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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

How to Do a Gig



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You've spent years studying the dance, you've performed extensively in non-pro community events to perfect your stage presence, you've stocked your closet with professional costumes, and you've assembled an assortment of music appropriate to professional performances. Here's how to bring it all together in doing a professional gig.

In a perfect world, your teacher would be the one coaching you on how to perform a professional gig. Your teacher should be the one helping you assess whether you are ready. If you have a good teacher, I encourage you to work with that person, and if you are given advice on things to polish before going pro, I encourage you to work through it.

However, I realize this is not a perfect world. I realize that some dancers don't have teachers to help them with this. Others have teachers who have never done pro gigs of their own, and therefore don't have the knowledge to help their students enter the world of gigging. This article is meant to help those who lack access to coaching from their teachers.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.




The Day of the Show

Leave your house at least 15 minutes earlier than you think is necessary to get there on time. That gives you a buffer, just in case you get lost, get caught in unexpected bad traffic, etc.

What to take with you:

  • A companion who can provide you with moral support and assistance in carrying your gear. Having an assistant will also serve as a deterrent to potentially troublesome audience members.
  • The phone number of your contact person and the phone number of the site where the party will be, so you can call if you get lost, are unavoidably delayed, etc.
  • A map that shows the location you are going to, plus the directions you received from your client on how to get there. In today's world, many of us rely on GPS, but it can still be helpful to take along a map or directions. Sometimes GPS gives incorrect information.
  • A cover-up to wear over your costume while driving to the gig, and put on when you are done dancing.
  • Boom box with AC adapter cord and spare batteries. You can leave it in the car if the client said there would be a sound system available at the site, but at least you'll have it "just in case".
  • Two copies of the CD with your music. I also take an MP3 player with a playlist containing my set. Sometimes things go wrong, and a backup can save the gig.
  • Your business cards.
  • Appropriate bills in case you need to make change. Many people get cash from their ATM machines in $20 bills. For example, if you charge $125 for a bellygram, take at least three $5 bills with you in case all the client has on hand is seven $20 bills totalling $140.
  • Any props you plan to use: sword, finger cymbals, veil, cane, etc.
  • Any leave-behinds you use: greeting card for the guest of honor (with your business card enclosed), helium balloons, etc.
  • Hand mirror and spare makeup in case you need to freshen up in the car.
  • Extra safety pins.

Collect your fee when you arrive, before you dance. That way, if something goes sour, such as the audience grabbing at you and the host not intervening on your behalf, you can take the money and run. These things rarely happen, but it's best to be prepared. Many Americans are hesitant to ask for money. Don't be — this is a business transaction. They are purchasing a service from you, and you are entitled to ask for payment.

Insist on dancing at the agreed-upon time--or, at least no later than 30 minutes after the agreed-upon time. Do not agree to sit around and wait until they are somehow "ready" for you — they might leave you cooling your heels for an hour or more if you docilely agree to wait around! And in the meantime, they may be getting drunker and rowdier — that's not what you want!

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Kaylyn Hoskins, Solon, Iowa.




While You're Dancing

This is the fun part of the gig! After all, you're doing this because you love to dance! Now, have a wonderful time, but don't forget that you are a paid professional and your reason for being there is to entertain them. The client isn't paying you to enjoy personal gratification, express yourself, or create some sort of esoteric art — s/he is paying you for entertainment, and you should put that ahead of whatever other sources of satisfaction you seek from your dance.

Waking Up A Quiet Audience

Is the audience having trouble warming up to your show? Here are some ways to create a party mood!

  • Vocalize! Zaghareet. Yip. Shout Opa! Make eye contact with audience members as you do so.
  • In a particularly rhythmic section of the music, clap along with the beat and make eye contact with audience members to join you in clapping. However, don't overdo this — it could make you look desperate if you repeatedly do it. Once per performance can be fun, but more than once is usually too much.
  • Recruit audience members to dance with you. If children are present, they make wonderful dance partners because they're not too inhibited yet, and they'll generate the kind of memorable photos and video footage that will make your client feel s/he has gotten a good value for the money.
  • Once you get an audience member to dance with you, applaud that person yourself and encourage everyone else to join you in thanking him/her. Or, stand still with a bright smile on your face and clap along with the music while that person dances. You can start this while s/he is still dancing — that will probably generate longer applause than what you would get if you wait until s/he returns to the sidelines.
  • Insert a few comedic moves into your show, and treat your audience to mischievous smiles or even outright laughs as you do them. Try to make everybody smile.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.


Dealing With Hecklers

The good news is that this problem is rare. If you properly screened the gig when you spoke with the client on the phone, and if you insisted on dancing at the scheduled time (before the audience gets too drunk), chances are everything will go perfectly well. Most people are too courteous to interfere with your show, and most audiences will apply peer pressure to the occasional heckler to settle him down for you.

Usually, hecklers are attention-seeking, trying to be the "life of the party" and get laughs from everyone else. Sometimes, but not always, they have had too much alcohol to drink. Fortunately, they are usually not too difficult to manage. Here are some possible approaches you might take. Use whatever fits your personality best and seems to best match the situation at the time.

If circumstances allow, as you deal with the heckler try to project this attitude: "Your interruptions are not important, and they're not going to get under my skin. I'm a professional, and I'm having a lot of fun at what I'm doing, and your little distractions aren't going to ruin it." In other words, it's best to start by trying to use humor and good-natured teasing to nudge the heckler into behaving properly.

Don't start acting stern, or annoyed, or upset unless you've completely exhausted your ability to tease the offender into cooperation. The heckler may be a friend or family member of the client, and the way you handle the situation may be talked about for years. If you can keep a good-natured air about you as you cope with the heckler, your audience will remember you as a real pro who kept her cool and handled the issue gracefully. Isn't that a nice impression to leave behind?

Remember that it is the host's responsibility to take care of hecklers for you. If the host doesn't do that, then you are perfectly within your rights to end the show and leave without refunding any portion of the fee. Fortunately, it rarely comes to that. But always be prepared to do it.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.


If The Heckler Is Shouting Rude Comments From The Sidelines

  • The first two times he does it, ignore him. It's possible other audience members will silence him for you.
  • Make the heckler dance with you. Tie your veil around his hips. Look at the audience and motion at him as if to say, "Please clap for this person so he will feel gratified and let me get on with my show."
  • Stop dancing, look in his direction, and say with a touch of humor in your voice, "Let me know when you're finished so I can continue the show." Stand there a moment until you have reason to believe he is finished, then resume dancing.
  • If he persists, put your hands on your hips, and ask something that will embarrass him enough to make him stop. For example, "Who is the performer here, me or you?", "Excuse me, but if you don't care for my dancing, perhaps you'd like to leave the room for 10 minutes?", "Didn't your mother ever teach you to treat other people with respect?". Try to keep your voice from sounding too angry or bitchy — that could alienate the other audience members whose support you need to turn him off. Try to act as though you are amused by his bad manners, or embarrassed for him. This is usually enough to get other audience members to apply peer pressure to silence him. Don't resume dancing until they do. Shut off the music and leave if you need to.

If The Heckler Has Come Onstage And Won't Leave

Leave the stage yourself and go sit down somewhere. Then start clapping for him, or zaghareet. The idea is to playfully suggest that the show doesn't need two stars on stage, so you're going to make room for the other one. Stay on the sidelines until the host or one of the other party-goers deals with the heckler for you.

If The Heckler Is Grabbing At You Or Trying To Touch You

  • Wag your finger at him with a "no-no" expression on your face, as if you were scolding a child while you back away. If he's trying to tuck a tip in an inappropriate place, point with your finger to where you would rather have him put it. That's usually enough.
  • If that doesn't suffice, stop dancing and hold your arm out to keep him at arm's length. Better yet, if you brought a sword, grab it and place it between you and the heckler. The audience will probably intervene on your behalf at this point.
  • If the problem continues, announce that you're sorry, but you'll have to end the show because you cannot dance and defend yourself at the same time, and pack up your boombox and leave.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Michael Baxter, Santa Clara, California.




After Your Show

  • Curtsy nicely at the end of your final song. The traditional theatrical bow from the waist is not necessarily a good idea — it might emphasize your cleavage too much.
  • Thank the audience for being such a great group to dance for.
  • If there is a guest of honor, invite the audience to join you in a round of applause for that guest.
  • If appropriate, pose for pictures with the guest of honor and present the greeting card.
  • Offer your business cards to anyone who wants one.
  • Thank the host for hiring you, and tell that person you enjoyed dancing for his/her event.
  • If you are invited to stay and party with everyone else, it's best to smile and politely decline, telling the client you regret saying no, but you need to go to your next gig. It's best to avoid mingling with the group after your performance, because it destroys the mystique of the performance. However, if many of the audience members are your friends and family, and you would have been an invited guest anyway, then it may be fine to stay. If you do, change your clothes or put a cover-up such as the one in the photo over your costume before joining in. Blot the perspiration off your face and refresh your make-up. No one wants to look at the sweat rolling off your skin while they talk to you.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.




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