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Do And Don'ts

Here is a list of Do and Don'ts for being an ethical and professional dancer. Some of them may seem like common sense, while you may not have thought of others.

by Schadia, © 2004

First the DOs:

DO set a price for your services and do not bargain.

Whether for a bellygram or a restaurant or nightclub gig, a dancers needs to set her prices before she goes about selling her services. Once she does this, she should not sell her services for less than that set price. If a potential client does not want her services for that price, she should move on to the next potential client.

Restaurants: Most Middle Eastern restaurant owners will try to bargain with you. I have never had the experience that they did NOT try to bargain. It has nothing to do with you or your talent. It is just their way & I am sure they figure, why not try to get the best price. Sure, they can try to bargain, no harm in that, but do not give into the tactic. The way I do it is that I have a flat rate I charge per set with a two or three set minimum, depending on the place. I charge EVERY restaurant the same "per set price." When the owner tries to bargain, I say that I charge every restaurant the same. That is the price, period. DO NOT go into a restaurant without a set price. That is just asking for trouble. Once you have set your price, stay strong and no matter how the owner might try, do not go below that price. I think that most Middle Eastern restaurant owners enjoy the back and forth of the bargaining process, & they truly appreciate and respect you more when you stick to your guns and get what you are asking.

Bellygrams: I "sell" bellygrams for the same price as others in my area. Just like in restaurant dancing, it is unethical to undercut other dancers in your community by selling a bellygram performance for less than the established price. Once you know what the price in your area is, stick to that price.

Many non-dancers do not have any idea how expensive a bellygram performance is, so do not be surprised if you get calls from people, who think that you should dance for $25-$50.00 Many non-dancers do not have any idea how expensive a bellygram performance is, so do not be surprised if you get calls from people that think you should dance for $25-$50.00. Some people will be completely offended that you charge more. Don't let those calls alarm you. You will get more calls, and people will book you for the price that you are asking. My dancers and I do A LOT of bellygrams and we charge much more than $50.00 :).

Here is a great little article with some detailed tips on doing Bellygrams from Anthea:

Do Act professionally when you are doing business as a dancer.

Interviewing: Just like with any other kind of job, first impressions are everything in dancing. The way a dancer is dressed and the way she acts will determine the way she is treated in the future.

If a dancer goes into a restaurant for lunch or dinner & asks to speak to the manager about dancing there, she should make it short and sweet. If they are interesting in hiring her, she should make an appointment to come in and speak with the owner or manager. When she goes to "interview" for a dance job, she should wear a nice business looking outfit or business suit. Many places don't officially interview dancers & just asks the dancer to come in for coffee. This IS an interview of sorts though, and the dancer should treat it like she would any other interview. She should prepare what she is going to say to the owner or person who will be hiring her. She should have questions ready to ask & have answers prepared for the question she thinks will be asked of her.

When I interview, first things first, I determine if they want OUR services & will they pay our prices. If both of these are yes, and they do plan on hiring us, other things I like to iron out are:

  1. Do they have a dressing room/office & can the dancer sit in there during breaks.
  2. Do they have music style preferences --- this is important, because music tastes differ greatly.
  3. How many sets would they like. Set the times of the sets.
    I know that some dancers like being able to hang out all evening and dance when the owner tells them to. Personally, I like to have a plan & know when I will dance & how many standard sets will done on a regular night. I do of course give them the option to have the dancer stay later & dance additional sets if they are really busy, have a big party come in, etc.
  4. Settle on the salary for the regular sets that will be performed every week & settle on the price for any additional sets.
  5. Settle on any additional "perks." Every restaurant that I have danced at gives (non-alcoholic) drinks and a meal for free to the dancer. I usually try to get the meal & 2 drinks -- ice tea or cola drinks.
  6. If the situation is right, I also try to see the sound system & have them show me how it works. Sometimes that isn't a possiblity, but it is good if you can do that.
Once Hired: If a dancer goes to a restaurant gig not already dressed, she should make sure that she wears stylish, appropriate & conservative clothes (no t-shirts, tennis shoes or shorts). The costumers will see her later in costume, so she should make sure her "first impression" is appropriate. Once she is in costume & has danced a set, she should go immediately "off stage" and put her cover-up on. She should not stop & talk to costumers, sit down, hang out, etc. in costume. That is just not professional. If costumers want to chat w/ her, she can run back, put on her caftan, grab a business card, & go back to talk to that costumer.

Personally, I don't sit w/ costumers. Even if they are regular costumers, I don't want to interupt their meals or lessen my persona by being too casual with them. I think this way: I am working & should maintain my allure by maintaing an appropriate distance from the costumers. And, I always try to focus on doing my job.

A dancer can though get additional work, like bellygrams, from her exposure at the restaurants. It is important to talk to every costumer, who wants to talk to her. She should always be friendly & helpful -- but at the same time to keep it short & leave them to enjoy the rest of their evening at the restaurant.

At dance events: Even though we may not be "working" at a dance event, we are sort of acting as diplomats to the non-belly dancers in our midsts. It is important to realize that a dancer is representing herself, her troupe, and the dance community as a whole. We should make sure that as dancers, we do all of them justice. We want the "outside world" to have a good and positive impression of belly dancers, and we are the example that they will have. It is important to wear something stylish & appropriate for the event & most importantly to act appropriately.

Do keep in character while you are working.

At the Restaurant: A dancer should create and MAINTAIN a belly dancer persona when she is working. This is part of being a professional dancer. She should be mysterious, beautiful, graceful & well, not a "real" everyday person. If she walks around in her costume, sits with customers & generally spend too much time in the "open," she really does take away from her allure. People coming to see a belly dancer don't want to see an everyday girl. They want The Belly Dancer. We should make sure we give them what they want.

Besides not spending too much time out in the front of the restaurant, a dancer should not disclose too much information about herself. Again, she should just keep is short and friendly. She shouldn't give them her life's history -- that not only lessens her allure, it is also dangerous. Basically, be professional & maintain your persona and allure while you are at the restaurant.

At a bellygram: Personally, I think a dancer should arrive, dance, get paid & leave. She should float in beneath her beautiful and mysterious veil & float back out when she is finished. I think it is odd to hang out at the party, have a drink and/or eat afterwards. Talk about de-mystifying yourself. Most people will ask the dancer to stay, but what does she want in a room full of strangers? Better to leave a thank-you card & some business cards (see article about bellygrams above), keep her mystery & be on her way.

Do reinvest some of the money earned back into dance.

Costumes: If a dancer wants to be a professional dancer, she needs to LOOK THE PART. Just like any other business venture, a dancer must reinvest some of the profits back into her business. This includes investing in appropriate costuming, accessories, shoes & make-up. The harem pants, coin bra & coin sash may work as a troupe costume, but it is not appropriate attire for a bellygram or restaurant gig. Clients pay a lot for the services of a professional dancer & it is important that she looks as if she is worth that money.

Having costumes is important for a dancers image & her career as a dancer. Clients LOVE beautiful costumes, and I really think the costumes are one of the reasons they chose to hire a belly dancer. The costumes definitely belong to the image that our clients have of belly dancers. We need to give the client what they want & dress like we are professionals. If a dancer has a regular weekly gig, she will need at least a few different costumes. Having only one will bore not only her, but will become boring to the regular costumers as well.

Even if a dancer can initially only afford a cheaper basic costume, she can do alot with it by making a headband, armbands, anklebands, necklaces and earrings. Remember that accessories are a necessary part of a costume too & can really take it from blah to fabulous.

Just to say a word about shoes: wearing shoes while doing restaurant gigs and bellygrams is not only culturely appropriate and expected by your clients, it is also a the only way to keep your feet from harm & many dangerous things that may be on the floor. I think wearing shoes is the only way to go.

Lastly, it is also important to own and know how to apply stage make-up for professional dancing. And, if a dancer has short hair, she may want to think about buying a wig or at least dressing up her hair with accessories to make it look more exotic.

Classes and Seminars: Just because a dancer is now a professional does not mean she no longer needs to take classes & go to seminars. That is a mistake many dancers make. It is an unfortunate mistake. If you are one of these dancers, please re-think that decision. I feel that belly dancing takes a lifetime to learn. One is NEVER "good enough." It is so important to keep learning & mastering new choreographies, combinations and individual moves. Classes and seminars give a dancer that opportunity. Not only that, but it also gives dancers a chance to connect with each other, which is quite important if you want to be a professional dancer and member of the dance community. Please do make it a priority to invest some of the money you earn into either regular classes or going to seminars near where you live. It is so important to keep active and to keep learning.

If you are a professional dancer in the Atlanta area and want to find out about music and dance seminars in our area, please see

DO be aware of your personal safety.

Here is a great article by Shira that covers many personal safety tips.

Now for the Don'ts

DON'T go to the restaurant or gig of another dancer in costume.

If you are performing and plan to go see another dance perform after you are finished, take a change of street clothes & change into them before going to see the other dancer.

DON'T hand out your business cards at another dancer's gig

especially not WHILE she is dancing. Come on now, that is just wrong!

DON'T hand our your business cards at a gig that was booked through someone else

(like when you are substituting for another dancer or when you are booked through an agent). You should hand out her/his business cards unless you expressly have their permission to hand out your own.

DON'T go into a restaurant and try to get yourself hired on a night when you know another dancer is dancing there.

DON'T go into a restaurant and offer to dance for less than what the dancer dancing there now is being paid.

First, these are both VERY ethically unsound practices. Even though a dancer may not be dancing for the money, many dancer do indeed NEED the money they earn from dancing. When a dancer takes a gig away from another dancer, she is taking away the money that dancer uses to pay her rent, make her car payment and/or feed her children.

Second, dancers talk. If a dancer does either of these, it will get around & soon EVERY dancer will know what she did. She will soon find a cool reception by other members of the dance community & will also find that many dancers will not want to be associated with her. She will lose the respect and friendship of other dancers and seriously damage her reputation. A damaged reputation is a very hard thing to repair. A dancer should really think hard before she attempts to undercut or "steal" the gig of another dancer.

Third, she may well get the gig if she undercuts another dancer, but if she thinks a restaurant owner will treat her fairly or with respect after she has done so, she should think again. And, lastly remember the old attage "what goes around, comes around."

DON'T dance "In Costume" without being paid for the performance.

There are exceptions to this of course -- like charity events or belly dance Showcases. I am speaking of dancing in a restaurant or at a party "as a favor" or "as an audition." DON'T DO IT!

As for parties -- even if a dancer doesn't want to do bellygrams, other dancers make part of their living from bellygrams. When she dances at a party for free, she helps destroy, yes DESTROY, the business for others. She is certainly not doing her fellow dancers any favors.

If a dancer is not ready to do such a show and/or doesn't want to be in the bellygram business, than rather dance for free, she should do the host or hostess of the party AND the professional dance community a favor by suggesting the name of a dancer who does do bellygrams.

Just in case you have visions of showing up at a party all decked out in your most beautiful costume & being the star, but aren't being paid to dance at that party, let me share a little story: I went to a Middle Eastern party about five or six years ago. Late in the evening a belly dancer showed up in full costume w/ sword in hand. I was dancing with a big group of other ladies. Most of the men were hanging out or dancing with each other. When the dancer put the sword on her head and started dancing, most everyone thought she looked silly & didn't even give her a second look. It was kind of pathetic. I am sure she thought she would be the center of attention if she came in costume AND with her sword, but since she wasn't a paid performer, no one thought she was very special.

Don't dance for free.

Do not undervalue your talent, your beauty, your dance.

As for restaurants -- I have heard of restaurant/nightclub owners telling dancers "Come on Friday night & dance. It will be your audition." That is a CON! They may be having a party that evening or just want free entertainment for their restaurant. And, guess what? The dancer, who falls for it, is the victim. They won't be hiring this dancer. If an owner/manager tries this, the dancer needs to have this speedy comeback: "I am a professional dancer, with a solid reputation and a lot of talent. My fee for dancing at a restaurant is $____. You don't want to miss out on the amazing opportunity to have me dance in your restaurant, & you definitely won't be sorry." If the restaurant owner still insists on the dancer "auditioning," she should just move on, because they aren't truly interested in hiring her.

Do have a "do" or "don't" you would like to add to the list? I would so appreciate hearing from you!! Please e-mail me

Schadia, Director of the Nazeem Allayl Middle Eastern Dance Company

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