It’s a subject that prompts more navel gazing than a classroom of dancers practicing belly rolls in front of a mirror.

Yes, I’m talking about rates.

If you’re joining this conversation as a “civilian,” thanks for taking a moment to understand our perspectives on pricing. I know it can be confusing. Assuming that you’ve been through the exercise of hiring a belly dancer for a special occasion, and assuming that you’ve been in contact with more than one dancer, it is likely that you have noticed the following trends:

  • Most belly dancers charge almost exactly the same rate for equal services. If there’s anything of a price range, it’s pretty tight; a difference of up to $20 in either direction depending on variables such as travel or set length.
  • Two or three belly dancers might charge significantly less – up to $50, $100, even $200 less – for the same service or possibly an even longer set. Seldomly, a dancer might offer to do the Shawarma Shuffle or the Falafel Fandango.
  • You’ve never heard so many people utter the cryptic phrase “you get what you pay for” so many times in one afternoon. Your head hurts.

Though it’s tempting to psychoanalyze those who accept bargain basement rates, foodstuffs, and “exposure” as compensation, it’s unfair that the bad apples get all the press. So let’s focus our attention instead on those who are trained and talented enough to command professional rates.

 Even in today’s challenging economic climate, many of us will still pay a premium for certain luxuries or allow ourselves the occasional splurge. Many Starbucks aficionados refuse to downgrade to Dunkin. The high-end cosmetics retailer Sephora has outlasted the recession. The bottom line? Quality, everyday indulgence and positive experiences still matter. As a belly dancer is something of a luxury, it makes just as much sense to consider quality when hiring a belly dancer as it does when selecting a pair of strappy stilletos to wear out on the town.

Though it all looks so easy, the best dancers have invested several years, a small fortune, and measureless passion and perseverance to make it all appear so graceful and effortless. To “go pro,” a belly dancer usually studies closely under a mentor for a couple of years, much like a martial arts student following a sensei. She’ll attend classes and workshops regularly throughout the rest of her professional career. She’ll learn everything she can from trained and even untrained dancers from the Middle East, in pursuit of authenticity. She will spend thousands of hours practicing at home.

Plus, a professional belly dancer holds herself up to a higher standard of aesthetics. She has a solid wardrobe of well-fitting designer costumes and knows which ensembles to wear for different types of audiences. (Arab audiences appreciate the daring new designs from Cairo, while Americans love to see swooshing chiffon and fringe.) She is well-groomed, in shape, proficient at applying stage makeup for that beloved exotic look. Her costumes can cost as little as $300 for a jeweled bra and belt or as much as $1,000 for something more ornate. Most cost somewhere down the middle.

As any Visa commercial goes, there are the hard costs and then the “priceless.” What’s priceless about hiring a seasoned pro? She adds value, while other dancers may merely be cheap. The professional dancer is experienced enough to ask you the right questions pre-gig, tailor your set based on your specific event, protect both parties with a specific contract, and leave no finer detail overlooked. If you’re a restaurant owner, she might help you promote the venue to her friends, family, students and Facebook buddies. You’ll feel confident that she’ll show up on time, look professional, and mastefully entertain your guests. In other words, a true professional dancer can and will make your life easier. All you have to do is sit back and plan the rest of your event. Just don’t expect us to bake you a cake ;)

Final summation? If budget is your only consideration, then feel free to hire the cheapest dancer. But be prepared for disappointment – or possibly even embarrassment. If you’re looking for a trained, classy entertainer who can put on a show that exceeds your every expectation, then a professional-quality dancer is clearly the way to go.

What Do You Think About All This?