Performance Standards: Booking and Attending Gigs

May 16, 2013 § 2 Comments

I have performed as a belly dancer for over a decade and have danced in a large variety of venues and settings.  Some amazing, some good, some okay, some bad, and some really unpleasant.  At a recent bad performance experience, there was no designated stage area, there was no DJ, and they had no performance time for us. They gave us a call time, but when we showed up, no one seemed to know what was going on.  We were not in the line up.  They asked if we wanted to dance to the DJ, even though we had specifically told them “no” over the phone during the performance invitation.  We waited around for a while and didn’t have adequate warning before we finally did perform.  They “let us” perform while the DJs took a break. It did not get better once we started dancing.  They introduced us as “the belly dancers” instead of by our troupe’s name.  People were wandering through the area where we were dancing.  No one was taking care of our music or paying attention to what was going on.  Our ipod got bumped in the middle of the set, and started playing a song over again.  We couldn’t get anyone to fix it for us.  One of the dancers had to leave the “stage” to fix it herself.  Then, in the middle of our last song, the band that was on next started improvising on top of our music and then said “let’s hear it for the belly dancers!…” before the song completely finished.  We were practically kicked off stage.  It was very unprofessional.  We handled it as gracefully as possible, but it was not a fun experience.

Because of all of this performance experience as well as others, I have thought a lot about performance standards.  I think it’s important to consider what kind of settings you would like to perform in and what your expectations are.  Sometimes it is okay to decline an event invitation or decide that a venue is not right for you.  Sometimes, it may even be reasonable to leave an event without performing.

Here is my list of performance standards:

1) Make sure you have an official performance slot.  If they are not organized enough to put together a set list, chances are good you will show up for a 10-20 minute set and wait around for 2 hours.  This is not okay.  It is reasonable for shows and events to run a little behind, but what they are saying by not giving you a time slot, is that your time isn’t valuable.  If they don’t have an approximate performance time, the answer is no.  I also know of some professional dancers who start charging more if they don’t go on within a reasonable amount of time after the agreed upon performance slot.  I think this is fair.  Their time is valuable.  Your time is also valuable.

2) If they can’t give you an idea of what the music system is like, you should ask them to find out before you commit.  You need to be able to prepare your music.  Music is essential for dancing.  If there are different options at this venue, and they aren’t sure which will work out for that night, that’s not too big of a deal, as long as you know what options to prepare for.  You need to know if you are capable of using their music system and have an adequate amount of time to get your set list prepared.  You don’t want to waste your time preparing a set, getting into costume, and going to the event, just to find out you won’t have music and can’t perform.

3) If they want someone who does something that you don’t do,  just say you are not what they are looking for and suggest another performer, if you know of one, who is a better fit.  If they want someone to dance to the DJ who’s playing techno or reggae and that’s not the kind of music you dance to, then the answer is no.  If they want gogo dancers, that’s fine, but belly dancers aren’t gogo dancers.  They need to find someone who can fulfill their specific performance needs.  And if they are calling for a bachelor party performance, be weary that they might expect something more risqué than your typical belly dance.  This may not be the performance for you.

4) Expect them to be professional and have respect.  For example, there is someone in charge who knows what is going on and can direct you where to go.  There is some sort of backstage area where you can prepare and safely store your things.  You should get a proper announcement before your performance.

5)  This is a big one and sometimes the hardest for dancers to take a stand on:  Don’t dance for free if other performers get paid.  Also, don’t dance for free if there is a cover charge.  The only exception to this rule is if it is a benefit show and the money is going to a good cause.  Don’t let someone personally profit from your hard work, unless you are also profiting.  Even if you do a short set, you should still get paid.  They aren’t just paying for your performance time; they are paying for your years of dance classes and performance experience, your costuming, your time spent building a set and getting into hair, makeup and costume. You are worth compensating.  It is also okay to dance for free at community events, festivals and haflas.  These are shows for sharing and exposure.  My old dance troupe had a set number of free shows we did every year.  Once those slots were full, we only did paid gigs.  This worked out well.  I recommend coming up with a similar policy.

6) Sometimes it is okay to leave a gig.  I don’t think I have ever done this, but there has been a time or two I wish I had.  This is a last resort, but if you aren’t being treated appropriately and there is no reasonable negotiation, or no one cares enough to negotiate with you in the first place, you should consider whether it is fair for you to stay, especially if you are volunteering your time.  I’m not saying be a diva, I’m just saying make sure they treat you with respect.

Have you had any experiences that have made you reconsider your performance standards?  What does your list look like?  Is there something I should add to mine?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Art Vs. Entertainment

January 19, 2013 § 4 Comments

  • Art: the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
  • Entertainment: the act of entertaining;  agreeable occupation for the mind; diversion; amusement.

A question I hear often among belly dancers, especially in the Tribal community, is whether we consider ourselves artists or entertainers.  People who ask this question seem to have a strong opinion about which is better (I’ll give you a hint, it’s not entertainment). There seems to be a strong “I do it for me, not them” mentality. There’s not anything wrong with that.  In fact, I think the most important person to dance for is yourself.  But when you perform, you have to do it for you and for the audience.

Art is an expression of the artist.  If we identify with this expression, we will be inspired by this art.  When art is created, it is best if it evokes some sort of reaction from a viewer.  The most memorable art is interesting to the eye, evokes an emotion, or inspires introspection.  Art makes statements that are meant to be communicated.  It touches something in us and is a form of entertainment.  Entertainment satisfies an audience.  It takes the audience to another state of mind.  It helps them forget themselves for awhile.  If they identify with or are touched by your artistic expression, they will be entertained.

I don’t usually worry too much about art vs. entertainment when I perform. I think the two go hand in hand.  I find art entertaining, and entertainment can be done artistically.  As a dancer, art may be enough to fulfill the dancer’s desire to create and express. As a performer, entertainment is a definite goal. No one wants to get on stage and deeply and meaningfully bore their audience. I don’t believe it is necessary to choose sides.

I am an artist and an entertainer. An entertainment artist. An artistic entertainer. I am a belly dancer.

Hobbies: Having to Make Choices

January 27, 2012 § 10 Comments

My life has become a bit hectic as of late, as I have recently moved and am taking a new direction.  I have returned to college to study biology (with a dance minor), with my eye on a career in physical therapy.  I am still working a day job and trying to figure out how I would like to enter my new dance community, all while maintaining a home life–the kinds of things we all must figure out how to balance.  When faced with less time and money to do all the things I want to do, I have had to figure out what it is I really want.  I would love to take multiple belly dance classes every week, a hoop class, join the local college juggling club to meet and practice with poi spinners, and maybe even play clarinet in some sort of band again.  I even considered joining the college marching band, because, hey, it was fun the first time around!  But alas, I have realized that accomplishing all those things in my daily life would simply be impossible.  I have been faced with the decision of picking an artistic direction, which will really make a person realize what they love.  I am most passionate about belly dance so, belly dance it is!  I will continue indulging in my other hobbies here and there for fun, but I won’t be investing in classes at this time.

While figuring out what dance classes I can afford and fit in my schedule, I have also had to decide what direction to take within belly dance, being the large genre it is.  I think I have settled on taking Oriental classes a couple times a week and focusing on daily self-practice.  This means I will be stepping back from the Tribal Community for the time being.  This was a tough decision, but there aren’t many, American Tribal Style classes in Albuquerque.  There are some that are just Tribal, which I think are more along the lines of Improvised Tribal Style.  ITS is like ATS, using the same improvisational structure, but with mostly different foundational moves.  I can’t be sure if that’s true until I take some of their classes, but this semester, my school schedule conflicts with the classes I’ve found.  For now, I will continue staying sharp in my ATS with self-practice, and make a return to Tribal in a community setting in the (hopefully not too far off) future.

I need to develop my Oriental side of belly dance more anyway.  I long for it, the refined feminine movements, it’s grace and beauty, it’s expressiveness and freedom of movement.  I should focus more on developing my skills as a soloist as well, and Oriental style is great for that.

One day I will return to teaching.  It is definitely on my agenda, but I don’t have the time or energy to start up a new program.  It takes a lot of self-promotion and a lot of patience to get steady student enrollment, and that is just not something I can invest in right now.  I need to focus on my day job career goals first.  Long-term, I hope to be a great physical therapist, dance teacher, solo performer and troupe dancer.

Fire Poi: My First Burn!

September 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Earlier this summer I had my first fire poi burn.  It. Was.  AMAZING!

I was at a 4th of July party at a friend’s ranch in the beautiful, Middle of Nowhere, NM.  It was a bunch of friends, old and new, getting together in the mountainous desert to sing, talk, camp and be merry around a fire under the beautiful open sky.

A friend of mine spins fire poi and brought hers to the party.  After she spun a little, and another friend at the party did as well, she asked if I wanted to try.  Although I had been trying to psych myself up for it all day, I was nervous.  The first time I had ever tried spinning fire poi, they were unlit at a fire jam in Portland, and I hit myself in the back of the head leaving a huge knot.  That was when I had only been taking poi classes for a few weeks, but it made me nervous ever since.  There were a lot of people at this party and I didn’t want them all watching me if I a)freaked out, b)caught on fire, c)sucked and got stuck in a forward spin for minutes on end, or d)a combination of any or all of the above.

I was around a lot of fire poi spinners in Portland, but I moved to Huntsville just as I was starting to get decent at it myself.  I knew only one or two other poi spinners in Alabama and none that spun fire, so I hadn’t had an opportunity to try in a long time.  After convincing myself a bit, I decided I had been spinning poi casually for five years, it was time to try the fire poi.  I put my long hair up in a bun, wet it a little just to be sure it wasn’t too flammable and mentally prepared myself.  I was at least going to try forward and backward spins and some basic turns.  No big deal.  I was in the company of friends.

I practiced with her poi unlit for a few minutes to get used to the weight and feel.  She assured me that I was doing great with them.  She told me she would only soak the ends with a little bit of fuel so they wouldn’t burn too long.  Another friend assured me that if I caught on fire, he was ready with the hose.  They told me I couldn’t ask for a more supportive crowd to try it in front of.

When I was ready, one of my very best friends lit one of the poi for me, I touched it to the other and watched them brighten into a big, orange glowing ball in the night.  I backed up, started moving them in a horizontal, circular motion above the ground in front of me (I believe this is called “stir the pot” in some poi-move vocabularies).  I brought the poi overhead for some “corkscrew” action (poi moving in same direction alternately between horizontal circles in front and overhead, one making the lower circle while the other is making the upper). I turned a bit with this and felt pretty good.  I transitioned my corkscrew into some chasing the sun (poi traveling parallel in vertical circles, alternating in front and behind the body) and brought it into a windmill (essentially the same move, but with the poi spinning in split-time so there’s one making a circle behind while one is making a circle in front). I felt incredibly…comfortable!

It was ON!  I listened to the music and I went through all my regularly practiced movements.  I flowed into turns, butterflies and weaves…I was threading the needle and extending into some basic flowers…I stalled, reversed, split-timed and moved around with the poi.  It was meditative and relaxing.  I love the hypnotic flowing of the poi.  Being within the spiraling ring of fire, I didn’t feel as if a bunch of people were watching me.  The flames were loud enough, I could hardly here them; the flames were bright enough, I couldn’t see anyone too clearly.  The way I often feel safe in stage lights, I found safety in the poi flames.

When one poi flame went out and the other began to dwindle, and it was time to spin hard and fast to extinguish it, I wished my time wasn’t up.  I could have gone longer.  I could have flowed more with the fire and the music.  I felt exhilarated!

My friend who owns the poi said it was awesome and that she thought I was going to do a few really simple things, but that I surprised her by going balls out.  It was such an amazing experience!  I am now completely re-energized about poi.  I am so glad that I have friends here to explore this art form with!  I have to start practicing more regularly again, and I absolutely MUST invest in some fire poi of my very own.

My Year in Belly Dance: Reflecting and Looking Forward

January 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

I feel like the past year has been a productive one for me on the dance front.  I attended some great workshops and events.  I moved forward in technique and experience.  I had a few breakthroughs that were quite amazing to me.

I had some major breakthroughs in the area of flexibility and usability of my muscles.  Throughout the year, I identified several problem areas in my body where the muscles were locked up and permanently engaged.  I was able to concentrate on and learn how to stretch and release my trapezius muscle (at the top of the shoulder), my hip flexors (at the top, front of the thighs), and my psoas muscles (in the hips).  These muscle groups were causing me some pain and minimizing movement.  After releasing them, I have less back pain, less neck pain and less hip pain.  My undulations have become bigger, my shoulder shimmies have become less tense, and my hip movements have gained depth and range of motion.

I also decided that this would be the year I would really solidify my continuous shimmies. Due in part to an old knee injury, continuous hip shimmies (that move alternately and repetitively between right and left hips) have been very challenging for me.  My left leg has been weaker and less consistent.  This year, I was putting that behind me.  For several months at the beginning of the year, I woke up early every morning to do shimmy drills.  It felt great.  And practicing every day made a world of difference.  I focused on my weaker side and built up the stamina.  After just a few weeks, I had a consistent, even shimmy.  After a few more weeks, I could vary size and intensity.  I eventually got to a point where the muscle memory was so ingrained in me, I would start my shimmying and I felt like my legs had a mind of their own.  The shimmy was automatic, almost like there was no stopping it.  I sometimes felt like the shimmy was in control and I was along for the ride.  It was amazing and I’m pretty sure it’s what everyone is talking about when they say “if you have to think about your shimmy, you haven’t done it enough.”

The most recent thing I discovered that made a huge difference for my body is a yoga technique called inner thigh spiraling.  One of my belly dance teachers brought it to her dance class after it was really helping her with her posture.  Essentially it’s where you stand in good posture and good alignment (keep those knees facing forward!), and engage your inner thighs and gently rotate them backward.  We did an exercise where you hold the yoga block with your thigh spiral and layered some belly dance drills on top of it (shoulder shimmies, chest circles, hip lifts, etc.)  I could feel my lower back and hips opening up.  I have been including this technique in my regular dance practice and it has greatly improved my alignment, posture, strength and is even keeping pressure off my injured knee.

I broke into performing solos.  I have always been more of a troupe dancer than a soloist.  I’m to a point where I actually want to do solos and feel like I need to in order to take my dancing to the next level.  This year, I did solos without props and with veil and sword, some to live music, some to recorded music.  It was great, actually.  I get more nervous before solos and the adrenaline rush is a bit more intense, but it is very rewarding and freeing.  Me and improv have started to get buddy, buddy as well and it has set my dancing free in so many ways.  I have learned to really trust my instincts and go with what the music tells me to do.  I mean, what’s so complicated about it really?  It’s just dancing.

I began playing clarinet again.  I was classically trained for 8 years, but had given it up for several years to focus more on dancing.  I am a little rusty, but the music reading, the embouchure, the technique all came back to me pretty quickly. I have actually joined the Lumani band, so I will be playing a lot more.

I attended TribalCon and Spirit of the Tribes which were both a ton of fun.  I took workshops with Mira Betz, Artemis Mourat, Myra Krien, Devyani, Asharah, Ariellah, Jahara Phoenix, Dalia Carella, Unmata, Kaya, Shadhavar, GypsyVille and even took a few hooping workshops.

As a teacher, I feel like my ATS students progressed so much this year.  I have a group of consistent students who have gotten the basics down quite well and are starting to move on to more challenging and more fun ATS moves and concepts.  I love that the class is picking up momentum!

Last year was a very good year, indeed!

Looking forward, joining the Lumani band is very exciting!  I’m enjoying exploring clarinet with Middle Eastern music and love being part of a musical ensemble again!  I have begun taking a Middle Eastern drumming classes, mostly to learn more about Middle Eastern rhythms to enhance my dancing, but  wouldn’t mind becoming a proficient drummer.  I am also taking a zill class and hope to become decent at more complex zilling.  I want to continue exploring solos and perhaps create some choreographies.  I’m going to TribalCon again and am trying to decided on another major event I’d like to attend.  I’ve never been to a convention for Oriental Style Belly Dance.  That might be fun.

Poi Isolations

February 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

I was suddenly able to do poi isolations recently. Normally when you spin poi, your hand is the center point of the rotation, while the poi ball moves in a circle at the end of the poi cord. When doing an isolation, your hand makes a circle as well, so there are two circular rotations, with the center point of the rotations halfway down the cord.  This is something I’ve tried to do occasionally in the past, but was unable to make it happen.

I’ve been spinning a little more often the last couple weeks, polishing up some things I already know and adding in some variations. One night I was spinning around the poi in a forward rotation when I was suddenly very aware of the weight of the ball at the very end of the cord. It was in this sudden awareness and familiarity that I felt that I might be able to change it. I started to follow the poi circle with a circle with my hand, and an isolation was born.  It wasn’t pretty, but it was there. It was amazing how it just showed up. I wasn’t even planning  to work on  it.

My challenge now is getting the timing down so the poi doesn’t fall out of rotation. The cord must still be pulled taught with momentum, so it will take some practice.  I am so excited to finally be able to work on this.  I guess as you get used to the nature of a prop, things start coming more naturally.

Students and Self Promotion

December 2, 2008 § 2 Comments

My dance class is shrinking slightly again.  I lose students periodically to such things as giving birth, foot surgery, personal lives and exhaustion.  I’m sure every class does.  It takes awhile to build a program.

I began fearing I wouldn’t make a profit on the class anymore, or worse, it would actually cost me money again.  I started considering canceling the class, but after teaching class tonight with a mere one student, and seeing her excitement for learning new moves and the feeling of accomplishment we both got from having made it through the whole vocabulary of movements I had put together for the class, I’ve decided that it’s absolutely worth it whether I have one student or twenty.

Babies get bigger and feet heal and obstacles pass.  Old students will come back.  New students will get interested.

I guess my biggest goal in teaching really is to share what I know; for a couple reasons.  First of all, it’s fun!  And I want people to dance with!  My greater goal is to pass on what I know and stabilize a good Tribal program that could continue on even if I was to move away.  It’s about passing the torch and sharing the love for the dance.  And even if I only get to do that with a few students, it will have been worthwhile.

And that brings me to the aspect of gaining students. Self promotion.  This isn’t my strength.  I usually just do my thing.  I’d have to make fliers and videos and advertise and make myself personally sellable as a teacher.  Ugh.  I work full time.  I’m tired a lot.  And I’m on the modest side.  I just don’t have the time and energy for all that.

So, I guess I need to reasearch some easy yet effective ways to promote.  Wish me luck.

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