3.08.2012

business or bullying?




If you've attended my Performance Class you know I'm a huge fan of the Gilded Serpent website. Najia Marlyz is one of the many great contributors at gildedserpent.com. Let me warn you, she's no shy little flower. She lets it all out and it's no accident. Ms. Marlyz recently wrote a great article titled, "Bully for You! The Science of Dance". 

Bullying is not a term I like to use within the context of bellydance but unfortunately it does exist.


As with anything that requires growth and progress it is good to have structure. With structure come the rules and expectations. Rules and guidelines seem to increase when bellydance crosses over into the business world. But when did the suggested guidelines become laws and more important than the actual dancing? Can one be a professional bellydancer even if not trained and certified in a specific format? When did meeting other dancers' requirements become a priority in a dancer's life? Do professional dancers need to ask every other dancer what his or her rates are to know what to charge just to make sure no one is offended?

To be clear, I'm all for helpful suggested guidelines, as long as that is what they truly are. As for certification systems, if voluntary, they could be a very helpful tool depending on your preferred learning method. 
The short of it is: if the systems, formats, guidelines, and structures come from a controlling  and forceful attitude they are a losing game all around. No one and nothing is elevated, not the dancer, not the troupe, not the community nor the dance. What I have found to be helpful is to focus on what I as an individual can create.

Najia of gidledserpent.com of course has a much juicier way of wording her opinion on undercutting, intimidation, aggression and controlling schemes. A MUST read!

What do you think, is it just business or is it bullying? Have you ever been bullied in bellydance? How did you handle it?

xo,
G

7 comments:

  1. Early in my "career" I was at a certain restaurant one night and I had already done my first set. I had literally just finished getting dressed for my second set. A dancer who dances at several places, this one included, showed up right then as I was about to go on. She was all dressed and said that she had just come from another gig and would really like to dance. Even though she had just danced here last week "she thought she was scheduled for tonight..." I didn't really believe her, and she knew damn well what her schedule was. I honestly thought it might have been a mistake, and I let her dance, but I felt really weird about it. The longer I pondered the more I felt screwed. I asked other more experienced dancers at the time and they told me that it was definitely wrong of her to do that. So I learned from that, grew some balls and learned to stick up for myself.

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    1. Hi Allison!
      That's awful especially because the last people you would expect this sort of treatment is from your fellow dancers. For the most part I think we're safe but there are a few people out there that keep you on your toes. I'm sure nobody messes with you now.
      many xoxoxo's to you!
      G

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  2. Thank you Gina! I personally think it's a bit silly to try and enforce rules on a dance that must remain flexible to the wants/needs of the market. There has been some discussion recently about regulating prices for gigs, though I was never part of the discussion (nor knew that the whole community was expected to abide by them).

    My problem is that though I would like to be paid more, I don't think the market can support it. I don't wish to intentionally undercut other dancers, but do I have to be punished because I'm not willing to walk away from the gigs currently offered? Will I be labelled bad names because of it? Will I have to undergo auditions and scrutiny to determine my level of dance, so I charge what others have decided I should charge?

    Geeze... what a way to take the fun out of the whole thing.

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    1. I get what you're saying Stephanie. I'm all for higher pay. I'm even a firm believer in industry standard rates - but even then a "range of rates" is about as specific as we could probably get. I think we'd have as much a chance to get all restaurants to pay the exact same rate as we do getting them to all charge the same for falafel.
      You're right though, the market has to support it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
      xo,
      G

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  3. I posted this on your facebook, but I guess it makes sense to comment here as well. -Jenn


    Yesterday, a very intelligent, gifted 11-year-old told me, "I don't see you as a bellydancer. Bellydance is just Middle Eastern stripping." Ouch. A few days ago, the public safety director of Lincoln, NE, who is supposed to understand the intricacies of human trafficking and exploitation, equated bellydancers with prostitutes. Clearly, we still have some big fish to fry outside the bellydance community. If we divide our own community by one-upping each other with expensive certifications and bullying each other over prices and performance styles, we risk appearing divisive and fickle to a community that views us as far less serious than other dance forms. That said, I don't hold any opinions as strong as the author's! I think I just really want to focus more carefully on elevating our art in the public eye because of my own desire to balance my love of bellydance with my professional career in behavior analysis.

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  4. Hi, Stephanie. I don't think anyone is talking about "regulating" prices for gigs or requiring the community to abide by anything (at least, I'm not). Rather, we've been sharing what the current rates actually *are* so the newer dancers know what the market is currently bearing. There's no reason to only ask for, say, $50 for a private party when most of the other dancers are receiving $175. And, as some of us are not happy with current rates at some venues, we're sharing what rate we would like to receive in hopes that we can help edge them upwards. We're all our own agents with our own needs and desires from dance. I don't think anyone planning to start "black balling" dancers etc. for taking a rate that works for them.

    On the other hand, I've been dancing in Tucson for years and it's only now that I've managed to find open discussions of what Tucson venues and rates even are. It's like it's been some dark, dirty secret. Community discussions are the best way for us to share our knowledge and resources so we can make individual decisions. For example, why are local restaurants paying $30 a set when, just a few years ago, it was $45 and climbing, one venue offered me $60, and Phoenix is approaching $100? Is our local market really tanking or are we "settling"? Is there anything we can do to help promote events at local venues to add more value? Can we improve our dancing? Can we seek out other venues?) Plug for the meeting on the 25th--everyone is invited! Really hoping to get MECDA to come talk to us....

    As for Najia, she's such a hypocrite in all of her other posts about belly dance that I can hardly take her seriously, even if she does make some good points. I just finished another article by her about how we Americans will never really know how to belly dance because it's not in our blood, although in another one she says dancers who claim "it's in their blood" are full of it. Blah.

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    1. Hi Amy,
      Like I've said before I'm all for industry standard rates. It's such helpful information for dancers. The market, however, does have to support it.
      I know I had to make adjustments to my rates when I moved from San Francisco to Tucson. Even so, unless it was a charity event I didn't have to dip below the $150 mark for private gigs. Yes I walked away from some gigs but that happens in all markets. As for restaurants, I think I danced at the Luxor once all of last year (not counting Open Stage Nights of course). To risk dancing only one set at $30 just wasn't worth getting "gig ready" and giving up my time with my child. So I get it. Not every dancer, however, has the same set of circumstances or thought process.
      I've seen many different dance opportunity scenarios in Tucson all within a few years it is no surprise to me that at this moment that restaurant pay is on the low end. I think at this point in time there are fewer restaurants hiring dancers but more dancers. :(
      I've seen restaurants and cafes tank and close - even the ones that only paid their dancers $20! (if that) The two principal Middle Eastern in town don't seem interested in developing a dinner crowd which of course kills the dinner show concept. Smiley's used to be such a perfect venue for tribal dancing, I'm not sure that's the case now.
      As your questions suggest, it goes deeper than just asking for more money. Perhaps it takes actively working with the restaurant managers and coming up with a win/win situation. Or maybe energies are better spent looking for new and different venues. Also, there is the question of the difference of venues and opportunities for tribal as opposed to the more cabaret/traditional bellydance style.

      The one sure thing -- a dancer's life is never boring! I know this will all work out. It always does.

      As for Najia, I myself don't agree with everything she writes but I don't think it discounts her years of personal experience and everything she's witnessed in the bellydance world. It's just another perspective and food for thought. She makes me laugh.

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your thoughts Amy!
      xo,
      G

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Thank you visiting and taking the time to comment. I truly appreciate it.

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