This has been a recurring theme for me ever since I began to take those tentative first steps toward formalizing my business last summer. What is my niche? Who do I want to dance for? What do I like best about dancing professionally? And where am I going with this whole belly dance career thing, anyway?
We should all ask ourselves these questions at some point in our dance careers – if not, on a regular basis. Too often, we get stuck in tired paradigms, or we end up taking gigs that aren’t rewarding, or we wonder why we’re following all of the seemingly logical steps, but we’re neither successful nor happy on that path.
Fact: In belly dance, there are infinite courses of action. But there’s only one path to happiness – and it’s up to you to discover what that is.
Belly dance is an industry with few precedents and predecessors. Many of us like to follow in our teachers’ footsteps, and our teachers often did the same with their own mentors. We become proficient enough in the dance to start making some money at it. We aim for a regular restaurant gig and the occasional party. Usually, we teach at least one beginners class. And we market these services using the same template as a thousand dancers before us.
Could this be a belly dance equivalent to the American Dream?
While this is a fine course of action for some dancers, the most common career path isn’t always the best for everyone. Some dancers don’t feel the same rush from teaching as they do in a performance setting – or vice versa. Some don’t like being tied down to a weekly restaurant gig, or don’t have a large Arabic community. There are dancers who would rather do big stage shows than small bellygrams. And some dancers would rather make a living on dance-specific vending, photography, event planning, or costume design.
Step one to achieving belly dance bliss is to realize that it’s OK to stray from the usual path. Eliminating your weaker suit frees up more time for you to excel in the areas where you’re already strong.
The most empowering thing I’ve done for my dancing is to cut out the activities that didn’t move me. Instead of living and dying by whether or not I could score a regular restaurant gig in an area without many belly dance-friendly Middle Eastern restaurants, I’ve made myself available to upscale non-Middle Eastern restaurants and nightclubs that host occasional Arabian Nights parties. (It’s the perk of having a restaurant gig, minus the enormous commitment of working every Saturday night). I’ve used my upscale positioning to become a perfect fit for big corporate functions, weddings and promotional events. And I gave myself the “OK” to stop teaching, because it just didn’t excite me the way performing does.
If you find yourself feeling “stuck” for no apparent reason, take a moment to reflect on how you spend your billable hours. What do you love? What don’t you love? Do you come back from a certain activity feeling tired, defeated or worse? Does it feel like there’s no demand in your local market for some avenue that you’re currently pursuing (teaching, private parties, restaurants, etc.)? What could you live without? What can’t you live without?
Or if you really want an intense soul-searching/marketing exercise, try this tip I learned at a recent marketing seminar. Go back as far as you can in your gigging history and write down every paid performance you’ve done. Now, rate each one A, B, C, or D. Go ahead and “fire” the C’s and D’s. Then ask yourself how you might market yourself to get more A’s and B’s.
Whether you dance for a living or for a little extra money, your dance career is what you make of it. And it’s supposed to be happy, gratifying and fun!
If anyone’s been through a similar change in direction, I’d love to hear your stories!