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

Planning Your Gig



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Performing professionally is quite different from performing just for fun. When a customer pays a dancer, the customer expects a carefully-planned, professional show delivered by a confident, capable entertainer. Here are some guidelines for dancers just starting their professional careers on how to plan a performance, delivering value that is worth what the customer has paid for it.



Choosing Music

Music shapes your show. The right music can inspire both you and your audience. The wrong music could alienate your audience, and even ruin your show.

For an American audience, heavily ethnic songs such as those played on mizmar should be used sparingly. Select songs that are no longer than 3 1/2 minutes each. If your songs are too long, the audience will get restless — the "Top 40" radio station format has taught Americans to have a short attention span when it comes to song duration. Use a very lively, very rhythmic song for your opening music. Follow a format of fast, slow, fast, slow, fast, slow, fast until your show is the appropriate length. Try to vary the style of the music and how you dance to it. The performance could include some Turkish and some Arabic music.

Consider the ethnic make-up of your audience when choosing music. Ethnic audiences appreciate music that comes from their own culture. Arabs usually expect mostly Egyptian and Lebanese music. It's often advisable to include a mix of classical songs to show your dance skills and some current pop favorites to get audience members up to dance with you. You can also use longer songs for an ethnic audience — many popular songs broadcast on Egyptian radio run 4 or 5 minutes in length.

At the end of your final song, leave a brief gap of silence for your bow or curtsy, then follow that with exit music that will play while you whisk yourself offstage.

Find out whether the client will be providing a sound system, or whether you are expected to bring your own boombox. Find out whether you need to bring an MP3 player, and if so, what kind of docking there will be for it. If you'll be using a CD, put only the music for that one show on a CD by itself — do not assume that someone at the gig will cue up the right track for you.

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




Planning Props

Use only props that you are highly skilled in. Clients will expect you to know what you're doing. A paying gig is the wrong environment to try something new — save your experimentation for informal belly dance "insider" events.

For a short 10-minute show, it's usually best to use only one prop. For a 20-minute show, there is room for one or two props. Props are like spice - in small amounts, they can add excitement to your show. But if you overdo them, you'll look like more of a novelty act than a dancer.

An ethnic audience will appreciate props that show ties to their culture. For example, Egyptian and Lebanese audience members will appreciate dancing with a cane. American audiences enjoy the skill required to balance a sword or a tray.

If the show will be a party in someone's private residence, don't plan on using veil or cane because you probably won't have space for them, and use smaller finger cymbals that don't make such a loud noise in close quarters.

If you have new props, practice with them before the day of the show, wearing the same costume you plan to wear for the show. Make sure you're totally comfortable with how this particular sword, or that particular tray, behaves.

If you plan to use live fire in your performance (candelabrum, candleholders in your hands, etc.), ask your client to check on whether the building where the performance will be held allows it. Also plan to wear a costume made of natural fiber, for safety's sake. There's probably no problem if you'll be dancing at a private residence, but if your show will be in a public place such as a restaurant, you might be told to douse your flame. It would be embarrassing to abruptly discover that an integral part of your show suddenly could not be used, and it could disorient you enough to prevent you from putting your best foot forward through the rest of your show.

Swords are usually audience pleasers, and work well in confined spaces of private homes and restaurants. For outdoor events, beware of props such as veils and swords that will be temperamental on a windy day.

Before the gig, check whether your props require any repairs or maintenance, and make any fixes that may be needed.

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




Setting the Party Mood

If the party has a guest of honor, plan how you will make that person the center of attention. Get her up to dance? Put a crown on his head and dance around him as if he were king for a day? Place her in a chair in the center of the performance space and lead all the party guests in a simple dabka folk dance in a circle around her? Pose for pictures with him afterward? These are all good to do because they draw the focus to the guest of honor while allowing him/her to keep his/her dignity.

If the party does not have a guest of honor, these diversions can still be entertaining to use on members of the audience who look like they deserve a little special attention. After all, which will make the most treasured memories of the event five years from now — a memory of you, a stranger, expressing yourself, or a memory of you getting old Joe to get up and dance with you? Which picture in the photo album will evoke the biggest smiles in two years — one of you, a stranger, posing in a pretty costume, or one of good old Joe with a silly plastic crown on his head with you posing next to him?

Be careful about exactly what things you might do to embarrass a guest of honor. Choose things that do not have any overtones of sexuality or seduction, because those are likely to offend many members of the audience, and make you look tacky. For example, do not put a bald man's head between your breasts and then shimmy them, do not shimmy your breasts directly in a man's face, do not ask a man to tuck a banknote into your bra, and do not put your skirt up over a man's head and then gyrate your hips. Do not sit on a man's lap, and do not feed him grapes. These things alienate audiences. Dancers who engage in these practices cause the public to lose respect for the dance.

Think about whether you want to incorporate audience participation, and if so, how. Do you want to include a simple folk dance that everybody can do near the end of your show? (This would work well just before your finale if you have a large performance space.) Or do you just want to grab people to get up in ones and twos to dance with you?

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





  • Examine your costume to make sure all the closures work properly and are firmly sewn into place, all straps are securely anchored, etc. Make any needed repairs. If the costume is new, practice in it using the same props you will use in the show to get comfortable with how it moves.
  • If you will be dancing in a private residence or similar setting where you will be dancing very close to your audience, don't wear a costume that shows a lot of wear and tear up close. Pick something that will look like it's in good condition both up close and from a distance.
  • Make a spare copy of your music. You never can tell when a disaster will happen with your dance CD or MP3 player.
  • Check the batteries in your boom box to make sure they still work.
  • Set the volume on your boombox to the level that you will want to use for your performance so that you won't have to meddle with it after you start to dance.
  • Fill the tank of your car with gas.
  • Check the elastics on your finger cymbals. Replace them if necessary.
  • Invite someone you know to accompany you as your assistant/bodyguard.

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




The Professional Touch

Make a little souvenir greeting card for the guest of honor that contains a sentiment appropriate to the occasion, such as "Happy Birthday, Joe!" or, "Good luck in your new job!" Sign it, and enclose your business card.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by William M. Smith, Iowa City, Iowa.

David and Shira


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