Why Join a Troupe?
Most people join a troupe because they have discovered they really enjoy belly dancing as a hobby and they want to become more involved. There is rarely any real opportunity to make any money through belonging to either a student troupe or a social troupe. Troupe membership usually leads to the following rewards:
Is It Right for You?
Troupe membership may be rewarding for you if:
How Do You Choose a Troupe to Join?
If you're lucky enough to live in a community that has more than one belly dancing troupe, then you can evaluate multiple choices and approach the one that seems like it would work best for you. Here's how to evaluate each troupe and decide which one may fit you best.
First, watch them dance. Do you like their costumes? Does their choreography appeal to you? Does their skill level seem like you would fit in? Would you be proud to be seen on stage with them?
If possible, try to catch a glimpse of how they behave offstage or backstage. Do they seem to genuinely like each other, or is there an undercurrent of hostility? Do you hear a lot of laughter as they interact with each other? Do they make catty remarks about fellow members? If you were to join them, do you think they would be warm toward you, or do you think they would gossip about you behind your back?
Take a few classes from the director. Do you enjoy the class? Do you like the way the director teaches? How do the troupe members treat you? How do they treat each other? How does your skill compare to theirs? Do you find what you learned in the class to be helpful to your growth as a dancer?
How often does the troupe perform, and where? Does their performance schedule fit well with the frequency and the types of places where you would like to dance?
Find out where it rehearses, and when. Are the rehearsal time and location convenient for you?
If there are several troupes in your community, use your research to pick the top 3 that appeal to you most. Then you're ready to find out how to go about joining.
Becoming a Member
Once you've decided which troupe you most want to join, approach the director privately and find out what it would take to become one of them. Different troupes have different policies on accepting new members.
Often troupe directors are so carried away with simply teaching their classes and leading their lives that they forget to proactively tell their up-and-coming students about the troupe opportunity. Don't wait for an engraved invitation! Just ask! Find a chance to speak privately with the director, and clearly state your interest in troupe membership. Ask what the process is for joining. Don't be afraid to raise these questions — most troupe directors will be happy you asked!
To help you anticipate what the director might tell you, here are some of the common requirements for troupe membership:
There's always a chance that the troupe director will tell you she's not interested in having you in her troupe. Maybe the troupe accepts only a certain number of members, and doesn't currently have vacancies. Or possibly this director accepts only people who have whatever "look" she wants. Maybe your skill level is too junior at this time to qualify. It could even be something as stupid as this director having a feud with a teacher you took classes from in the past! If this happens to you, try not to let it upset you or discourage you from your quest to find a compatible troupe. Just keep looking — there's sure to be someone else who is a much better fit!
Find out what kind of costs you can expect if you join. You'll probably need to pay a class fee to the director to help fund the rental of rehearsal space and compensate her for her time in running rehearsals. The official costume and props, of course, will cost something. For example, even if you already own a sword, you may be expected to purchase another one that matches what the others are using. You may need to pay dues into a pool that is used for purchases by the group.
What Can You Expect?
Troupes usually have some sort of introductory period for new members. Sometimes there is an official probationary period, during which you'll be expected to demonstrate your ability to master the choreography, show up reliably for rehearsals and shows, show a team attitude toward sharing the goals of the group, and perform competently in shows.
When you first join, you naturally won't know all the choreography, and you might not have all the props or costumes. So you can expect that you'll be phased in gradually.
Some choreography requires a specific number of people in order to work out correctly. Even if you know this dance, you might not get to perform it when you first join unless they need you to fill in as a substitute.
In your first few appearances with the group, you might do only one or two 3-minute dances over the course of a half-hour show. You probably won't be given an opportunity to do solos in the shows until after you've proved yourself. There may be some shows where you don't have an opportunity to dance at all, although they'll appreciate it if you come to videotape the show, take pictures, or help them with props and backstage costume changes.
Try not to feel bad about this — everyone has to start somewhere. Just treat it as a temporary situation and approach everything with a positive attitude. If you have questions about the process, or if you feel that you are being treated unfairly, take aside either the director or a member whose opinion you respect and privately express your concerns. As long as you explain your issue sincerely and courteously, you should be able to expect a helpful response.
If you want to ramp more quickly into full participation, you might ask the director about taking private lessons to help you learn the dances you don't know and polish the ones you do know.
Some troupes have formal rules or by-laws. Some require members to sign contracts and pay dues. Others simply manage through group consensus.
Start Your Own Troupe
If you don't find a troupe in your community that matches your own needs as a dancer, you might consider starting your own. It's a lot of work, but many people have done it.
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