Big dilemma, song choice advice please... and just advice.
I need help deciding what song I should choose for a veil dance, but I feel that I need to explain the whole situation from the beginning.
This is kinda a long story, but here it goes...
I got a facebook message a few months ago from someone who was helping to organize a cancer benefit gala and was assigned to look for an oriental dancer. She had a recommendation for my dancing from a college student (who I have worked with in the past). She asked me to perform and I marked the event on my calendar and started preparing for the show.
A few weeks later I get an email from another organizer of the event. She basically said they were going in a new direction and I would no longer be needed. I then erased the event off of the calender.
A few days later I get a call at the studio I work at. It was the same lady who emailed me. She was looking for a professional bellydancer and wanted to 'hire' me. I never told her that I was the same dancer she canned previously, I just figured she wasn't wanting to have a 'non-professional' dancer dance when she could just find a 'professional' (because I will be representing her). Of course I was a little irritated by this, but went ahead and accepted the offer because as a newby bellydance performer I can get all the recognition I can get!
Okay, so once I agreed to dance, she wanted to meet me to go over the details of what she wants at the event. Mind you, this is a huge event that raises money for the hospital. Last year alone they rose $56,000 with this one event. Well because it's a fundraiser, she would like me to dance for free in exchange for recognition and free advertising. Okay, that is fine. But she also doesn't want me to really bellydance- only veil dance. And I can't wear my beautiful costumes because they are too revealing and she doesn't want to offend the 'Muslim and international guests' (really?). She did however say that she will have a seamstress make a new top that covers my torso and match my skirt of choice.
So I will be dancing for free, but not really dancing, only working with a veil (not too much hips), and I am not going to be able to wear my favorite costume. Okay, okay. That's fine. I can do that. But here is my real question...
I already have choreography for a veil dance to the song "Jemilleh", but it's an Armenian song. They watched me dance to it and they LOVED it. Their event however is Arabian Nights themed. Would it be so inappropriate for me to use the song I already am familiar with even if it's not in Arabic? I am actually the one who is concerned about this, not them. After all I went through I feel as though I shouldn't bother going to trouble coming up with a new song, dance, etc... I'm already super busy as it is, but at the same time I want to stick with the theme only because I don't want to offend any actual middle easterners by using a song that isn't arabic at a Arabian Nights themed gala.
Wait. They DON'T want you to authentically bellydance, they DON'T want you to wear a bellydance costume, and you're worried because your song is not in Arabic?
If you feel comfortable dancing for free, that's fine. But if you already have a beautiful choreo prepared to a beautiful song, I personally would not put even MORE effort into it by creating an entirely new dance for them. Most of your audience will not know it is Armenian anyway.
I agree with your thought process that using an Armenian song (much as I love Jemilleh myself) for an Arabian Nights theme event does seem like a mismatch. If it were me, I'd probably use either "Cleopatra" (Mary Ellen Donald has a nice version on one of the Gems of the Middle East CD's), the opening instrumental segment for "Enta Omri", "El Fen" (there's a nice version on one of the Wash ya Wash CD's sold by Nourhan Sharif), or "Lamma Bada" (since you have "Jemilleh", you probably have John Bilezikjian's "Magic" CD, and I think "Lamma Bada" may be on it). I'd improvise instead of choreographing. And once the event was over, I'd continue working with that song and that routine until I was happy with the final result. That way, I'd end up with TWO veil dance songs in my repertoire instead of just one.
Well, um, actually I would NOT do the above. Instead, I'd say, "Okay, here's the deal. You're concerned about the possible response of 'Muslim and international guests', right? Cool. You contacted me because you wanted a professional, and now it's time for you trust my professional expertise. I will wear one of my conservative costumes, which is called a baladi dress, with a hip scarf tied over it, and I will do a folkloric style of show with a 'girl next door' sort of flavor. The dance style I will do is raqs baladi, and it will NOT involve waving around a piece of filmy fabric - it will involve doing a style of dance grounded in what people do at weddings and other family parties. Your 'Muslim and international guests' will enjoy it, because it will evoke memories of home."
And if she gave me any crap about that, I'd continue with:
"Y'know, I'm a working professional dancer, and normally I'd expect an event with a budget of your size to pay me $250. I was willing to donate a performance because I was thinking it might generate some follow-on paying gigs for me, but in order for that to happen I need to be able to showcase an example of what my 'real' shows actually look like. I'm happy to do the 'conservative-audience' flavor of my show, but I'm NOT going to let you push me around with inappropriate demands. You said you wanted to use me because you wanted a professional dancer, but now you're saying you don't trust my professional judgment. I can't perform for someone who doesn't treat me with professional respect. I think it's best for everybody concerned if I withdraw from this."
On a side note, as someone who was sucked in a couple of times with "we are a charity - dance for free and get more gigs" - it's bollocks. Dance for free if this is a cause you really want to support - but don't expect any paying gigs in return. Expect more requests for freebies. And I suspect other people involved - such as caterers and probably the organizer - are being paid. Offer a discount price - make it clear "for this I would normally charge $x - but because I want to support you I'm willing to do it for $y".
I also think the beledi is a good compromise. If they insist on the veil and sham costume (which means you might not even be offered freebie work) - then don't sweat the music. It's all fantasy anyway.
More thoughts... it sounds like Person #1 actually wanted a belly dancer, and #Person #2 actually did NOT want a belly dancer. Debates and arguing probably happened behind the scenes, and the final decision was to get one, but Person #2 was probably disgruntled by the decision.
Question: you described yourself as a "newby dance performer". Does this mean you're relatively new to PERFORMING, or does it mean you have a lot of experience performing at belly dance events and now you're trying to go pro? I don't mean to insult you by the question, I just wasn't sure what you meant by your choice of words. If you're new at performing in general, with very little experience performing at haflas and other belly dance insider events, my advice to you would be to shimmy away from this gig as fast as your legs can carry you.
Just for curiosity's sake, have you asked your teacher for advice on how to handle this? What advice has your teacher offered?
Thanks for all the advice.
Thanks for the quick response ladies. Lots to consider and I appreciate your advice.
I have been a performer since I was a child. I am also a dance instructor- ballet, tap, jazz, folk, bollywood, etc. My bellydancing journey started 4 years ago after I moved to another town. I started taking lessons from an instructor at the studio where I worked. Her name was Hilloah. She moved a couple of years ago so I continued my bellydance training by DVDs and whenever I could attend a workshop. When she moved, I didn't have many options on continuing my training in a classroom because of the area I lived at. The nearest belly dance studio is 2-3 hours away.
I have been performing for the last few years with a group, but I recently (2 years ago) started doing solo when my instructor asked me to. I really enjoy performing, but I want to do it right.
So I have performed various dance styles countless times throughout my life, and I am often hired to dance at events (for example, the University and the local performing arts theater has hired me for different events, whether it's tap dance, bollywood etc.) So I am considered a professional dancer, but when it comes to belly dancing especially, I consider myself still a newby since I have only had 4 years of experience.
Oh sorry, I forgot to mention in my previous posts that I choreographed the veil dance when they asked me to veil dance. At the time I didn't realize their theme. I was just asked to veil dance and not a specific song, etc. Sorry to confuse you, I am recovering from a stomach bug and at home laying in bed contemplating. lol.
Thanks so much for telling us a bit more about your situation. I live in Iowa, so I can totally understand what it's like to be in a relatively rural area, without a local belly dance community.
It sounds like you're trying to launch yourself as a professional belly dance performer, but without the guidance of a mentor to help you navigate the situations that come up. It also sounds like you don't have a lot of training in the skills that go into business management - stuff like negotiating deals, discerning between which types of gigs will give useful marketing benefit versus which will yield no benefit, marketing yourself, etc. So you're doing the best you can, but hitting some challenges along the way.
Forgive me if I have misinterpreted what you've told us about yourself - I'm just trying to make sure I understand correctly where you're at so that I can give useful input on your situation.