Belly Dance: A Good Career Option?

by Shira

You've recently learned how to belly dance, and you find that you enjoy it very much. Now you're thinking about making a career of it. But should you? On the surface, it sounds great! You can be your own boss. You get to parade around in beautiful clothing and be the STAR of the show.

But a career as a dancer isn't for everybody. A small number of hard-working individuals have been able to support themselves through Middle Eastern dance, but the vast majority of "professional" dancers must rely on a second source of income to make ends meet.

Before taking the leap, give careful thought to whether your own personal temperament and skill set are well-suited to this career option. It's not enough to be a superb dancer. It helps, but a dancer whose skill is merely adequate is sometimes more financially successful than a terrific one. That's because making your living at it requires you to have a good head for business. It means you have to know how to go out and find dance jobs. You have to develop products that people are willing to buy. It means you have to keep detailed records on your calendar of upcoming gigs, how much you were paid for each one, what your ongoing expenses are, who owes you money, and who you have to ship merchandise to.

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A Full-Time Dance Career May Work For You If...

You may be able to make your living through Oriental dance if all of the following apply to you:

  • Your dance skills are at least adequate.
  • You have dreamed for a long time of starting your own business.
  • You are very, very well organized when it comes to business matters.
  • You excel at keeping records of your finances and completing financial paperwork.
  • You have a flair for sales and marketing.
  • You're not particularly worried about having financial security.
  • You love to travel, even to smaller cities that aren't particularly glamorous as tourist spots.
  • You'd rather be dancing than be rich.
  • Your spouse (if you have one) approves of your aspirations and wants you to follow your star, even though it means you'll frequently be working nights and weekends, and traveling to teach/perform/vend in other cities.

Shira In Blue Egyptian Costume With Veil

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

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Don't Quit Your Day Job If...

Even if you absolutely love to dance, you probably shouldn't rely on it as your sole means of support if any of the following are true for you:

  • Your dance skills are mediocre at best.
  • You're not very aggressive at selling yourself.
  • You detest keeping records and doing paperwork.
  • You have no clue where to begin in setting up a non-profit corporation or writing grants, and the notion of learning how to do all that bores you to tears.
  • You are shy or insecure.
  • You don't like to view your dancing in terms of running a business.
  • You want the security of a steady, predictable income.
  • You want an employer to provide benefits such as health insurance for you and your family, paid vacation time, access to computer equipment and the Internet, and a pension plan for retirement security. (Did you know such benefits are considered to be worth about $15,000 per year in addition to your salary?)
  • You're afraid that dealing with mundane "business issues" such as local competition, sexual harassment by club owners, negotiating prices for dance jobs, etc. will destroy your love for the dance.
  • Your family obligations require you to be home most evenings and prevent you from traveling much.
  • You appear to be older than the "child-bearing years" or you are decidedly full-figured. (If this applies to you, you may be able to get some paid gigs but it'll be difficult to make a full-time living from dance because some opportunities will be closed to you.)

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Some Education That May Help

Whether you want to make dance your full-time career, or just do it on a part-time basis for a second income, you may want to check whether your local college offers courses in business administration, arts management, and law. Some specific classes that could help you make your dream financially successful:

  • Arts Management. Especially courses that cover writing grants and getting set up as a non-profit corporation.
  • Marketing. How to view your teaching and performing as a "product" and promote yourself. How to differentiate yourself from other entertainers.
  • Small Business Management. How to establish yourself as a small business, set up a tax ID, get a business license.
  • Sales. How to negotiate contracts, prospect for dance jobs, and close the deals.
  • Business Law. Understand your legal liability if one of your students becomes injured through taking your class. Learn how you would be affected by EEO, ADA, OSHA, payroll taxes, and other employment law if you take on a part-time employee. Study laws governing the mail-order business within your country if you sell merchandise. Find out what you need to know if you want to import or export goods.
  • Finance. How taxes affect your operation. How to evaluate investment opportunities and manage an inventory of merchandise that you sell. What kinds of accounting records will be required for a non-profit corporation.

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In Conclusion...

In the final analysis, only you can determine the place that dancing has in your life. Some people have found that they love dance as an avenue of creative expression, but relying on it for income ruins the joy they find in it. Others embrace the notion of running their own business and being their own boss, and are delighted by the opportunity to apply this to doing something they love. Only you can decide whether a career in dance is the right thing for your own future. Think logically about the pros and cons, and pick the path that suits you best.

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Related Articles

Other articles on this web site you may find interesting:

  • From Student To... What? Okay, so after reading this article you realize you're not cut out for a career in this field. So what are your options for becoming more deeply involved in this dance form you love so much?

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This article originally appeared on the Suite101 web site, in the Middle Eastern Dance category, on May 26, 2000.

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