Filler
Photo of Shira

 

 

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

Tips & Tricks for
The Business of Belly Dancing

 

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Table of Contents

 

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On Teaching

By Shira

  • Be Professional. People are paying you money to teach them. That means you are, in their eyes, claiming to be a "professional". Act the part. Arrive early to set up so you can start class on time. Maintain an environment that is conducive to focus and learning — for example, no small children running wild and interfering with the students. Come prepared with an idea of what you are going to teach, and make sure you are equipped with all necessary music and props to teach it. You can always be flexible and let the needs of the class take you a different direction if you wish, but start with a plan.
  • Organize Your Music. Make a special "teaching playlist" or CD for each technique you plan to teach in your class. For example, make one dedicated to drum solos, another dedicated to music suitable for veil, etc.
  • Organize Your Music. If you're teaching a choreography to a particular song in class, create some edited versions of the song that start partway through. That way you don't have to go back to the top and look for your place when teaching and drilling a particular section of the dance.
  • Organize Your Music. Keep a written list of every song on your class CD/playlist with the name of the artist and album it came from, so if students ask about the music you can tell them where they can buy it. Keep your entire collection of playlists on your MP3 player or "teaching CD's" in your dance bag, so that you'll be ready to respond to any special requests from your students for covering a particular topic.

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

Shira
  • Dance Notes. Prepare written notes for your students to help them remember what you've taught in class. These might be a list of the names of steps you normally teach in your beginner class, a list of finger cymbal rhythms you normally teach, or the steps used in a particular choreography. This will make it easier for your students to practice at home, and they'll learn more quickly.
  • Choose Music That's Available. For the classroom, use music that is available through current sources. Avoid using music from old vinyl LP's or cassette tapes that went out of print 20 years ago. It can be very frustrating to students to be told, "Oh, sorry, you can't buy that any more," when they fall in love with a song.
  • Music Advice. Give your students a written list of music that you recommend for practicing at home, with information on where they can buy it. They need music in order to practice on their own, and it's very frustrating to them if they purchase something that proves to be unsuitable for practicing your style.
  • Combinations. Put together brief combinations that use 2 or 3 different steps, with a smooth transition from one to the next. Teach those in class, so that your students will have some working examples of steps that transition smoothly into something else.
  • Choreography Vs. Improvisation. Strike a balance in your class — teach some choreography, so students can have a complete dance they know how to do, and incorporate some freestyle exercise, so students can learn how to improvise on their own.

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

Shira
  • Honesty, Ethics, & The Law. Don't make homemade collections of music or homemade copies of commercial videos to sell or give away in class — it's very illegal, and sets a bad ethical example for your students. Instead, direct them to where they can purchase legitimate copies of the music.
  • Severe Weather Safety. If you live in a region that experiences severe weather, know how to keep yourself and your students safe. Keep a weather radio at the studio which will sound an alarm if a tornado warning is issued. Know where to go for safety if a tornado warning should be issued while a class is in progress. Cancel classes when blizzards and ice storms are approaching.
  • In Case of Fire. Know where the fire exits are at your dance studio so you can lead your students to safety if a fire alarm should sound during your class. Make sure your studio has a fire extinguisher, and know where it is.
  • Be Ready to Summon Help. Always ensure your studio has either a fully-charged cell phone or a land line readily available to summon help in case of emergency. This should be in a place such as next to your sound system that is easy for you to grab quickly - you should not need to dig in your purse or dance bag to find it.
  • Have a Plan. Think about what you'll do in the event a violent criminal should burst into your classroom. It could happen, even in a neighborhood that is considered safe. For example, one of your students may not have told you that she has fled a domestic violence situation, and her ex could show up at class with a gun. Or, a criminal fleeing police might burst into your classroom and try to hold you and your students hostage. Think about how you'd handle it if something like this should happen. The book The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker may offer some helpful input for you.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo of Shira by Pixie Vision Productions, Glendale, California.

Shira

By Melissa Amira

  • Help Students Remember. Encourage students to bring a notebook to every class. When you teach something new, give them time to write notes down for practicing at home, and offer suggestions on what to say.

 

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Personal Safety When Gigging

By Despina

Despina teaches and performs Oriental dance in Sydney, Australia.

  • Avoid Flirting. Never flirt with the men in the crowd. There are too many men out there who equate bellydancing with erotic dancing/stripping. Don't encourage this opinion, because it will undermine their professional respect for you. On top of that, the women of the audience won't appreciate it at all. Be respectful of the fact that these men are often attached to a woman who is right there in the audience. Be respectful of yourself and the art form you are performing.
  • Personal Space. Keep an acceptable distance from those you pick from the audience to dance with you. This especially applies to when you choose a man! Keep the show classy — it's not a hands-on strip tease nor is it lap dancing — it's an ancient, beautiful dance. You know that, so never give the audience any other impression. Grabbing a person's hand to get them to dance is as far as it should go. Touching them on the shoulder to speak to them is no sin, but it can make some people jump to conclusions. Some people think that because you innocently touched them it gives them the right to touch you.
  • Club Owners. Never take crap from the restaurant owners. Smile and be friendly, but keep a professional aloofness that will dissuade them from trying to be any more than your employer. Some restaurant owners have been known to "try their luck" — a charming, beautiful woman in a stunning, semi-revealing costume is enough to drive any man wild. But that's his problem. Let him be driven wild... quietly. He needs to keep his distance.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo of Despina, the contributor of these tips.

Despina
  • Club Owners. Don't be afraid to tell him when enough is enough. If he is invading your personal space or trying to touch you while talking to you, confidently and obviously step back. If you draw the line the first time, he'll usually back off. Having said that, if he doesn't get the hint the first time, the job isn't worth you feeling uneasy and constantly on your guard. There are plenty of other places that welcome talented dancers.
  • Bring an Escort. Try to bring a male friend with you to your first performance in a new club. For a one-off gig try to determine exactly what the purpose of the party is at the time you accept the booking. Use your gut instinct to decide whether or not a "bodyguard" is necessary. If you are willing to do bachelor parties, always arrange to have a male friend (preferably pretending to be your partner) to come with you. For a restaurant gig, male company on the first night will usually suffice. Introduce your escort as your boyfriend of 4 years or husband even if he's not (with his consent, of course), so the restaurant owner/workers know there's a significant — although sometimes absent — man in your life.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo of Despina, the contributor of these tips.

Despina

By Tanya Liptak

Tanya Liptak is a dancer in Phoenix, Arizona.

  • Tell Someone Where You're Going. If you can't arrange for someone to escort you to a bellygram or other performance, call two friends before you leave the house and tell them where you are going. Give them the address you are going to, plus the name, phone number, and any other information about the contact you are supposed to meet there. Set a pre-arranged time for you to call them and tell them everything went okay, and ask them to call the police if they don't hear from you by that time.

By Shira

  • Be Cautious About Accepting Drinks. If the client who hired you for a private party offers you a beverage, be cautious about accepting it. They may simply be hospitable — or they may have laced it with a date rape drug. Take care to watch the drink being poured from its bottle. Once you accept it, don't let it out of your sight, to avoid the risk of someone adding something to it later.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo of Shira by Pixie Vision Productions, Glendale, California.

Shira

 

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Promoting Yourself for Classes & Gigs

By Shira

  • Promote Your Classes Yourself. If you teach classes through a local adult education or community education program, don't expect the sponsor to do all the work of advertising your class. Sure, they'll list it in the course catalog, and that is great publicity. But, remember, it's your class too! So make your own efforts — distribute flyers whenever you perform, post your dance business cards on community bulletin boards, put up a web site, etc. You'll attract more students, and your larger class sizes will make the program that sponsors your classes more committed to continuing to work with you.
  • Designing Your Business Cards. Take every opportunity to collect business cards used by other dancers — they'll be a great source of ideas once you're ready to have your own made. As you look at theirs, you'll get ideas about what you like and what you don't like.
  • Designing Your Business Cards. Strike a balance between your personal safety/privacy and making it easy for prospective employers to contact you. For example, you may want to include your phone number and city on your business card, but not your street address. If appropriate, include your e-mail address and web link. If you have any particular specialties, such as sword balancing, cane dance, candelabrum, etc., you may want to mention them on the card.

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

Shira
  • Working With Agencies. When singing telegram companies or other agencies book you for shows, write your name on their business cards and pass those out when you do the show — it would be unethical to pass out your own cards in this setting.
  • Market Research. If you get a call from someone unfamiliar who wants to hire you for a performance, pleasantly ask how they got your name. That will help you figure out which of your methods of promoting yourself are most effective. If you place an ad somewhere, measure the number of responses you got from it (marketing people call this the "cost per contact") and the total amount of money you were paid as a result of people who responded to it (subtract the cost of the ad, and this will tell you the payoff of it). This will help you decide whether to continue promoting yourself through that advertising method. If you put up a web page promoting yourself, keep an eye on the web statistics for that page so you know whether it's worth the effort to maintain it.
  • Promotional Photographs. Once you feel confident that you are ready to promote yourself as a teacher or performer in your community, invest the time and money in a professional photo session.
  • Promotional Photographs. When you schedule a performance in a public place, offer the organizer the use of one of your photos for promoting it.

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

Shira
  • Working With A Photographer. If you can, choose a photographer who has worked with other belly dancers before — especially if you have seen and liked work he or she has done for other dancers. If that's not an option, then be prepared to take an active role in leading the photo session. With family portraits, the photographer usually has a number of suggestions for poses, but belly dance photos are typically more effective if you focus on dancing rather than on posing. Give it some thought in advance, before your photography appointment, so you won't waste your time and the photographer's once you get there deciding what to do next. Try to choose movements that are simple but representative of how you really dance, and put the same kind of energy into them as you would if you were doing them during a real performance.
  • Promotional Photographs. Use two or more different costumes in your photo session, so you can have multiple "looks" to choose from — for example, you might have a nightclub-style bedleh (sequinned bra/belt/skirt costume) that exposes a lot of skin for some pictures, and the more covered look of a folkloric dress for others.

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

Shira
  • Promotional Photographs. If there are any props you frequently incorporate into your shows, such as sword or cane, be sure to have some pictures done that include those.
  • Photo Sessions. If possible, take a fellow belly dancer along with you to the photo session to give you a practiced dancer's eye at evaluating the costume, makeup, hair style, jewelry and poses before the photographer begins to snap. In particular, ask that person to watch out for unflattering details such as loose skin creasing along the rib cage, your gut protruding, your skirt hanging at the wrong angle, your necklace off-center, etc.
  • Musical Inspiration. If shooting in a studio, take music to play while you do the photo session. It will inspire you to dance and pose in ways that capture your true dance style, and your resulting facial expressions will be more vibrant.

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

Shira

 

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Other Professional Practices

By Shira

  • Keep Growing. Even if you have taught and performed professionally for years, keep learning. Attend workshops. Attend a fellow professional's weekly classes to see how she structures her class format and presents the material to her students. Go watch other professionals perform in your area. Make a point of getting frequent outside input into your dance and teaching techniques, and then try to assimilate it into your own style — that's what will help you grow and keep your interest in the dance alive.
  • Keep Growing. All too many belly dancers stop learning once they begin to teach or do professional performances because they think they "don't have time" for continuing education. This is a big mistake. You need to continue building your personal skill, as well as keep pace with changing trends. Doctors, school teachers, and other professionals continuously update their skills, and so should you.

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

Shira

 

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