I've had a few gig experiences lately that have been…well, okay, but not optimal. It struck me that there are a few things people ought to know when the hire a belly dancer for their event. Here are a few Do's and Don'ts so that you and your guests can get the most out of your live entertainment experience.
DO: Remember that show is for everyone! Yes, it's Uncle Joe's birthday party, and you hired a belly dancer, however, a professional dancer will be entertaining everyone in the room, not just the birthday boy (for convenience, I'm going to say "birthday boy," but this could be a female too). Sometimes I'm hired for a birthday party and they expect me to stand directly in front of Uncle Joe and only engage him. Well, my show is usually about 20 minutes long. That is a really, really long time to stand in one place and interact with just one person (who is probably pretty surprised and now put "on the spot") to the exclusion of all the other guests. Boring, too!
Here's a good analogy: If you were at a lunch or dinner in honor of a person, everyone would expect (and be expected) to eat. You wouldn't go to a restaurant for someone's birthday party and watch the birthday girl or boy eat while having nothing yourself, would you? I wouldn't like to be the only one eating if I were in a restaurant surrounded by well-wishers watching my every bite; I'd be uncomfortable, and you would be too.
Don't: Keep pointing the dancer back toward the guest of honor every time they turn their show toward the other viewers. A professional entertainer wants to be gracious to everyone at the party. The person who hired the dancer spent a good chunk of change in an effort to make this event special, so let that professional work the room and let everyone in on the fun! If the other guests are having a good time, then the guest of honor will be having a good time too. When the dancer is engaging and interacting with the other party-goers, it takes the pressure off the birthday boy a little, which might be a good thing.
DO: Pay attention! In this age of instant, electronic entertainment on your phone, laptop, and TV, we all get used to tuning things out even if we don't turn them off. An entertainer, however, is a live, breathing human with needs like yours. It may appear to be casual, festive entertainment--and it is--but the performance they give is also a unique, one-time showing of a special skill this person has taken years to develop. That performance is also very expensive! Relative to the costs of recorded entertainment, the show you're seeing is many times more costly, and it's done just for you. It will never happen again, ever. Show your host, your guest of honor, and the entertainer the respect of paying attention to what they are doing.
Don't: Sit there like a stone, not moving! No one expects or wants you to sit perfectly still like you're at Carnegie Hall. It's a party! Drink your cocktail, talk a little, laugh, and have a good time.
DO: Interact with the dancer! He or she doesn't bite, and the intention isn't to embarrass you. Part of the dancer's job is to bring up the energy level and participation of the event; let them do that. If you absolutely can't or won't dance a little bit, then step out and clap along enthusiastically while the dancer does his or her thing for a few seconds. It'll show your participation and appreciation for what they're doing without going "out on a limb" if you're shy. Professional, experienced entertainers become very sensitive to people's comfort levels, and they will let you off the hook after only a few seconds, trust me. If you participate, even if only a little, it reflects well on the dancer and your host/hostess.
DO: Make sure you have enough room for a show. One reason for the popularity of Belly Dance as party entertainment is that it can go almost anywhere. It is, however, still a physical art form that requires some room to travel and has some wonderful dynamic changes that make the dance special. Expecting an entertainer to perform for 20 minutes standing virtually in one place is cheating yourself and your guests out of experiencing much of what the dance has to offer. Even modest spaces can have enough room if you're creative, and a skilled dancer can make the most of it, so give him or her a chance to show off her talents. If you expect a performer to do a skilled presentation on steps, broken and/or uneven surfaces, or other unsuitable surfaces, they will probably make it work; they are professionals, after all. But it's not a nice thing to do and you won't be getting the most out of your entertainment dollar.
If there really isn't enough room for the dancer to move, consider a very short "belly-gram" show lasting only a few minutes. In this situation a small-scale show might be more appropriate.
Don't: Put your guest of honor in a chair smack in the middle of the dance space! Please, please don't do this! By all means give him or her a front row seat where they can see and enjoy the show and where the dancer can pull him up for appropriate audience participation. Putting an obstacle--even if it is the night's honoree--in the middle of an entertainer's path disrupts the show's flow and can even be dangerous if the dancer is using props. As mentioned above, the party may be to celebrate one person, but the show is for all the guests, with acknowledgement of the special person during selected parts of the show. To be fair, there are life-of-the-party type folks who won't shy away from the spotlight, however in my experience, these people are a significant exception to the rule; even the most gracious birthday honoree who is being a good sport is uncomfortable being indefinitely in the middle of someone else's show with nothing in particular to do. If the entertainer wants the guest of honor in a particular place, they will tell you.
DO: Be polite and respectful to the entertainer. Most dancers who work private parties are good sports about going along with the inevitable jokes and schtick that goes with the gig. It's their job. But it's still FAMILY entertainment, and comments about lap dancing or repeatedly yelling for them to "take it off!" will make you look like an ignorant boor. If guests become crude or excessively offensive, a dancer may discontinue the show.
Don't: Chase after the dancer, try to obstruct him or her, or otherwise try to "trip them up." It is dangerous. Don't rub your crotch, mimic lewd acts, try to hump the dancer's leg, or take any of your clothes off. I have seen all of these things (and more) and they make everyone uncomfortable. There are other styles of entertainment out there with which this sort of thing is acceptable or expected … and it's not called Belly Dance. If that is the sort of thing you need, then by all means hire that style of performer! I would rather you have a satisfactory experience with another kind of entertainment than be disappointed with a perfectly wonderful Belly Dance show that is not what your party calls for.
DO: Remember that if YOU are the guest of honor, you have a responsibility! The other guests will subconsciously take their cues from your demeanor and behavior. If you are bored, uncomfortable, angry, or inattentive, your guests will be too. You may not have wanted that surprise party, or you may have a splitting headache, but someone spent a lot of energy putting it all together, and your guests went to the effort of showing up. Be a gracious host and make your guests glad they came by being relaxed, enthusiastic, and pleased.