helps a lot with marketing. For example, I have woodrow.hill@gmail.com. With Gmail, I can do woodrow.hill+bc@gmail.com, and it still gets to me as normal, everyday e-mail. In this case the "+bc" part lets me test out how my business cards are helping pull in clients, since I can filter out those e-mails as being specifically from people who have seen my business cards. It's the plus sign ("+").  By the by—anything between the plus and the @ sign is just sent along right to your e-mail box, for you alone to deal with. It could be woodrow.hill+IHATEYOURGUTS@gmail.com, and it will still get to me...sadly.

So, these are 3 of the online services that can make a real difference in how much time you spend organizing your life, and how much more time you can then devote to watching that new Dina video…er, I mean doing that new drill you learned.

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