Private Parties and Belly Dance Gigs

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Leyla Najma Belly Dance Gigs and Parties

Many students have asked me to tell them stories about private parties and gigs that I have participated in through out the years. I do have stories, but I was thinking that it might be a good idea to share tips for dancers,  especially since some of the experiences I have had, were close calls. Sometimes it’s hard to know ahead of time, how something will work out. But all dancers want to get to that level of the working belly dancer. Parties and gigs are the next step to the belly dance rite of passage. Not only are private parties and gigs money makers, but they are the icing on the cake during holidays and special events that we otherwise wouldn’t be apart of.

Even in restaurants and nightclubs, I have seen restaurant and night club managers deal with unpredictable people. Alcohol is usually the culprit but sometimes it’s personalities, and issues brought into the establishment. When you walk into someone’s home, you are not only trusting your hostess or host but you have to assume they are respectable people. The best parties I ever danced for, were from local customers who were patrons from restaurants or night clubs I performed at. You can’t get a better reference than that and it’s always a good point to start from. If they know the manager or restaurant owner, than you can bet that you will be in good hands. And I’m going to state something here that might make some eye brows raise; my favorite groups to dance for are Arabs and Persians. They tend to have more respect for our dance form plus obviously, we don’t have to explain to an ignorant crowd what we represent. American parties are fun but I have had more problems with touchy, feely people or antagonistic spectators.

Years ago, I was hired by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to dance for their summer extravaganza themed shows in Albuquerque. I’m not or never have been a smoker and I don’t advocate smoking, but the money was good and I was a single mom at the time. So I asked some local dancers to perform with me, for a gig that probably was a really bad idea. We went to a country and western dance hall to represent Camel cigarettes. There were fortune tellers and henna artists besides a bunch of us in belly dance costumes mixed in with cowboy hats, tight jeans and a very hostile audience. They were the angriest women and the men were die hard cowboys who had not tolerance for the culture we represented.  The timing to say the least, was the worst and we had to have body guards with us the entire time we were there. It was so bad that we couldn’t go to the bathroom alone; we had to pair up. We performed one show which was booed, with insults and threats being yelled at us so the representatives for R. J. Reynolds company  told us to get our things and leave immediately. It was the first time in my life, where my dance form and costume caused a negative reaction from a crowd that for many years, were apart of my life. I worked cattle for years, wore cowboy hats, and had great friends who were cowboys. To this day, I still remember the prejudice and realize how ignorance can play such a huge role in people’s attitudes. Leyla Najma Belly Dance Gigs and Parties

Tip 1

Send information to any hostess or host who has never had a belly dancer at their parties so that they can educate their guests before you arrive.

Tip 2

Make sure that if you are hired for a gig or private party at a public location that you will have security. Know your contact people ahead of time and find out if you need to come dressed or if there is a dressing room at your disposal.

 One reason I don’t drink is that I want to know when I am having a good time. ~Lady Astor

Alcohol will be an issue that will be your nemesis because it will be included in many parties and gigs especially with Americans. With  Arab and Persian parties, alcohol  usually is never a problem, but the tendency to  dance through the wee hours of the morning can get the best of any dancer. I have literally arrived home and crawled into bed just before sunrise. I remember one instance,  I woke up at about 2:00 in the afternoon after a long night of dancing, and I felt something stuck to my back. When I got out of bed, I found twenty dollar bills stuck to me. I recommend all dancers experience this… at least once!

Even when I am hired for private parties at restaurants, I become weary when I learn that the parties are either for someone retiring or corporate end of the year get togethers. This is because I had one experience that was unfortunate and a bit dangerous for my well being. The lesson learned is one I share with all my students;  perceptions can be warped with alcohol. The corporate party I danced for, itself was harmless and the group of people seemed to genuinely  appreciative my first show of the evening. As the night wore on,  I went to the back dressing room to change costumes for my second show.  There was one man who by that point drank way too much and he was looking at my dancing as more of a striptease. I knew he would be trouble but I assumed his party would keep him in check. I came out and started performing my second show when all of a sudden, he started yelling obscenities at me and to my horror, he stumbled up on stage. He started rubbing himself against me while at the same time, trying to put his hand down my belt. I pushed him away from me but this only made him angry. He grabbed me and pulled me off the stage towards his table. Some of the people in the group started to yell at him, trying to talk sense into him while others were trying to pull him away from me. He had a good grip on my wrist and he wasn’t letting go of me. The owner came over to the table and with one hard shove, knocked him on his back which thankfully made him let go of my wrist. The drunk man was escorted out of the restaurant, right then and there. I had a bruised wrist and needless to say my show at that point was over.

Tip 3

Before you dance for any private parties or gigs, make sure you let people know, nobody comes up on stage with you, without your permission.

Tip 4

If you see people impaired by alcohol, make sure you talk to your hosts about the dangers. If you are dancing for a private party at a restaurant, then make sure if you see people drunk and belligerent, that you let the owner know they could cause you problems.

“If you don’t follow your instincts on things, than you pay the price for ignoring your own warning signs.” Leyla Najma


Leyla Najma Belly Dance Gigs and Parties

Sometimes we get confused with exotic dancers and if belly dancers call their shows exotic, this puts us right up there into the imaginations of a multitude of people who view suggestive dance forms as stripping. Now, let’s be realistic, our costumes and movements even when performed well can be misconstrued by just about anyone. Burlesque and stripping have been around for years and I have found with our society the way it is today, most people won’t even try to educate themselves on the differences. Belly dance is thrown in there somewhere in the middle. So when you get hired for private parties or gigs, make sure the people hiring you, know exactly what your show consists of and you make clear what YOU expect from them.

I had a lady call me years ago and our conversation to this day still  irritates the hell out of me. At first, we talked for a few minutes regarding if I was available for her husband’s birthday party and what my fee was. She than asked me if I kept my clothes on or if I took them off right away. There was a long silence on my end because I couldn’t believe she asked me this question. I then asked her, what kind of dancing did she think I did. She stated she knew I was a belly dancer. I then asked her why she would think I would take my costume off? She said quite frankly that she knew her husband liked strippers and she thought she would surprise him with one for his birthday. I told her that she needed to get educated on the difference between strippers and belly dancers. I also told her that for a professional dancer such as myself, that’s about the worst insult you could say to us. She became defensive and said she didn’t see any difference between the two. I must admit, I became exorcisty on her and told her she was about as dumb as they came and I hung up on her. She called me back,  insisting I needed to dance for her husband’s birthday party and I told her when she was willing to educate herself on belly dancing, to let me know and I would think about it.

There is nothing you can do about cultural stupidity but from that one experience I decided to change my pamphlets and business cards, stating that I am a dance coach and professional dancer and producer. This way the message gets across that I make a living, teaching dance. I had, available for private parties on my business cards and decided after they were gone, I would no longer state that on my cards. And let me tell you, this wasn’t an isolated incident that caused me to do this, this was the one that was the final straw. Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself and your dance.

Tip 5

Make it very clear to any potential customer that you are a professional dancer and that you represent a cultural heritage that goes back thousands of years. Perhaps a few questions in the beginning of a phone call can help you screen potential customers.

Tip 6

You can’t always educate, ignorant people but the one thing you can do, is if you feel you aren’t getting the respect you or your dance deserve,  you can always say NO.

 “Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.”  ― Euripides, Bacchae

Private parties and gigs can be so much fun and in the right circumstances very lucrative. Just remember that if you don’t use your own common sense, people will take advantage of you. Guidelines for what you expect from them is just as important as understanding what they want from you. The important thing here, is to stay safe, make some money and enjoy yourself. Leyla Najma Belly Dance Gigs and Parties

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About Leyla Najma
Lifelong professional Belly Dancer dedicated to providing "Belly Dance Instruction That Is Easy To Understand And Learn That Connects The Dots"

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