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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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:


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:

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:


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 Feb 2015

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