Funny fact: in order to live and thrive as a professional Oriental Dancer you cannot spend all your time dancing. You should – they say, I say, God and the Devil say. But you can´t.
I see today´s Oriental Dancers as jugglers who have to multi-task like maniacs in order to build their name in the market (national or international market). If you don´t have a sugar daddy backing up your career or someone else who has interest in promoting you (for whatever reason), you have to multiply yourself into completely different skills.
Let´s see: an Oriental Dancer with any ambition to become “someone” in this business must be able to:
1. Dance. Pretty basic, you might think. It´s not. The definition of Oriental Dance is changing fast – some times for the better and other times for worse. Audiences are not the same as they were 10 years ago, offering new challenges and purposes the dancers MUST grasp and be able to work with.
2. Perform. It´s a skill, a talent, a God given quality. I wish I could say there´s a way to teach you how to be a GREAT performer but there isn´t. You were born to be on the stage or you weren´t. Period. There are tips, space and audience management knowledge and techniques that can be passed on in order to increase your know-how of this particular side of the dance job but Stage Magic* is something that you´re born with or you´re not.
3. Teaching. Another specific skill, sensibility & love.
Misunderstood concept. NOT dropping data over people´s heads but TEACHING – two different things.
4. Choreographing. Oh yeah. Yet another talent that comes with the birth package (or not). The thing is: in order to teach, nowadays (especially on the international circuit), you NEED to present interesting choreographies of different styles. You´re not only judged as a performer and a teacher but as a choreographer. Some well known names have less known choreographers doing this job for them – then they teach it as if they were the authors of these choreographies. Can I say it? Can I? Mother f….. cheaters! Pardon my French. Call me a conservative, a nag – whatever you wish: paying someone else to choreograph and taking credit for their work is plain DEPRESSING (not to mention dishonest).
5. Public relations & marketing expert – sort of. What happens if you have the best product in the world but no one knows of its existence? Hhhmmm…exactly 😦
This one´s a tough cookie to crack. Although I´ve heard people telling me I´m good at marketing myself, I know I am crap at it. I´m getting better ´cause I have to. Still doesn´t come natural to me.
So much bullshit sold as the last coke in the desert; so much precious work totally ignored. Marketing the QUALITY work you do is not a minor thing – it´s a MUST.
6. Manager & organizer of your own career, your choices and even events.
Making the best choices (saying NO to a lot of things and catching opportunities when they pass by); knowing when to move or stop; choosing the people you wish to work with; building a strategy and setting goals (and ways to get there) are essencial qualities. Building the STRUCTURE that serves your talent and skills is as important as any other aspect of this juggling adventure.
Organizing events is probably the hardest job, as far as I´m concerned. Aside from the specific skills that you also need to have, there´s the old game of envy, personal simpathy and antipathy, competition and gossip to deal with. I´m not everybody´s favourite girl – go figure! – and I´m certainly not patient, diplomatic, two faced or a lier. Meaning: if someone´s is a jerk, I´ll sure let him/her know and I´m uncapable of smiling when what I want is to punch you in the face.
Cheers to the dream of becoming a diplomat, some day, somewhere over the rainbow 😉
7. Being able to TALK about your work, defend it and sell it in a coherent, appealing manner.
OK: I really* like this one. It´s part of the PERFORMANCE skills – where I´m totally at home – and it´s a pleasure to share what I know about a craft I deeply love and respect.
If you´re not a TALKING kind of person, you will be in a bit of a pickle. In a world where most people still think Oriental Dance is an exotic strip-tease women do to please men, you NEED to be able to do the walk as well as talking the walk. Doing it greatly is the main part of the deal, of course; being able to TALK, EXPLAIN, BREAK the subject into pieces common audiences can understand is an extra you cannot do without. Educating audiences, students, journalists and strangers about the REAL value of Oriental Dance is (I believe) part of of our job.
8. Being the eternal student/researcher who´s not satisfied with what she/he knows.
After 13 years of career (8 of which spent in Egypt, digging into the REAL language and learning it from the roots; another 3 years travelling the world to teach, perform and lecture), I am still researching, reading, looking out for extra information that might have escaped me. Once you presume you have it all under your belt, you start going down. Curiosity and the stamina to pursue further knowledge are on high demand.
I love the formula: sofa+popcorn+great movie. Who doesn´t? But let´s face it: work is…tchan, tchan, tchan, tchan… WORK! Genius, isn´t it?
Keeping fit – not skinny but fit/healthy – are an essential part of the job. If the body is your first tool, that tool must be 100% operational, strong, flexible, capable of doing its job as effortless and efficiently as possible.
If you´re not a sports person, you have to become one (run, train at the gym, play basketball, whatever makes your muscles, bones and joints move on a constant basis).Many will argue with me, of course – all you need is feeling (and love, of course), they will yell out loud. How can I put this? Here we go: that´s plain bullshit for lazy bone individuals who don´t have enough respect for their craft.
10. You have to be – at least partly – a Buddhist monk in order to avoid killing someone along the way. Self control, people! Loads of people will piss you off: you´re the “bellydancer”, for God´s sake! How much do you charge for a lap dance and all that jazz.
I don´t have anger management issues but I´m a hot blooded latin girl who doesn´t take shit or swallow frogs. Enough said.
11. Enjoy the whole juggling and take ignorance as your playground. Easy!
P.S: Don´t forget that CHARACTER – honesty, accountability, humbleness, kindness, respect for yourself and others – wins the day. Professional and personal lives mix – dangerously or wonder*fully, depending on how you deal with it – and rumours (imaginary & real) spread like wild fire on a Summer day.