This post is a companion to my recent “how-to,” The Connoisseur’s Guide to Hiring a Belly Dancer. Unless you own a Moroccan restaurant or you actually were a belly dancer at one point in your life, hiring a belly dancer is probably new to you. That’s why I’m here to demystify your entertainment booking and make life a little bit easier for you! In The Connoisseur’s Guide, we focused on a few star qualities to look for in a belly dance performer – professionalism, experience, slick professional costuming, and a willingness to collaborate.
In this post, we’re going to shift our focus to dispelling some of the key myths and misconceptions that may stand in the way of your entertainment planning goals. Ready? Let’s go!
1. “Any belly dancer will do.” We can all agree that doesn’t apply for photographers, caterers or wedding dresses. Naturally, it doesn’t apply to belly dancers, either. Belly dance comes from a diverse part of the world, and each dancer brings something unique to the table. And in addition to a myriad of different performance styles, you will find varying degrees of professionalism and quality in any belly dance community. So don’t just hire the cheapest performer, or the first one you can get on the phone. Your entertainment will set the tone for your wedding or special event, so make sure you find someone who clicks with you, is happy to work with your ideas and suggestions, and can be trusted to make everybody in the audience feel happy and comfortable. The best belly dancer will possess years of experience, plus a keen sense of how to structure the most appropriate show for her audiences, plus the ability to engage a crowd in a tasteful and fun way.
2. “I can always call Lady Shapoopie’s Belly Dance Academy down the street and see if she can send one of her students out to do the job. Maybe she’ll cut me a deal.” Some belly dance teachers offer up their students at a deep discount, but I highly recommend that you don’t go that route. As we explored in Myth #1, a professional belly dancer does so much more than stand there and shimmy. She creates a vibe, engages the crowd, and represents a cultural art. While a beginner student might have the movement vocabulary down, she’s still bound to make rookie mistakes as she refines her technique. At best, her shimmies might not be up to snuff yet. At worst, she might turn out to be a hot mess onstage and off. While a qualified professional dancer will enthusiastically guarantee a classy, elegant and authentic experience for your guests, you simply never know what you’ll get when you hire one of Lady Shapoopie’s Six-Week Wonders. So why take a chance?
3. “Isn’t belly dance kind of naughty? I know the younger guests will enjoy it, but I’m not quite sure it would be appropriate for Grandma, Grandpa and the kids.” Belly dance originated from family-style social dances from the Middle East. If you’re lucky enough to get invited to a big Middle Eastern wedding, you will most likely see Grandma, Grandpa, the kids, and even Baby doing hip circles, shoulder shimmies and snake arms right alongside the belly dancer. Any experienced professional belly dancer will make sure to set a warm, joyful, family-friendly tone and make all of her guests comfortable. Personally, I like to engage the women and children in the room before I even acknowledge the guys. While I can’t fully control everybody’s reaction, I can guarantee that you’ll never see anything in my shows that you wouldn’t see in a Disney movie.
4. “You have to sit Uncle Bob in a special chair, wrap a silly turban around his head, feed him grapes, and roll quarters off your stomach for him, because that’s what belly dancers do.” This is SO not true! In my not-so-humble opinion, cheesy harem-scarum gimmicks are not only outdated, but very unnecessary. Any experienced belly dancer should know how to work the entire crowd (men, women and kids), generate excitement, and make the Guest of Honor feel like a king (or queen!) without balancing a cake on their head or (egads!) feeding grapes to strange men. In fact, most of my clients breathe an audible sigh of relief when I tell them that I don’t do any of “that” stuff, and many an audience member has personally thanked me after my shows for showing them that there’s more to belly dance than what they expected. Plus, most belly dancers recognize that there’s a fine line between entertaining the Guest of Honor and focusing solely on him, which can make even an innocent performance feel borderline inappropriate.
5. “Every show needs lots and lots of audience participation!” Good news is that most events lend themselves beautifully to lots of lively audience interaction. I have never done a wedding where the dance floor wasn’t jam-packed by the end of my set! Once in awhile, some occasions may call for a more “minimally invasive” approach to audience participation – and that’s OK! A great belly dancer should tailor the level of audience interaction to the energy level and comfort zone of her audience. One great example would be an icebreaker between office meetings. Looking back to my not-so-distant past lifetime, I would have probably died if somebody forced me to dance in front of my boss. I try to keep those things in mind before zeroing in on my victims!
6. “Isn’t belly dance just a little lowbrow for my black tie event?” Unfortunately, due to Myth #4, belly dance still has a reputation as a novelty act. Thankfully, our industry is beginning to move away from that stereotype. The fluid movements, intoxicating music and heartbreakingly beautiful costuming of Middle Eastern dance make it a perfect match for the most opulent weddings and special events. (Think: Celine Dion and Rene Angelil’s extravagant Egyptian-themed wedding vow renewal celebration at Caesar’s Palace). Of course, if you are concerned about maintaining a classy, sophisticated vibe, your best bet is to hire a belly dancer who has plenty of experience performing at higher-end events and keenly understands what type of show you have in mind.
7. “Hiring a belly dancer is expensive.” While hiring a belly dancer is definitely a splurge, the truth is, it usually won’t cost any more than hiring a magician, a Marilyn Monroe impersonator, a tarot card reader, or any other variety entertainer. An experienced belly dancer will liven up your event, create a beautiful atmosphere for your guests, and make your big party the one everyone talks about for years. That, alone, is priceless!