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

Marketing Yourself as a Dancer


By Shira





Whether you are a seasoned pro, a student aspiring to launch your dance career, or starting out as a vendor, marketing yourself effectively can play a major role in how successful you are. Here are some suggestions on how to package yourself the way a marketing professional would.

Start by understanding the basics of marketing. Professionals in the field refer to the "Four P’s":

  • Product
  • Price
  • Place
  • Promotion

Product refers to you and the teaching / performing / merchandise that you offer. Price, of course, refers to what you charge for your services. Place refers to how visible you are to prospective customers. Promotion refers to how you advertise your availability. Taken together, these factors will give you an edge over others when marketing yourself.

This article offers an introduction to this topic. However, if you should have an opportunity to take Shira's "Artistic Marketing" workshop, you'll find there's much more to it than this! Ask your local event organizers to consider bringing her to town!

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

Some of the images in this article below are samples of posters Shira has used in the past to promote her classes and workshops.





Make sure you understand the Product you are offering. If you’re not selling what people want to buy, then all the time and energy you spend on promotion will be wasted. Think in terms of what people are willing to pay money for, not in terms of what you want them to pay money for. For example, if you are most comfortable dancing in a ragged cotton dress that has food stains on the front, you may find joy in dancing, but there aren’t likely to be many people who would pay you money to do a show for them dressed like that.

Ask yourself these questions. Be honest:

  • What makes your classes, your performances, or your merchandise unique? If you have trouble answering this, then you need to develop that uniqueness. In marketing language, that is known as "differentiating your product".
  • Is the quality of what you have to offer truly good enough to stand up that offered by your competitors? If not, then why would you expect people to come to you when they could get a better teacher, performer, or merchandise by going to someone else?
  • What, exactly, is your product? As a teacher, do you want to promote your local classes, your services as a workshop instructor on the national circuit, your services as a workshop instructor on the worldwide circuit, or an instructional video? Be realistic here — look at what you have the practical means to accomplish, not what you wish might be the case. In the business world, one key criterion that analysts apply to businesses when evaluating their likelihood of success is "ability to execute". That means it doesn’t matter how grand your dream is, if you don’t have the practical skills to turn it into reality. Simply saying you are "famous", "talented", or "exciting" doesn’t make it so. Keep yourself well-rooted in what you can realistically achieve, and focus your marketing efforts on that.

Define a clear vision for what type of gig you want to seek, and then ensure that you are perfectly suited for that gig. For example, if you want to be hired to perform at Arab weddings, you'll need to be familiar with a large repertoire of Arab music, own a variety of sparkly high-end costumes ranging from modest to edgy in style, be able to lead a debke line if requested, be confident dancing with a shamadan or cane if requested, and be capable of dancing in a style that Arab audiences will appreciate.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Lina Jang, New York City, New York.





Price is an important thing to consider in promoting yourself. How much do you charge? This is a tricky question — if you charge too much, people will hire your competitors. If you charge too little, the market will see you as a "cheap" dancer and make assumptions about your skill (or lack of it) accordingly. First, compare yourself to the competition. Start by identifying what kind of competition is relevant. If you'll be marketing the classes you teach locally, find out what local ballet and tap dance teachers as well as other local belly dancers charge. If you're selling merchandise via mail-order, find out what other mail-order vendors charge for similar products. And so on.

Once you have identified who your competition is, find out:

  • What do other teachers charge for group classes paid by the month, group classes paid on a drop-in basis, and private lessons?
  • What is the standard fee paid to dancers by the various restaurants in your community?
  • What do most singing telegram companies charge for the "bellygrams" they sell? What do other dancers charge for the private parties that want a show that’s longer and more polished than the typical bellygram?
  • If you sell merchandise, what do other people charge for comparable items — not just vendors who sell to belly dancers, but also those who sell to the general public? For example, if you’re going to sell mugs with an adorable cartoon of a snake on them, find out the price of novelty mugs at gift shops in your local mall, as well as what other belly dance vendors charge for similar items.

Next, compare yourself to the skill level of the other dancers who are working in your community. Are you better than them, about the same, or not as good? If you are significantly better than them, you may be able to get away with charging more than they do. If you’re about the same, then you’ll certainly want to charge the same.

If you are not as good as other dancers your community, maybe it’s best if you initially stick to doing only free public service shows: community events, nursing homes, etc. Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of saying, "Since I’m not as good, I’ll charge less than everyone else." That is a Bad Thing! Undercutting the fees of other dancers will make you an outcast in your dance community, pull the pricing scale down for everybody, and further reduce the respect that employers have for dancers. Don’t do it! It’s much better to get your performing experience in the free venues, and then later start charging the same amount as other seasoned dancers once you reach a comparable skill level!

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





Make sure your distribution channel (methods for selling to customers) is making it easy for people to see what you offer and attractive to buy from you. That's what Place is all about.

A belly dance performer, for example, could:

  • Advertise herself directly through "being seen" performing in restaurants, at charity events, at city festivals, and other promotional environments
  • Work through an Internet-based gig-booking agency such as Gigmasters
  • Network with other professionals such as event planners, wedding planners, DJ's, photographers, and others who might be in a position to refer leads to her
  • Engage the services of an entertainment agency to help her get gigs

Similarly, a belly dance teacher could either market her classes directly or offer them through a studio that does all the marketing for her.

Whichever distribution channels you decide to employ, you'll need to choose wisely, and you'll need to ensure that you package your image optimally for each such channel.

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

It's not the best strategy to "be seen" dancing all over town. For example, if you dance for free at every possible event that will accept you, people could grow weary of looking at you: "Oh, there she is again, doing the same thing she was doing when I saw her last week dancing on the straw in the camel pen at the petting zoo. The week before that, she was dancing at the fundraiser for that foot fungus research foundation, and again doing the same boring thing. I guess nobody wants to hire her, if she has time to dance for free all over town. Maybe for my next party I'll hire a magician — I haven't seen one of those in a long time...."

People hiring entertainers usually want something special or unique, something that their guests don't see every day, something that will enhance their reputation as a host who throws the best parties. For that reason, it's much more effective to choose a limited number of places to do promotional shows, and those places should be carefully chosen to ensure that you are being seen by the people with both the money and the interest in hiring a dancer.


So how do you place yourself for optimal success?

First, think about what type of gigs you want to focus on attracting. What types of performance opportunities exist (or could exist) in your community? Ethnic wedding celebrations? Birthday parties? Corporate functions? Women's groups? Museums? Next, what type of dance performance will your prospective clients want with respect to music, costume, props, and dance style? Finally, what type of distribution channel will provide the best environment for showcasing your ability to provide an exciting performance for the clientele you want to attract?

For example, if you want to aim for the ethnic wedding gigs, performing in a high-class Middle Eastern restaurant may be the best way to showcase your skills in front of your prospective clientele. But performing for museums, libraries, and colleges may require you to list your services through your state's arts council roster. Corporate clients may do all their booking through event planners and entertainment agencies.

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

A similar thought process can be applied for offering belly dance classes. First determine the demographics of the customers you wish to attract, then think about where to offer your classes or merchandise in order to reach them. For example, if you want to offer daytime classes to women with children, can you schedule a late-afternoon class that will finish just before school lets out, at a studio near a school? If you want to offer lunch-hour classes to working women, can you find a studio next door to a large office building?





Most people think of advertising when they think of Promotion. Although advertising is one aspect of promotion, there’s much more to it than that. In the consumer products world of selling pet food and laundry detergent, promotion may involve putting a coupon into the local advertising circular that offers a small discount on the purchase price of the product. A hair salon owner may promote her services by joining the local chamber of commerce and attending meetings regularly to network with other local professionals. A massage therapist might build a web site that shows clients which times openings are available and accepts online bookings.

Think about how you can translate those ideas into promoting your own product. For example, can you join a group of women who own their own businesses and look for ways to collaborate on referrals to each other? Can you place a coupon in the local ad circular for $5 off the price of a 6-week session of classes? Does your web site contain descriptions of the types of performances you offer, with published prices for each? Can you team up with a real estate agent to include a flyer advertising your classes as part of a "welcome package" for people who buy new homes in your community?

It may be tempting to perform for free at events all over town as a way of giving a free sample and "being seen", but as mentioned above in the Place section of this article, that strategy can backfire by oversaturating the market. Look at it this way - if you received a packet of free shampoo in the mail every week, you wouldn't need to buy any shampoo, would you? It's better to pick and choose a small number of places to do "showcase" performances, selecting ones that are most likely to attract clients with money available to hire dancers or pay for classes.

Of course, you'll also want to invest in advertising. You can put up posters around town, purchase ad space in local arts newsletters, experiment with social media ads or search engine ad words, etc. You'll want to build a compelling social media presence, and offer a polished, professional-looking web site. Perhaps you can share the cost of joint marketing ads with other professionals who target the same market as you, such as wedding photographers and DJ's.

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




Want to Learn More?

I have created an "Artistic Marketing" workshop for belly dancers. In the workshop, I delve much more deeply into all of the topics I explored in this article. Why not book me for a workshop weekend at one of your future events, and include this as one of the topics you choose? Click here for a description of the workshop content. Shira



In Summary

There is much more to being a "professional" than dancing well and proclaiming yourself to be one. Think of your teaching, performing, or vending as an overall "product", and let that lead you into thinking about how you can apply the methods used for selling toilet paper, computer software, fast food, and other items to the "general public". Since very few dancers think in these terms when they decide to pursue a professional career, you'll give yourself an edge by looking at things from this business perspective.

Before spending money on advertising, it is important to first define your market niche, ensure your "product" fits the niche you are aiming for, and develop your distribution channels. Once you have this foundation in place, your promotional investment will be much more effective.

Would you like to know more? Shira offers a lecture workshop titled "Artistic Marketing" that explores this topic in much more depth. Ask your local belly dance event producers to consider bringing her in to their next event to present it.

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





About the Author

In addition to being a popular dance professional, Shira holds a master’s degree in business administration, and has worked as a marketing professional in the high-tech industry for over 20 years. She enjoys looking for ways to apply her professional business background to dancing. Shira



Related Articles

  • The Art of the Blurb. By Brad Dosland. How to write promotional text for web sites, press releases, and Internet message boards.



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