10 Tips on How to be Famous

November 1, 2005
originally published in
The Chronicles Magazine

Many years ago, a well-known dancer offered advice to me. "Amaya, you could be famous if you just followed some simple rules." I was a greenie . . . a belly dance baby . . . totally naive when it came to the politics and the business end of our dance scene. I listened eagerly. "First of all," she said, "you must get a very expensive wardrobe. Do not wear jeans ever. Then, you must always keep them waiting. Arrive late to everything. And thirdly, do not be so friendly! You must be more deeee-mahnding."

Hmm . . . this advice, given in very dramatic tones was just the opposite of who I really was. Was she serious? This teacher was one of the first "stars" I sponsored in my dance studio in Austin, Texas 20+ years ago. She turned out to be the dance teacher from hell. She actually did all the above things . . . to me! She demanded two sets of electric curlers, a manicurist back stage to repair a broken finger nail, a special diet, extra money (!), my personal presence to help her dress, and more. By Sunday night, I was shattered nerves crying on my back porch swearing I would never sponsor her again. I never did and she eventually faded away in our dance scene. So much for her fame . . . .

So, to be famous does not mean any of the above. Longevity, Endurance and Patience are necessary virtues. The world famous flamenco dancer, Maria Benitez once told me, "Amaya it takes a minimum of 20 years to build your career in dance and by then the arthritis has just started setting in." How true. In a time when there are more dancers than ever before; more information in the form of the internet; thousands of DVDs; multitude of videos; a myriad of costume ideas; global connections---it is difficult to float to the top of this incredible heap of talented people! If you are one of those people wondering on what course to take, here are some suggestions:

  1. READ. Do you want to be known nationally? Then read the internet buzz rooms or subscribe to the national magazines. On an international level, you may wish to subscribe to the Australian, English, German, or French belly dance periodicals. There are dance scenes everywhere . . . even Singapore! Write articles and/or reviews for a magazine. Read local dance newsletters. Write thank you notes. Answer those email letters.

  2. KNOW THE DANCE SCENE. Especially if you have taken any length of time out from dance, familiarize yourself with the latest trends. You will not be taken seriously as a dancer if you are wearing an outdated costume or dancing to 60s belly dance music. Like all arts, this one is a living, breathing, evolving one. Be informed and aware by going to shows all over the city, country, or planet and see what is going on out there.

  3. DO NOT BURN BRIDGES. So much of our ticket sales are "in-house." We are a very incestuous group! The way to the top is often through your friends and colleagues. Schmoozing with that restaurant owner will not get you very far . . . but do the same with your dance girlfriends and you may find yourself being hired by these very friends! A businessperson can get that big contract on the golf course---we dancers do it over lunches, dance seminars, and even in hot tubs! The best dancer is not always the one that gets hired or showcased. It often is the best connected dancer or the one with the sharper people skills that gets the job. With all things being equal, friends will always hire friends.

  4. BE A TEAM PLAYER. I see geat team efforts with the staff at Rakkasah. Promoter Shukriyah takes note when a dancer is easy to get along with or if they are they making her pull her hair out. Isis at Ya' Hallah also has a great team of assistants. At my own Shake & Bake Festival, I depend on my "Amaya Angels" to get me through a weekend. When it comes time to giving discounts, dance slots, teaching slots---whom do you think will get first preference?

    To get noticed, consider offering your dance talents as a barter versus as a paid dancer. This makes it much more likely the sponsor or promoter will use you. After all, sponsors are always worried about the budget. Unlike other arts, this scene typically does not get sponsorships or funding that other art companies often get. The funding or backing is usually through a private person.

    Attend all the events in your area regardless of personal politics and select VIP events in the country that may help your star rise. Whether it is Egypt, New York, Des Moines, or your local village, learn who the Movers & Shakers are in your area. Take them to lunch. Let them know you want to shine! Allow them to help you in any little way. Which ties into . . .

  5. BE SEEN on stage or in the audience. People outside your area need to see you in order for you to become famous. It is highly unlikely you will be discovered in an ice cream parlor a-la-Lana Turner-style or even in a local restaurant. Like "Coca Cola" and "Sony" you want to develop some name recognition. By the way, make sure your stage name is one that is catchy and easy to remember!

  6. BE DIFFERENT! Once you learn your basics . . . learn who you are and what makes you special on stage. By this, I don't mean beauty of body, face or costume, or even technique talent. I mean what is unique about YOU? How can you hone and share that with the world?

  7. BE BUSINESS SAVVY. In today's world, you will not be taken seriously if you don't have a website, email, and basic computer skills. To be a successful artist you must also have professional literature on yourself. Bio, business card, photos are the minimum requirements. Return phone calls in a timely way. Keep good financial books. Have yourself or an assistant deal with your contracts and negotiations. Know ahead of time your a) absolute minimum fees, b) average fees and also your 3) out-of-the-world wishful thinking fees. Make sure to ask for all of them. One of these options will usually happen.

    Don't undersell yourself and make sure to know what the market is bearing. Never undercut a fellow dancer or book an event in conflict with hers (memorize Rule 4 above).

    It is always preferable to set up your own event and make profit from it than to work for someone else. For instance, a restaurant that pays $25-$75 every week is not going to pay any serious bills. To make serious money, you work for yourself not someone else. Take a chance and rent your own hall and put on your own event and sell your own tickets.

    An exception to this rule would be dancing for a favorite charity (get a donation receipt for your taxes) or for another dancer/sponsor/promoter in your area. I consider this part of giving back to my dance community by dancing gratis for local dance events.

  8. FIND A MENTOR. In the 1800s there were guilds to guide and train young people into the blacksmith, horseshoeing, and many other trades. The elders would teach their specialties to the incoming generation. Today we have schools and teachers to do the same. Yet, to become more specialized in one's field you often need someone to lend a helping hand. I had this with my mentor, Bert Balladine. He gave me advice on my costume, dance politics, the make up, the position of my toes, the length of my skirt . . . everything. To this very day, I will call to run an idea by him. He is objective, generous, balanced in spirit. I have always realized how lucky I was to have him in my back hip pocket.

  9. LUCK...also called Kismet, Fluke, Chance, Serendipity, Timing, being at the right place at the right time. Often fame happens because your uniqueness is ripe for that particular time in dance history. There is nothing to prepare or explain or try to make happen. If it was meant to happen it will.

  10. 10) TALENT. Lastly and most obviously, you must be able to dance. Really dance. Not just good dance. Not just regular dance. Not just because your boyfriend tells you that you are great. Be realistic about your skills. Go to an expert for objective feedback on your dance talents.
With the above efforts you may find yourself making a decent living in the dance world. And avoid the pitfalls of old fame ideas-go ahead, wear those cool jeans, arrive on time and be kind to people. Enjoy the process and the journey . . . the friends and memories you will make along the way are priceless.