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!

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§ 2 Responses to Performance Standards: Booking and Attending Gigs

  • All these points really emphasize to me the need for a good contract. A contract can cover all these issues, and state what the client’s responsibilities to you are, as well as what will happen if they don’t meet them (i.e. if you aren’t able to perform because they haven’t provided what they said they would, or they cancel at the last minute, they are still liable for your full fee). Not sure about the US, but I certainly know dancers in the UK who have successfully sued non-paying clients. For gigs that seem potentially flaky, getting a significant deposit or full payment upfront also seems wise.

    For volunteer gigs, I think it is absolutely OK to leave without performing and clearly state your reasons for doing so if you are treated in an unprofessional or disrespectful way. One of the reasons I’m suspicious of unpaid gigs is that if someone is not paying for your performance, they often do not respect or value your contribution – it’s good to emphasize that you are making a donation of services that would usually cost a significant amount, and what the normal price would be.

  • Jade Walters says:

    Thank you! Making a good contract is great advice!

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