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Red Flags Before The Green Light

My Experience as a Club Bellydance Sponsor

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by Enchanting Erica
posted 1-3-14

I am a bellydancer and teacher in Fargo, North Dakota. We have a relatively small but very talented, diverse and enthusiastic regional community. I solo a couple times a month with different variety shows and I am working on a repertoire with my dance troupe. We have haflas every few months. It is a fun but quiet existence for us bellydancers up in the Northland.

So it was a bit of a shock, and thrill, when on December 4, 2012 I received an email out of the blue from Stevo Glendinning asking if I would be interested in sponsoring a local show for Club Bellydance. They happen to be traveling from Minneapolis to Winnipeg, and Fargo seemed like an obvious stop, logistically speaking.

Stevo proposed this deal to me: Club Bellydance would be responsible for contacting the venue and paying any rental cost. The sponsor would be responsible for recommending an appropriate local venue, lining up talent and organizing music for the first 45 minute segment of the show (Act 1),  finding one volunteer to work the door and one to help with Club Bellydance merchandise, and provide a small fruit plate and bottled water for the dancers in Act 2. The local sponsor would be paid twenty percent of the ticket sales. If the date fell on a weekend, the sponsor would also get ten percent of the admission if they were able to hold a workshop.

There was no monetary investment on my part, except for the snacks. Easily within my budget.

At first this seemed like a crazy idea, because Bellydance Superstars is a pretty big deal. But then realizing that the actual scope of the show was not as large an affair as their previous tours, and that I had helped with production of several shows for the variety show troupes of which I am a member, it seemed more possible. After consulting with my dance partner Ezma (I knew I would need help), I decided to take Stevo up on his offer and we began work trying to nail down a venue. This was decidedly harder than I had anticipated. The local universities’ theatre departments did not return our calls. Other local theatre groups either had venues that were too large, too small, too expensive, or just not available. Luckily one of my variety show friends recommended The Garage Bar just across the river in Moorhead, MN. It turned out to be an excellent venue! I only regret that we were not able to have an all-ages show. That would have boosted our ticket sales significantly.

Having secured the venue I now had to reach out to the local dance community to fill Act 1, and consider how to pay participants. I determined the fairest approach would be to offer an even split of all funds amongst all dancers, regardless if they were in a troupe or solo. I was upfront that this depended on ticket sales, so they may each walk away with a minimal amount for all I could tell at that time. The response was overwhelmingly positive and by the time it was all said and done I had 18 total dancers to fill 45 minutes!

We had wonderful ladies driving from ten minutes away to three hours away to participate. We have a widespread community, and I am so grateful to know all these fabulous dancers!

My promotional contact at CB was Roxanne, who was helpful and responsive, and just a genuine pleasure to work with. I provided the necessary info to her for posters and other event promotion. Stevo was able to provide me with a list of songs that the touring dancers would be using so that we did not reuse songs in the local acts.

Then we got our first red flag. As many long-time dancers know, we make friends far and wide across the country. One of the dancers in our show has a daughter who is a dancer in Florida. She reported to us that when Club Bellydance toured in their area the local dancers had been asked to pay half-price admission to stay for the second half of the show and see the Club Bellydance dancers. Obviously it created a lot of friction at that venue, so I inquired with Roxanne if that was still the policy. Apparently due to the conflicts it had caused they retired that policy. I could not imagine how a curtain call would go if members of the first half of the show weren’t allowed to stay!

Satisfied with this answer we continued on promoting, practicing, planning. As February 12, the day of the show, approached we had only sold twenty tickets. Stevo was concerned, but I know from experience that for shows at bars, especially in the winter months, people often wait and pay at the door. We had sixty-seven additional paid admissions at the door. We were hoping for around two-hundred patrons, and to be honest we were a tiny bit disappointed because of all the work we had put into promoting. However, all together it wasn’t bad for a cold Tuesday night. There had been a rather bad snowstorm the day before so we were worried that they wouldn’t make it from Minneapolis! Some of the California ladies had fun playing on the large piles of snow in the parking lot when they arrived.

The Club Bellydance performers were very friendly and gracious. Unfortunately we did not have much of a chance to visit with them, but having a show every-other day and continually being on the road has to be pretty grueling.

Their small road team got everything set up for tech rehearsal. I was interested to see that they brought their own floor covering, probably a bit jealous too. Set-up went quickly and smoothly, merchandise was displayed, and we were set to go about an hour before showtime.

The show was amazing! As the producer I took advantage and put myself and my partner on first so we could watch the rest of the show and be available if any issues arose. I was so proud of our community! We have so many great dancers of so many different styles: Egyptian and American Cabaret, Turkish, ATS®, Persian Ballet, Bollywood Fusion, and more I am probably missing. I would have been satisfied with that half of the show alone. But then it was a rare treat to see the pros from Bellydance Superstars perform up close and in person. They also represented various styles of bellydance, and had a wonderful sense of theatricality. I loved how they fused their duets and group numbers together seamlessly. I learned quite a lot from watching their segment of the show.

Once the show was over we had a curtain call and photo ops. We chatted a bit and changed back into our civilian clothes. It was all very exhilarating and I felt a little high from the excitement of the evening. Unfortunately the CB ladies had to get a good night sleep because they had to hit the road again in the morning. Some of us locals got together for drinks and congratulations on a job well done. I don’t have any regrets about doing the show, and I would probably consider doing it again. However, I would have done some things differently.

Curtain Call
Curtain call (photo courtesy of Jean Newborg) linked to larger image
Back row: Iana, Ella Za Beth, Kelebek Aslan, Enchanting Erica, Ezma Siddiqah, Cherish, Ashley Throw, Sabah, Gaia Sophia, Ana Ari, Briste Aen, Aremi, Thura
Front Row: Annakiaya Sehar, Mystique, Ezra, Sabrina, Victoria, Moria, Nathalie, Saphira

The second red flag popped up when my door volunteer, Jarica, mentioned to me that Stevo had asked for the door proceeds and tickets, then wadded up the cash and stuck it in his pocket without counting it.

I was very lucky that Jarica was careful to keep track of how much money was collected and put all of the tickets in order to make sure there were no duplicates. I realized later that I had not specified with Stevo when or how I would receive payment. Bellydance Superstars carries a lot of weight in the international community. They have a reputation and have done a great deal to promote the art form. I am sure many of us have seen the documentary American Bellydancer or at least some of Bellydance Superstars’ performance and instructional videos. I took it for granted that they had a streamlined system for taking care of business. This was an incorrect assumption. I am accustomed to my troupes being paid the night of an event. I knew this was probably a different situation since I was dealing with a corporate entity. I gave it a couple of weeks, and then I emailed Stevo inquiring about when I would be paid. I heard no reply. I understood that he was still on tour so I gave him a little leeway. But eventually the US tour was over and they were headed to Europe. On April 24, I emailed Roxanne for assistance and she said she was forwarding my inquiry to the appropriate person. I waited some more, and nothing showed up in my mailbox. So on May 22 I emailed her yet again, having given up on Stevo at this point. I felt bad about this because it really wasn’t her job, she was just the one person who got back to me. She apologized wholeheartedly, said she was advising John, who is responsible for paying CB sponsors, and that he would send me an image of the check right before he mailed it. Again, nothing. This was getting ridiculous.

I was not sure where to go from here. I am a member of a few bellydance forums on Facebook so I decided to ask my colleagues if they had any ideas, trying very hard not to name names. For some reason I assumed my problem was an oddity. It was not.

I had no idea that I was about to unleash a firestorm. By the time things settled down there were well over 140 comments on my post, and most of them were negative toward Bellydance Superstars’ business dealings. I don’t like to speak for others or propagate hearsay, but I cannot omit the fact that a number of people revealed they had either not been paid or had to threaten litigation in order to get their money. This was not exclusive to Club Bellydance sponsors but also musicians and vendors.

I dislike the idea of having to resort to litigation, but Ezma happens to have a friend who is a lawyer, and we were planning to ask for her assistance when I decided to make one last effort to collect. I wrote a rather heartfelt email directly to Miles Copeland, including Stevo and Roxanne in the cc. I told him about the issues I was having and that I was deeply disappointed that an institution such as Bellydance Superstars was damaging its own reputation so badly. I hoped that they could turn things around. Roxanne forwarded this email to John in accounting. He replied back to me very quickly, apologizing for the delay, saying he thought everything had been paid, and offering to issue a PayPal payment immediately, which he did. This payment was finally received on June 24, over four months after the show.

Case closed. Well, not for me. After the lack of initial response from BDSS, and hearing from others who had such difficulty, I am not sure I can take John’s mea culpa at face value. I heard from so many people that felt BDSS had poor business practices, but then I did hear from another sponsor who was paid quickly without needing to ask. So I am left a bit confused. One way or another, I can tell you that BDSS needs to fix their damaged reputation. I know that at least one of the CB dancers had found out about what was going on and expressed that she was very sorry for the bad experiences people had related. But none of the CB dancers are to blame, and I can’t stress that enough. I can’t say enough good things about the dancers and about Roxanne.

This is a problem at the top. I should mention that as of the time I write this I have not received a reply from Miles Copeland or Stevo Glendinning.

As for me, would I do it again? Probably. Especially since I know more now than I did then. First, I would have insisted on a signed contract. Second, I would have asked for specifics on how and when payment would be made, and who I should contact in case of issues. Third, I would have insisted on receipts for transfer of cash at the door. Ultimately each dancer made $21, and we all knew that was a possibility going into it that we wouldn’t make much money.

It was very rewarding seeing our community come together for this one big event, and it has led to deeper and lasting friendships. Having the opportunity to experience some Bellydance Superstars up close and personal was amazing! If anyone reading this article is considering being a local sponsor for Club Bellydance, please keep these things in mind before you give the green light.

 
Lovely Dozen
The Lovely Dozen (Courtesy Josh Marzolf)
Shimmy Sisters
Shimmy Sisters (Courtesy Josh Marzolf)

 

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   |       |    2 Comments

  1. No Gravatar
    Aliah

    Jan 4, 2014 - 08:01:15

    Wow.  I also participated in a CB performance in Springfield IL in 2011; not only did we have to pay for half price tickets, but we danced for free.  Sadly, the local organizers did not do much promotion and only about 30 people showed up to the event.
    What was awesome was getting to meet the BDSS dancers and hanging out with them in the dressing room as well as having them watch our performance and receiving their compliments and critique.  That alone was worth the half-price ticket!  

  2. No Gravatar
    Rosa Noreen

    Jan 11, 2014 - 01:01:57

    This is shameful behavior on the part of BDSS management. You shouldn’t have to threaten to sue in order to get paid. I’m glad that the word is out and that dancers who choose to deal with them in the future can learn from your experience.Regarding the half-price ticket, yes, it’s exciting to meet our idols but it is NOT ok to charge performers. If we all agree to this, then it becomes the norm. I’m glad that they have dropped that policy.

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