When I began dancing at restaurants full time many years ago I wish I would have known what I know now in order to have prevented some pretty dumb mistakes. Here are some tips that I think would definitely be a big help for newbies joining the scene:
1. Have a contract ( I wish I would have done this form the start) and have the owner sign it. This contract should include duration of employment, payment info, how to be paid, provisions for starting late, basic needs such as capable system and speakers, etc…
I cannot tell you how many times I stupidly went to an audition for a restaurant gig I was interested in only to find I wasted my time because the owner/entertainment coordinator started me half an hour late and then took forever to pay. If I would have just contracted them form the getgo that could have been avoided.
2. Do not assume your bud is charging the correct rate. I am sorry but $50 for half an hour is garbage! Restaurant rates on average run anywhere from $75-$150 per night. If you are a beginner your rate will be different from a professional of course, but it should still fall into the appropriate range. Ask other pro’s in the area what they charge to get a good idea of where you fit.
Another thing to add is that dancing at a low rate with the perk of free food is garbage! If you are dancing at a discounted rate you better be getting some worthwhile perks to make up for it.
3. When you work at a restaurant do not ever feel like you HAVE to be body tipped. If you are not comfortable with the idea (like me) always put your foot in the ground and stand by your decision.
4. There will be dumb, drunk, annoying people every once in a while, it is life…. do not let it get to you. The venue you work at will greatly dictate the type of crowd. I for example stopped working restaurants on weekends because the rowdy crowd is just not my cup of tea. I like family style venues, but I keep one hip and non-traditional venue to keep things fresh. Know your audience and know what you are comfortable with (i.e. do you want to dance mostly with kids, retirees, college kids, business class, etc…)
5. Do NOT be afraid to talk to or give your opinion to your venue manager. This is a pet peeve of mine. I did not get raises and a bunch of other perks by hoping and wishing they would come along, I asked for them! In addition when I do not like something be it music, attitude, or anything else that affects my happiness/show at a venue I always voice it. I am not a big complainer by any means but when there is something that should be addressed it needs to be addressed. It is your job as an entertainer to entertain, and anything that hinders your ability or makes you feel undervalued should be fixed. If you are unhappy, say something! Chances are it can be fixed; if not then find another restaurant. So many dancers are fearful of losing their venue, but you have to stand up for yourself because no one else will!
6. If you’re dancing at a small venue the best props to use are 3yd veil, fanveils, tray, and zills. If it is a space where you are literally less than five feet away on all sides then please for the love of bajeezus do not use wings or sword. I know often times we can get bored using the same props, but that is where showmanship and passion becomes uber important.
7. Always keep your cool in bad situations. No matter how much a manager, co-worker, visitor, or other dancer can get on your nerves at moments, always be courteous, smile, and keep the negative comments to yourself. I had to work once with the meanest woman I ever met, and the best thing I ever did was just steer clear and not talk to the person. You do not have to be best friends with everyone, that is ok, but be courteous and stay out of drama.
8. Working a restaurant is completely different than stage shows. If you are big on choreography, you will not find working a restaurant easy. There are two big things with dancing at a restaurant venue: 1. Showmanship (this is the biggest and most important factor), 2. Ability (not that important to most owners but you should strive to portray this art form in the correct light).
-fact: 95% of owners will not know a thing about correct belly dance.
-fact: it is up to you to make yourself valuable and stand out from other dancers if you want to last
-fact: you will probably end up working with other “dancers” who dance completely unrelated and at times vulgar styles. In Orlando you see this too much, do not be shocked, expect it, and choose your shift wisely. It is better to work alone in those types of venues.
9. Carry a belly dance emergency kit in your car! I am sooo guilty of not doing this and boy have I had some close ones. The emergency kit should include in a box the following: extra light weight costume, necklace, shoes, comb, razor, deodorant, extra liner, lipstick, shadow with applicator and pins galore). Seriously this will come in handy because we all at one time at another have left our costume at home and it is sooo not fun!
10. Be Patient. There are tons of undercutters out there, do not get discourage when one lands the venue you wanted. The majority of the time they work at places where employment is not steady, they get paid peanuts, and feel they are the best because no one that fantastic works there. If you are a talented dancer with lots of charisma, opportunities will come, I promise you. Just be patient.
11. Do not dance for money. I say this because we see it all the time in the business…dancers who are struggling financially and do this just to pay bills and are totally unhappy dancing at their restaurant. If you are going to take the step to dance full time you truly and utterly must LOVE what you do. The harsh reality of dancing at some venues is that you might dance to the same tracks every day all year for years, or you might get really bogged down in the great expenses it takes to belly dance full time, or you might have to deal with people day in and day out that annoy you. If you don’t dance with sincere joy in you every time, people will sense it trust me, and it will show.
12. Music is everything. You want music that gets everyone wanting to dance themselves or feel an emotional reaction to. You DO NOT want people to just stare and wish the darn song would end. This is not a stage show, most people at restaurants do not know the artistry behind belly dance, and they just want to be entertained. Do not play a super dramatic stage piece at a venue. I am sorry but they just do not work in most situations. Leave the dramatic songs for stage shows. Finding music is HARD but never stop looking, and build up an awesome collection as it pays off!