Resources for Professional and Aspiring Dancers
Comparing Bellydance to minimum wage, by Dima
Article about standard rates by Samira Shuruk
Jawahir's Helpful Tips
- Study as many forms of dance and take as many workshops as you can (and not just Middle Eastern). The more you study, the more your style becomes unique to you. If you do want to keep your style pure or true to a particular country, area, or tribe, make sure to find a teacher who teaches the traditional and folkloric dances of your chosen style. There is no such thing as pure modern Egyptian or modern anything for that matter. They are making it up as they go along "over there" just as we are here. They borrow from each other and even from us to create their own style. Some masters in Modern Middle Eastern Dance would disagree with me on there being a pure modern style, but everyone has an opinion :)
- Before a performance, take 5 minutes away from the other dancers/audience/etc... and find a spot to ground & center. Close your eyes, take deep breaths, visualize your performance, imagine your feet connecting with the ground. Visualize draining some of that excess energy through your feet into the ground. Imagine all the energy for your performance originating from your center of gravity (in your belly). It makes a world of difference when I actually do this before a performance. One thing you can do to see if you're centered is lift one foot off the ground and see if you're balanced. If you teeter, close your eyes, ground & center. Another way to get rid of excess energy (THANKS SUSY) is to find a friend and have them lightly brush from your shoulders down your arms, down your back, and over your head (if your hair allows).
- Be patient with yourself. Every dancer experiences stagnant stages. I've always come out of these periods just fine. Do your best to find inspiration when you're feeling down. Go to a show, workshop, take classes, or anything you think might bring back your creative side. Inspiration is priceless.
- When dancing to live music, or improvising, come up with two or three simple planned combinations before hand. Most live music will have a repeating theme, or a steady drum rhythm to dance to. Listen carefully and pick up on that theme. Use one of your planned combinations where it fits, or make something up on the spot. It ends up making you look choreographed even though you may have never even met the band before. Planned combinations also give you something to fall back on in that deer-in-the-headlights moment where you forgot everything you ever learned.
- When dancing with a live band or drummer, make sure to interact with the musicians but don't forget there's an audience too.
- Spot choreograph. Your routine doesn't always have to be entirely choreographed. Pick a few phrases from the music and choreograph them. Then fill in the blanks with improv. If you spot choreograph sometimes, you'll be much more comfortable improvising if you forget parts of your full choreographies. If you are doing improv only, as in dancing with live music, come up with a couple combinations or tricks and work them in where the music seems to fit. That way you don't feel like you're doing the same move over and over again.
- When dancing with a veil, keep your arms strong and engaged, chest open, shoulders down and back. Movements should begin with your core (belly) and move out through the arms. Don't begin movements with the wrists. Keep air moving underneath the fabric. Every veil is different. Play around with yours to find the right speed to move with it.
- Keep the length of your music no longer than 4 to 5 minutes per song. For a longer routine, add more tunes rather than adding longer tunes. This keeps your performance dynamic and interesting. If you do a longer set, add in a specialty dance, like cane or sword, to break up the routine.
- Diaper pins! They will be your best friend. There are internet sites that sell them or get them at a dept store. These are great for reinforcing your costumes, and they don't poke :)
- Know where you fit into the dance community. If you are a seasoned professional, never settle for less than industry standard rates. If you don't know the standards, ask someone who has been there. We want to share the information to keep our pay at a fair rate. If you are less experienced, take any opportunity for exposure you can get. There are many open dance opportunities, festivals, and networking opportunities all over the country. Take every opportunity for networking you get, and remember not to burn bridges. You never know where you may end up and who you may need to call upon.
- Carry a small emergency supply case with you to every show. That way if you forget something in the frenzy of getting ready, you can always be confident you have a backup. You can have a separate bag or include it as part of your makeup case. Here are some ideas of what you could include: needle and thread, scissors, nail file, razor, extra jewellry in case you forget, travel size basic makeup (eyeliner, mascara, lipstick, eye shadow, nail polish, rouge, hair spray/mousse), travel size deodorant, spirit gum, eyelash glue, safety pins (all sizes), extra finger cymbals, bobby pins/hair ties, tissues, lady products, tape, business cards/flyers
- If you play zills, be sure to have a variety of sounds. If you're in a restaurant setting, quieter zills are more appropriate. You don't want to deafen your audience! If you're dancing with a live band or outside, louder zills work best. I like the zildjan brand for loudness and Saroyan for quiet zills. Saroyan has a great range from student to professional zills with a wide variety of sounds.
- Burn a CD for each performance with all your music on it, in order. Make sure the music is well edited, and the volume levels are equal. There's nothing worse than a dynamic entrance with great music followed by a quiet wishy-washy song with no power. Or your set starts out great, but the next song with that crazy mizmar makes everyone wish they'd brought earplugs. You lose the audience and your energy when the volume drops, and if it's too loud, they won't concentrate on you but on trying to save their eardrums! Talk to the sound engineer before the show to be sure you're on the same page. If possible, do a run-through on the stage prior to your performance. If you hand the sound person a bunch of CD's and tell him/her which numbers to play, you're asking for a mistake. It's hard enough for them to keep the CDs in order for each dancer, much less have 5 different CDs for your one 10-15 minute set. Sometimes sound problems are unavoidable but if we do our part with sound editing, it's more likely we'll have a great performance. Music makes the difference!
- Performance etiquette - If you're invited to dance at an event, restaurant, or show, be sure to show your appreciation to the organizers. It's not good etiquette to be late, demanding, rude to the staff, or catty toward other dancers. Chances are you won't be invited back no matter how good your performance is. Arriving 15-20 minutes in advance of your checkin time is a good idea to get a feel for the venue, and what the audience, stage and lighting may be like. Remember that these events don't happen by themselves. There is a lot of work that goes into every show. If you must cancel your performance, make sure the organizer gets your message. If possible, send an email and call as far in advance as possible. It does the event planners no good to come home to an email or phone message after the fact, and it could taint their view of your professionalism. That said, organizers know that life happens, so don't be over-concerned if unforseen events keep you from attending. Most coordinators are pretty forgiving of these types of occurences. After the event, make sure to thank the coordinators and let them know you appreciated being invited, and look forward to working with them again.
- On costuming - make sure your costume choice is appropriate for the venue you are dancing in. If it's a family restaurant or event, be more conservative. Don't show so much leg, and have as much of your body covered as possible. If you're dancing in a nightclub where you have to be 21 to get in, more skin can be more appropriate. At a festival or outdoor event, wear something more "tribal" style if possible. It's much more accessible to the public and more appropriate for the outdoor venues. Anywhere you are invited to dance, be sure you know who your audience is, and dress yourself accordingly. Visit Shira's costuming page for some ideas.
- Two things I've most commonly noticed among performing dancers are the face and the arms. Make sure you know what your face is doing when you are on stage. Watch for dropped jaw or furrowed brow, remember to smile (when appropriate; don't overly cheese it). Always keep energy in your arms. Even if you're not doing any arm movements, make sure you are creating a nice frame with your arms for the movements you are doing.
- So you've been dancing in smoky bars all week and now your costume closet smells like an ashtray. Whadya do? Febreeze! Another way to get that smell out is get some type of citrus spray, like a body mist, or mix a tiny bit of lemon juice with water and use a spray bottle to lightly mist your costume. I usually spray on the inside of the costumes from about 6-12 inches away. Citrus is one of the best odor killers and it's all natural. You can use the trick on your veils and any other costume piece that needs a refresher.
- Professionalism...if you are marketing yourself as a dance professional, there are some basic rules of professionalism. Always remain diplomatic, plan your events around other dance events (this IS a community!), view situations objectively, and treat other dancers and your audience respectfully, even if you feel they are not treating you as such. It's not worth your time to respond with a tantrum to someone not playing nice. Just walk away. Following a basic ettiquette makes your work that much easier.
- It's the little things that count. Add something unique to your makeup or hair (ie. I add a strip of gold glitter right above my eyelids for some extra glitz. Your audience will love that extra touch.)