10 Professional Commitments
With some urging from the Portland Belly Dance Guild, I’d like to share my personal manifesto as a professional belly dancer.
The short list:
– As a professional dancer, I do my work with intention and as much attention as possible toward my greater goals and personal artistic path.
– As a professional dancer, I commit to knowing the standard rates for my area and do not take gigs for less (nor do I perform for free/charity without serious consideration). I know that undercutting hurts the whole community and I work consciously to raise the bar for myself and fellow community members.
– As a professional dancer, I am confident in my knowledge, but I also know the great value of the “beginner’s mind” and I constantly pursue opportunities for continuing education.
– As a professional dancer, I invest in my physical well-being by maintaining a complimentary fitness regime to stay healthy and in shape.
– As a professional dancer, I strive to seek out constructive criticism.
– As a professional dancer, I actively support the health and well-being of my community.
– As a professional dancer, I commit to making my art as accessible as possible.
– As a professional dancer, I make sure to credit people who I learn from, collaborate with, and all who help bring my work to fruition.
– As a professional dancer, I come well prepared for gigs and strive to be as prepared, present, and positive as possible.
– As a professional, I take time to develop a practice of gratitude.
My opinion of those main topics in more detail:
1) WHY? As a professional dancer, I continuously ask myself some difficult, self-reflective questions, such as : “Why do I want to be a professional dancer?” … “What does (being a professional dancer) actually mean to me?” … “What are my life goals?”… “How does being a professional dancer/working on this project/taking this gig fit into my bigger life goals” … “How do I plan to set and achieve my goals weekly/monthly/yearly?” I write and rewrite an artist statement of my overall work at least once every few years. As an artist, it’s important to me to live an *intentional* life as much as possible. I feel that living intentionally via regular self-reflection helps me increase my chances of creating more fulfilling work. Often(,) I find the Whys and Hows change slightly (or drastically) over time(;) cultivating awareness of that (shift) helps me become a more clear and powerful communicator.
2) COMPENSATION It’s not all about money, but this is a fairly big topic… As a professional, I commit to getting paid community standard rates and I respectfully abstain from free gigs as much as possible. In Portland, examples of minimum rates are $65-$75 for restaurant sets ($50 per person with a group/band) and $275 for private parties. Something to consider: “Minimum rate” suggests the minimum or lowest one should charge, not the actual amount a performance is worth. In some circumstances (performing on holidays, honoring special requests, distance/time to a gig, etc), the minimum rate does not reflect the value of the performance. Special circumstances like holidays and travel time should factor into the actual quote.
Undercutting is agreeing to perform for less than the standard rate, and this hurts the entire community. There are very rare circumstances in which I believe performing without compensation is a good idea. Consider a non-profit or a fundraiser, for example. First I must say, knowing that live dance and/or music performances will lead to a bigger draw/audience, fundraisers actually often set aside budget for entertainment. The idea being the event coordinator invests a little and gains a lot. If the fundraiser is for a start-up non-profit with literally no budget then I 1) Take into consideration whether the cause is really important to me. 2) Find out how much other entertainment they already have lined up -if they have a big cast already, could they actually do just fine without me? 3) Inquire about the realistic projection of how much money they would pull in. (I have gotten paid for many fundraisers.) If they’re expecting a big number, I might ask for a percentage or see if they would be willing to work out a trade. Generally I am a generous person, but am committed to sustaining myself from my dance, so I have commit to choosing (a maximum of ) 1-2 “charity” performances annually.
When an unpaid or low paying gig is offered, I consider whether a professional electrician would come to my house to work just for “fun”? Would a professional chef at nice restaurant cook me food for “exposure”? What would motivate a professional in any other line of work to do something for free? Can someone feed their families with “fun”? It is often the case that professionals, in other fields, have years of education, comprehensive testing, and experience in pre-professional/training/apprenticeship scenarios for which to gain “exposure.” Even most other professional dance forms often have a quite rigorous study and audition process for companies or projects, and hundreds of hours of rehearsals, before a dancer actually takes to the stage.
With a career in the arts, lines can get blurry. As a professional, I strive to maintain healthy and sustainable working conditions, and to raise the bar for my community. I am my own boss. I strive towards reasonable hours and appropriate payment for my work as best as I can, for the sake of my health, my family, and for my fellow “co-workers”.
My motto, A rising tide floats all boats…
Stay tuned for a future essay about professional compensation, how to “work it out” with clients, and ideas of where non-professionals could perform for “fun and experience.”
3) CONTINUING EDUCATION As a professional I am confident in my knowledge, but I also know the great value of the “beginner’s mind” and actively pursue continuing education. I regularly review the basics, and keep in touch with a teacher or mentor who I can check-in with, and who knows more than me. I actively evaluate and recognize areas that need improvement(; teachers and peer-review help with this.) I also always strive to go deeper to enrich my dance. I study other aspects of the craft that I feel will aid me in my career: music, anatomy, event management, costume design, another language, dance history(,etc.) I take classes in other styles of dance. This helps keep the spark of my dancing spirit alive, is an important part of maintaining a well(-)rounded physique and strengthening technique overall (see item 4 below), and also helps with networking! Continuing to push myself to learn more about dance prevents creative and physical stagnation and helps me relate to dancers of all levels/styles and to people in general.
4) BODY MAINTENANCE As a professional dancer(,) I maintain a complimentary fitness regime to stay healthy. I have a friend who equates being a professional dancer to being a professional race-car driver. There’s the driver(:) the one who makes decisions and has the knowledge for creative thought process(. Then) there’s the car, which takes another kind of attention and constant maintenance to be efficient. The harder you push it, the more likely it is for a valve to burst. The more you travel to the edges of the road to get ahead, the more likely it is you’ll run over some shrapnel and get a flat-tire. You gotta take your vehicle in for regular tune-ups, oil changes, paint-jobs, change break the pads…you get it. Our bodies are the same in that we need to keep them in peak condition for great performance. As a professional dancer(,) I expect to spend multiple hours a week on yoga, Pilates, cross-training, massage/chiropractic therapy, and other self-care and maintenance. The older I get, the more important it becomes to take excellent care of my body, my vehicle for expression.
5) FEEDBACK I hear many people say, “(D)on’t listen to the critics(. T)hey’ll just bring you down”. On the flip-side, I also experience many people at shows giving very surface level feedback like “Great-job”… “So beautiful”…”I loved your dancing”. The aforementioned things I hear are both valuable to an extent (it’s good to ignore aggressive and/or uneducated comments and it’s nice to hear someone thinks your work is “beautiful”). However, it’s very important to remember critique, in general, can be an essential tool to an artist. If given and taken from a healthy state of mind (an open, constructive-not destructive-, educated state of mind), it can be truly enlightening, helps us strive to be our best selves by bringing new life and attention/intention to our creations. As a professional, I strive to seek out constructive criticism. I do this by asking for feedback from mentors and trusted peers who I know will be honest with me. If I’m getting ready to debut a piece at an upcoming show, I invite a few mentors/peers to preview a new combination in the studio. I also solicit feedback from friends who are not in the community, to represent more of how the general public might view my work. Does it draw them in? Can they describe what they saw/how it makes them feel in detail? I pry beyond “That was pretty!” and look for something I can really sink my teeth into and chew on for a while. I like to view it as “sharing is caring!” Getting and giving feedback is a skill that takes time to develop, but it’s worth it. As a professional, I remember to take feedback professionally, not personally.
6) COMMUNITY SUPPORT As a professional, I strive to actively support the health and well-being of my community. This manifests itself in many different ways. Here’s an example of my short list: Insisting on sustainable/fair wages for performers, going to other belly dance shows (and paying full cover instead of asking to be on the guest list), taking a new dancer out for tea, offering costume advice, promoting other events and teachers/studios, checking in with other dancers about venues/gigs, volunteering to do “box office” duties for a friend, inviting people over for pot-luck/hafla, hosting movie nights, purchasing music directly from the bands I like and working with local musicians… the list goes on and on and I encourage everyone to make a list that applies to them. I keep that list in journals and also near/in my calendar.
As a professional, I expose myself to as much other professional dance styles and performing art as possible. It’s immensely inspiring for me to be an active participant, or at the very least an active observer, in the greater performing arts community. I frequently see live music shows and theater. At least a few times a year I buy a ticket to the ballet, symphony, a fancy theater production, and/or go out to a big concert and I *always* thank myself for it. It’s great to see others succeeding, witness audience responses (in others and yourself), and often it presents potential networking situations. The more I express to others “what I do for a living”, the more I refine my intentions and goals, and you never know who you’ll meet in line for the bathroom :-).
7) SELF PROMOTION/REPRESENTATION I believe clients looking to hire a professional belly dancer will be more likely to hire me if they have easy access to experiencing what it is I do, and to contacting me. As a professional, I commit to making my art as accessible as possible. At the bare minimum, I make sure I am searchable online: I maintain a website with examples of my work and contact info and host a professional social media page. I always have a press kit at my fingertips for any potential client or agent to reference. Included in that are things like 3-5 current professional photos, 1-3 current videos, an easy to find contact form/email link/phone number. A long bio (5-10 sentences) and a short bio (3-5 sentences). I update everything as often as possible and seek out professional graphic designers, web designers, photographers, and videographers when it’s something I can’t do myself. Sometimes even when I *could* do it, know that working with these specialists would result in a better representation of my work. Sometimes I work with an agent. Other times, I handle bookings by myself. Self-promotion can be very tough; it’s an occupation in and of itself and it’s not easy for a dedicated artist to pull themselves away from their work for a photo shoot, or to post about a show… but it’s important.
8) GIVE CREDIT where credit is due. As a professional, I feel its very important to credit people who directly help bring my work to fruition (musicians, videographers, photographers, teachers, etc.) For example, I list collaborators names in programs and social media/web posts, keep watermarks on images, and post links however/whenever I can. In conversation about my work, I make sure to mention all those involved as much as possible. I acknowledge I’m not really doing this all by myself. I am inspired by, rely on, and work with many many people.
9) WORK WELL WITH OTHERS Most performing artists work collaboratively given the nature of the work. This collaboration includes not just other artists, but also producers and venues. To facilitate efficient and enjoyable experiences, I think of the 4 P’s: Preparation, Punctuality, being Present, and Positivity. As a professional dancer, I prepare for rehearsals and gigs as much as I can ahead of time. I read and re-read any material producers/clients send me. Often, but not always, many questions I have are outlined in a contract. Using contracts is another great tool in a professional dancer’s kit. Before a gig, I make sure I know the basics:
- Exact location of the show and parking details
- Start time and call time (when performers are requested to show up to prepare),
- Music situation – if it’s a band I get in touch with them before hand to work out details, if it’s record music I email it to the producer a week or so ahead of the show, if it’s a private party or restaurant gig I make sure I know what their sound system will be, plan accordingly, and bring an extra copy of the music),
- Performance setting – how much space will I have to dance, what surface will I be dancing on, etc
- will there be a changing room, and when is a good time to handle payment.
I pack my make-up, try my costume on, and review the details the night before to make sure everything is in order. I arrive to the show *early* with a water bottle and a snack, scope out the situation, and try to relax. Being fully prepared and on time makes me much easier to deal with. From a producer’s standpoint, I know frustrating it is when the people you hired are late, lost, or stuck in traffic. They arrive frazzled and apologetic, don’t have their music together, and ask a million questions (clearly defined in the initial agreement) right as the show is about to start. Being in that chaotic state of mind (as a performer and/or producer) also makes me less able to connect with other dancers and/or the audience. As a professional, I strive to create a truly positive experience surrounding my dance and all that it effects.
10) GRATITUDE I feel it’s really important, as I progress in my art, to never forget my roots and humble beginnings. As a professional, I take time for reflection and to develop a practice of gratitude. There is no one way to practice gratitude, it’s a personal thing. I practice gratitude in many different ways. Set an intention during yoga, look up to the night sky and thank my lucky stars, take time to reflect frequently, and always make time to connect with my inner guide, family, friends, teachers, and everyone and thing who has helped me along my path. I send cards, dedicate pieces, call someone out of the blue… Practicing gratitude helps me stay positive and grounded, which in turn, leaves my mind open to growth and opportunity.
Speaking of gratitude, Thank you so much for reading this! These concepts are my personal opinions, though I know many other professionals who hold most of these main concepts as their guidelines as well. By writing this, I hope to add a spark to the conversation of what is professionalism in belly dance world and it means to be a professional. I know there are many more things to add to this list and I encourage readers to make their own lists about what professionalism means for them and do lots of personal research.
I would love to hear some of your personal commitments and what you think is important to consider when working in the world of professional belly dancers.