Thursday, June 11, 2009

I'LL (BELLY) DANCE AT YOUR WEDDING





At some point in your career as a belly dancer, you will probably be asked to dance at a wedding. Though you obviously would treat your performance the way you would any other gig, by showing up on time, using music that is well-recorded, acting friendly and professional, and dancing up a storm, there are certain things you should know in order to make the event go smoothly.

The first thing you should be aware of is that though weddings are joyous occasions, there is a certain amount of stress involved….uh, make that a MAJOR AMOUNT of stress involved! A wedding is a huge stepping stone in life, and may result in a display of nerves from not only the bride and groom, but also family members, and, depending on the scale of the event, the wedding planner, caterer or deejay that hired you.

Weddings are absolutely notorious for running late, and this can be compounded by bridal party photo-ops, traffic on the way to the reception; a hired band playing longer-or shorter- than they were supposed to, or even slow food service. The fact that it’s a private family celebration, and not a regular club or restaurant gig, will also add elements of chaos which may affect your performance in the form of kids running around, people drinking too much, lengthy toasts, amorous ushers, elderly or disabled people seated in wheelchairs, maybe even a fight! You have to prepare yourself for any possible snafu, and be a trouble-shooter- ready with your own Plan B (or even C or D) just in case!

When performing at a wedding, you never know what can happen. I was once hired by a friend of the groom’s father to perform at Armenian nuptials in Hollywood. When the bride found out there was going to be a belly dancer (oh, the horror!) she locked herself in the bathroom crying hysterically. Sheepishly, the groom’s father’s apologetic friend paid me… TO LEAVE!

I once did a fabulously huge, traditional Jewish wedding at the posh Bel Air Hotel, with flowing champagne, mountains of caviar, tuxedoed waiters and gorgeous decorations that were probably worth as much as the engagement ring. The bride and groom were being paraded around held aloft in chairs, towering dangerously above the crowd, who were all wildly dancing the Hora to a live Klezmer band. Everything was going off magically, without a single glitch… until a helicopter got tangled in some power lines about five miles away and wiped out electrical service in the entire area!

There were a few moments of pandemonium before hotel’s staff brought out candles and battery operated lanterns. The food had to be served immediately or it would have spoiled; the ice cream was melting before dinner was over, the deejay was sent home with half his pay. Thinking quickly, I asked the Klezmer band if they could play acoustically, and together we worked up an impromptu set of music I could perform to, by candle light....it was truly an unforgettable event!

When booking a wedding, try to find out as much about the event as possible, and try to discern your area’s the “going rate” for this type of performance- it varies widely, depending on who, what, where, when. Most importantly, if the bride or groom is hiring you, designate with them a contact person (a family member, close friend, caterer, deejay, etc.) who will meet you, as well show you where to perform and pay you. The bride or groom may think they will be able to handle these duties at the event, but trust me, they won’t! Whether it’s a casual wedding for a close friend of yours or a big gala you’ve been hired for, here are some things you should determine immediately:

LOCATION: Is it indoors or outdoors? Is it a club, hotel, recreation or reception hall or private home? Get the address, cross-streets, specific directions, on-site contact number (either the number of the place and/or a cell-phone number for someone in charge) and re-check them to be sure. Bring shoes you can dance in, since you will have no idea if the floor is clean, or if you will be dancing on grass, cement, tiles by a pool, or on a carpet. Determine if there is a place for you to change, or if they want you to show up in costume. Is there somewhere safe you can leave your belongings while onstage? Bring a cover-up in case you get cold. Find out where you can park, and if you will be able to get a validation or if you have to pay.

PERFORMANCE TIME AND PAYMENT: Make sure you set your performance time- exactly. You don’t want to think you’re going on at 9:00PM and then wait around until midnight. Get a specific time, confirm it- and your fee- a week or two before the event, then re-confirm a day or two before, and if you have any doubts, try to confirm the day of the show. It helps to be flexible, because these events don’t usually run on time- but we’re talking ten or fifteen minutes, not three hours!

If it’s getting late, pleasantly but firmly say you have another show, and be adamant about implying “ It’s now or never”! Make sure you and the client mutually agree to the length of the performance. You should negotiate payment BEFORE you accept the show, and it never hurts to have a contract! Get a deposit- trust me, the florist does…the band does… the caterer does! If the gig is coming from a trusted source, say a deejay or restaurateur you work with regularly; a contract probably is not necessary. But weddings are hectic, and somebody from the family or the event planner may not remember to confirm your appearance, so it’s up to you.

COSTUMING/MUSIC/ SHOW: Go over this in detail. Are you dancing to iPod, CD, or a live band? What sort of music do they play? What songs are in their repertoire that you know and can dance well to? What is the sound system like? There is nothing worse than music that is too low, especially if you’re in a big hall. Some wedding parties may not want you to wear a revealing cabaret costume, they may prefer something more covered up. Of course you must respect these wishes. There may be a specific color- theme they want you to match, they may want you to dance to a pre-arranged piece of music, which of course, you should be familiar with, whether it’s the couple’s “our song” or, say, traditional Persian wedding music. Do they want a full show, or just a few pop songs? Don’t say you’re familiar with a Moroccan folk dance or some other traditional thing if you are not, you will only disappoint your clients. Will there be audience participation? If so, it’s always best to start with pulling kids up to dance, as this is a crowd-pleaser and makes you seem more like a family-oriented performer, not some ‘sleazy seductress’. Though it might not be acceptable to dance around tables in a club, at weddings, it’s usually fine, it ups the energy. Don’t actively solicit tips. They will either tip you, or not. Some people feel this is tacky, and will discreetly inform you of this and possibly tip you later. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask (during negotiations) if this is a tipping situation, then you can adjust your price if it’s not. Are there other performers, such as musicians, other hired dancers, magicians, singers? Look over your performance space, you may be dodging floral arrangements, balloons, waiters, electrical cables and large video cameras mounted on tripods. Will you be doing a zeffah?

THE ZEFFAH: At many Arabic weddings, you might be asked to do a zeffah, instead of-or in addition to your regular show. This is a traditional Egyptian wedding processional. The zeffah dancer’s duty is to lead the bride and groom out for their first appearance as man and wife. Zeffah means, “procession with noise” and is usually done in a line, with multiple dancer zagareeting, playing cymbals and tambourines, leading in the bride and groom for their first appearance as man and wife. You can dance accompanied by music (there are many CD’s available with traditional zeffah songs on them) or just make a lot of noise with your cymbals.

When the couple’s names are announced and the music starts, simply make your entrance, with the bride and groom following, lead them around the dance floor a few times, plant the couple in the center, and dance around them, encourage them to kiss, hold hands, or dance together. Then lead them to their seats (sometimes up on a dais), seat them and have the dancers pose flanking them on each side, for a photo-op. People will probably be screaming and cheering. Raks shamadan (a dance involving a lit candelabras balanced on the heads) is a wedding tradition, dating back to Egypt in pre-electricity days, and part of the zeffah , but not absolutely necessary.

If you’ve never done shamadan before, a wedding is NOT the place to try it out! If you’ve performed it onstage, but not at a wedding - make sure you get permission from the venue where you’re performing to use open flames. If you can’t, use battery operated candles ( usually available at florists or party supply stores) but bear in mind that they are much heavier than real ones. Check doorways for clearance, have matches or a lighter on hand, steer clear of draperies, and don’t light up until you’re just about to perform. Avoid ceiling air-conditioning ducts. You can use “ dripless” candles, but once they’re on your head, and you’re moving, there is no such thing. Not only will ceiling vents blow your candles out, they will spray the melted wax all over your head!

Also, know that the bride and groom have probably never actually been part of a zeffah before, so you will very likely be directing them on what exactly they should be doing…and remember, they will undoubtedly be nervous, so spell it out!
It’s fine to talk to them and direct them, but remember it’s THEIR day- try not to steal their thunder, and make them feel comfortable, encourage them to have a blast!

These tips will help you in booking a wedding performance-so, have a great show, dodge those randy groomsmen, make lots of money, and don’t forget to say “ marhaba !” to the happy couple!

10 comments:

  1. Great post! Thanks for sharing you wealth of knowledge on your blog. I want to read more.

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  2. Wow! Thanks for sharing so many things that I've never even considered before. Great post!

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  4. That klezmer story should be a summer movie.

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