Gilded Serpent presents...

There’s More To Being a Professional?


by Ashiya and Naajidah
posted June 7, 2010

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?

In our last article, we talked about cover-ups and lack of use among belly dancers.But there’s more to being a professional than just covering up and there’s more to being a professional than just having a steady paying gig.  Being professional also means adhering to a code of conduct that puts a dancer above reproach, to having respect for one’s self as well as the dance, to operate as an honest, reliable business person, and to respect other dancers and their gigs, just to mention a few.

For example: a few years back, a dancer from a local troupe was complaining about the way she had been treated at a nightclub.  She and her fellow troupe members had performed at a workshop and afterwards decided it would be great fun to go clubbing in their costumes.  So off they went to a local hotspot, and hit the dance floor for a fun night of dancing.  At one point during the evening a “gentleman” started hitting on this dancer and making some rather un-gentlemanly comments about her being a belly dancer.  Her retort?  “When I’m wearing this costume, I’m a professional and I expect to be treated like one”.  She was extremely upset at the way she had been treated.

But how exactly had she been treated?  She was out in public, in a belly dance costume that the general public has some rather incorrect assumptions about at times, shaking her booty in a bar.  What on earth was he to infer, seeing her dancing around wearing what he considered exotic garb?  What opinion of belly dancers in general do you think were formed that night by patrons of that nightclub?  Do you think, after seeing this behavior that they would be more or less likely to hire a belly dancer for their next event?  AND, if they were inclined to hire one for their event, what do you think they would expect her behavior to be?  It’s an unfortunate reality that whenever any of us step out into the public eye as a belly dancer we are causing the public to form opinions of what belly dancing is like, and what belly dancers are  …for better or worse!

All the trappings of your costuming are considered to be your “tools of the trade”.

Just like a doctor and his stethoscope, the lawyer with his briefcase, or the carpenter with their tool belt, your costume is a needed item for you to fulfill your job.  Would you want to go to the doctor who shows up in a bar in his surgical garb swinging his stethoscope around?  Or trust a lawyer to represent you if he was balancing his briefcase on his head while shaking his booty?  Or hire the carpenter in his overalls dancing in his tool belt?  Would seeing them at a bar like this make them more or less professional in your eyes?  You can’t be upset at not being treated professionally by others, if you don’t treat yourself that way.

Now granted, the above is kind of an extreme example, but when you are in your dance persona, are you conducting yourself in a manner that tells the world you respect yourself and the dance?  Do you exhibit a courteous, conscientious and generally businesslike manner while representing yourself as a belly dancer?  Do you support other dancers in your community, whether you personally like them or not?  Do you refrain from engaging in gossip and innuendoes about other dancers?  Do you honor your commitments no matter what?  If you have a gig at a venue (restaurant or nightclub) do you support the establishment, even when you are not there?  If you can’t answer yes to all these questions, then you are not being professional.

Put yourself in the place of the general public and look at yourself through their eyes.  What exactly do they see?

  • A well groomed, discretely covered dancer who is on time for their performance, arriving in a calm, business-like manner, ready to perform?  Or a dancer who shows up, hurrying because they are late, with no attempt made to cover up, with an air of disorganization? 
  • Do they see a dancer who comes early and stays late to see and support the other dancers?  Or someone who shows up for their allotted time and then leaves with no thought of others? 
  • Does the public overhear you speaking sincerely and nicely about other dancer’s performances, or do they hear mean, sniping remarks? 
  • Have they hired a dancer who honors her commitments even though she might not feel good, her family has other plans, she is simply having a bad day, or she wanted to do something else?  Or did they get someone who backs out with excuses and has other things take precedence, things that came up AFTER she committed to the performance?
  • If you have been hired by a restaurant or club, do you support that establishment?  Do you go in when you are not performing to support other entertainers?  Do you patronize the establishment on your nights off?  Or, and we’ve seen this happen before, is a free meal part of the deal for dancing there?  If so, do you still tip the wait staff?  Do you accept the meal graciously?  Or, do you bring friends in to see you dance, and then split the meal with them, demanding good service of the server and then expecting to walk out without even a tip or a thank you to the server?

These types of behaviors are examples that we have personally seen.  If you want  people to think well of belly dancing and dancers, if you want more dance opportunities, then we all need to adhere to a code of conduct that paints us in the light of professional, courteous people who are a joy to hire.  When dancers do not, then those who hire begin to regard all belly dancers as not worth the trouble. 

When you cause your employer nothing but headaches, they begin to regard the whole thing as a lost cause and decide to hire NO DANCERS!

Several years ago, (we hesitate to tell you exactly how many) there used to be belly dancers at the Omaha Greek Festival.  Dancers from Lincoln and Omaha were invited to participate and it was a wonderful venue for everyone concerned.  Without going into great detail, as the show was about to start, several dancers got into a verbal altercation.  Unfortunately, it was within microphone range and was consequently heard by everyone including the band, audience, and sponsors.  Long story short?  That was the end of the festival hiring belly dancers and to this day the festival still will not consider doing so.  The unprofessional behavior of a few led to the elimination for everyone of a wonderful opportunity to perform.

We all need to remember, that our own behavior impacts not only ourselves but every other dancer!

If one dancer acts in an unprofessional manner, then their actions affect all other dancers.  The public may not remember exactly which dancer they saw in a bar dancing in their costume, but they will absolutely relate the story to others.  And the next time someone sees a performance, there probably will be somebody in the audience wondering if the dancer on stage is the one they heard about.  Or they will have an event coming up and perhaps consider hiring a dancer… then they will remember the story related to them and decide that perhaps a belly dancer isn’t going to be the right type of entertainment after all.

Here’s another example: a few years ago, we had the opportunity to attend a nearby ethnic festival and see some of the other dancers from that area.  While watching a completely new and unknown (to us) belly dance group perform, a local American Tribal Style troupe showed up and joined us.  They were rather upset with the group that was performing because some of what this group was doing was not exactly tasteful, not only in their dance, but in their costuming and behavior.  Many in the community had never seen belly dance before, and after having seen this group, SWORE to never hire another group again.  The ATS troupe had missed out on several dance opportunities because of the behavior of another group, and no amount of effort on their part to ensure that they were tasteful professionals did them any good.

Sadly, the public paints all dancers with the same brush and bad news travels fast.  We owe it not just to ourselves, but to our fellow sisters in dance to behave in a professional manner.  Treat and respect everyone (dancers, band members, public, etc) the way you would like to be treated and respected.  This, fellow dancers, is the Golden Rule in action!

We’ve seen dancers show up at other dancer’s gigs (and that includes nightclubs and restaurants) in full costume with boom boxes.  We’ve seen dancers play their zills in the audience while another dancer is performing on stage.  We’ve seen dancers in costume walk across a performing area in FRONT of the audience while another troupe was performing.  And we’ve seen dancers handing out flyers for their own group while another group was on stage.  Now, ask yourselves this question.  Were ANY of these dancers being professional and supporting other dancers, or were they merely looking for attention and behaving amateurishly?

As for the business side of what we do?  Once you have committed to a performance, then you do it.  PERIOD.  There is nothing more unprofessional than backing out of a commitment, unless you are sick, dead or dying. And if you are sick, dead or dying, then you’d better have found a replacement!  It doesn’t matter if your heart isn’t in the performance on that particular day or your mother reads your horoscope and advises you it’s not a good day to perform… you do it. It doesn’t matter if your boyfriend or husband or significant other has come up with wonderful plans for the two of you… you do it. It doesn’t matter if the weather is too hot or cold or rainy or windy… you do it.  AND you do it well!  You don’t show up and give a half hearted performance or whine and complain, because if you do, in all likely hood not only won’t you be hired back, but you may just jinx the job for any future dancers. 

A commitment once given is honored.

Unfortunately there is no universal standard for professionalism, so we have to rely on our own common sense.  Bottom line?  Very simple.  If you want to be treated as a professional, then you have to not just act like a professional, but BE a professional in everything that you do.   It’s more than your outward appearance; it’s how you conduct yourself both on and off stage, it’s how you present the dance and it’s how you treat your sisters in dance.  Remember, in this day and age of the computer and the Internet, the whole world is watching!

Coming soon– Part II – Practical Guidelines for Dancers:  “The Do’s and Don’ts for being Professional”

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  1. Anthea (Kawakib)No Gravatar

    Jun 8, 2010 - 04:06:36

    Thank you SO much – you’ve hit the nail on the head. I’ll forward this to my students.

  2. TourbeauNo Gravatar

    Jun 8, 2010 - 08:06:48

    When dealing with illness, there is a fine line between “the show must go on” and “I don’t have enough sense to stay home in bed.”  Many times, dancers are hesitant to find a replacement for a gig because they don’t trust the new performer not to ruin, if not intentionally sabotage, future job possibilities for them (a different spin on the problem of unprofessionalism).  Consequently, they go out and perform when common sense dictates that they shouldn’t.  I understand the critical importance of upholding your obligations, but if I saw a dancer trying to perform while visibly exhibiting symptoms of sickness, I wouldn’t think she was a dedicated professional.  I’d think she was both the second coming of Typhoid Mary and a blooming idiot–neither of which are particularly “professional” impressions to leave on an audience. 

  3. AnalaNo Gravatar

    Jun 8, 2010 - 04:06:49

    Bravo!  A resounding Bravo!  This is worthy of sharing with every student and  professional –aspiring or established.  Thank you for posting this!
    Lynette, may I have your permission to link to this from a forum I participate in?  This is relevant to a recent thread and I think that the participants would gain value from reading this article (along with the rest of your lovely site, of course!).

  4. AshiyaNo Gravatar

    Jun 9, 2010 - 06:06:13

    In regard to being sick and still performing, we did not endorse that at all. No one wants to see a “sick” dancer.   What we said was if you are sick find a replacement.  Don’t just cancel.  Once you make the committment, then you are obligated to fulfill it.  It becomes your responsibility to find someone and not just bail.  Teachers have substitutes when they are ill, and we suggest that you have a back up plan in place for times when you cannot perform.  And yes we understand that there are dancers who will “steal” your gig, and we plan to address that in a future article.

  5. TourbeauNo Gravatar

    Jun 9, 2010 - 11:06:37

    The “coming to work sick” problem really consists of two parts for the purposes of this discussion.  There is the central lack of professional ethics that makes it so difficult for a dancer to find a competent and trustworthy replacement when she can’t fulfill a commitment for a gig.  This is our original responsibility to address.  Far beyond our little world, there is a wider problem that many people don’t seem to realize the importance of staying home when you are unwell anymore.  The fact that so many businesses (including dentists, chiropractors, hairdressers, etc.) now post signs explicitly telling people to reschedule their appointments and stay home if they are suffering from high fever, cough, sore throat, nausea, etc. indicates that we are part of a much larger collapse of etiquette, where people seem to be unaware that others don’t consider it an honor to be infected by their germs.  It has become a secondary part of our job as teachers to make sure students understand that a professional dancer doesn’t engage in this sort of selfishly oblivious behavior, either.

  6. AshiyaNo Gravatar

    Jun 9, 2010 - 11:06:03

    BRAVO.  I totally agree with you.  As a teacher we have an obligation that extends far above and beyond just teaching our students movements and choreography.  Etiquette seems to be lacking in so many areas any more. 

  7. AnisetephNo Gravatar

    Jun 13, 2010 - 08:06:42

    Excellent article, but as an amateur I take issue with the phrase “behaving amateurishly” to describe the bad behaviours cited.

    Amateurish is a fair word to describe a performance that doesn’t come up to professional standards, but IMHO rude and disrespectful behaviour towards other dancers is just that, rude and disrespectful. Yes, it is totally unprofessional, but it isn’t anything to do with being an amateur either.

  8. TourbeauNo Gravatar

    Jun 13, 2010 - 08:06:04

    Aniseteph, that is a valid point.  It is important to be precise in distinguishing which “amateurs” are “hobbyists” or “aspiring professionals,” and which are “individuals lacking in competence or ethical standards.” 

  9. NaajidahNo Gravatar

    Jun 14, 2010 - 07:06:23

    While I appreciate your comment regarding hobbyists, I think that arguing semantics takes away from the point of the article which is if you want to get treated in a respectful professional manner, then you need to act the way you want to be treated.  Whether you are an amateur, a hobbyist or want to be a professional, behavior affects not only you but other dancers as well.  Whether one aspires to become a professional or not, professional comportment is always important.  The average audience member isn’t going to know the difference between a hobbyist or aspiring professional.  They are only going to see professional behaviour or amateurish. 
    As an aside, the term amateurish was meant to be used in this case as an adjective which denotes an unskilled effort:
    Cambridge dictionary defines amateurish as “having no skill, or showing no skill”
    Oxford defines amateurish as “incompetent; unskilful” defines it as “characteristic of an amateur, esp. in having the faults or deficiencies of an amateur; inept”.  This is how the word was intended.


  10. AnisetephNo Gravatar

    Jun 14, 2010 - 05:06:04

    There’s no need to reiterate the main message – as I said, it is an excellent article and you made the point about professional behaviour extremely well. If it had been a rubbish article I wouldn’t have bothered, but it was an enjoyable read and I was agreeing with so much, then the amateurish comment read like a kick in the teeth.
    It is not about the dictionary definitions of amateurish, it’s about making an association between bad behaviour and amateur status, and I find that offensive.  Amateurs may dance poorly, present themselves badly, not know about etiquette like keeping costumes for performance and wearing a cover up, or what the local tipping practices are, or understand about undercutting… THAT’s amateurish – as you say: incompetent, inept, lacking in skill.
    But the only time you use the word is to associate it with behaviour that is worse than general cluelessness. Showing up at other dancer’s gigs in full costume with boom boxes, playing zills in the audience, walking across a performing area in front of the audience, handing out flyers while another group is on stage –  it ranges from plain rude to outright malicious.
    It’s not nitpicking semantics; the insinuation is that this sort of rude and malicious behaviour is an amateur trait,  and your final definition confirms your intention:  “characteristic of an amateur, esp. in having the faults or deficiencies of an amateur; inept”.  This is how the word was intended.
    All I can think is that maybe in your neck of the woods this is typical and normal for amateur circles, and they just don’t know any better when out in public, but please don’t paint everyone with the same brush.

  11. Anthea (Kawakib)No Gravatar

    Jun 15, 2010 - 05:06:37

    Aniseteph makes a good point: “Showing up at other dancer’s gigs in full costume with boom boxes, playing zills in the audience, walking across a performing area in front of the audience, handing out flyers while another group is on stage –  it ranges from plain rude to outright malicious.”
    that behaviour COULD be chalked up to the ignorance (or cluelessness, if you will, of an amateur), but more often I think it would be plain rudeness or unethical (yes, malicious) behaviour.


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