“Becoming a Belly Dancer: From Student to Stage” – A Book Review
“Becoming a Belly Dancer: From Student to Stage” is a collaboration by Sara Shrapnell, Dawn Devine, Alisha Westerfeld and Poppy Maya. All of these women are experienced belly dance performers and bring their own voice and experience to the content. This is one of the most unique things about this particular book – and one of it’s strengths, in my opinion. Reading it is like attending a panel discussion on entering the pro bellydance track. Through copious photographs to illustrate each point, useful checklists and illuminating sidebars and anecdotes, the reader gets to hear and see each of the author’s unique contributions and perspectives on being a working belly dancer on the scene.
I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Dawn Devine and Sara Shrapnell in 2015 while this book was in the writing process, so I am thrilled to see it finished and out in the world as a belly dance resource. You can watch that interview here.
This book addresses that tricky transition a serious belly dance student has to make if they want to start gigging and make a name for themselves on the professional circuit at any level – local, national or international. For many dancers, these are lessons learned the hard way – that is certainly how I learned most of them! Classes and workshops abound to teach us movement, choreography, specialty props and musicality, but how do you put your “open for business” shingle out there in the belly dance world?
Who should read this book?
“Becoming a Bellydance: From Student to Stage” does a very thorough job of answering the minutiae of that question in approachable, actionable and practical ways. Obviously, it’s target reader is the belly dance student contemplating going pro, but as a seasoned professional who trains up-and-coming dancers, I think it’s a valuable read to remind me of how overwhelming the business facets of starting out can be – something I may have forgotten or taken for granted after being in the game a while.
A Reality Check
You need to know where you are before you can navigate to your destination. I like that this book begins with some honest self-assessment – it is time well spent for the blossoming student. It continues with advice on how to set clear goals and how to plan the intermediate steps to achieve them. This is key to using this book (or making progress in anything) and the best way to approach the treasure trove of actionable material in this handbook.
The Self-Made Bellydancer
We may not like to think of it this way, but a belly dancer for hire is a product for sale. And just like any product designer, considering their customers’ needs and how to fill them, the belly dancer embarking on the business track needs to decide who they are (and aren’t). The author crew walks through all the public-facing aspects of your persona – your “brand” – that signal to the customer who you are and what you do.
Dawn Devine, a master costumer known to many in the belly dance world, does a thorough breakdown of the layers of costuming that build your overall look. And as I mentioned before, each author adds their perspective and experience. This book even includes 13 costuming projects from “no-sew” to relatively simple – all very handy additions to a dancer’s wardrobe.
Other pieces of the branding game include what to include in an effective website, creating marketing materials, and tips on photo shoots and getting flattering photos. “Becoming a Bellydancer” also includes guidelines on how to use social media to build your brand – a new skill that is very necessary for the current day dancer!
On With The Show
Performance opportunities run the gamut from short festival shows to full sets in a club with live music. Each one has it’s own set of considerations. What music is appropriate? How do you prepare it? Do you need a contract? And then there’s the “people” part of the equation – backstage etiquette, audience interaction, and the politics of the show lineup. These ladies cover all of these things beautifully because they have all been there and done that.
If you are a belly dance student with aspirations of someday going pro, whether as a paying hobby or if your dream is to be a full-time dancer, “Becoming a Belly Dancer: From Student to Stage” is a valuable reference that you would do well to turn to often to help direct yourself toward your goal. If you are a mentor to dancers in this phase of their training, this book will be just as valuable to you in assisting your students on their dance journey.
For more information on the authors, please visit: