So last week I wrote about being a pro belly dance teacher. But what about being a pro dancer? All you need is a sparkly costume and some confidence, right? WRONG, although I must admit I’ve seen many dancers who only bring exactly that to the table…
There are of course many different levels of being a professional belly dance performer, but most will make the majority of their living/income from performing in restaurants and clubs at the weekend. This is a tough scene, and most dancers have to fit in several performances in one night to make it worthwhile. But then, once you’re dressed and got your make up on, you might just as well make the most of it!
If you want to dance in a restaurant you probably need to audition in order to get signed up. This is how reputable venues ensure they only recruit good dancers to entertain their guest. But for your own safety please be vary of where and how this audition takes places. If you drop by in the afternoon, whilst the staff are getting ready for the evenings footfall, they may ask you to improvise to a song there and then, so come prepared. It’s also worth taking your phone or tablet to show videos of you performing or photos of you in costume and all done up. I have never turned up to an audition in full stage make up, but just made sure that I look ‘presentable’. However, the owner/manager may ask you to come back all done up to nines to ensure he doesn’t buy the cat in the bag.
Different venues will offer different rates. If it’s a restaurant/club with a large Middle Eastern customer base, they will expect you take the majority of your earnings from your tips. If there are several dancers performing at once, or a live band, you may have to share the tips between you. So make sure you know beforehand. If the venue mainly has english/european customers, don’t expect to get tipped much. How and where to receive tips are a big topic, so I’ll cover that in a future separate post.
Payment is usually given on the night following your gig, and try to be discrete about it, but do check you got the right amount before leaving the venue. You may want to sneak into the ladies or behind a door to do this. It’s never good practise to do it in front of the staff or even worse the audience.
Depending on where you dance, there may already be a regular dancer, so please don’t be tempted to undercut her (or him) to gain the business. I have seen it many times, and even heard of dancers who perform for free to get exposure and perhaps secure a regular slot in the future. This is not doing you, your reputation, or your fellow dancers any favours. You are not only devaluing yourself, but every single belly dancer out there by doing so. If you’re new to the restaurant scene, you obviously don’t want to price yourself like a professional who’s just returned from Cairo. But do think about the time and effort you put into getting yourself ready, putting your playlist together, travel to and from the venue, and practise for the performance. This is surely worth far more than £20, which I’ve heard are the rates for some dancers. If you want to find out what other’s charge, then ask. It really is as simple as that. If you don’t feel comfortable asking other local dancers, try finding a dance teacher you know may have insight, or contact a dancer who lives further afield that you know. Most are happy to help others starting out in the industry and that show genuine interest in getting it right and doing it in a professional manner.
Knowing your ‘price’ is essential if you need to negotiate your fee with the restaurant owner/manager. Some will say straight up what they pay, others will be fishier about your expectations. You can of course be just as fishy back and ask what their budget is or how much they were thinking of paying. But do make sure that you’ve decided on the fee before you turn up. It’s also a good idea to have a cancellation policy, both for them and you. What happens if you fall ill and can’t make it? If they’ve booked you on behalf of a guest or party, you may have to ensure that you’ve got cover, which is another good reason to keep thinks civil and on good terms with any other dancers in your area. The venue may already have several dancers on their contact list, but if not, do they expect you to source cover?
Yes you do need a decent costume (or several if you’re delivering a traditional set), good stage make-up and hair, and of course turn up prepared with music (unless the restaurant provides it) and ideally a back-up too. If it’s your first night at a new venue, do double check out the floor for your own safety. But generally do always dance in shoes, and expect a greasy spot where you’ll be dancing!
Turn up in good time and expect to hang around until you’re told to go on. There may be quite a lot of waiting time, so bring some music or even a book. And yes, always limber up, even if it’s just with a shimmy, before you take to the dance floor.
I know many dancers who secretly hate dancing in restaurants, but have to because of the money. Jealous girlfriends in the audience, who send you eyes (or worse!), managers who drag you around from table to table expecting you to perform as were you merely a dancing monkey, guests making fun of you or telling you ‘easy, I can do that’ – all whilst you have to keep a big smile on your face and keep looking like you’re having the time of your life. Dancing in restaurants and clubs isn’t for everyone. But when you get a great crowd that really enjoys it, you tend to forget those nasty bits. When people get up to join you on the dance floor you generally know that it’s been a good gig. The manager may encourage people too, so you can focus on dancing and getting the brave first people to their feet.
Always put your safety first and don’t for minute think that a professional dancer wouldn’t do so. Yes there’s a lot of smiling and tea drinking in the early stages when you’re still trying to negotiate your regular slot. But never for a minute think that you shouldn’t be treated with respect and dignity. You’re a business woman, and must have a lockable door for where you’re getting changed. There shouldn’t be any dark alley ways for you to negotiate by yourself before or after the performance and no bum or boob pinching by staff or audience!
All of the above obviously also applies for dancers going to private events and houses. Safety first!
Even when you’re a professional dancer and your diary is fully booked week after week – you still have to keep learning and exploring. The joy of dance is that you never stop learning, and there’s nothing worse than a dancer that keeps performing the same choreographies to the same music time and again. Keep it fresh, for your audience as well as yourself. Push yourself and keep adding new moves and finesses to your repertoire.
I’m launching my brand new Advance Your Dance online course soon, which is aimed specifically at dancers, who may have been dancing for a while and want to develop their technique as well as their dance vocabulary. Sign up here to receive my VIP early bird invite.
What are your experiences of dancing for money in restaurants and clubs? Have you got any tips to share? Keep the conversation and knowledge sharing going by leaving your comment below.
Happy shimmies and shining on stage…
Did you miss my last post? Read it here: How to be a pro: Belly dance teacher