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Meanderings on the State of the Dance Economy: Rhinestones and Steroid-Induced Marketing

 

Meanderings on the State of the Dance Economy: Rhinestones and Steroid-Induced Marketing

I think we’ve successfully replaced the misguided orientalist  titles like, “Lady Desert Nile Princesses” and “Harem Nights with Lady Blinky Butt of the East!” Yahoo! However, I think we’ve missed the boat by replacing them with poor superlatives that misdirect the soul of this dance:  “#1 International Champion of Champions”; “The instructor of the decade! If you don’t study with this person you’ll never be a true professional,” or “”Most rhinestone studded in the area to dazzle all!”

Why, is the dance business taking this direction in marketing?  Perhaps this logic is driven by show promoters trying to differentiate themselves from other talent. I’ve heard Event Promoters say people won’t come to events without a performance opportunity or a competition to participate in. Perhaps dancers trying to “make it” feel the need to add kitsch to their name to propel ticket sales and dance resumes. Must have more flair! Fellow dancers, we are shooting ourselves in the foot and limiting our own personal growth!

The Belly Dance market is pretty big. There’s a lot pulling dancers in various directions-styles; in person classes, events, festivals, online classes, DVD’s, private lessons, and more. But let’s remember one fact: 90% of dancers who LOVE this dance, are hobbyists. They are going to enjoy events that provide an environment that allows them to absorb the atmosphere and have fun. Everyone wants to be the best for themselves, but not necessarily at the same level of a professional (which in itself is a very broad term). We need serious students and hobbyists in order to survive, and to create a healthy dance economy. Just the same as we need professionals to share their knowledge for all of us to grow.

Let’s  step out of the dance world for a minute, and look at this situation in by comparing it to another art form-painting. Think of the Sip and Paint phenomenon and the revival of interest in painting. These sip-n-paint events are  supporting and allowing painters to do what they love, while inspiring a whole new generation of painters. Painters are not advertising, “Paint with the Picasso of USA!”, “Sip-n-Paint Competition!” “Best Sip and Paint: The Only One You Need  to become a Rembrandt!” People attend these sip-n-paint sessions because it provides the opportunity to try a new skillset – or enhance and one that hasn’t been touched for years.  Painters are  advertising a safe place to explore all talent with a knowledgeable person (not to mention while partaking in a glass of vino!), Artists are selling the experience, not just the outcome, and students are enjoying the creation of their own successes – in a non-judgmental atmosphere. Some may become famous painters from their newly found hobby, but most just want an escape from daily chores and life for a few hours. They still find value and personal fulfillment in painting. If the teacher is good and provides the right environment, participants will bring friends and the teacher’s success happens naturally through their skill, and not marketing.  

Advertising that focuses on objective superlatives can hinder, rather than help a dance instructor.  I recently had a conversation with a well-known, successful, dancer who tours internationally. She was attacked because an event promoter billed her as  “the best.”  Other dancers instantly attacked her; how dare she consider herself the best? Who does she think she is? She was blasted for something outside of her control, embarrassed and shamed publicly. Eventually she had to ask the promoter to change the marketing to avoid further damaging harassment. We – as promoters and show organizers, shouldn’t treat our mentors, those who have put in the time and effort and sacrifice and are willing to share their knowledge, like this.

Situations like this can easily be avoided by honoring a dancer’s skillset in other ways.  Let’s refer to our beloved dance as something that is precious, in order to show new generations that we respect our professionals for their knowledge and skills. We have much to gain in replacing  words such as “top,” “champion,” “winner,” “the best,” in our marketing. Let’s replace these words with “internationally loved,” “national treasure,” “acclaimed,” “taught by the famous,” “highly regarded”, or “respected.”   

I frequently hear from my students and dance colleagues of different levels, how some events are scary, overwhelming, competitive, and not the environment they need to grow.  Most are scared away by a simple overproduced event flyer. Flyers with 20 dancers on them, perfectly photo shopped, in intimidated-albeit beautiful-costume bling. The same thing that happens in magazines geared toward perpetuating the “idea of the perfect…” is happening to dance event promotions. People are instantly intimidated, scared that they don’t fit the mold, aren’t  good enough, and give up before even reaching out to try.  Dancers are the most interesting and accomplished people I know. Why not market your dancers and events to sell what they have to offer, versus just telling someone that they need to be there for the event of the year? 

I hear often too that in order for belly dance to survive, we need to take it to the same level as western dances, that to  be respected, we need to “elevate” the dance. We can elevate it in many ways; by taking a more academic approach,  preserving the culture, preserving a moment in time or capturing a historical moment, etc. We can also change our marketing to focus on the benefits and outcomes of the dance vs. selling it as something that we can conquer or win. We can welcome people to be a part of the belly dance or MENA dance experience; just like its own folkloric roots of dancing together in a living room or at a social event.  We can be the best ambassadors of this dance, by sharing it with others through performance and education – on a big stage or in a small studio. It’s the act of inclusiveness, sharing one’s love of the dance that will naturally lift it in the eyes of the world; not by stating it is the best.

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Year in Review: 2016

 

As I was thinking back through 2016, I realized why December felt so empty: we didn't have to build a new studio! Technically, we have built studios in December/January for the past 3 years (added the addition to the Lebanon location in 2013, moved to WRJ in 2014, and moved again unexpectedly in 2015.).

One thing due to the craziness of 2014/2015 I missed was being a student. My number one priority was getting back into classes. I was able to take classes, intensives, workshops, and private lessons with Nourhan Sharif, Katia, Shadia, Yasmina Ramzy, Alia Thabit, Katerina Shereen, Roxanne Shelaby, Phaedra, and more! One of my favorite things is to sneak into others Beginner Classes and just soak up being a baby belly again! I also attended close to a dozen shows just as an audience member, and many with live music. One of my favorites was OPA, created by the triple threat dancer/singer/comedian, Aurel.

We hosted our annual Shimmyathon and welcomed 7 instructors from all over New England and put on one heck of a show! We hosted 2 roundtables: One on the history of Belly Dance and Fusion Family Tree, another with Sufi and Religion in Dance vs. Theatrics and Theraputic Abilities of the dance. We also hosted Phaedra of Boston for Workshops and performances.

I was invited to perform at Shalimar's Show at Marco Polo Restaurant in CT twice, a crazy fun summer Birthday Party Celebration for Duncan,  Hannah's Crazy Foam Birthday Bash on the Cape, Goddess Rising in southern VT, Bellies and Brew hosted by the ladies of Eidetic in MA, Performed for most likely the final time at Karoun restaurant before it closes with the Fred Elias Ensemble. We even saw dear Freddie Elias retire in the most killer live music and dancing night for the books. I taught at Rosa’s Noreen’s Bright Star World Dance in Maine, North End Studio in Burlington, VT, and in a couple other states too for private groups. I performed at Sue’s Cairo Cabaret and danced at family events and celebrations that always inspire me to be a better dancer. I’ve been kind of in hiding as a performer the past few years, I am thankful to have had these wonderful venues to reinvigorate and to inspire me to perform more in 2017.

I also did a super fun photo shoot with Peter Paradise Michaels, and with the help of the Lovely Sahina!

The Studio Performing Troupe, the Raq-ettes were on fire this year! In addition to our annual student showcase, they performed at Puppets in Education Gala, Open Fields Renaissance Festival, Marco Polo (some making their first Restaurant Show Debut!), various haflas, and more! Most importantly, their performances helped raise over $3K in VT for Syrian Refugee Resettlement.  I am so proud of them and their continuous growth into not only budding performers, but responsible dance community members that contribute back to the art and culture of which we borrow this wonderful dance from.

 

Which leads me to thanking everyone who supports our events, who dances with us, and continues to root us on from afar. We are so thankful for all of you! So here’s to 2017, which promises to be another busy year with new students, offerings, classes, research, special events, new Raq-On intensives, and more!

Amity Alize

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5 Ways to Avoid Stigmatizing Belly Dance and Help Elevate the Dance Community

 

5 Ways to Avoid Stigmatizing Belly Dance and Help Elevate the Dance Community

Sometimes dancers get so busy branding themselves that they don’t realize some of their choices may actually be toxic to our little 'ol dance world.

 

1. Stop friending everyone who requests it on Facebook and other social media sites.

Somehow, we’ve been groomed to think that having professional photos and 5,000 followers on social media makes us professional dancers. However, it’s actually knowing our material and sharing it with the right audiences that qualify us as professional. Social media is only one way to advertise, and with Facebook’s newer algorithms, our audiences of who we want to see our posts has changed. Let’s face it; we do not have a positive rapport to many Arab men (or Western men at that). Those of us who dance fight an uphill battle to be respected for talent, not tits. Many of us receive messages, love letters, and sexual requests on an ongoing basis. If you wouldn’t friend someone you know who might make such sexual advances, why would you do so for a complete stranger? These creepers are praying on you, your photos, and your self-respect. Click unfriend and block. Send a clear message that you are to be respected as a dancer and as a human being, not some kind of cheap thrill.

2. Understand that pride and feminism works in multiple ways; know your audience and understand that there are multiple viewpoints.

Part of what makes belly dancing a struggle is that both Eastern and Western cultures have to be/are represented and yet be respected simultaneously. Sometimes this line can be as clear as mud. For example, a money shower in some cultures is seen as a traditional sign of respect and love for a dancer; however, westerners may associate that same money shower with strippers. Or take our costuming, as an example. Some women cover up in order to be respected, whereas others might show a bit of skin as an empowering political statement showing ownership and power over their bodies, especially in cultures where women are frowned upon for showing such pride. Know your audience and adjust your choices based on what you think will bring respect to not only you, but to the culture, the audience, and the dance. 

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3. Choose performance opportunities wisely

I often hear dancers say that we’re not respected as much as other art forms. Remember that this dance was originally folklore performed behind closed doors and at celebrations. It was never meant to be put on stage. Then came Western and European Orientalistic fantasies, Hollywood cinema, and Vaudeville.  The industry wanted money .Those who loved this dance wanted to see it on the same stages as black and white movies featuring Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers.  These warm hearted-elders wanted to elevate the dance. Most of them are older and poor but have a legacy.

Ask yourself, do you want this dance to feed your soul, or feed your belly?

It’s not always about the money. It is damn hard these days to make a living as a dancer, but it always has been. Would you rather be known as a dancer who made a living dancing every Thursday and Friday Night at hookah bars, or a dancer who performs less, but has earned the respect and honor of his/her peers and the cultures he/she represents?

I’m not sure how we ended up dancing in hookah bars between the baklava and hummus, instead of upstage by the band in a more elevated format, but either way, where we perform does impact how people see us. If we only dance for entertainment and not as an art form, we are doomed to judgment just like those in gossip magazines-by our looks, what we wear; and not our talents or knowledge. Or, we could set the tone by providing history and information where we perform. Provide programs, brochures, or informative cards on the tables during Haflas, recitals, or other entertainment venues. (hint: the kind of people you want in your class pay attention to this type of memorabilia more than a simple, pretty business card). The dance doesn’t have to lose the interaction and ceremony of its origins. Look to those who have tried to elevate the dance through performances of caliber such as Yasmina Ramzy, Sahra Saeeda, Cassandra Shore, Mahmoud Reda, Jillina, etc.

 4. Educate yourself. Learn folklore, culture, music, and history.

There is so much more to this dance than sequined costumes, technical movements, and performance opportunities.

Let’s take an example. You are American. You associate your culture/expression with Hip Hop music and and dance culture. You bring your friends with you to a restaurant because you are so excited to share your culture with them. Or maybe you are bringing your family for entertainment to this venue as you have moved to another country and you miss home. You are excited to share your culture with others.

Imagine going to this restaurant/venue/show where someone comes on stage coined as an American Hip Hop Dancer. They come on stage, have some of the moves, and some of their costuming makes sense, but when the music plays - it’s country-western! The dancer may have a fabulous stage presence and great technique, but to those in the audience expecting a hip-hop act, it feels out of place and possibly even disrespectful. It just doesn’t make sense – no matter how artistic the interpretation- to you. Would you come back? Would you bring friends?

Imagine you keep trying to find a show with real hip hop, because it reminds you of home and your culture. Each show you go to only has a 5% resemblance to your image; would you get frustrated, stop looking, and recommending people to go out and see these? When other people clap and cheer in a room for them, would you shudder and wish you could show them what real hip hop looked it? Wouldn’t you start to even to not like these groups? What would you do if you asked the dancers why they don’t dance to hip hop music although they are coined hip hop dancers, and they said it’s because there are too many rules and it doesn’t fit their own artistic expression?

When the cultural traditions, expectations and understandings are blurred, it causes a rift in respect between cultures and those parts of the community whose folklore is being misunderstood, are inevitably going to feel a bitter resentment towards those who try to change something that isn’t theirs to change.  When we don’t respect the history/culture, we lose the respect of the people. When we lose the respect of the people, we lose our audiences. When we lose our audiences, we lose our venues.

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5. Give back to the dance community. Don’t be a dance and ditch diva.

We can’t always be performing in the “limelight,” otherwise, there would be a stage full a performers with no music, no lighting, or no stage technician. There’s an illusion in the dance world that all you need to do is show up, doll-up, and dress up. Somehow our sparkly costumes, perfectly-placed eye shadow, and false lashes have masked the hours and effort of work that takes place before any performance.  

I gained a lot by observing and helping my elder dancers with events. I learned the ins and outs and the what to dos and what not to dos. I also learned a negative side of the dance world-watching dancers come merely for the opportunity to perform, but never give back to the dance community. In 15 years of dancing, I’ve never asked to perform in a show, restaurant, or venue; I have to turn down opportunities. I firmly believe this is because I learned the importance of giving back and sharing resources. When people organize an event, they know they can count on me not just to perform, but to pitch in.

Offer to help at any event. Put out chairs, take tickets at the door, or help vendors set up. Offer to do tech, sound, or stage managing. Share events, even those events you are not even attending or part of. Do things without having to be asked. We are a team; a very small team of committed individuals. When one prospers we all prosper.


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Making a Positive Impression on Event Organizers

Making a Positive Impression on Event Organizers 

 

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.

Thanks,

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/store/ebooks-for-professional-dancers

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 persnal 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/hire-booking/workshops

 

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!

 

Amity Alize

Originally posted on Raq-On.net Feb 2015


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Dear Elder Dancers

 

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.

~Amity Alize


Originally posted on raq-on.net on 2/1/2015

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Time to shimmy in the new year!

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!

 
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