Show Me The Money!

copyright © 2001
originally published in
The Chronicles Magazine

Money is a symbol of energy and time. It is neither good or bad, it is impartial. Yet, why do we dancers act so apologetic and nervous about asking for it? Is it because of old adages such as, "Money is the root of all evil?" Ladies shouldn't talk about money. Talking about money making is considered bad manners in some circles. Sure, sometimes the love of money can make a person evil, but for most of us money is a road to freedom. There is nothing romantic or exotic about living in poverty. Programming yourself to be the "starving artist" is restrictive to your life, your spirit and also to your art.

I find it so disheartening to hear so many of us say, "making a profit is not important--- I just want to break even." Or "I have bought lottery tickets as part of my retirement program," or, "I am looking for a rich man to enrich my life," or " My parents are going to be leaving me a lot of money," etc. Why not take control and make our own money?! Why not change our attitudes and old ideas about our value in this world? Why not rejoice in the path of being successful artists? Why not embrace the process of negotiating for money? Why not just ASK for money???? A change of perspective may make a big difference in how you succeed in the World of Bellydance!

Before I talk about negotiating for fees a dancer you must be very objective as to what you have to sell. If you are young, stunningly beautiful, and a great dancer, perhaps you should look in the nightclub, tv, video business. If you are older, mature, with years of experience behind you, perhaps the seminar circuit, women's groups, or the lecture/demo business is for you. Also, depending on your talents, there are also the side businesses of costume making, music making, events sponsoring, vending etc. Make a decision as to what your market is and then make a monetary standard as to what you would like to be paid---an absolute minimum. Part of the dollar-dance of life is going beyond the ego's emotional awkwardness about charging money.

Self confidence is also a factor. Imagine if someone would wave a magic wand over you and you became totally sure of yourself, "Prime Rate Prima Donna." Let's explore some negotiating phone skills...(***All names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

THE OLD WAY (the LOSE/LOSE way)...

The phone rings...

Mr. Ali:
"Hello, My name is Mr. Ali*** and I want to hire a dancer? How much do you charge?"
You:(in the middle of "Seinfeld" on TV, quickly gets nerved up to sell this man your talents.) "Uh, well, uuhh, it sorta depends. I usually charge $75 but...well, it depends."
Ali:"Are you good? What color is your hair? How old are you? You will get good tips and the Shah of Connecticut will be there."
You:"Well, I am good. I studied with Madame Turkish Coffee for ten years. I, uh, look OK, but I do need $75.
Ali:"Sorry, I will call around for a student. They will do it for $25. AND they dance for 2 or 3 hours!!!"

Ali:"Hello, My name is Mr. Ali and I want to hire a dancer. How much?"
Prime Rate Prima Donna:"Oh, Mr. Ali, this is Miss Prime Rate Prima Donna's assistant. She is very busy. Maybe I can help you? You know she is a top talent. You may not be able to afford her. Her rates are as follows: The Copper Show: $100 minimum charge for one short show, denim costume or The Gold Show: $250 that includes a drummer, authentic costumes, a personally autographed photo, or The Platinum Show: $1500 (the sky's the limit here) for live music, the super-dooper, diamond studded, Las Vegas-styled costume, shamadan/snake/sword prop. Which show is in your budget?"
Ali:"Oh she will get more than that in tips! Don't worry so much about the money."
PRPD:"Sorry, Miss PRPD never works for tips. It is against her religion. In fact, if she does get tips she will give them back to you, so your costs may end up being less!"
Ali:"Well.... okay I think I will go with the Gold Show. Are you sure she is good?"
PRPD:"Mr. Ali, she is the best. She has performed for many celebrities and all that will be listed in the information we send you with the contract. But first, I need to call you back after I check her calendar to make sure she is even available. What is your phone number and address please?"

Please note the reasons for encouraging your chances of success with the second example.

1)It is always much easier to talk about yourself if you learn to take on the voice of an assistant. Plus it makes questions like how old you are much less personal and easier to answer. It is also suggests a more business like atmosphere to the caller.
2)Giving three options in pricing gives you three chances of getting the job. And it gives you an idea of what kind of budget they may have. You wouldn't want to state a price of $75 to the CEO of IBM, would you?
3)Try not to work for tips! It is degrading and totally over rated. A dancer with 40 sticky one dollar bills on her body just sold out for a measly $40! Is the strain of working for those tips worth the loss of respect? Yet, to many employers, they like to think you made out like a bandit with those "hundreds of bills" on your body. This is America and in this culture, working as a dancer for tips is not typically respected. (Exception: parties of friends and family that want to have fun and that know you personally and it is not a commercial situation.)
4)Use your third option, the Platinum Package, as a shoot-for-the-stars price. It gives you practice, it is far out fun to say those big numbers, and, who knows, you may actually get it!
5)Always use a contract for any show, any size. If it is a personal friend and you feel self-conscious being so "official," then send a friendly letter stating the time, terms, requirements. My personal years of experience have proven that friends are the most apt to misunderstand details. Don't jeapordize your relationships over a missed date, wrong fee, etc.

Remember that people like for you to charge them more. It makes them feel more important and you more special. Do not let fear of losing a job make you timid. There will always be a market for Rolls Royces, 5-star hotels, and French champagne in this world. Wouldn't you rather be considered a Champagne Dancer than a Soda Pop Dancer????

Amaya has been on the seminar circuit for over 25 years. She believes that the "elders" of this dance should share more than just steps to the newcomers struggling to learn how to negotiate their way around the arts world.