There are so many different types of professional belly dance gigs, not to mention the many variables within each kind of job, that it would be completely impossible to describe them all. Depending on where you live, and how much of a go-getter you are, you’ll probably have the opportunity to try your hand at some of these gigs. Here’s an overview of the most common belly dance jobs, so you can weigh the options and decide which of these venues would be right for you.
This article covers what will be expected at special one-off events that are larger than private parties, such as corporate shows, atmosphere or walk-around gigs, benefits and charity shows and lecture-demonstrations.
Corporate gigs are kind of like private parties- on steroids. As with a private party, the hired dancer will be doing a specially tailored show that’s not open to the general public, but instead of dozens of guests, there might be hundreds, and often the going rate is what you make it. A corporate gig isn’t merely an office party- it’s often a humongous affair thrown by a large corporation with a sizable budget. I have worked at many corporate gigs for major world-wide companies as well as attended a few as a guest, and lots of them are pretty extravagant!
That being said, of course there’s a range within the genre; some companies -and their social functions- are much smaller than others. But on the other hand, I also know dancers who, along with Arabic musicians and singer plus an assortment of other entertainers, who (with all expenses paid) were to the Caribbean on a private jet to work at a private corporation’s yearly retreat! On the flip side, there are many smaller “mom and pop” companies without luxury budgets. I’ve also known dancers who’ve been contracted by a corporate Human Resources Department to teach a weekly belly dance class as part of a company-wide employee wellness program.
I myself worked a corporate gig for one of the leading cigarette companies in the 1990’s. They were running an Arabian Nights-themed campaign, and wanted belly dancers. So in addition to performing a couple of times a week on these shows, I was also the liaison for hiring other dancers to appear and perform at clubs, concerts, outdoor events, and so on. I was paid a sizable monthly salary for this in addition to my performance fee.
When a company or corporation contacts you to do a show, treat it as you would any other gig- find out as much as you can about the job before mentioning your price. If the organization contacting you is a major corporation putting on a large-scale event, don’t even think of undervaluing yourself, set your prices accordingly.
Atmosphere and Walk-Arounds
For these jobs, the dancer is hired to set a mood or add to the ambiance instead of doing a traditional performance. This type of job often occurs at a large event with a theme, such as an “Arabian Nights”, “Under The Big Top” or “Ancient Egypt”. Sometimes, a belly dancer will be booked along with close-up magicians, acrobats, fortunetellers, or other variety artists and costumed characters. Often, dancers will be eye-candy, expected to greet guests at the door, mingle among the crowd in costume, stand by a trade booth or silent auction table handing out price lists, or moving around among seated guests stopping for mini- shows (done to background music) at every table.
Payment for this type of gig is usually based on an hourly or full-day/evening rate and dancers are usually hired more for their appearance rather than technique or talent.
Though atmosphere and walk-around jobs may seem relatively easy, they often require long hours standing around in costume, and it is usually not a tipping situation. Though these gigs are frequently one-off deals and don’t feature the dancer as anything other than a costumed character, many performers find that the occasional walk-around is a nice supplement to their income.
Benefits And Charity Shows
Benefits and charity shows are like many other gigs; they can be small and intimate, or very large, elaborate affairs. Sometimes, there is quite decent pay involved; other times, there might only be a small honorarium, and it all depends on the organization. Either way, once you have committed to a benefit show, you should treat it in the same way as you would any other gig: showing up promptly, acting professionally, and performing to the best of your ability.
If you are not getting paid for your work, ask if it’s possible for you to get a charity donation receipt from the organization- that way, at least you’ll get a tax write-off.
You can also work under the stipulation that you be featured prominently on press or promotional materials, and let the organizers know that you are available for interviews and photo ops- many publications jump at the chance to feature pictures of pretty women, so there’s a good chance you’ll wind up getting some press. Another thing to do in exchange for your services is to ask if you can have an ad placed (for gratis) in the program, if there is one. Also, make sure it’s fine for you to leave out promotional materials and hand out business cards… I have always gotten paying gigs from leaving my cards at charity gigs- and I’ve also been personally referred for other well-paying shows by the event planner who engaged me for the charity gig.
Often doing a benefit is a nice way for a dancer to give back to the community or contribute her time to a cause she believes in., but these gigs can also be a good way to network and get exposure.
I once danced without pay at a large-scale charity event held at a major film studio, and wasn’t expecting anything other than a night’s work. However, I not only met- and hung out in the dressing room with -some major household name celebrities ( Why hello, Sir Paul McCartney!) got three more paying jobs from it, and two months later, I got a call from a prime-time television show. Turns out they had taken film footage at the event, which included my dancing, and they wanted to use it on the show. Who knows how they tracked me down, but when I said yes, I was immediately issued a large check…. And over ten years later, I still get royalties from that show every time it airs!
Ok, I live in Hollywood, and admittedly this was an once-in-a-lifetime happy accident, but my point is that you never can anticipate what can come from accepting a high-profile gig, even if you are dancing without payment.
So weigh all the possible options and outcomes before accepting or declining a “free gig”- you never know what might happen!
Usually, this sort of job often comes through an organization that promotes the arts and/or cultural diversity such as a university, a women’s group, or through the public school system.
This educational “show and tell” style gig is tailored to be an educational experience for the audience. Your performance consists of sharing your own knowledge and specialties combined with public speaking; the demonstration portion could feature anything from technique for a certain type of dance, costumes and props, a full costumed performance, video or film clips or historical photos, often followed by a Q & A session with the audience. Sometimes these shows are aimed at children, in which case “audience participation” (like a lesson on veils or finger cymbals) always goes over well.
The amount of payment you receive is dependent upon who is hiring you, and usually cannot be negotiated- many schools or groups have a set budget intended for this type of presentation. However, some privately funded groups are able to pay you well for your time and expertise. In either case, this type of show is usually won’t interfere with your regular dance jobs and is great addition to your resume, as well as a way of educating the general public.