Building a bellydance community & becoming professional in a land of no opportunities

Being a professional bellydancer in a small, rural part of the world can be frustrating. Where I live, there is one Middle Eastern restaurant and it is about an hour away. The Middle Eastern population here is little to non-existent. Finding someone who even considers bellydance a legitimate art form is a rarity in many cities like mine. If there is little to no bellydance community in your city, build one! It’s not easy and you will always have to commit to expanding your audience, but in the end it is well worth the effort. Here are some of my tips that helped turn my hometown into the bellydance hub of West Virginia.(Ps. These tips are for those who are already on professional level. If you’ve never danced in public or have only taken a few bellydance classes, you’re not a professional, so please do not try to market yourself as such)

  • First things first, I can’t express how important it is to network. Reach out to everyone you know to promote the art. You may be surprised at how many people you know that have always wanted to take up bellydancing. Most importantly, find ways to network with different types of people. Making your way into crowds with different interests and hobbies helps you build your community as well. You know those people you never talk to because they’re different than you? That’s a really good place to start! Also don’t forget to connect with various communities around your area. If you have to drive 3 hours to go to a workshop and meet new people, so what? You’ll have fun, make new friends, and chances are that someone else close to you made that drive as well.
  • This stems of the networking topic, but deserves its’ own bullet point. A very wise, wealthy family member once told me to surround yourself with people who are better than you and you’ll become more successful. I took this to heart and started connecting myself with all the popular dancers I could think of. You can send them a message to introduce yourself, follow them on Facebook to see what events they attend (that you should be attending as well), or look to them for ideas of events to grow your community. Some of your best ideas can be inspired from someone else.
  • Don’t be afraid of rejection! It’s going to happen, a lot! Are you scared to walk up to the owner of a local restaurant to ask if they need a bellydancer? If so, being shy isn’t really a good quality as an entertainer. I get nervous meeting new people as well, but if you aren’t brave enough to step out of your comfort zone, your chances of succeeding are almost nonexistent. Besides, the worst that could happen is they say no and you walk away. Be polite, professional, hand them business cards and thank them for their time, and walk away. Who knows, sometimes they have connections and will refer you to people who are interested in hiring a bellydancer.
  • Use some techniques from telemarketers and make some cold calls. Call up that festival, museum, concert hall, restaurant, lounge, arena, hotel, etc and let them know what you offer. Ask if there is any event coming up that you may provide entertainment. If they say no, make sure you constantly check their website and the community calendar for events that may be going on in your area that may be appropriate for bellydancing.
  • Most of all, know your product and be professional. Before you ask anyone about gigs, make sure you are embodying what you are offering. For example, if you’ve trained in traditional Egyptian-style bellydance your whole life, but you took a Turkish class once and really liked it, don’t market yourself as a Turkish dancer. If someone hires you in something you’re not qualified to do, you will look ridiculous and the client won’t be happy. Chances are you will lose their business and they will make sure they spread the bad news to everyone they know. If you’re in a small town, one bad gig can ruin your reputation forever.
  • One last bit of advice, do your research. Know what the rates are around you and stick with something similar. Do not agree to do a gig for $20 just because they’re the only ones offering a job. If you do this from the start, no one will want to pay more. Most people try to negotiate, so be prepared and practice what you will say. Always be a professional and have a good attitude. No one wants to hire someone who is a diva and difficult to work with. If you’re the only one representing bellydance in your area, make sure you don’t give us a bad name. Set a positive example for others and be passionate about your art. Best of luck!
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