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

Inconvenient Truths About the Business of Belly Dance



by Shira





Most people who decide to become professional belly dancers don't have a background in business. We try to learn what we can about how to negotiate, what to charge, how to deal with undercutters, and more by talking to other professionals.

We can learn a lot from these conversations, but remember that often the people giving you advice don't have it all figured out themselves, either. Sometimes, these discussions turn into an echo chamber, where people who all believe the same thing are telling each other what they want to hear. At the same time, they're oblivious to what the people who control the performance opportunities are thinking.

Here are some inconvenient truths about performing for free, deciding what to charge, and negotiating with prospective clients. The corporate business world has known these things for years, and now you too can factor these into your decision-making.

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




The Inconvenient Truths

  • People will always make their decisions of whether to buy/do something based on the benefits they expect to receive. That's true whether you're the dancer or whether you're the person who wants to hire a dancer.
  • Sometimes those benefits come in the form of money. Other times they come in the form of:
    • Barter (such as free tickets, merchandise, etc),
    • Attention,
    • Having a platform to express oneself,
    • Marketing exposure,
    • And so on.
  • Each opportunity needs to be weighed in terms of the benefits you expect it to offer:
    • High enough pay.
    • Reasonable barter value for services rendered.
    • Sufficient attention.
    • Whether the people who see your performance are the demographic that is likely to later sign up for your classes or book you at full price for gigs.
    • And so on.
  • Buyers will offer whatever they think a product/service is worth to them. If they're asking for you to do your performance for free, what does that tell you about what they think your performance is worth?
  • Your performance is only worth what you can persuade someone to pay you.
  • If you are offered something in exchange for your performance (such as tickets to the show), then it's not "free". It's barter. Weigh whether the barter is offering something of value to you or not. And if you live in the U.S., you will need to declare the value of the barter you receive as income when you prepare your income taxes.
  • So long as there is someone willing to perform or teach for free (or for cheap), then prospective clients really don't have much incentive to pay you what you want to charge.
  • The people who accept free (or cheap) gigs really don't give a crap about the fact that their choices hurt you.
  • Clients don't care if you "need" the money. Neither do your competitors.
  • If a business proposition doesn't provide sufficient benefit to you, walk away.
  • Nobody cares how much money you've spent on your costumes, your training etc.
  • Nobody feels responsible for helping you recoup the costs you've incurred obtaining your training, your costumes, your music collection, etc.
  • Others aren't interested in your "art". They're interested in whatever benefit they think you can provide them.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Carl Sermon Photography, San Jose, California.




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