Dear Elder Dancers,
Please keep dancing. I equate you to cooking. When we first begin cooking, we have a mold/pan (the dance style), the recipe (the technique) and the seasonings (your style, emotion, and embodiment). At first, we stick to using the same pan and same recipe. It can take many years and many burnt pans to get better, but eventually we start to venture by adding our own unique seasonings to the recipe. Suddenly, there’s a unique dish that although is recognizable by all who enjoy it, it is uniquely our own. People can appreciate and remember your special dish because of the way it tasted to them. Your family may even pass it down from generation from generation. Those who follow the recipe might add our own seasonings to fit our unique palettes, but ultimately, the inspiration comes from those who created the original.
So please, keep dancing.
I’ve been watching a lot of you lately. Your presence embodies something that I yearn for, that I too want to embody. I want to know the secret seasonings but I want to pick my own mixture. The way you drop your shoulder towards the audience, the way you allow us into the conversation versus talking at us; you’re not trying to tell us how to enjoy the dance, you’re enjoying the dance and inviting in to enjoy it too.
So please, keep on dancing.
I hear you worry about still dancing publicly, whether you are too old, whether a few wrinkles spoil your show, or whether the younger dancer with “the look” might be better fit for the spotlight. But I watched you own your space, your dance, your lines, your emotions, and most importantly, your smile. Watching a dancer who has lived and embodied who they are, unapologetically, is one-million times more valuable and exciting to watch than a dancer who still follows the recipe.
So please, keep dancing.
We need to see our mentors owning aging, owning being human, owning the stages of life. When you worry, we worry. We try to cram as much dancing and events in “while we’re still in our prime” or before we become un-hirable for mainstream gigs instead of growing and learning. We become dancers, but not the dance. We become cooks, but not chefs.
Please keep dancing.
Continue performing for yourself, because only now do you have a beautiful, delectable, five-star dish. Continue performing for the audiences and younger dancers, for we will never know what good food is unless it is served to us by a chef that pours their heart and soul into their art. Please, fight for us too by performing, so when we get to the same level there is a platform to share our dishes with the generations to come.
So please, please keep on dancing.
As an event organizer, I often receive “cold call” emails from instructors who would like me to host them for a workshop, and nearly all of these requests go into the trash. This isn’t because I’m not interested or don’t want to host them, it’s because they didn’t take the time to show me why I should.
Here’s a typical email request:
“Hi, I’m lady Sparkle Pants from XYZ. I would love to come to your studio and teach. I’ve heard good things about your events, and I am booking my calendar for next year. Let me know if you would like to sponsor me for a workshop. My website is: mywebsiteisprettyandbragsaboutmyachievementsbutsaysnothingofwhatIcanshare.com.
Lady Sparkle Pants”
This year I’ve written several eBooks on the business side of dancing. It’s been fun combining my “day” job and “night” job into one. An interesting thing happened when I published my Workshop Hosting 101 eBook, which I created for dancers who wanted to become event hosts and organizers – dancers who wanted to travel and teach were buying it too.
Curious, I emailed a few of them and asked why. One dancer said she bought it to see what event organizers thought about when hiring dancers. Another said she heard the book had a section on media kits and wanted to make hers had everything it mentioned.
Check out the ebook here: http://raq-on.net/index.php/m-classes/professional-dancers.html
I recently asked a well-known dancer for her media kit. The answer I received: she could teach anything, just let her know what I would like her to teach, and she’d teach it. As an organizer, that doesn’t help me put together an event description or promotional material. As a workshop participant, I’m certainly not choosing an event without a description of what I’m going to get out of it.
Flash forward a few weeks later, and I’m talking with other event organizers who are also frustrated with the additional workload brought on when workshop instructors aren’t prepared. Providing low quality photos, spelling errors in workshop descriptions, or long winded bios that are off-topic are just a few of the areas sponsors struggle with.
Before social media and widespread internet availability, professional and aspiring dancers had media kits readily available. The artist was clear regarding what to use for promotional materials. Unfortunately, most dancers have not kept up with this easy “grab and go” style of media kits and instead simply refer you to their website, Facebook, YouTube, etc.
This is a personal pet peeve of mine and here’s why – a dancer’s site might include pictures or their Facebook photos could be tagged. If you find one that you like and use it, you have no idea if that photo is protected/copyrighted. If you use it on your flyers and marketing materials, you put yourself at risk for infringement and a lawsuit that could result in financial ramifications.
Event organizers and hosts want you to be successful, so help us help you by being prepared. Here are the top 5 items you should have in your media kit for your Event Organizer:
1. Provide a prepared, appropriate bio
Have multiple bios prepared-short bios, long bios, teaching bios, performing bios, lecturing bios, etc. Please don’t make us edit down a long bio. This can be incredibly frustrating when we are busy trying to make arrangements and planning for the event.
2. A variety of permissioned, high-resolution photos
We need a variety of photos depending on what you’re presenting or the marketing scheme of the event. Give us full body action and studio shots, headshots, photos with backgrounds that are easily edited out (a bonus if you do this for us!). If you are teaching a folkloric style or special topic, send us a photo of you in the costuming or styling. Make sure the photos you send are ones you have rights to and are non-copyrighted. There is nothing worse than spending a good deal of money on promotional materials, only to find an email from an angry photographer in your inbox.
3. Potential workshop topics and descriptions
Provide a list of workshop names and descriptions. Make sure they match what you’re actually going to teach and tell the attendees what they are going to get out go it. If it is a choreography workshop, please state so. Make your offerings unique, and let me know why I should hire you to teach it.
List the length of time needed to cover your material. I can’t count how many times I’ve said, “I like that, let’s do it!” only to have the instructor tell me it won’t fit into my general 4 hour workshop format.
4. Video & promotional materials
Send us your YouTube links, promotional reels, and clips of performances and/or teaching. These should support your overall package not take the place of. Be sure you are the owner or have permission to share these materials, as copyright issues are similar to photo rights. Let us know what items are safe to use.
5. Make your media kit accessible and easy to find
Create a page on your website, a private link, or make it downloadable or available by email/mail. I find ones that I can easily copy and paste from are the best. Here’s mine as an example: http://raq-on.net/index.php/booking/workshop.html
6. Bonus point items:
- State that you are insured (if you are)
- State that you have a contract available upon request (also state any special needs, accommodations, or requests)
- Let me know that you’ll provide your W-9 or foreign information upon request so I know that you are willing to be compliant with tax laws (Believe it or not, I’ve had this issue multiple times).
Let’s work together to make our events successful and fun for everyone!
I was 14 and enrolled in high school field hockey. I had a large chest that made running fast near impossible, and the day I had to sew two field hockey skirts together to fit in order to play was one of the lowest self-esteem days of my life. My body did not fit into the teenager mold.
Luckily, I stumbled upon a Belly Dancing class at the now-demolished Fountain of Youth in White River Junction, Vermont. The teacher, Alia Thabit, had the ladies walking as a group in a circle during warm-up.
These women, 2-3x my age, donned in workout wear, were stunning. These “everyday” women took my breath away with the joy on their faces and the carriage of their bodies. Their internal beauty pushed through dance movements and made them more beautiful than any face cream or diet fad ever could. That circle of women woke me up and snapped me out of a teenage stage of self-hate and constantly comparing myself to what the media wanted me to be.
Women of all shapes, sizes, and ages smiling, laughing, and walking with pride…mothers, daughters, grandmothers, cancer survivors, teachers, nurses, single, divorced, and married. Regardless of their background or abilities, they walked in that circle, accepting their physical state whatever form it took, and they were beautiful.
Raq-On Dance recently set up a booth at a trade show. Knowing this was not our normal market forte, we eagerly set up between satellite tv providers and garage door installers. We wanted to reach the average, every day woman and let them know there is a local place for them to come and feel good in the skin they’re in. Raq-On is different; we’re not plastered with extreme fitness posters or selling them something to “fix” like many gyms. There’s nothing to fix except our toxic mentality against ourselves.
Some women were so excited to see our colorful display and variety of offerings, we were greeted with excitement. Then there’s always the somewhat snarky, closed, “no way in hell would I try that” crowd. But the women in between these two groups is where my heart ached the most that weekend.
These middle of the road women who passed our booth reading our banner, expelled a gleam in their eye or a smile for a moment. For that moment they gave themselves permission, but only for a moment. Then those internal voices rolled over their joy like a steamroller;
“No, I’m too fat.”
“I’m too old.”
“I’m out of shape.”
“I am not a dancer.”
So you’re telling me, that only young, in-shape women are allowed to enjoy themselves? To dance? Tell that to the women of the circle…they would’ve laughed and danced even harder.
Have we body-shamed ourselves to the point that if we don’t have the characteristics fed to us by media and social standards, that we aren’t even allowed to move or do something enjoyable? Those photo-shopped cover girls aren’t even real or proportionate to their real owners! And what about the next generation that has seen how we’ve restrained ourselves?
Sometimes I wish that manipulated photos would come with a warning label like cigarettes because they are equally carcinogenic to our mental health and self-worth.
Ladies, please stop the self-hate. You are beautiful, capable, not too old, out of shape, or fat, and know that you are allowed to have fun and enjoy yourself. You are breathing; give yourself permission to live.
By Amity Alize
1. Give yourself time
When was the last time you heard a ballerina make principal dancer in year one? Just like any other dance style, this dance takes time to learn and engrain in your body. Enjoy the process just like the quote says: It’s not about the destination but the journey. You are learning how to control your body, working muscle memory, and gaining core strength- all things that are not only helpful in dance, but everyday life.
2. Make mistakes intentionally
Allow yourself to make mistakes. Heck, do it on purpose. Practicing mistakes allows you to laugh them off when they happen on stage instead of experiencing a deer in headlight moment. It also helps you find new movements, transitions, and weight changes you wouldn’t find in normal practice. Sometimes we end up with our weight on the wrong foot or our veil gets caught, it happens. A graceful dancer will laugh it off or make it part of the show.
3. Buy yourself a nice hipscarf and class outfit
This may sound materialistic but face it: when we feel good about ourselves we do better. Feeling the part makes us work harder and improve faster.
4. Set a practice schedule
Habits take practice. Even 30 minutes a day 3x a week will make you a better dancer and recharge your batteries for all other aspects of your life. Don’t practice the same things each time. Make yourself grow by trying new technique, music, or styles. Keep a notebook and record your trials and successes. Raq-On’s Dance Dynamic program and cards were originally created to make me step out of my comfort zone in manageable practice bits.
5. Bring a friend and be prepared to make new ones
One thing I never anticipated when I started dancing was the lifelong friends I’ve gained. You’ll never find a better group of women. Our ages range from 20s to 60s and it doesn’t matter; we’ll get in a car and head out on a weekend workshop road trip. We have different backgrounds, careers, and family obligations. We use each other as motivators and sounding boards without hesitation or fear. We laugh a lot.
6. Try different instructors
If you want to grow this is a must. Not one teacher will give you what you need. Sometimes one will explain something different enough to “click” for you. Each style and generation of dancer moves slightly different. Teachers who hold onto you and discourage this practice are probably insecure or could have their financial interests first before your growth as a dancer. Take classes with teachers of all styles, age ranges, and backgrounds. This can be done with ongoing classes, workshops, private lessons, online, or even dvds.
7. Invest in music
As a dancer your goal is to be a visual representation of the music; let the music go into your ears and out your body. Train in music just as much as dance technique and you’ll start to understand why we move the way we do. The best thing I ever did for myself was leave cd’s in the car. Drill a rhythm or musicality cd a week, switch to Egyptian, Turkish, Lebanese, or even break it down to 80’s week!
8. Go to performances and workshops
Visually inspect dancers and dissect their styles. Watch how they execute movements down to their weight changes, see how they interpret music, look at various body styles and how moves look differently on them. Find what you like and don’t like for yourself. Appreciate the variety. Workshops are meant to be a lot of information thrown at you in a short time. Take it home and dissect it. Things that may click now will eventually, and you will always have those notes to refer back to.
9. Find your learning methodology
Some dancers learn better visually, others by hearing, and more by doing. Good teachers can show the same technique in different ways to appease all learning styles. Find your learning style and take advantage of it whenever possible.
10. Allow yourself to have fun
This one may sound silly, but sometimes we are our biggest critics and need a reminder why we started in the first place. This dance style was originally a folk dance made by women for women as a celebratory dance-don’t lose that intention!
You know you are a Northeast Belly Dancer when:
- You rotate your costumes not for variety, but for each season (velvet for fall and winter, lycra or chiffon for spring and summer)
- You’ve done a cane or stick dance with your car’s snow brush
- “Layering” has a totally different definition in your dance
- “Aiwa!” has been replaced by “Ayuh!”
- You’ve left your zills, tray, or sword in your car only to find them tarnished from temperature changes
- There are scheduled breaks in dance workshops to shovel off your car
- You’ve performed in restaurants that offer both baklava and lobster
- Belly covers and arm coverings are a staple in your wardrobe for fall and spring outdoor performances
- You have attempted to line a two-piece costume with flannel
- You’ve swapped out leg warmers for Birkenstocks or wool socks
- You had to do dance class in jeans because you left your dance bag in your car all day car…in 30 degree weather.
I’ve been wanting to write a note about change, growth, struggles, and implications of being a dancer outside of the commercialized, highly-marketed appeal of rhinestones, glitter, and false eyelashes. It wasn’t until I saw this quote flash upon my facebook feed that I could find a way to verbalize it.
As with all arts, you have to be comfortable with your art. You have to have enough confidence and skills to complete your art. It has been said many times that to be an expert in something, you have to do it at least 1,000 times, 10,000 hours, etc. With Belly Dancing as a performing art, we have to be comfortable enough in our own skin to get on stage in front of people we may or may not know and let music come into our ears and out our body in a way that we are satisfied with.
However, being uncomfortable is what keeps us going, what motivates us to be better, and what constantly eats us alive. It’s ok to chew on your arm a little bit, because chomping lets you know that your arm is still there and so are you. It is painful however, it also helps you realize that maybe you need to stop eating your own arm and find another source of food.
There are times that I absolutely love this dance. Almost every spare moment I am doing something dance related. I would rather eat oatmeal for dinner if that means more time reading, watching, or doing dance. Then there are times I get so frustrated with it that I start yelling at my myself and those evil little voices start shouting “you’ll never be good enough,” “your arms suck,” or “you are just wasting your time.” These voices can be destructive, discouraging, and demotivating if you allow them to constantly chomp on you. You can however, harness some of them to your benefit.
It could be that I’ve been doing this dance for a while now, or that maybe now that I’m in my late 20’s, (or maybe I’ve just gone insane), but these little voices in my head I now listen to differently. They aren’t there to hurt, belittle, or crush my dreams. They are little minions of uncomfortableness, and I’m ok with being uncomfortable. I actually enjoy being uncomfortable. I listen to them, and then figure why they make me feel uncomfortable and practice being in that moment.
The problem is we live in a perfectionist, fast-paced, “want it now” lifestyle. If it’s not an app on our phone, a get-rich quick scheme, or a lose 15 pounds in 2 weeks program, we feel like failures. We are also highly judgmental of our entertainment. Look at celebrities; hell we have magazines dedicated to catching every single flaw. Why would we, as “regular” human beings, succumb ourselves to the same treatment by getting up on stage in front of a society that bashes someone who has porcelain veneers and a personal stylist?
Students come to me about 1-2 years in with the same little voices. “What am I doing here?” or “I still can’t shimmy as well as I want to and it’s frustrating.” I tell them it’s a positive thing to have these voices. It means that you have secretly pointed out to yourself goals and aspirations. These are the areas to allocate those 1,000 hours of practice to be an expert in rather than dancing safely in your home the same hip drops and arms you already have down. Be uncomfortable, enjoy being uncomfortable. There’s another quote, “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” Because honestly, once you are no longer uncomfortable with your undulations, you’ll find something else to be uncomfortable with. If you can’t enjoy being uncomfortable, then you are not going to progress as a dancer, or essentially anything else in your life. Being uncomfortable is not a bad thing; it is human.
Once you find your uncomfortable spots, it’s merely about obtaining tools to add to you hip belt.
Here’s some examples on how to work with being uncomfortable:
-Work on items piecemeal. If you build a house in one day, you will be tired and hate the final product. For example, each performance, I give myself a goal. One time it might be keeping my arms in new positions, incorporating one new technique item, looking at the audience more, or using a different floor pattern or dance dynamic. I then watch the video and see where I still felt uncomfortable and add that to the list of things to try next time. The first time I did this, my goal was to raise my arms above my head more. After watching the video, I did it 14 times in 3 minutes. A little excessive, it made me angry yet laugh, because at least I did it. Next time, I only did it 3 times.
– Allow yourself to make mistakes. It’s ok to stumble, mess up, or even fall. But be human. Make fun of yourself or the situation, smile, or laugh. People want to see your reaction when your heel broke; why not incorporate it into your act rather than pretending it never happened?
-Practice being uncomfortable. Go to your dance space and play music you have no idea how to dance to. Try a different dance style or type. Allow yourself to be a beginner again. In classes, I have students purposely have their veil misbehave. It falls on their face; they pull it off as if they meant to drop it there. The veil sticks to their hip belt, the veil turns into a knot; and magically they find a beautiful way to untangle it without showing an ounce of fret. They have worked their way through being uncomfortable so when it happens again, most likely on stage, they will be comfortable in an uncomfortable position.
-Learn in different styles. Some of us learn better visually, others by hearing, or even doing. Switch up the way you learn. Even try a different instructor. Listen to a DVD rather than watch or do.
-Allow yourself to be you. Sometimes it’s enough to just open ourselves to others.
How much does an event cost?
There are many approaches and opinions out there on how to host a workshop with an out-of-town dancer. Items that usually come into play include demand for a particular style of dance in the local area, travel distance, timing with other workshops, marketing, and much more. This mini-series is to assist those interested in hosting dancers get off on the right foot, (err, shimmy) in hosting events.
However, before you begin you need to find out if an event is feasible financially. I suggest not picking your dancer until you know how much of a dancer you can afford in your area. Maybe it’s because I’m an accountant in my “other” life, but budgeting should be number one. A plan is necessary for any successful type of business venture as well as something as simple as hosting a workshop. Note: if you’re planning on doing workshops to make money, you’re in it for the wrong reasons, especially in rural or oversaturated markets. Getting enough interest in your first workshops is no easy feat. With that being said, you cannot put a price on bringing the community together and having the opportunity to hang out with some a dancer you admire.
Here’s your reality check: most dancers charge $150-$250+ per teaching hour and anywhere from $150-$600+ for a performance in your show. Some dancers charge on a percentage such as 70% of workshop income (the guest dancer) and 30% (you the host, with expenses coming out of your share), 60/40, etc. Others charge a hybrid ($200 per hour, plus 60% over 20 dancers, etc.). In addition, the host usually covers all travel expenses (airfare, gas, train, etc.), lodging, and meals. Some others specify in their contracts specific flight types, certain food options, a personal assistant if he/she is selling items, and minimum number of days of rest for jet lag before the workshop.
ALWAYS make a budget. Writing your expenses down will give you a clear and realistic idea of what you should expect to cover for your event.
4 hours at $150 per $600
Performance fee $200
Hotel (two nights) $175
Meals (two days) $100
Workshop Space $200
Travel to airport & back $50
Event Insurance $100
Total Expenses $1,705
The next step is to look at your breakeven point. You breakeven point should be based on the average going rate for workshops in your area as well as the anticipated number of dancers you expect to attend. Always be conservative with this number.
Total expenses: $1,705
Number of dancers expected at workshop: 20 (be conservative)
Cost breakeven point: $85.25 ($1,705 divided by 20)
Will the market in your area bare 20 participants who are willing to pay at least $85.25 for 4 hours of instruction? That’s an average of $21.31 per hour of instruction.
Other items to consider in your budget:
Show income-will you be selling tickets? Do you need a separate performance venue? Lighting & sound system?
Vendor income-will there be a fee for vending at your event?
Online credit card fees (such as Paypal, EPay, etc.) if you accept payments online
This is just a basic example. What’ you don’t see here on the bottom line are the hours you will spend contacting dancers, marketing, answering emails/calls, setting up, picking up, and running around. Next time you see a workshop host, thank him or her; or maybe bring them some coffee or shot of their favorite drink to celebrate another successful event.
Coming soon Workshop 101 part II: Pre-event planning and checklist
Not knowing what the lyrics are saying when you dance is like potentially country line dancing to hip hop. Many songs sound happy, but may have religious, political, or sexual innuendos that you may not want (especially Shabbi music). Imagine, dancing to a song at a wedding gig that says albi, my heart, habibi, my darling, and you’re dancing and signaling “I’m so happily in love”, when in fact the song is saying, “you broke my heart I never want to see you again, I’m better off without you”. Yikes!
In addition, knowing the lyrics is another tool to add dynamics and texture in your dance. Below is a list of common words I’ve compiled over the years as a cheat sheet to help me- and I’m sharing it with you!
|Ana||ann-a||I or Me|
|Ana es me||Anna ess-mee||My name is|
|Alb, galb, halb||al-b, khalb||heart|
|Min-fadluk/min fudluck||min-fud-luck||I would like|
|Esayak/Esayek||Es-say-ack/es-say-ick||How are you?|
|Tamam||Tah-maam||I am fine|
|Ayoun||eye-youn||Pair of eyes|
|Bahebak-Bahebik||bah-heb-back/bah-heb-ick||I love you|
|Gamel, Gamil||ja-meal, gah-meal||Beautiful|
|Habibi/Habeeb, Habiba/Habibtee||hhah-bee-bee||Lover, my darling, oh baby|
|Roh||rrrough||Soul (upper belly)|
|ya||Yeah||O (get’s person’s attention)|
|Ya R’asanee||Rrraasa-knee||Dance for me|
|Ya-halelee||Ya-ahlaleigh||Oh the nights|
My favorite way to practice is to take note cards and put the Arabic term on one side and English on the other. Hint: most songs sing in the masculine form of each word out of cultural courtesy. I also listen to CD’s in my car (see resources below).
Additional resources for you:
Shira has a wonderful resource of song translations (and pretty much everything else!)
If you are a visual learner, Leyla Lanty’s Habibi You Are My What? DVD
My favorite multi-CD set that I use in my car for conversational Arabic is called “Arabic on the Move”, which is now only available on Kindles, but sometimes on Amazon a used copy comes up.
Your local bookstore has many introduction to Arabic language books available at low cost. Make sure they are Egyptian or Conversational Arabic; most songs follow this rather than other versions taught in most colleges and universities. This other issue is like most Western Music, it is sung in slang.
As this year winds up, it’s time to reflect on 2011 and set your dance goals for 2012!
When it comes to your personal dance world, the word “life” can be substituted with “dance” in the following quote: “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Just as individuals burn out on many fitness goals by February, the same can happen with dance!
~Set small, manageable goals. Watch one video a week, practice 15 minutes three times a week outside of class, move your arms in different pose to a song each day, or even work on one costume an hour each week while watching TV.
~Self-evaluate. What do you do well, what needs work? Pick a few items and conquer! Find dancers to watch/learn from that will help you overcome your weaknesses. This is a great idea if you feel overwhelmed with the mass amount of dance workshops, classes, online media, and activities available to you; pick more events that help you improve weak areas.
~Tell someone! Having a support group or at least vocalizing your goal to others makes you more apt to do it!
~Work goals it into your classes, performances, and practice. If your goal is better arms, why not work harder in class holding your arms up in stronger or new positions (the way you practice is the way you perform). Next time you’re dancing, focus more on one specific problem move, technique, or position.
~Keep a dance journal. Bring it to classes, workshops, and even performances. Write down things you want to work on and open it up when you need new challenges.
~Don’t forget to leave time for you. Leave yourself a sticky note on the fridge, program time into your calendar, set a reminder on your phone. We all are busy, and the first thing that usually goes is time for you!
As part of your 2012 goal making, Raq-On is here to support you:
~In January we’ll have a goal board at the studio in which those who wish to take the challenge will write their name and goal on the board for the year. The goal doesn’t come down until it’s achieved! It doesn’t matter what style of dance you do, whether or not you take classes at Raq-On, or if you have even stepped into the studio before, stop on by and commit to dance in 2012!
~Create your own support group and rent the private lesson room and meet once a month. For example, for $5 a month (the cost is $15/hr) you and two of your fellow dancers can work on shimmies or watch one of over a 100 DVD’s of your favorite dancers! Still need help? Schedule a small group lesson on a specific topic.
~Request specific topics in January. Every January we take time to go over your goals for the year. Start brainstorming!