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

Dear Shira


Dear Shira:

What About Collecting Tips When I Dance?



The Question

Dear Shira,

I'm a student who plans to start dancing professionally. My teacher says that "going around for tips" is a way to make more money dancing, but other dancers seem to think it's tacky to let strangers tuck money in my costume. What should I do?

— Bewildered In Bedford



Shira Responds

Dear Bewildered,

It's no wonder you're confused! The whole issue of collecting tips is one that professional dancers simply don't agree on.

I'm actually a bit surprised by your question, because the way you worded it suggests that you haven't been going to the local restaurants and shisha bars to see the established professional dancers perform. If you'd been going, then you would have already have seen with your own eyes which dancers accept tips, whether they allow the tips to be tucked into their costumes, what kind of respect they garner from audiences (or not), whether there is a generally creepy attitude or not toward the dancers, and how much money these dancers are receiving.

If you aspire to performing professionally yourself, then you absolutely should be visiting places with professional dancers at least once a week as part of your education. How else can you learn what kind of dancing is expected in these places? How else can you learn how the pros deal with general-public audiences who often behave quite differently from the safe environment of student haflas?

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



Just to give you an idea of how varied dancer opinions are on this subject, here's an opinion poll in which visitors to my web site have responded with their opinions on gathering tips.

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Poll reflects votes since October 26, 2002.

In the United States the dancer will often step off the dance floor and go around to visit all the tables in the restaurant up close. Or, she will be performing in a restaurant or shisha bar that does not have a separate dance floor, making her way in between the tables throughout her performance. I think of this as saying hello to the audience, thanking them for coming, and giving them an opportunity to see my beautiful costume up close. I'll encourage people to get up and dance briefly with me. If they choose to offer me a tip, I accept it with a smile, but I don't make tip solicitation my primary "message". Soliciting tips can make audience members uncomfortable, and my role as entertainer is to leave them feeling happy about the dining experience they had. Greeting people and graciously accepting a tip if offered is more my style. That means I say hello even at tables where no one is waving money at me.

In restaurants that feature special dance floors or stage areas, some require the dancer to make the rounds to the tables, while others prefer not. It's important to find out what is expected at the places that hire you.

Many Ways to Accept Tips

There's more than one way to accept tips. Letting audience members tuck them in your costume is not the only option.

Arab audiences have a couple of very appealing tipping customs. One is to make a necklace by taping a series of $1 bills together, then coming up to the stage and hanging that around the dancer's neck. Another, which I have seen done in Egypt as well as in the U.S., is for the tipper to come onto the stage and shower the dancer with a handful of banknotes — usually ten or more — holding them above her head and then letting them fall in a shower over her to the floor. Usually, the reason someone does a money shower is to show off his wealth at the same time he shows his appreciation for the dancer.

Some dancers are not comfortable with the idea of accepting tips tucked into their costumes. So they will take a tambourine, basket, or hat around with them when they visit the audience, and direct people to place the tips in that. This is generally quite acceptable in Renaissance Faire environments.

However, for other types of performances such as weddings or parties in private homes, it could be viewed as very low class to hold out a basket and openly ask for tips. Think about it — would you want a stranger coming to your family's party and openly asking your guests to give him/her money above and beyond what you have already agreed to pay? This would be quite embarrassing to most hosts, and probably many of the guests as well. Middle Eastern clients would find such a situation extremely awkward and damage your chances of building word-of-mouth business in the community. It would still be reasonable to accept tips, but not to behave as though you are trying to milk the guests for money.

Another option is to hold out your hand to accept the tip, and then you can unobtrusively tuck it into your belt to keep it safe. If you choose to do this, you could sew little pockets to the inside of your belt to hold the money. Some dancers will attach a small pouch to their belts for purposes of receiving their tip money.

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

It's also possible to place a basket on the stage with a sign indicating its purpose is gratuities for you. Many Renaissance Faire performers and buskers find this successful, but it's less effective in indoor environments.

Sometimes customers will put a tip for the entertainment on the credit card payment. This approach may work for you if the restaurant owner and serving staff are absolutely trustworthy, but there's also the risk they'll keep the money for themselves. If you use this approach, the restaurant owner may want to deduct the credit card company's fee from the tip before paying it to you, which is a reasonable thing to do.



What About Accepting Tips Tucked into the Costume?

For many years, I lived in a community where it was customary for audience members to tuck the tip into the dancer's costume. This practice was especially common in the 1980's and 1990's. However, many dancers today no longer do it, because:

  • Many performers believe that in-costume tipping is bad for our public image. They feel that such tipping causes audience members to disrespect our dance, and for that reason they feel it's best to not do it. I can see their point.
  • Many dancers feel uncomfortable with the idea of letting strangers get that close to them. They also prefer to avoid dealing at close range with possible drunks and hecklers. Some people have a need for more personal space than others, and those who have such a need prefer to avoid in-costume tipping.
  • Non-Arab audiences often don't offer much in tips, so there's not much money to be made from going around for tips at such gigs. Consequently, some performers feel there's not enough money involved to continue a practice that (in their opinion) damages the reputation of our dance.

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

For all these reasons, the in-costume tipping practice is becoming increasingly rare. I personally don't encourage in-costume tipping myself any more. Instead, I usually hold out my hand to accept the tips and tuck them in my belt myself. But if someone should respectfully reach to tuck a tip in an acceptable part of my costume, I'll usually allow it because I prefer not to embarrass the person. I also often permit young children to do it, because their parents often appreciate it when performers make the youngsters feel included in the fun.


When to Collect Tips

In the United States, the typical full American-style nightclub performance consists of 3, 5, or 7 parts:

  1. A fast/medium entrance song
  2. A slow rhumba for veil work or dreamy undulations
  3. Another fast/medium song
  4. A chiftetelli or rhythmnless improvised solo for either floor work, standing undulations, or balancing
  5. Another fast/medium song
  6. A drum solo
  7. A fast finale

If you are doing all 7 parts, the best time to go around for tips is right after the slow 4th part, using the following fast/medium song that makes up part 5 to visit the tables. Return to the stage for your drum solo and finale. If you're doing only 3 parts (entrance, slow, fast finale), use the first part of your fast finale to go around, then return to the stage to end your show.

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


Sharing Tips with the Band

You should also be aware that different communities have different customs with respect to sharing tips with the band when you are lucky enough to work with live music.

  • Some expect you to give half the tips you collect to the band.
  • Some expect that you will keep everything because the band presumably is collecting their own tips separately, and is probably paid more than you.
  • Some expect that tips which stay on your body remain with you, while those that fall on the floor go to the band.

Ask the more experienced dancers in your community what the local customs are. This could vary depending on the restaurant or the band.

I personally recommend sharing half of your tips with the band. Sharing the tips shows that you understand and appreciate the important role the band plays in making you look good. Even if the amount of money is small, the gesture shows that you value the partnership. It builds trust, and motivates the band to play well for you in the future. Bands often play a role in deciding which dancer will be hired for a gig, and they are more likely to choose you over the other local dancers if they feel you are part of their team.

In Conclusion

In summary, first you should become familiar with what most of the dancers in your own community do with respect to collecting tips and sharing them with the band. You absolutely should watch as many professional performances as possible to see not only how tipping works in your community, but also other aspects of how a professional performer handles the public. Once you know how most professional dancers in your area behave toward tipping, and what the different restaurant & shisha bar customers expect, then you can make your own decision about where you should fit in. In the end, be true to yourself and what makes you comfortable, but always remember to demand respect from your audiences no matter which way you collect your tips.

— Shira



Related Articles

Other articles on this web site related to collecting tips from the audience include:



About this Column

Shira has received many questions from readers over the years related to various aspects of the dance. In this column, she picks some of the more interesting ones to answer publicly. Details contained in the questions are sometimes removed or disguised to protect the anonymity of the person who asked the question.



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