What Should I Charge as a Professional Belly Dancer?

WARNING:  I'm playing Devil's advocate here, be prepared!

When I first started performing (at gigs organised by my teacher), I was stunned by the amount being charged for my performance.  After all, I was on stage for only 15 to 20 minutes - it translated into a higher hourly rate than a doctor or a lawyer!   How could I justify that?

You'll find plenty of blogs by belly dancers (some listed below), justifying the charges on the basis of the years of training they've done, and the hours of ongoing practice - but compare them with the years of training and hours of ongoing study undertaken by the aforesaid doctors and lawyers, and those arguments fall apart.  The cost of costumes and props used to be a consideration but prices have dropped dramatically - and frankly, in my experience most belly dancers buy costumes for themselves rather than their audience, and could easily get by with half the number.

In my view, the only argument that makes sense is encapsulated in this little story:

One day a lady was at an art exhibition.  She approached the artist and said she wanted to buy one of his paintings, but it was much too expensive.  She named a price which she felt was a fair value, taking into account the cost of the canvas, paint and frame.  The artist thought about it for a moment, and then agreed.

The next day, the package arrived at the lady's home and she opened it - to find it contained a blank canvas, paints, and a frame!

The moral of the story is that the canvas, paint and frame are only a tiny part of what goes into a work of art. What matters is the artistic talent and expertise that turns those mundane elements into something very special and magical.  The ability to create that magic is a rare thing and that's why society values it so highly and is willing to pay artists (whether they be painters, dancers, singers or musicians) a premium for it.  If you're good enough to be a professional dancer, your talent is worth that premium too! (The corollary to that is, if you feel your talent isn't good enough to justify that much, perhaps you're not quite ready to turn professional? - something to consider).

In fact, belly dancers charge about the same as other professional performers and that will vary depending where you live.  Ask your teacher, or try signing up with a theatrical agency and see what fees they suggest.  As an inexperienced newbie you might be tempted to charge less, but be very cautious about undercutting the more experienced dancers in the area - if you do, you may find yourself in a bidding war which could drive down prices for everyone.

You can find a good guide to rates in the USA on Samira Shuruk's website here.

Michelle Joyce wrote this great article with tips on how to stick to your guns when negotiating the price for a gig.

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Articles about belly dancers' charges:

Behind the Rates - Why Belly Dancers Charge What They Do  - by Shems

Why Do You Charge So Much For Only Fifteen Minutes of Dancing? - by Shira
Photo by Stuart Bassil [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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