Gilded Serpent presents...
Calling all professional dancers!
How much do you charge?
by Nanna Candelaria

I grew up in the nightclub and restaurant scene having begun my dance career at a very young age. From the start I understood that there was an unspoken rule against discussing oneís rate of pay with other dancers. It was as if doing so was a sort of betrayal to the establishment.

On looking back, Iíve come to question where this habit came from, and why we regarded it as empowering, rather than questioning its divisiveness.

I believe the club and restaurant owners were the ones, most likely, to propagate silence. It is to their benefit, after all. I realize that this same taboo persists amongst us today, not only in the nightclub arena, but on a larger scale, when booking ourselves out for private parties and events. The issue here is the disparity in pricing. Many dancers agree to perform for significantly less money than others.

For those that may not know, this is what we refer to as undercutting.

Over the years, we dancers have unwittingly kept the general rate ridiculously low in restaurants and nightclubs. Unfortunately, this is an area which seems unlikely to change, as restaurant and nightclub owners are often set in their ways, and become savvy to the knowledge that there are numerous dancers seeking opportunities to perform. Sometimes the longer a restaurant has been in business the more likely they are to be caught up in a fiscal time warp. I donít hold much faith that dancers will ever become organized enough to change the situation in the entire restaurant and club scene, but my hope is that we can unify in our approach to pricing for private parties and events.

When I was a new dancer I believed that I was honoring the dance community by charging less due to my lack of experience. I was also anxious to have as many opportunities to perform as possible. I thought I was acting out of humility in charging a lesser amount; I could not perceive how I was actually weakening the dance market in doing so.

As I furthered along in my dance career and acquired more professional experience, I also became increasingly aware of the tremendous amount of time and energy that went into preparation for each performance.† Assembling music, rehearsing my numbers, shaving, applying makeup, and doing hair takes hours. Then there was the panicked rush to find the location and the contact person, and the pressure to emerge from a makeshift dressing room appearing fresh and joyous, in what was so often an awkward dance environment. I never knew if I would end up dancing in a bowling ally, an office cubicle, or Uncle Bobís living room. After performing so often I began to realize how demanding the whole job can be. I should also add that most of us invest great amounts of money and time in dance lessons and dance costumes.   

What I now recognize is that the general public is rarely informed, and does not always differentiate between experienced and non-experienced dancers, particularly while in search of an entertainer for their event. If any dancer is offering her services as a performer, she should realize her level of experience and her skill are nearly insignificant next to the fact that if the client expects her services as an entertainer, then they should always expect to pay a reasonable amount for that service.

Today most clients contact belly dancers through email. It has therefore become easier than ever to search for the lowest bid on a belly dancer.

Having dedicated the majority of my lifetime to this form of dance, and now being an experienced and accomplished dancer, I can say that those newer dancers who charge less (and those not so new dancers who charge less) greatly hinder my opportunity to charge appropriate and just compensation, for fear of knowing that I can easily be underbid. While in search of a dancer the client is not so often concerned with artistic mastery. What they are most often seeking is simple entertainment and amusement.

My friend Yosifah, with whom I began a discussion on this subject, quotes: ďDo doctors, dentists, computer technicians, or lawyers charge less on their first day of professional practice than they do after 10 years of experience?  If all of the belly dancers were men, would they book themselves as cheaply as we do?   I know a woman who is a professional clown in this area.  She books childrenís parties for $200.  Should we be booking our parties for less than a clown?Ē

Yosifah also told me of her conversation with Najia, her coach. Najia had apparently spoken with Bert Baladine on the subject who is of the sentiment that if an inexperienced dancer charges less than the experienced dancers in her area, then she is undercutting the dance community.  

I think it is crucial that we become organized and in agreement about a base price for a dance performance. I am calling on anybody and everybody who dances professionally for parties and events to agree on a base fee. I suggest $200 as a minimum.

Talk to your friends, talk to your students, and inform your community what you charge. Wouldnít we all feel so much more confident in quoting an adequate price knowing that the client cannot simply contact the next dancer on their list and get the same service for less?

It is not necessary to form a union or spend huge amounts of effort in becoming organized. We simply have to communicate about this subject more.

It is not rude to share your prices with your fellow dancers; it is foolish to remain silent and divided.

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