Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Few Do's and Don'ts For Hiring A Belly Dancer For A Birthday Party

Hiring a live entertainer is one of the best ways to make any special occasion shine, and I know you want to get the most out of the money you spend on providing this experience for your guests. Finding out as much as you can about the style of entertainment and what to expect from that kind of show will help. Although I perform Middle Eastern Dance and I write from that perspective, many of these suggestions can apply when hiring any form of live entertainment.

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.

  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.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Belly Dancer At The Wedding? Huh?

A few days ago I posted this on my FaceBook status:

I told this random guy the other day that I was a bellydancer and that I performed at a lot of wedding receptions. He immediately looked shocked and said "Why would any bride want a beautiful woman at her wedding reception?" Some folks only see the negative, drama-laden side of things ...

I had never considered this, but apparently, this point of view is quite common. A colleague of mine, Carrara Nour commented on this that she had been told similar things by wedding planners as well. I fumbled to answer that guy with a "Well, it's not about the dancer's looks, it's about the entertainment she can provide" or some such chatter. It was an incomplete answer for sure. We've all heard that the bride should be the prettiest one in the room, and that it's bad form to upstage the bride in any way. This whole topic really got me to thinking about the different perceptions we all have of the world, of weddings in particular, and of what folks expect from wedding entertainment.

Well, why would a bride choose Middle Eastern Dance as wedding entertainment? In fact why do brides choose any of the things they choose? (For convenience, I'm using the term "brides" because they are usually the ones who organize the wedding, and their wishes are often the most influential. Several others usually help in the decision-making process.)

A bride will select one centerpiece design, one band or DJ, one color scheme, one venue (just to name a few) over several others because she wants to make a certain kind of impression, and to bring her wedding-day vision to life. In this case, all of the various elements that go into the making of that wedding day will be a reflection of her, her feelings, and her circumstances as they stand on that day in time. If those elements--the food, the guests, the entertainment, the decor, and the timing of it all--are wonderful, then she is all the more wonderful, too. The beauty of the setting lends its beauty to everyone by extension. By this rationale, a beautiful, joyous bellydancer can be seen as an embodiment of the joy of the day. The bridal couple and their families are expressing their joy; they want their guests to feel happiness, too.

Yes, that's it!  

The bellydancer symbolizes the the joy and beauty of the day. She is a living, breathing representation of the couple's love for each other.

The dancer may be the most beautiful woman available for the gig. However if that dancer lacks the technical skill and experience to deliver that message, or worse yet, isn't a good entertainer and therefore can't convey and embody the happiness she's there to impart, her beauty won't seem so great. Many guests will lose interest early on and use the dancer's show as a good time to get that drink and maybe visit the restroom. On the other hand, a dancer who is a great entertainer makes everyone else feel great too; the guests will be mesmerized and won't want to miss anything.

And that's what it's all about.  I sure wish I'd had this answer ready for that guy ....

Happy dancing, everyone ... and keep some snappy answers handy!

Friday, July 8, 2011

June & July ... Time for Progress!

June was a very busy month, and looking back, I just don't know how I got through it all!

Father's day was the 19th, and as many of us know, it's a very busy day for bellydancers; there is always a demand for lecture-demonstration shows in nursing homes, and these are always some of my favorite gigs to have. For starters, the folks in care facilities are some of the most gracious and grateful audiences one could ever hope for; they are mostly from an earlier generation and therefor have a much longer attentin span than many people out there in the world today. They're not trying to multitask 24/7 and they're not overwhelmed or on "sensory overload" the way the rest of us so often are. This means they can pay very close attention and absorb some of the subtle nuances that can be lost in a "lots of excitement all the time" situation. Because of this, I have an opportunity to present some things that wouldn't be appropriate in a more lively setting, perhaps numbers that build in dynamic over the course of a piece, or that might be too "serious" for the nightclub setting.

Another thing I enjoy about performing in care facilites is that part of the show consists of lecture and explanation, so I get to learn new things too. It's important for me to brush up on my planned material before I do a presentation, and in the course of my study, I always seem to discover something new. As a closet academic, I love this. The more 'ya know, the more 'ya know 'ya don't know!

Nursing home gigs are often the first "baby" gigs dancers get, and as such, I sometimes hear more established dancers pooh-pooh them, as they're not very glamorous and they're not in posh settings. For me, however, these jobs serve a valuable purpose. There are the obvious public service, educational, giving-back-to-the-community aspects of course, and this is certainly of value to us all and our responsibility as conscientous artists. And then there are the (secret!) benefits to me: I get a platform and an excuse for some of the works-in-progress I may be developing or something I learned in a recent workshop, and I can test this material on an appreciative audience. I have to brush up on some of the pieces I like to keep in rotation for corporate events, and by doing those numbers regularly, they're all that closer to being ready if I get called on short notice. Sometimes I've spent a great deal of time learning a choreography for just one event, and want to get the satisfaction of doing it again (with permission, of course) and getting more mileage out of all that rehearsal. By the same token, I can break in new costumes (face it, that new costume will NEVER show it's true nature in the living room or rehearsal studio, will it?!), a new veil wrap, a new prop, or so forth in front of a discerning but very forgiving audience. It is a goal for the rest of 2011 to cultivate this part of my business.

Father's Day also featured a concert of contemporary, experiemental, and classic Middle Eastern Dance at the Anahid Sofian Studio. It was a short but high-quality concert and I had the pleasure of rehearsing and performing Azza Amon's veil choreography to Aicha alongside her and my friends Tammy and Caitlyn. I believe this concert was the first of what Anahid would like to be a quarterly series of studio concerts featuring diverse styles. I wish I had photos from this ... perhaps I will, soon.

It was with mixed feelings that I boarded a plane the very next day and took off for ten days in Oregon. On the one hand, I was hesitant to leave NYC with so many projects begging for my attention and so many exciting things going on; conversely, I hadn't had a chance to be really, really "off duty" in a very long time. I didn't realize how wound up I really was, and having a week of total retreat (no phone, no internet, no TV) with good food, fresh air, plenty of sound sleep, some excellent bodywork, and loving kindness with Mom has given me a fresh perspective and a new lease on life. I feel like a different person! Why must we always learn and re-learn this the hard way?

My goal for July is to refocus my energy on developing and cultivating new opportunities in dance and to de-clutter my life, physically, mentally, and energetically. Although my enthusiasm is boundless, my time, energy, and resources are finite, so it's time to focus on what I love most and what will serve me and my fellow creatures best. Stay tuned ....

My blessings to all of you and your loved ones!

Want to see more of me? Go to www.NabilaOrientalDance.com