So You Want to be a Professional Belly Dancer
It's often said that if you work at what you love, it doesn't feel like work. So it's only natural that if you love belly dance, you'd like to earn your living at it. The obvious way to do that is to dance - but frankly, it's very unlikely that you will make a living from performing alone.
Good professional singers, dancers and musicians do command a high hourly rate which may sound impressive - but the reality is that they rarely work for more than a few hours each week. And that's especially true of belly dancers.
Unlike a folk-singing duo or a pop group, you can't get work at just any pub or restaurant. You will be limited to Arabic, Greek and Turkish clubs and eateries. Most of those venues want a belly dancer on Friday and Saturday nights only - and no matter how many restaurants are in your area, you can't be in two places at once! I know dancers who, (with the help of a boyfriend or friend as chauffeur), manage to perform at three or four venues both nights, but it's frantic and it's exhausting. Even then, two nights' work isn't going to pay you a living wage, so you will need work at private functions too.
Private functions usually pay better than restaurant gigs but you have to allocate a lot more time to them, which means you're less likely to fit other gigs on the same day. Apart from the extra time needed to discuss and agree what the client wants, private events are much less predictable, so delays are common. If the bride or the birthday girl arrives late to the party, you just have to wait. If it's in a private home, hitches with music systems and performance space are far more likely than in a function centre or club, and that can hold you up too. Some dancers have a rule that if they're kept waiting more than an hour they won't perform, but be careful! It may be the client's fault that you had to walk away, but they're unlikely to see it that way and may bad-mouth you to guests and friends ("she ruined my party!") - so unless you are already well-established with a good reputation and can afford to brush off the odd unfair slur, you can't afford to be too hard and fast about it.
So, the fact is that if you want to run a belly dance business, you'll need to do more than just dance - unless you are extremely talented and extremely lucky! There are lots of ways you can use your belly dancing skills to enhance your income from performing: teaching is the obvious one, but you can also look at offering special packages as well as straightforward dance gigs - things like bellygrams or children's parties. I'll look at those opportunities in a future article.
For some more "reality checks" about becoming a professional dancer, this article by Carrara Nour spells it all out very clearly!
If you're dreaming of working in the Middle East, Sabriye Tekbilek's article is essential reading.
Photo by Etan J Tal