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Interview with Shira: Travelling in Egypt and Breaking the “Bellydance Bubble”

ShiraI recently had the opportunity and privilege to interview Shira, of Shira.net fame. Shira is a dancer and instructor, but is perhaps best known as a writer, researcher and lecturer on a broad variety of topics related to Middle Eastern dance and culture. Her website, Shira.net,  is the most linked to bellydance site on the web, and one of the first resources many new dancers find when then begin their dance journey. 

Shira is such a wealth of knowledge and experience, it was hard to pick a topic- we could cover so many things! However, this time we talked about travelling to Egypt as a student of bellydance and Egyptian culture.

Mahin: What is your experience travelling in Egypt? When did you first go there and how many times have you returned?   

Shira: The first time I went to Egypt was in 1999.  Morocco was going for the purpose of doing some of her customary business in Egypt, and invited a few of us to come along as companions to hang out. I have been there 11 times so far.

11 times – that’s a lot!  What keeps you going back?

What keeps me going back is a mixture of things:

  1.  I do enjoy returning to places I already know and like, to re-experience the things I liked on previous visits.
  2.  Egypt is ever-changing.  Every time I’ve gone, I’ve had new-to-me experiences.  For example, last February was my first time experiencing the moulid for Hassan in Cairo.
  3.  Because I’ve been there so many times, I’ve started getting to know people who live there, and I love reconnecting with them.
  4.  It’s always a pleasure seeing live music & dance shows in Egypt

Thinking of your first visit to Egypt, what were your expectations and assumptions before you went and how was the reality different?

Probably the biggest thing is that I expected a third world country, and Cairo showed me that the major cities in Egypt are actually very cosmopolitan.

What do you think are some of the misconceptions the bellydance community at large has about the dance scene in Egypt? Or about travelling as a foreigner and dance tourist there?

One issue is that belly dancers who go there often go in a bubble.  They go in a dancer-led tour, to a dance event such as the ones sponsored by Nile Group, and aside from a couple of outside typical-tourist excursions they don’t really get to see what Egypt is like.

Dancers often take a lot of stereotypes with them, such as thinking Egypt is all about goddesses, pyramids, camels, and veiled women.

Going outside the “dance tourist bubble”, what did you see and experience that a dancer in one of the tour groups might miss?

Going to the Oum Kalhtoum museum. Hanging out outside the Victoria hotel (which is in a baladi part of town) and people-watching. Going to the Gayer Anderson museum. Going to the zar music show at the Makan theater.

Would you say the western bellydancer zeitgeist in general has a romanticized notion of Egyptian dance and culture, that does not allow for it to change and evolve as cultures inevitably do?

I do think Western belly dancers romanticize Egypt, especially those who have not been there at all, and also those who have confined their visits to the big festivals.  For some, it’s all about seeing the famous dancers perform, taking workshops taught by them, and shopping for costumes.  These are all good things to do, and I still enjoy doing them.  I just like to break out of that mold and explore the many other fascinating things Egypt has to offer.

And you’re right, Egypt’s culture does change and evolve, as cultures will do.

For someone visiting Egypt for the first time, perhaps travelling internationally for the first time, I imagine these tour groups are helpful in navigating an unfamiliar place.

That’s very true.  A lot depends on which tour leader you choose.  Some simply take you to a big festival, where you can take workshops from local dancers, and maybe they include a one-day tour to see the pyramids and Old Cairo.  Others might skip the festival, and take you to see more of Cairo culture in action.

A dancer can repeatedly go to the festivals without ever experiencing the other many fabulous things there are to do in Cairo.

How has the dance scene in particular changed for you from your first visit to your most recent one, regarding the quality and quantity of performances and venues you could go to?

I think the dance scene in nightclubs may be starting to pick up a little.  When I went in 1999, I saw Fifi Abdo and Dina do nightclub shows.  Fifi no longer dances in the clubs, but Dina is still at the Semiramis one day a week.  Some new Egyptian dancers have arisen in recent years.  Sahar dances on one of the boats, and Camelia Masreya recently started dancing again.  I’m hoping to see the Egyptian dancer Aziza on a future trip. Soraya Zaied, originally from Brazil but has worked in Egypt many years, dances several nights a week now.

Are the performers now just ask likely to have live music for their shows as when you first went in 1999? Has the size of the ensembles changed in general?

All of the performers I just mentioned work with live bands.  I don’t have a clear memory of how big the bands were, I just remember feeling as though the music was very rich and satisfying.  Soraya’s current band, in particular, is top-notch.

When you leave the 4 and 5 star clubs featuring big names like Dina, and the Nile show boats,  and go to the smaller venues, what kind of show would you see?

One big thing that differentiates the venues is “type of audience”.  The 5-star clubs in hotels tend to cater to Gulf Arabs as their primary audiences.  This is also true of some of the higher-end nightclubs such as Lucy’s Parisiana and El Layl.

Another type is the boats, which tend to cater to tourists from places other than the Gulf – Americans, Europeans, Asians, etc.  These would include boats such as the Pharaoh where many of the foreign dancers living in Cairo work.

And then there are the shaabi clubs, which are frequented by middle-class Egyptians.

The type of audience determines the type of dancer hired and the type of show.

Some of the boats hire their own bands, and the dancers have to perform with whoever the boat hired, instead of bringing their own orchestras. Whereas dancers in the high-end clubs tend to bring their own bands, in the shaabi clubs, with Egyptian audiences, some feature performers, others are just discos.  All of them really make you feel like you’re in a party atmosphere, which makes them different from the boats.

Of the shaabi clubs that feature performers, I’ve seen a format in which the club provides the band, and throughout the evening a series of different dancers take turns coming in, doing a set, and leaving.  None of them are internationally known names, but I’ve seen some very good dancing there. Some are quite playful, others look a bit bored as if they’re phoning it in.  The playful ones can really engage the audience.

The audiences in these watch-the-perforrmers shaabi clubs tend to be almost entirely men.  It’s not the sort of place a decent woman would allow herself to be seen, due to all the alcohol being served.  A tourist wanting to go to one usually needs to be accompanied by a man.  Otherwise, a taxi driver might refuse to take her to such a disreputable place that’s not fit for a woman.

Over the years of your travels, what influences of western music and dance (if any)  have you seen show up in Egyptian music and dance as done there?

The big festivals (such as Ahlan wa Sahlan) will hire western dancers to teach if they bring along a large tour group.  So, you might see tribal fusion taught at one of these big festivals. I have seen very little Western influence in the shows I’ve gone to.  Dancers are still mostly using the big-orchestra type of music.  

But, social dancing at weddings can be a different matter.  In 2008, when I was a guest at a wedding in Egypt in which I knew the family, the DJ played the macarena and everybody started doing it.  So of course I joined in, and soon I realized the Egyptian teen-agers were scrutinizing my technique, trying to dissect what I was doing so they could copy it!

There’s a new dance style that has emerged in Egypt over  the last decade, known as mahragan, and that shows very clear influences from hiphop.

As a woman travelling in Egypt, how were you treated in public and business transactions – for example in stores, restaurants and hotels?

I’ve always felt as though the locals (including men) treated me very courteously. There’d be an occasional annoying person, but that’s true here in the U.S. as well.

That said, there are certain things that can garner higher respect.  For example, I *never* tell Egyptians that I am a belly dancer.  It’s obvious, of course, to costume vendors.  But I don’t tell shopkeepers, restaurant owners, or hotel staff.  I tell them that I work in the computer industry, which is true.

I also dress fairly conservatively – tunics that are long enough to fully cover my hips, sleeve lengths no shorter than elbow length, and high necklines.  Pants that fit loosely (such as yoga pants) rather than leggings.

Overall, what has been your most surprising experience (positive or negative) in your travels to Egypt?

Surprising?  Hmmm.  I need to think about that a moment. I think it is the hospitality that they show to outsiders. So many times, I have encountered locals who were kind, welcoming, eager to show me their culture.

That is good to hear in today’s world! As a final thought, what advice would you give to dancers travelling to Egypt for the first time, given your experience there?

Buy a guide book before you, and read a little about the history of each place you plan to visit. Or, look up the places on the Internet to read about them before you go.  For example, if you will be staying at the Mena House hotel, read about its history.  If you will be going to Khan al-Khalili for shopping, read about its history.  Knowing some of this will make your visit much richer.

Did you have any final thoughts to add?

Another dancer who was with us in one of the groups I went to Egypt once said this:  she was told by a friend that regardless of your preferred dance style, it’s important to go to Egypt at least once.  That it will change you.  I agree with that comment.  I think it’s hard to say exactly how it changed me, but I know it did.

Thank you so much for your time – and your dedication to dance through your work on your incredible website!

You’re welcome!  I enjoyed our chat!

 

October 6, 2016 0 Comments

Storing & Transporting Your Bellydance Costumes

This is Week 7 of Your Sparkly Wardrobe, a collaboration between Sparkly Belly and Mahin’s Bellydance Quickies.

storage

For most bellydancers, a costume wardrobe represents a significant investment of money, and possibly time if you made your bedlah yourself. To keep your pieces in top condition, it is important that you store them properly and pack them carefully when going to gigs or travelling. In this post,  I’ll cover some tips and tricks to keep your sparkly wardrobe beautiful and stage ready,

Your available space will of course play a big role in determining how you can store your wardrobe. If you are lucky enough to have a large walk-in closet or a separate room, you can give your cossies luxury accommodations. If you are like me in a small house with very little closet space or an apartment, more compact storage solutions are a must!

Storage At Home

Your costume pieces spend more time in home storage than in any other place so how and where you keep them is crucial. In general, all pieces should be protected from excessive humidity to prevent mildew and direct sunlight to keep them from fading. Different types of costume pieces have specific considerations – let’s look at them one at a time.

Skirts & Pants

There are many considerations when choosing how to store your skirts. In this section, I am including the type of skirts you would wear with a belt,  skirts that have “built in” belts and heavily embellished skirts with no belt, like many of the modern Egyptian costumes, Bellas and other designer lines.

Skirts with heavy embellishments of beads, sequins and appliques are best stored folded in drawers or boxes. Prolonged hanging can pull them out of shape and strain the fabric. Undecorated skirts, if made properly, should be able to hang safely. Here’s the catch – “if made properly”.  Skirts should be hung for several days before hemming so the hemline will remain stable. If they have not been hung before hemming, you may be surprised to find they are uneven and too long after they’ve been on a hanger in your closet for a while. Fabrics which have a looser weave are also more susceptible to stretching out of shape, even if they were hung before hemming. Think before you hang!

If storage space is at a premium, multi hangers like the one below are a good choice. If the fabric is delicate or there are some decorations near the top, place some scrap fabric between the skirt and the clips.

multi hangers

If you are unsure whether your skirts will stretch, or you don’t have hanging space, fold your skirts neatly and stand them up on end in a box. You will be able to find and take out what you need easily and keep the rest neat.

box o skirts

 

 

Bras & Belts  (and more)

Bras and belts are the workhorses of your costume wardrobe! Protect the beadwork and finishes by storing them in plastic shoebox type containers with silica packets to absorb moisture. Silica packets come in boxes of many items you buy – keep an eye out for them! An alternative is to use pillowcases or a similar type of cloth bag. These methods also work for costumes with a bra and heavily embellished skirt or full dresses with heavy beading.

Always air out costumes on a rack for 12-24 hours after wearing before putting then away to be sure they are completely dry. I spray the linings and insides (not the decorated surfaces!) of my costumes with a 50/50 mix of cheap vodka and water to keep them fresher between occasional cleanings. This kills the bacteria in your sweat that can make them smelly over time.

Bra in box

Veils

Veils are the most forgiving of your costume pieces when it comes to storage. If you have space out of strong sunlight, they look lovely hung on a rod or coat tree so you can enjoy their colors every time you pass by.

hung veils

If you don’t have room to hang your veils safely, fold them lengthwise and roll them up neatly. Stand the rolls up in a basket and you’ll be able to find what you need quickly. A third option is to fold them like the skirts and store on end in a box.

rolled veils

 

The Big Picture

If you have used boxes and/or cloth bags to store your costume items that cannot hang, you can organize them on shelves or in a bookcase. Here are some of my boxes of costumes and my basket of veils. The opaque boxes are labelled by type – chiffon skirts, straight skirts and harem pants

All the boxes

Transporting Bellydance Costumes to Gigs

The safest and most convenient way that I have found to pack for gigs is to use a carry-on sized rolling suitcase. I use one that has dividers to keep things contained to each side. I usually have two costumes with me and this keeps each set and its accessories together.

2 sides of suticase

To keep beads and fringe from getting tangled or caught, I fold the skirt, veil or another piece of fabric in between like this.
wrap in veil

Shoes, jewelry and makeup stay safe and easy to find in their own separate bags. Tuck them into whichever side has room for them. Be sure shoes and makeup are well-contained so they don’t get your costumes dirty and jewelry won’t snag on your fabric items.

the extras

Packing for Travel

Packing your bellydance costumes for travel is very different than packing for a gig. You will go into your suitcase to get many things other than your costumes and you don’t want to dig through them to find your street clothes. Packing cubes are a great solution for this! They are very thin zippered cases. I pack each costume in it’s own cube along with its veil, accessories and jewelry.

Some costumes travel better than others. I go strictly carry-on when flying, so space saving is top priority! As I am writing this, I am on a 3-week tour, living out of one carry-on suitcase with 2 full costumes! If I have the option, I go with straight skirts and less bulky bras and belts. Sometimes the gig requires a more voluminous costume. I pack them snugly into cubes (layer to prevent snags as above). I unpack them well before performing to smooth out any wrinkles. Draping them over a hanger while showering can help release creases too.

packing cubes

Take only the essential jewelry and accessories.  Pack jewelry in a ziplock bag and tuck it into the packing cube with the rest of the outfit.

jewely in bag

 

Do you have other storage or packing methods that work for you? Share them in the comments below…

 

August 26, 2016 10 Comments

“Your Sparkly Wardrobe”: Mix, Match & Extend Your Belly Dance Costumes!

This is Week 3 of “Your Sparkly Wardrobe”, a bellydance costume project collaboration between Mahin’s Bellydance Quickies and Sparkly Belly

In Week 1 of the “Your Sparkly Wardrobe” project, you learned how to do a complete inventory and assessment of your bellydance costume pieces. Now that you truly know what you have, let’s learn how to make the most of it! In this video, Rukshana (aka The Costume Fairy) and I will show you how we created a wide variety of looks by staring with two bra and belt sets. Unless you’ve got an unlimited costume budget (we didn’t think so!) , this is essential for both the solo dancer and troupes.

Scroll down to see photos of each of the ensembles we put together – from totally tribal to completely cabaret!

 

WATCH THIS WEEK’S VIDEO

"Mix, Match & Extend Your Belly Dance Costume Wardrobe"

“Mix, Match & Extend Your Belly Dance Costume Wardrobe”

Costume Ensembles with a Traditional Coin Bra & Belt

The beauty of a traditional coin set is that it can become the base piece of a tribal costume one day and a vintage cabaret set the next. Bedlah like these are an excellent investment and real workhorses in your wardrobe!

Tribal Style

Coin bra & belt, 25-yard cotton skirt

Coin bra & belt, 25-yard cotton skirt

Tribal with Extra Coverage

Coin bra & belt, 25-yard cotton skirt, flare-sleeve choli.

Coin bra & belt, 25-yard cotton skirt, flare-sleeve choli.

Floorwork-Friendly Fusion Style

Coin bra & belt, flare-bottom pants

Coin bra & belt, flare-bottom pants

Vintage Coins Meet Modern Skirt

Coin bra & belt, straight skirt with leg slit

Coin bra & belt, straight skirt with leg slit

Vintage Coins Meet Modern Print Skirt

Coin bra & belt, metallic print straight skirt

Coin bra & belt, metallic print straight skirt

Vintage Cabaret with Extra Coverage

Coin bra & belt, harem pants, chiffon overskirt and flare-sleeve choli.

Coin bra & belt, harem pants, chiffon overskirt and flare-sleeve choli.

Glamorous Vintage Cabaret

Coin bra & belt with black harem pants, chiffon overskirt and matching "winglets"

Coin bra & belt with black harem pants, chiffon overskirt and matching “winglets”

Richly Layered Vintage Style

Coin bra & belt, harem pants, colored underskirt, embellished overskirt & choli

Coin bra & belt, harem pants, colored underskirt, embellished overskirt & choli

Costume Ensembles with a Modern Multicolor Bra & Belt

If you love bright colors, a multicolor bedlah opens up a world of possibilities! By having a rainbow of skirts in a variety of silhouettes and fabrics, plus some pants, you will get your money’s worth out of a well-made set.

Floorwork-Friendly Fusion

Multicolor bra & belt with flare-bottom pants

Multicolor bra & belt with flare-bottom pants

Sophisticated Modern

multi straight black x

Multicolor bra & belt with straight skirt

Elegant Modern

multi straight purple x

Multicolor bra & belt with velvet straight skirt

Colorful Options

multi blue x

multi red x

multi turq x

 

Doubling Up on Colors

multi 2 layer x

In Week 4 of “Your Sparkly Wardrobe” explore how to create a professional look that expresses your unique style and flatters your body by adding accessories to your ensemble! Coming next week on Sparkly Belly…

July 29, 2016 1 Comment

Belly Dance Costume Inventory: Why & How To Do It

This is Week #1 of Your Sparkly Wardrobe, a collaboration with Sparkly Belly. To sign up for the full series, delivered on alternate weeks (July 15 – September 2, 2016)  here and on Sparkly Belly, please visit here.

How many costumes does a bellydancer need?
Just one more, right?

We’d all like a limitless wardrobe of sparkly things, but whether it is our budget or our closest space that constrains us, most of us will never achieve that beautiful dream. We can, however, make the most of what we can afford and store. In fact, if you’re like me, you may not be making the most of what you have already! That’s the mission of the Your Sparkly Wardrobe project – to help you make the most of the costume pieces you already own by taking stock, re-evaluating your performance needs and creating a plan to up your costume game without any major purchases.

Why do you need to inventory your bellydance wardrobe?

There are many excellent reasons to create an inventory of your costumes.  For starters, if you would like to include your costumes in the coverage of your renter’s or home owner’s policy – which I highly recommend you do – you would need an inventory, ideally with photos and receipts,  to make a claim in the event any were stolen or damaged in a fire, flood or other disaster. If you are a professional with a closet full of high-end bedlahs, this is absolutely essential!

On a more positive note, creating an inventory of your costumes will…

  • make you fully aware of what you already have so you don’t buy duplicates or near-duplicates
  • give you the opportunity to assess the condition and fit of your costume pieces so they are ready for the stage
  • help you spot gaps in your wardrobe that could open multiple options if filled
  • turn up items that you no longer need or want and can get rid of
  • give you an opportunity to discover new pairings of your existing wardrobe pieces

Are you convinced yet?  Let’s do this!

How To Inventory Your Belly Dance Wardrobe

Step 1: Get it together

Gather up all your costume items. This includes full sets, all manner of skirts and pants, sashes, veils and accessories. Put them on a large table, bed or on a clean sheet spread on the floor. Check all your closets, gig bags and any place you may have stashed things. Take a minute to think if you have loaned any items out to other dancers – make arrangements to get them back.

Step 2: Sort it out

Make separate piles for each category of items. Depending on your particular performance style, the kind of pieces in your wardrobe will differ. For example you may have many chiffon skirts, but no flare bottom Melodia style pants or short overskirts – or vice versa –  or maybe you have both! Here are some category suggestions:

  • Full sets with built-in belts on skirts (Egyptian style)
  • Full dresses (for example beladi, Saidi or folkloric costumes)
  • Bra and belt sets
  • Skirts that can be worn on their own (without being too revealing)
  • Overskirts or toppers (that can’t be worn alone)
  • Harem pants or flare bottom pants
  • Veils
  • Cholis and vests
  • Sleeves
  • Belly covers or body stockings\
  • Headdresses

At this point you will proceed with one category at a time through the rest of the steps.

Step 3: Should it stay or go?

We all find ourselves with items hanging around our closet that no longer fit our performance style or taste even if they do fit our figures. Go through your pile and decide one piece at a time if it is something you still use and enjoy wearing. If not,  put it in a bag out of the way. You will decide later whether to toss it, give it away or prepare it for sale. No need to make that call right now.

Do you like the item but just aren’t excited about wearing it any more? Maybe it just needs an update or small addition. Hang on to it for now – next week’s Your Sparkly Wardrobe post may be just what it needs to make it a keeper.

Step 4: Set up your record

For this you can use a small notebook, index cards, a spreadsheet or a wardrobe organizing app (yes, these exist) depending on your preference for paper or digital. If you are using a notebook or index cards, use one sheet or card per costume item. If you are using a spreadsheet, create one row for each costume item. You may want to make one tab for each category of items if your costume wardrobe is large. Wardrobe apps vary widely and may take time figure out, so maybe start out with index cards or a notebook and digitize your record later.

Step 5: Check the fit

Try on every item in the category you are working on. Make a note on the item page, card or spreadsheet row (make a column for Fit)  if the item is too small or too big anywhere. Note if a bra or belt has gaps. Check if the straps are ideally positioned for your comfort and stability. Some people prefer halters, some prefer over-the-shoulder style and some like cris-cross backs. Changing the strap arrangement can be a game changer when you have an uncomfortable bra! Check skirts and pants for length. If you’ve been rolling that waistband up to keep from tripping over the skirt hem – fess up now and make a note in your record.

Step 6: Time for a close inspection

So far, we’ve only been looking at the fit of the item. Take it off and give it  a close inspection in good light. Check the beading, both flat beading and fringe. Look for any areas where beads are missing or rhinestones are coming loose. Are there missing bead strands in your fringe? Is the finish on your beads wearing off the fringe?  Check the prongs on large stones. Inspect the condition of your sequins, coins or other ornaments. For any items that are lined, how is the lining holding up?  Make notes on anything that needs repair. (If you are using a spreadsheet make a column for Repairs)

Next, a very important task! Check all the closures. Is the stitching holding up? Look for rust and hooks that are weakening and starting to bend open. If you have velcro, consider replacing it. Do you have enough closures? Personally, I like to have two closures on my neck straps and two or three on the back of my bras – usually two large snaps and one flat hook at the end. If one gives way, the costume is still secure – now that’s peace of mind!

Now the gross part. How clean are your pieces? This could be scary. Give it a “sniff test”, especially in all the potentially stinky places like underarms and crotches – sorry, it has to be done. You shouldn’t have to depend on heavy doses of perfume to cover the stench of your unwashed costume. Be nice to your audience! We’ll discuss maintenance in a later part of the project, for now we just need to assess the odor situation.

How does the lining of your straps, cups and belts look? Are there any makeup stains or dirty spots? Light colored skirt and pants are notorious for getting dirty at the hems. Check veils for lipstick or other stains. Make notes as you go.

Step 7: Time to play!

Now that you’ve done the work, you get to do the fun part! It’s time to look at your bellydance costume wardrobe with fresh eyes for new possibilities. Depending on the kind of items you have, your combinations will vary, but here are some ideas to get you started. When I did this, I was surprised by how may combinations that never occurred to me before! I paired the same bras and belts with the same few skirts over and over because they looked good and it worked. Doing this, I found several new combinations that made fresh looks – and I didn’t spend a penny!

Make notes on your item page, card or spreadsheet entry for what goes with what – especially if it’s a new discovery. Even better, snap a quick picture of the items laid out together as you’d wear them. A picture is worth a thousand words as they say.

Ideas to try:

  • Lay out a bra and belt set on your bed or table. One at a time, put each skirt and pair of pants next to it. Does it coordinate or not? If it’s not a great match, consider if an additional item like a veil, sleeves, choli, overskirt or extra layer of hip scarf could tie the colors together. You could wind up with a new and vibrant outfit with a small addition.
  • Try each skirt or pair of pants with each veil. As before, would the addition of another color or metallic bring them together?
  • Try each pair of pants or skirt with all your overskirts, toppers or similar items. You may find a new favorite!

 

Step 8: Make a plan

Once you’ve gone through steps 3 through 7 with each category of costume items, it’s time to make a task list. Review each page, card or spreadsheet line and list any repairs, alterations or cleaning. I like to divide my “to do” lists so I can quickly select what I have time for.

  • Small tasks that I can complete in one sitting with supplies I have on hand, like replacing a closure, mending a tear or washing.
  • Medium sized jobs that may be 2 or 3 sittings or that I will need to hunt down supplies like matching bead and sequins.
  • Major projects, like re-beading fringe, that may take me weeks to finish.
  • Hired out jobs. These are things I don’t feel confident doing or have the equipment for, like sergeing a veil edge.

Also make a list of items that would fill a gap. For example, maybe in your mix-and-match playing, you’ve discovered that a veil with 2 specific colors would coordinate with several outfits to give you new options. A strategically selected overskirt could be the key to making a tribal bra work with more pants or skirts.  Be sure to keep your shopping list handy when you go browsing online or at the next hafla or bellydance convention to make you next purchase a truly useful one.

Week #2 of Your Sparkly Wardrobe will be on Sparkly Belly….”3 Ways to Spice Up Your Costumes”

 

 

 

July 14, 2016 1 Comment

6 Tips To Close The Deal On a Bellydance Gig

close the deal

Last week, I taught a private lesson that was very different than usual. My student, who has been taking both weekly and private lessons consistently for over 3 1/2 years now, is on the cusp of performing professionally.  An opportunity popped up, so the week’s lesson became how to handle a call from a client looking to book a performance rather than technique and improvisation. When you are seriously invested in the comprehensive training of a bellydance student that is looking to “go pro”, there is so much more than moves to learn!

I thought I’d share a few of the tips I went over with her in hopes that they will be useful for my blog readers here and on the “Bellydance Quickies”.

  1. Open it up. Start the conversation about booking by asking a simple, open-ended question like “Tell me about the party you are planning.” The key to making a good booking at a good price is getting good information. You don’t want every gig you get an inquiry for – trust me. Bachelor party? No, thank you.  This is where you initially screen the booking to see if it’s a good fit for you.
  2. Now shut up. Listen more than you talk. Your client will most likely tell you more than you thought to ask about the nature of the occasion if you get them started and give them a chance. Clarify specifics briefly as needed, but let them tell you all about their big plans. It is just as important to understand the size and formality of an event and the vibe they want to create as it is to know how long the show will be and at what time.
  3. Take notes. Take notes while you are listening to the client describe their vision for the party, wedding or corporate event they are planning. You will, of course, need to get more specifics like the exact address later to write up the contract, but you can gather much of what you need from being a good listener and asking a few well chosen questions. I keep a small notebook in my purse just for this in case I get a call while I’m out and about. I use the same notebook for calls I take at home, that way I can keep all potential client information in one place. I  put the date I received the call on the page too, so if I haven’t heard back from a client in a week, I call to see if they are still looking to book. You’d be surprise how many say, “I’ve been meaning to call you this week – thanks for checking back!”.
  4. Don’t jump the gun!  Clients are sometimes (often) in a hurry to get a price out of you. Make sure you have all, and I mean ALL the information you need before you give a price. Usually the first time I get a “premature ask” I deftly redirect with a question about other specifics I need to set an accurate price. What is the address? If I’m at my computer, I run it on Google Maps while I have them on the phone. There may be a travel fee. For example, here in the Phoenix area, if someone is in north Chandler, it’s a 20 minute drive from my house. If it’s south Chandler it could be over 45 minutes. During rush hour it could be 90 minutes!  Is this a wedding? Toasts, speeches, receiving lines… wedding receptions almost always run behind schedule. Figure extra time into the cost. And those are just two examples of the many things that could affect your quote.
  5. Paint the picture. Even if your potential client isn’t pushing you for a price, it is in your best interest to delay pitching your price. The more you can help the client build a mental picture of the lovely and exciting show you will plan for them, discuss the logistics of music hookup and how to get in and keep it a surprise for the guest of honor, the closer you are to sealing the deal.
  6. Keep your mystique. This is one paradox of   the bellydance biz . Remember that what the client is seeking is exciting, glamorous entertainment for their event. They saw your gorgeous, elegant photo on your webpage and thought, “I want HER to dance for our wedding!”  Yes, you need to be thorough and professional in your business dealing, but if you are “all business” and too cold in discussing the details, you can blow the magic your photo created. It may not work in your favor for getting booked. It takes lots of practice to finesse the client call with just the right balance of business and charm so they stay excited to have YOU grace their event.

Keeping all this in mind as you guide the client through a booking call takes practice, just like your choreography! The more you do it, the more situations you have to navigate and different types of events you have to organize, the better you’ll get at it. Honesty, I didn’t fully realize how much I’d learned over 16 years of taking bookings until I spontaneously had to give a “booking call lesson” last week and it all came spilling out!

If you are also starting to book professional work and would like more comprehensive coaching on how to handle client calls, I do offer lessons on Skype or Google Hangouts. I can take you step-by-step through an initial client call, booking and follow-up, including role-playing exercises (where I can play the indecisive client, the “price shopper”,  and a total pain!)  so you can learn to close the deal like a pro! Email me for more information.

January 13, 2016 3 Comments
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