A Problem of Ethics or Practicality?
by Terry Del Giorno
posted December 8, 2011
I think we can be assured that Randa, Dina and Asmahan do not have a dialogue about what to charge (after they pay their teams of musicians, dressers, managers etc). Nor did Nagwa, Mona, or Fifi share tea over the subject. They charged what they wanted, what their fans would pay. If they didn’t get what they wanted, I doubt seriously that any of those fanan, current or past, would fall below their own established rates.
I grew up in a time where we didn’t discuss our fees; it was a time when you didn’t talk politics with people you didn’t know or even ask them about it. It was also a time before one could look on line and find out incomes and pensions of county workers. It was long before you could look online at a menu of prices on a dancer’s website. In theory, I concur with others who have written about this before: yes, we should agree on a starting price. Undercutting happens, and it is wrong!
However, in the real world, I think that, as professionals, we shouldn’t dance for less. In fact, maybe we should charge more!
Consider the budding student of dance who undercuts the professional at a restaurant gig. If the restaurant or club stays open long enough, and she works there long enough, it will become obvious that she’s not a professional in so many ways. She may pick the wrong music (such as using Debke for a Greek audience or a Loreena McKennitt song for the Lebanese Association Valentine’s dinner) …you get my drift. She might call in at the last minute and cancel, or worse, not show-up, because something else “came up”. She won’t know how to cover for the mishap that often can happen early in a performer’s career, making it part of her show …costume malfunctions, customers who are out-of-line, music mishaps, musician misunderstandings. (Don’t ask; I won’t tell!) God forbid, she might even perform a second set without charging! She won’t be able to respond in a cultural context to her audience, etc. Eventually, it will become obvious. Even the costumers will be able to tell. If the establishment has a reputation of any kind, she won’t be there long. In comparison, a professional dancer will help an establishment! Her performance will encourage repeat business for the owners as well as develop her following of fans.
Undercutting also occurs within the general public.
I recall an agency with which I used to contract. There was a fee schedule for women who looked like Belly dancers (They just dressed up like one and added to the atmosphere!) and a different one for “real” dancers. The agent was sensitive and savvy enough to realize there was a difference! With the vast amount of online advertising that promotes Belly dancers today, I think the sharpest web-page layouts and top search results, along with a cheaper price (and of course, the visual appeal) are what will appeal to mainstream. For some dancers, this might be their most effective gig generator. In contrast, the performer of yesteryear developed her following and reputation by working a lot, and hence, word-of-mouth was how her reputation was developed; it was not created by a website. This was the time (for me anyway) during which a dancer could charge and receive what she charged with ease–without “shopping around” or “Googling” for a cheaper price that occurs today.
The Internet presence has created a whole new style of “elitism” in the dance world.
Its standards are Photoshop, high-end graphics, certification, and merchandise. All of this requires an amount of assertiveness for a dancer who has relied previously on talent, ethics, and authenticity to be considered valuable and command the attention of the general public as it surfs the web.
Like other industries–music, musicians, singers, comedians, sports and athletes (especially)–name their price and get it (…amazingly, even though more than half the world’s population lives in poverty). You can engage a cover-band for approximately two thousand dollars to appear at a wedding and play Rolling Stones tunes, but you can’t get the Stones to come for that small amount!
In the San Francisco Bay Area particularly, yes, there has been undercutting. For 20 plus years, I have not only had my own, long-established gigs, but I have “subbed” for my dancer friends and club owner friends. My dance buddies like my track record because I would never steal their gigs, and club owners like it because they know they will get what they pay for. There are some places for which I will no longer substitute; they are paying dancers the same (if not less) than what I have previously charged them. (This is not just last year’s price, but the price of a dance a decade ago.)
Advanced students and budding professionals will work occasionally for significantly less money than established dance personalities. The consumer will pay what he wants, and will receive what he pays for. There are some consumers with discriminating tastes who are happy to pay a professional dancer.
I think the “fananas” out there who have been working their art for some time and have cultivated long standing relationships with their clients, would be reluctant to keep within an “agreed industry standard”.
You don’t want to rob anyone of his or her hard earned dollars, but your art shouldn’t be given away. Your prices for real dancing shouldn’t be less than “a walk-around” from an agency, or less than what you have charged in the past. Therefore, teachers, tell your students. Dancers, talk to other professionals in your area (…or check their websites)! Check the current rates.
Nowadays, there are a variety of venues to perform, with a variety of distinctions in the dance and the dancer.
I say let the consumer beware….you get what you pay for. If you want a 20 thousand dollar Scion Toyota, you can get one; if you want to pay more for a BMW you can get one of those.
Ready for more?
- 7-27-05 Calling all professional dancers! How much do you charge?
Over the years, we dancers have unwittingly kept the general rate ridiculously low in restaurants and nightclubs.
- 11-15-11 2011 Eliat Festival with T and A!
Eilat is a bustling attraction for many tourists, boasting world class beaches, diving, and great weather, which was one reason that we picked this destination in January!
- 6-7-99 Becoming a Fanana of the Belly Dance–
Instead of a musical slave, I believe it is your calling as a dancer to interplay with the music.
- 5-6-07 How to Charge What You Are Worth
The first step to becoming an effective negotiator is to emotionally detach yourself from the outcome. If you can’t walk away from the deal, you have already lost.
- 3-10-10 Ask Yasmina #12: The Importance of Oum Kalthoum, Undercutting, and Kid Bellydancers
When a client hiring a performer or a student looking for a teacher is at a point where they want quality, they know they have to pay a fair price.
- 12-18-07 Bully Belly
For example: a promoter is thinking about planning an event and is talking to a friend and says, “I can’t help it if some other teacher has planned a show on the same day or night; they are different styles anyway.”
- 12-6-11 Interview with Nawarra of the UK and Morocco
We met Nawarra in Marrakech, at Simona’s Mediterranean Delight Festival held there in June 2011. Nawarra grew up in Casablanca graduating from the university there. She now lives in Leed, near Manchester in Northern England. She has a troupe there, teaches and also takes several tour groups per year back to Morocco. She explains to us the term "sha’abi" and how it is used in the Moroccan dialect of the Arabic language.
- 12-1-11 A Month in Cairo, Egypt, Classes, Performing with Safaa Farid Band, Closing Gala, Classes at AWS
She finished off the teaching part of the class with a cane dance filled with a variety of cane movements that were playful and fun. At the end, she had a real treat for us: She performed a short Oriental number in her unique style for us to watch and enjoy.
- 11-30-11 Gigbag Check #32 – Tito Seif
In October, 2011, we found Tito Seif backstage at Hala’s Show in Redwood City, California. Tito is currently the most famous male dancer in the world. He shows us several of his costumes all of which he designed. Also included is a clip of one of his dances at Hala’s wonderful show. Thank you to Hala and Tito for your time and sharing.
- 11-28-11 From Syria with Love! Queen of Denial, Chapter 6: My Arrival
You may think that the life of a traveling Belly dancer is filled with intrigue and love affairs, but this couldn’t be further from the truth!
- 11-23-11 Know Your Bellydance Audience
A part of us may feel like we’ve earned an audience because we’ve worked so hard and perform a quality show. But the truth is that you have to win an audience every single time.
- 11-18-11 A Gilded Serpent Time Capsule Presentation, Rakkasah 1984 and 1986 (25 years ago) Photos by Lynette Harris
While taking a nostalgic look through my photo albums recently, I realized that if I was ever going to share these photos, I had better go ahead and scan them into the computer now before they deteriorate even more than they already have. Yes, they are discolored and blurred, but I think they will be of some value to those who pay attentions to costume styles or those who were there and simply enjoy re-visiting the memories