Najia receives tip from fanGilded Serpent presents...

Receiving Filthy Lucre!

Justifying Payment for Your Art

by Najia Marlyz
posted 3-3-2009

Sizing It Up: What’s Dance Worth?

As a dance teacher, you are not a public servant; it is fitting to expect appropriate compensation for your services as a dance instructor, just as it is expected for nursing, psychiatric counseling, or any other profession.

Bellydance can be a respectable art and teaching it should be a respected employment. Often it isn’t, and that is why you have to set your career goals—and don’t forget to consider the money!

After relocating to a new area of California in the late 1990s, I managed to take a few months off from teaching dance to re-identify my career goals and re-invent myself; a turning point in my dance career had arrived. What is important to me during these next few years of teaching is that I limit my work to dancers who are already performing and who recognize the need for formal coaching with their dance in order to meet their goals and expand the impact of their dance. Specifically, it is thrilling and personally fulfilling to work with energetic people who can rely on personal motivation, creativity, and ability to deal with the world as it exists now; we can no longer operate as if it were still 1968 and the flower children were still poking flowers into the barrels of American National Guard weapons. It is most encouraging to work with young dance instructors who want to increase their awareness of the details one can use in the fine art of dance instruction. Thrill or not, it is still essential to make sure one is receiving payment for his efforts; yet, it is difficult to think about selling one’s art for filthy lucre!

Dancers’ Rule Number One

However, as I find myself working with new performers, dance teachers, and studio owners, I have come to the conclusion that the long ago echoes of the hippie-era earth-mother Bellydance instructors are still whispering guilt trips into the ears of our present day young instructors through the chain of teacher-to-student-to-her-student, etc. (Some of them are still finding themselves maligned as "California Dirt Dancers" even though they are now located far outside of California.)

Much of the dance technique that seemed to be self-evident long ago has been misunderstood, and therefore, altered, as it traveled from one dancer to another over several decades, and has produced a couple of generations of dancers and Bellydance teachers who have filled Oriental dance with bloated self-importance and has turned it into an almost cult-like endeavor for some dance enclaves.

Your art and ease with Bellydance may be your legacy to the artistic universe, but it may come as a sobering surprise that you, in your capacity as a dance teacher, do not owe it to all who present themselves at lessons and classes to strip away your dignity by freely sharing your helpful hints, coveted secrets and hard won resources without proper remuneration. How dare we treat ourselves as if we were obligated in some desultory way to become a missionary and educate the world populace!  To do so, makes the dance appear less legitimate and places it on a hobby level.  It turns Bellydancing (paid or not) into a dalliance and something in which one can only indulge oneself. Teachers and coaches can be of service with respect, dignity, and even love, and still receive appropriate payment for sharing artistic understanding. 

Far too many of us former hippies of the sixties and new-found feminists of the seventies loved, and even revered, dancing for the ways in which it changed and shaped our lives, and as a result, some of us have turned it into a quasi-cult—almost like a sacred calling—so that it seems it feels sacrilegious to charge for sharing it. Consequently, I recommend to all teachers of Oriental dance the "First Rule of Thumb": You are not a public servant or a stand up psychiatrist, and Bellydance is not a cult religion!

Payment for Recitals, Showcases, and Haflas

If you are a dance instructor and feel obliged to provide for your students a chance to dance in front of an audience, there is no reason that you should accept from them any balking over their helping you to pay your overhead and to compensate you for the opportunities you have made available to them. Too often, we Bellydance teachers are so busy shoring up the mangled self-worth issues of women through teaching dance that we inadvertently encourage students to develop the proverbial "big head" that allows them to put their hats on backwards, believing that they should be paid for their meager (and usually lack-luster) first attempts at performing. Why? Often, they become so drunk from their first taste of success before stacked audiences that they feel that they are “ready for the road” and that they have drained or surpassed the instructor in all she has to share.

Payment for Debriefing New Experiences

I have spent a great deal of time with several different local dance instructors who have gone out of their way to provide a clean, safe, lovely experience in which to dance at a live music student night, hafla (party), recital, etc. only to hear their students, surprisingly, whining over the thought of viewing and having to pay for reviewing their dance on video for instructive critique or sighing that the live music was "too hard" or "didn't turn them on". 

Part of the teachers’ dilemma is enhancing the student’s classical musical understanding and appreciation and that does not happen by allowing them to get stuck in their love of Pop Belly, Belly Dancing Disco Mixes, or some Americanized version of an old Arabic favorite; it happens through instructors who are able to open up students’ tastes for new kinds of music and deepen understanding of the old.

Earnestly, I urge you dancers who are also beginning to instruct to get out of the '60s head-trip and accept responsibility to stretch your student dancers, but at the same time, keep them understanding just how much more there is to learning dance technique and attaining the career of a dancer than perfecting steps and movements! 

Does the Need for Payment Negate Altruism?

Dancers are not little children who ought to be mollycoddled or used to shine up and enhance a teacher’s reputation at student nights either. If you believe in the strength and value of your dance technique, you will have to stand up for your teaching career and your right to make a living in the process!

There is no valid reason you cannot organize a student event and pay yourself for your talent, organizational skills, and time spent in the process out of the profits of the gate.

It is simple, yet, elusive: you just have to make it clear who is the teacher and who is the student/client and where the money comes in and for what essentials and niceties it goes out. Many people currently involved in the field of Bellydancing do not understand the concept of overhead and what constitutes profit. Your services as an instructor and dance career counselor should not come at the bottom of anyone’s list of necessities, nor should it be considered “optional”.

Just because you are dealing with dance as an art form is no reason for you to limit yourself by self-imposed altruism. 

That tarnished out-dated guilt-trip of altruism (that came to us from not so long ago in the beginnings of the American bellydance experience) needs to be exorcised!  Remind yourself that you are an artist and a dancer; you’ve worked hard for your dance, and as a professional, you must be willing and prepared to share your talent and experiences. You are entitled to be compensated for your work just like Joe the plumber or the CEO of an entrepreneurial company. Understand that smiling and laughing while you work does not mitigate its value or standing as “work” nor does calling it “work” change its standing as an art.  It is a work of art—an artwork! You should feel at ease to share your expertise, technique, and in the mix, you can throw in your advice, smiles, caring, and dance humor for free.


Have a comment? Send us a letter! Or add your comments below.
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?