An Open Letter to Aspiring Young Belly Dancer
We’ve been the house dancers in a Greek restaurant for a number of years and have also done more than our share of family parties, corporate parties, etc. We’ve truly been blessed and have enjoyed every opportunity to dance. During that time, we have gotten numerous calls from local up and coming dancers wanting to know about how to get professional gigs or even asking about auditioning for an opportunity to dance. We’ve been to a lot of performances, haflas, and workshop shows over the years and have seen a lot of promising up and coming ladies who have asked for input on how to get the gigs. So, you won’t like it but here’s our two cents.
A Restaurant is a FAMILY Situation.
It’s not a nightclub, it’s not a hafla, and it’s not a workshop. Recently, a workshop was held here and we happened to catch some of the video posted on Youtube. I won’t name names, as it has nothing to do with the dancer, but with a trend I see happening.
The young lady has bought into that idea that it’s possible to combine burlesque and bellydance. WRONG – at least not if you want to be hired for a family gig.
Screenshot collage from the promo video of the
Parthenon Greek Restaurant in Lincoln NE
If you come out dancing to Hidey Ho, your choreography consists of very little dancing but a great deal of shaking and grinding, and your costume is an actual lingerie bra with some coins, a cheap skirt and no belt; well I have news for you – that doesn’t fly in a family restaurant. It doesn’t matter if all of your friends were screaming from the audience and telling you how great you are, unless you’re looking for gig that involves a pole, it doesn’t fly. We can’t think of a single restaurant owner that we know that is going to hire you – no matter how pretty you are – if that is your idea of belly dancing. AND – when the general public sees that type of dancing represented as belly dancing, we can promise you that short of bachelor parties, you’re not going to get hired for many private functions either. Don’t come whining to me when you discover that the local gigs have all but dried up for you and every other dancer in town. You brought it on yourself.
A restaurant is a FAMILY situation (did we already mention that?) It’s also an ethnic one.
If you audition for a Greek restaurant – do NOT come to an audition with anything other than Greek music.
Don’t bring your dubstep, don’t bring your jazz, or your Gobsmack. Heck, don’t even bring your Lebanese (assuming here that you know not to bring your Turkish!). The same goes for dancing at a Lebanese restaurants (its not the time for anything but Lebanese music). Restaurant customers have expectations. They come to an ethnic restaurant expecting to see something representative of the culture. Again, if you perform in public to modern American music and the general public sees what you doing, they will decide that if that’s what belly dancing is, they don’t want to hire it. You have ruined it for yourself and all of the other up and coming dancers in your area because you couldn’t be bothered to learn about the culture (such as: costuming, music and dance style) of the dance you claim to love.
Not only is a restaurant a family situation, It’s also a business. A Greek, Turkish, Lebanese restaurant can all do a very good business without ever hiring a single dancer. In fact, given the way the dance community is dragging the good name of bellydance down into the gutter, they are realistically better off NOT hiring dancers. Parents don’t want their little girls seeing you bending over and doing HUGE hip circles to the back while they are eating or over-shaking your chest, doing back bends with your hips in someone’s face while they eat. They don’t want to see you doing a dance consisting of nothing but chest pops to “Chicky” and they certainly don’t want to spend $50.00 a person for dinner and have some group of dancers come out in pants, choli’s and tattoos all over their face dancing to “I Don’t Give A Damn”. Don’t come complaining to me when you call other restaurants and they are ADAMANT that they will never again have a dancer in their establishment. Again – you brought it on yourselves!
Every year we see more and more opportunities to perform disappear.
Frankly we blame this on the dance community at large. When you as teachers don’t hold your students to a high performance standard, when you as dancers go to shows and see dancers performing the way we described and cheering them on, screaming, yelling, and zaghareeting your approval, you only encourage it. When up and coming dancers see things like that in shows, videos, and haflas, they think “oh, it must be okay to do that” and the downward spiral continues. When the downward spiral continues, the jobs dry up even more.
At the risk of generalizing, it seems that the new batch of dancers coming up in the last several years are only interested in having people look at them. They don’t care about the culture, they hate the music, and can’t be bothered to learn anything above basic moves, pops/locks and shaking their “assets” above and below the waist.
Yes, there are a lot of dancers who do care, who do study and work at it, but it’s the lazy one’s I’m talking to at this point.
Because ladies, you are dragging the genre down. If you want to stand around in jeans, a coin scarf and roll up your cami into your bra to display your stomach and shake your chest to “Chicky”, fine. Just please don’t call it bellydance. Because at that point it most certainly is not.
It makes no difference how pretty you are.
If you use your looks simply to turn this artform into something salacious, preening and posing as if you are doing a photo shoot for a girlie magazine, you’re not exactly family entertainment and you are most definitely not dancing.
While I’m on the subject, ladies, if you host your hafla or workshop show at a nightclub that has wet t-shirt contests, bull riding and pole dancing contests – what are you thinking? If you’re thinking you’ll make a great name for yourself – well you will make a name for yourself, but it’s not a polite one. Once you make that kind of name for yourself, you can’t get any respect and you can’t find any decent gigs that pay anything.
Those of you hosting workshops
When you have events and allow burlesque to be taught and performed in your show along with the bellydance, we don’t care how tame it is, the general public sees that. Heck they are seeing it and they have a very poor idea of what bellydance really is. They are NOT hiring – not any more. Until the majority of teachers, performers, and event hosts are willing to put their feet down and insist on standards of behavior and dance they won’t hire. The sad part is it takes a lot longer (if ever) to re-establish our artform as legitimate after the few have spoiled it. I am hopeful bellydance will survive, but it will be in spite of what the classless dancers are doing. Tacky comes and goes and hopefully the few tasteful dancers left will be able to outlast this. If it doesn’t? Well, betcha know what I’d say about that!
Ready for more?
- 6-7-10 There’s More to Being a Professional?
Many are the times we have heard belly dancers bemoaning the fact that there are so few venues, especially paying ones, for our art form. They long to be professional dancers, and are understandably frustrated at the lack of opportunities afforded us for acceptable venues for performances. But, does the lack of venues keep dancers from being professional, or does being unprofessional create the lack of venues?
- 11-15-10 She’s Got the Look! Establishing Yourself as a Professional, Part 2
Right or wrong, the average person hiring dancers has certain expectations.
- 11-13-07 Where Have All The Cover-ups Gone?
What happened to professionalism? Mystery? Decorum and good taste?
- 12-5-06 The Ethics of Fusion
If the culture that you’re borrowing your moves from objects to your fusion, does it matter? Are you being respectful or exploitative if you borrow steps from a culture that doesn’t want their music and dance used that way?
- 4-8-08 Divorcing Belly Dance From Burlesque
As it is traditionally understood, I do not find Burlesque, (meaning nudity-no matter how hard one pretends it does not) amusing or creative in the slightest when it comes to including Belly dance, an art that has suffered too long with such unfortunate associations. I find it completely irresponsible and detrimental.
- 1-17-07 Western Dancer’s Guilt, a Response to Naajidah,
People have occasionally suggested Arabs would be “horrified” by the inclusion of the Tribal style in our show but I can tell you that this style is extremely popular with Middle Easterners who come to our show.
The refugee children were dressed in sweatpants and T-shirts, like school kids anywhere in the world. The coach was in a tracksuit, and his stern voice echoed over the young crowd. It could easily have been a basketball game, or perhaps a rehearsal for a play, that was about to begin in this gymnastics hall. But this was a dance rehearsal
- 7-31-14 Patient is a Bellydancer, Part 2:The New Normal & the Boring Reason I’ll Never Stop Dancing
What was once an exercise in insanity is now how I hip drop and down walk.
- 7-16-14 Crossing the Chasm, Cultural Sensitivity and Bellydancing
So how do we start to change the consciousness of people who see our profession as base, both inside and outside of the Middle East? I think it must start with a good understanding of the culture behind the dance, by condemning the culture or completely disregarding it in our art form, we have lost touch with our artistic role in society and thus have lost the ability to alter it.
- 7-14-14 A Refuge for Innovation, Tribal Fest 2014
Although Tribal Fest is a live on stage, face-to-face event, it is the danced realization of a world in which the technological flows of transportation and communication bring images and bodies into correspondence with each other, and through the form create new images that move a global popular culture dialogue forward.
- 4-21-14 Colorful Maghreb in Los Angeles, A Celebration of Music and Dance,
“Dancing In The Sunset ~ A Celebration of Maghreb Music and Dance” held February 1, 2014 at the Live Arts LA Theater in Los Angeles, California
The International Oriental Dance Festival of Gijón, held every year in March, is organized by Fusión Oriental Group and Vanesa Moreno. Gijón is a small town on the north coast of Spain. Since its inception, the number of students was increasing and improved their attitudes about Oriental dance. That is the main reason why Fusión Oriental group decided to do something special to provide an outlet for all of these emotions and ideas. Many ideas emerged, but finally we decided that a festival was the best of them.
- 4-17-14 Zar: Trance Dancing with Yasmin, 2014 Workshop at Amina’s in San Francisco
Here in the Bay Area, so many excellent instructors make appearances that I always feel I need to choose carefully to make the most of my workshop budget. But when I heard that Yasmin Henkesh was coming to give a daylong workshop on zar, I knew right off that this was one I wouldn’t want to miss – how often do most of us get a chance for an in-depth look at this fascinating ritual?