Fair Rates for Belly Dance

Fair Pay, Typical Rates, Ethical Practices and Professional Standards in Belly Dance
There has been a recent resurgence of talk about standard rates for dancers, undercutting, performance venues and other important issues for professional belly dancers.
This increased awareness is vital for the continued success of performing belly dancers of all styles.   It is also imperative to developing understanding and respect in the general public for our art-form and the myriad cultures from which it springs.  If we hope to develop and keep respect for this dance we love- we must treat it with the utmost respect.  Find a teacher with high standards, one who will keep you to those standards and one who will be honest with you about both your strengths and challenges. Study with someone who has years of genuine professional experience who can guide you in ethical professional practices.
Morocco, Artemis Mourat, Anthea and others have written wonderful articles on the subject. Discussions have taken place on Facebook, tribe.net, Bhuz, as well as several yahoo groups devoted to regional belly dance. Samira has been the main moderator of the Biz of Belly Dance group (now on Facebook) for well over a decade. Not only has she supported herself full time with this art form over 15 years, she also has read every single post on the Biz of Belly Dance group for 15 years, enabling her to develop a huge spectrum of understanding on this topic from region to region.

It seems often performers who are new, or new  to an area are not filled in on regional standard rates, or what kind of events to charge for.  They may inadvertently charge under the typical area rates, without meaning to undercut- but the result is the same- lower wages for everyone.  Wages that won’t pay for all our prep, travel and rehearsal time, let alone costumes, workshops etc (not to mention rent or mortgage).  Ideally dancers who are going professional are being guided by a responsible, knowledgeable teacher.  As this is not always the case, I have included a list of links with tips on professionalism and ethics for the professional dancer. More links.
If you are not a dancer and have somehow stumbled upon this page:  Please remember that included in our fee is SO much more than the 20 or so minutes you see us perform.  An hour prep time, travel time (average 30 minutes to an hour each direction), waiting around at the whim of the host/musician, all occur on the day of the gig.  Factor in rehearsal time, class time and the cost of education, costuming, props, music, marketing and all other business expenses and you’ll have a better idea of the challenges faced by a professional dancer in a business run rampant with hobbyists.  This is not a “per hour” job, it is a “pay per service” career, as there are many factors that make up our services and many costs to our business. We have a list on Biz of Belly Dance to help you make informed decisions when setting your rates.

We as dancers need to keep in mind that the venues where we work are also trying to make a living.  The restaurants and clubs that support us and are kind to us; the ones that pay us as professionals and treat us like family instead of the hired help truly deserve our support.  There are several different ways we can do that. These venues make wonderful places to hold recitals and other events that may bring them more clients at a usually not so busy time.  When these restaurants have special events with musicians it’s often a wonderful opportunity to get a feel for live music.  If you can, patronize these places on your night off and encourage your students to support them as well.

The dance community is much more than just the dancers – the venues, musicians, party planners, DJs, vendors and audience etc are all our partners in promoting this wonderful art form.  Treat them as such.

Some new dancers don’t have access to dance mentors who are generous with their years of knowledge.  Other dancers have teachers who are not themselves practicing or teaching within these professional standards.  For these groups of dancers, I hope my resources help.

I regularly update another page with links on all sorts of aspects of performing and professionalism.  I also strongly suggest working with a mentor or taking a workshop from a respected professional who has been in the business a long time.  I highly recommend Artemis Mourat’s So You Wanna Be a Star workshop.  It’s FANTASTIC!

Other ideas for positive action:
**Support establishments that pay fairly and treat dancers with respect.  Bring your friends, go watch a show, etc.
**Help guide and support each other in typical rate practices.  Remember that these rates are merely a guideline – advanced dancers can earn more than newbies as a result of their experience,  however new dancer should NOT use this as an excuse to charge lower than a reasonable professional level minimum.
**A few restaurant owners do not always tell the truth about what they are paying other dancers.  They will often try to get the lowest price possible – as does any business, and know that not all negotiators use honest tactics.  Be fair, but also do not undervalue yourself.
**If a venue doesn’t pay you, or gives you the run around- Remember you are a professional and deserve to be treated as such.  Also let other dancers know this is happening.  Communication with others is key in developing a support network.
**Clearly communicate and negotiate with a venue and/or band about both pay and tips.  Is there body tipping allowed? How are floor tips distributed?  How are you paid if there are few clients in the establishment?  Remember to do this BEFORE you work- so tip and pay methods are understood clearly by all parties. Take notes in your meeting with the owner.  You’ll have it in writing! You may need it!
**If you are a teacher and want to create an opportunity for your students to perform, it’s unethical to take away a gig opportunity from another professional dancer.  Create something OTHER than a “Student Night” at a restaurant or club on a busy night.
If you organize a student night at a restaurant or club on non-busy night or in the afternoon– you are allowing your students the excitement of performing at a real venue, insuring there is plenty of room for their friends, family and supporters AND supporting the restaurants that hire professional dancers for their busier nights.  You are creating a win-win situation! Haflas/student performances can also be held at community centers, retirement homes, daytime/non-busy nights at shisha lounges, coffee houses, after workshops, in your studio etc.  They can be fund raisers for a cause, or for scholarships for your school.  There are SO many positive opportunities you can create for your students, that also demonstrate support of the professionals in the area.

If you or your students can’t get and/or keep a gig at or above the typical local rate, chances are you are not yet ready to perform for the general public as a professional.

**Do yourself and the art form a favor and PLEASE find a teacher or mentor to help guide you.  There are lots of venues appropriate for a developing professional or hobbyist.
**Having students perform in environments where the general public may think they are professional is doing a disservice to the dance.  Our art form will never be seen as professional if we do not uphold professional standards
**Support other teachers and event promoters.  Also do your best to not schedule your events over someone else’s.
**Remember the difference between a Diva and a Professional. Be a professional.
**Follow a strong Code of Conduct, such as the one by Anthea
**Be ethical!
**Speak positively about other dancers, speak positively about the dance.  Educate yourself to the best of your abilities, so you can present the dance in its best possible light and help to dispel myths.

Did you get through all that?
Having the above background information will help you understand how the standard rates list work.
Thanks for taking the time to read it and thanks for caring enough about the dance to support positive and ethical business practices.

Samira Shuruk