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Tips For Bellydance Performers

Getting the show on the road:

  • Never accept shows that you’re not comfortable doing. If you get a funny vibe from the person on the phone and your instinct tells you that something's not quite right, politely tell them that you're booked out.

  • Set your prices according to the industry standards of the time. If you undercut other performer's prices, you might get more jobs, but you'll lose credibility among your colleagues.

  • State your payment procedure and cancellation policy on your website.

  • When you get potential clients trying to beat your price down, firmly but politely explain to them that yours is a business like any other, and for fairness to everyone your prices are the same for all.

  • Be sure to sign a copyright agreement for any professional photographs you get done for your business cards and website.

  • Create a checklist for performance nights to make sure you always take everything you need.

Costume talk:

  • As a performer, your feet are one of your most valuable assets, so protect them with ballroom dancing shoes. Almost all costumes will go well with platinum (pale gold) coloured ones.

  • Buy coarse sandpaper from a hardware shop to scrape off the dirt that accumulates on the soles of your performance shoes. I advise that you scrape before each show because when they're dirty they're slippery.

  • Costume malfunctions have been known to happen, so put extra clips and fasteners at every opening point of all of your costumes.

  • Costumes should be well-fitting, professional, and not too revealing (honestly, bum and boobs pouring out of your costume is NOT a good look. Ever).

  • Leg hair and armpit hair are NOT part of any Bellydance costume. Get rid of it.

Zills:

  • Zills are an important part of being a Bellydance performer so you must learn to play them.

  • Playing zills as you dance means you're truly part of the music you're dancing to, because you're not only making the music visible with your body but also taking part in creating it. Learn to play zills and use them in your shows.

  • Also learn to play zills while you're holding your veil. Here's how you do it: rather than holding the veil between index and middle fingers, hold it with the ring and pinky fingers instead. That way your middle fingers and thumbs can play zills. You won't be able to do any complicated veil work when you use veil with zills but it's a good skill to have and use during performances.

  • Another reason to learn zills is that they're handy for creating music to dance to if the sound system either isn't loud enough or breaks down mid-show.

Essential purchases for a performer:

  • Zills, stick, veil, wings, fan veils, tambourine, sword.

  • Professional business cards.

  • Stage makeup.

  • Portable mini makeup kit with mirror.

  • Dance stockings.

  • Performance bag.

  • A hairpiece (unless your natural hair is right for the stage).

  • Two galabeyas (one for winter and one for summer).

  • CD booklet (while we use iPods these days, it's wise to take CDs for backup).

Suggested show structure:

  • NOTE: Before going on stage, get staff to put your props somewhere easy for you to access.

  • Dynamic and attention-grabbing entrance piece.

  • Upbeat song/s for audience participation.

  • Dancing with whatever props your client has requested.

  • High energy drum solo.

  • Short finale to dance your way off stage.

  • NOTE: leave your props on stage and ask the staff to bring them to you.

Smelling the part:

  • Shower before the night's performing so that you're smelling and feeling fresh, but don't wash your hair as it sits better when it’s not squeaky clean.

  • Raw onions and garlic are OUT on the day of your show. You might not be kissing your audience, but you will need to speak to at least one person that night, and if your breath smells like it comes from the bowels of hell, then you can rest assured that you won’t be asked back to that venue to perform.

  • Take deodorant and breath-freshening spray to use before going on stage.

  • Take a small towel for wiping off sweat between shows.

Dressing the part:

  • Be completely dressed for your show except for your skirt - which goes into your performance bag - and instead wear dance pants (ones that won't mark your waist).

  • Wear a galabeya on top of it all.

  • In cold weather, also wear a button-up shirt and cardigan underneath your galabeya (or any warm clothing that comes on and off without messing up your hair or smudging your makeup).

  • In the venue's change area, keep your galabeya on for modesty while you change into your skirt.

Getting to your show:

  • Arrive at the venue ten or fifteen minutes before the start time of your show. Lateness is NOT fashionable. On a business level it's unprofessional, and on a personal level it's just plain rude.

Just before you go on stage:

  • Ask the staff to put your props somewhere that will be easily accessible during your performance.

  • Check your costume to ensure all clips are clipped and all zips are zipped.

  • Confidence is good, egomania is not. You're only as good as your last show, so make every show the best one you've done so far.

Body carriage is all-important for grace and fluidity. Remember to keep:

  • Ankles strong with feet massaging the floor as they move.
  • Chest gently lifting and shoulders drawing down.
  • Arms in elegant curves with fingertips relaxed but alert.
  • Chin slightly raised and the crown of the head drawing up.

Safety on stage:

  • Sometimes people get up to dance with you without your invitation. For safety's sake it's important that you put a stop to this and hold the space as your own. The person in question could be completely harmless, but you don't want to give the message to someone in the audience who's not harmless that anyone else is in charge besides you.

  • However, you must get the person off the stage in a polite way. Do it like this:

    • Dance with them ever so briefly (a few seconds will do).

    • Stop dancing, thank them with a big smile, and clap for them.

    • Use your best game show host arms to show them that it's time for their grand exit, and clap them as they go back to their seats.

    • Start dancing again.

  • This makes it clear that you, not the audience, are in control of the situation and that boosts your level of safety during the show. As soon as the control is out of your hands, things can get out of hand, so keep safe by holding your space and controlling what goes on during your entire performance.

  • There are exceptions to the above: sometimes your audience is just plain festive - they're not being sleazy, and they're not out-of-control drunk, they just love to dance and everyone wants to get up and boogie. Really, you need to use your instincts to judge what's best to do or not do, but at least you now know (via the above step-by-step) how to regain control if an audience member tries to take over the show.

Adding texture to your show:

  • Use the whole stage by travelling:

    • Backwards.

    • Forwards.

    • Sideways.

    • Diagonally.

    • In a zig-zag pattern.

  • Remember to alternate between:

    • Moving about, and being stationary.

    • Spreading yourself out, and staying in a small space.

    • Accented techniques, and smooth techniques.

    • Powerful movements and soft movements.

    • Dynamic movements and introverted movements.

  • Add more variety by:

    • Changing height (ie. going onto demi pointe, or into pliť).

    • Layering techniques with a hip or shoulder shimmy.

    • Varying arm positioning and arm movement.

    • Facing different directions.

    • Doing turns to break things up visually.

Quick tips for the stage:

  • A good rule of thumb for new performers to remember is: if in doubt, do a figure eight or a shimmy. One of those two will definitely suit the music and will tide you over until you get back on track.

  • When not playing your zills, stop unnecessary dinging by placing your index finger underneath the middle finger zill (so that you're sort of crossing your fingers). That will keep one zill away from the other and stop random dinging until you're ready to play again.

Going from show to show:

  • Be super-careful going from car to venue and venue to car.

  • Sometimes you'll be late for shows for reasons beyond your control (eg. traffic, being stopped for random breath testing). Venue owners might freak out about it, but don't speed or break the road rules or endanger yourself in any way to try get there quicker. No performance is worth dying for.

  • If you're doing three or more shows in a night, take snacks and drink with you. For minimal mess and maximum nutrition and hydration, take: water, pure fruit juice, nuts, seeds, grapes, berries, bananas, and crackers.

Keeping your self esteem in tact:

  • Take sweeping compliments like “you’re the best dancer I've ever seen” from audience members and venue owners with a grain of salt. Smile, enjoy the compliment, thank them graciously, and move on. Being hostage to sweeping praise (or sweeping criticism for that matter) is harmful. It’s merely an opinion - an individual’s version of the truth which can (and does) change. For your own sake, don’t rely on the shifting sands of opinion to define you as a dancer.

  • While it's easy to enjoy shows when the audience reacts with enthusiasm, don't depend on that for the vitality of your show. Audiences can be as unpredictable as the weather, so relying on them for how well you perform is a mistake. Being a professional means putting on your very best show no matter how the audience does or doesn't respond.

Leaving the venue:

  • Get the staff to retrieve your props from the performance area.

  • Be sure to take your music (ie. CD or iPod) with you.

At home, just after the show:

  • It's important to dry your hair after shampooing it - in my experience, going to sleep with wet hair can result in a stiff neck and/or headache the next day.

  • Don't just fold your costume up and put it away - hang it up and air it out at least until the following morning.

  • Performing is hungry work, but try not to eat too much after you get home.

During the week after the show:

  • Send a thank you email to the people who hired you to dance at at their function. Not all that many dancers do this (I know I certainly didn't in my early years - it simply never occurred to me). Doing it will display how courteous and professional you are and put you in a league above the average dancer.

Other dancers:

  • Be careful who you choose to befriend among other performers.

  • If you're lucky enough to find an experienced performer who's willing to mentor you, listen to what she has to say by way of advice so that you can learn from her mistakes and successes.

  • If you become a mentor to a new performer, don't be surprised if you have the unhappy experience of having your mentee turn her back on you when feels she no longer needs you. It happens all the time.

  • If you encounter nastiness from another performer, don't retaliate. She is clearly insecure, so walk away and let her wallow in the filth of her own meanness - you don't want to be down in that swamp of malevolence with her.

  • Remember what it's like to be new in the industry and give new dancers a chance when it's you who's experienced and them trying to get a start.

  • Don't join in on conversations where divas are showing off about how many zillions of shows they do. Stay away from such insecure interactions.

  • Warn other dancers of any perverts that you might encounter.

  • When a dancer doesn't return your call after you leave a message about a gig, give her another chance. But if she does that twice, cross her off your list of dancers to call. If someone can't pick up a phone to let you know whether they can do a gig or not, they not only don't deserve you to pass on gigs to them but you can't possibly trust them to reliably turn up to the gig.

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SAY NO TO PUPPY MILLS! SAY NO TO ANIMALS IN PETSHOPS! SAY NO TO BREEDERS!

Adopt a homeless animal instead - they all deserve a second chance

It's estimated that 130,000 dogs and 60,000 cats are killed every year in Australia because there are not enough homes for them all. And the global numbers amount to millions upon millions every single year.

Puppy mills are a major contributor to the terrible problem of overpopulation. Puppy mills are essentially 'dog factories' where dogs are forced to churn out litter after litter, with no thought for the welfare of the dogs and all thought for profit. The dogs live in appallingly dirty, cramped conditions all their lives, and when they no longer serve their purpose they're killed, dumped or sold to vivisection laboratories.

Petshops fit into the picture because puppy mills are generally where petshops get their animals from. Furthermore, having animals in shop windows encourages impulse purchases, and adding an animal to your family should be a conscious, careful decision - NOT one to be made while shoe shopping.

Breeders contribute enormously to the tragic statistics above too. And it doesn't matter whether they're professional breeders or backyard breeders, and whether they breed for profit or not, because while there are homeless animals sitting on death row in shelters, any and all animal breeding is utterly irresponsible.

Now, here's where you come in. You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. You can either buy animals from puppy mills, petshops or breeders and be part of the problem. Or you can adopt from a shelter or rescue organisation and be part of the solution.

If I haven't convinced you, visit your local shelter to see the homeless animals. Let their innocent faces convince you that adopting is the only responsible choice to make.

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