Kiyaana's Blog

Becoming a Professional Belly Dancer

Are you thinking about "going pro"?  Or do you already have a few paid gigs under your (beautifully beaded) belt, but realize you got into this a bit unprepared?  Here are my top ten recommendations for you. (I'm assuming you don't have an amazing teacher who has already prepped you appropriately.  Lucky for you, if you do!!!!)  If the thought of dancing professionally brings up thoughts of $$$$$, then skip to #10.

Just to get this out of the way - If you have taken less than a year of belly dance classes, get back to class. You aren't ready. How much longer should you take classes?  Keep reading . . .

1. Find a mentor and schedule some how-to-be-a-professional private lessons immediately. Yes, private lessons are not inexpensive, but it's important to make this investment. Even if you have been dancing for a long time, that doesn't mean you are prepared for professional gigs. Not sure where to look? Ask for recommendations from other dancers. Don't have anyone in your area that qualifies? Seek out an online mentor. Your mentor should be supportive, but honest. Ask for guidance about professional rates, undercutting (preventing it, not doing it!), handling an audience (including receiving tips), working at restaurants, booking private parties, and how to structure a 15-20 minute set. Arrange for video critiques.

OR attend a "going pro" workshop. For example, in the Washington DC area, "So You Wanna Be a Star" with Artemis Mourat.  Sedona (Arizona) offers "Biz of Bellydance" workshops.  "So You Want to Be a Pro" with Ruby Beh.

If finding a mentor seems impossible, at least become connected with dancers all over the world through various internet groups (Biz of Belly Dance on Facebook, forum) and ask for guidance. You can even glean many helpful tips from Michelle Joyce's "Secrets of the Stage" DVDs (there are three).

2. Do an honest self-assessment of your skills. Are you able to perform with a veil? Finger cymbals? Cane? Sword (or other balancing prop)? Can you dance to Oriental entrance music, traditional dance classics*, baladi, Saidi, drum solos, and pop music in the manner that each genre suggests? Are you able to dance continuously for at least 20 minutes without becoming winded, while smiling and looking glamorous? This thread on has some great suggestions for restaurant gig preparation.  Film yourself dancing for at least ten minutes, in costume, and watch it carefully and honestly. (Now do it again with people walking through your dance space, preferably while carrying trays of food or drinks, and other obstacles such as a toddler who wants to dance with you and an oil spot on the floor.  Ha!)

3. Learn as much as you can about Middle Eastern music. We can't do this job without it! Not only that, but musical knowledge is essential for structuring engaging performance sets with authenticity and variety. Shems has put together incredibly helpful information about the various parts of a performance. 

4. Purchase at least two professional quality costumes and adjust them to fit you perfectly. Again, this is an investment in your new business venture. While the quality of your dancing, your business ethics, and ability to engage your audience are most important, you must look the part. Spend as much as you can afford, whether brand new or gently used. You don't have to spend $900 on a high-end designer costume, but the under-a-$100 items that pop up on eBay and elsewhere likely won't cut it. Select costumes that you LOVE to wear, flatter your figure, and are suitable for typical pro gigs such as restaurant performances and private parties. It's very important to make sure your costumes fit you as perfectly as possible.  Gapping bra cups + skirts shifting or sliding down = looking unprofessional.

5. Educate yourself about the going rates for your area and charge accordingly. Samira Shuruk's "Rates by Region" page is an excellent resource.

6. Make connections with professional dancers and teachers in your area.  Become friends on Facebook or through other social networks, support their events, and go to their gigs (tip them well, but DON'T dance for too long if they get you up during audience participation. I honestly don't care about this, but some dancers do.)

7. Establish a website and order professional business cards.  There are so many inexpensive (or even free, but watch out for too many advertisements) options available for both.  You'll want cards to leave with restaurant owners, give to customers, and connect with other dancers and you'll want someone searching your geographical area on the www to find you. You'll need photos for your cards and site. Use the best photo of yourself that you have that represents your performance style. If you can't afford a professional photo shoot, have a skilled friend take lots and lots of photos of you in full costume and make-up, either posed or during a performance.

8. Read up on ethics for professional belly dancers. Suggested articles: Fair Rates (Samira Shuruk), Business Tips (Shira), Do's and Don't's (Schadia of Atlanta)

9. Set up a way to track your dance income & expenses. If you use an accountant for your taxes, consult him/her on the best method for this. Otherwise, log all income (even cash payments) and keep your receipts. If you want to call yourself a professional, you need to be honest with the IRS and keep everything legitimate. You'll probably be spending much of it on business expenses and will be eligible for deductions (speak with a tax professional about filing a Schedule C along with your 1040.)

10. Don't do this for the money.  Seriously. I really mean it. To get started, you need to invest in costumes, veils, props, music, jewelry and other accessories, cover-ups, business cards, and make-up. This is going to run you a bare minimum of $600. (Remember, you have to spend money to make money.)  It's going to take you more than one night's worth of gigs to recoup those expenses and by the time you do, you'll probably realize you need to spend more on higher-quality costumes that will withstand wear-and-tear of regular gigging and still hold their shine.  Yes, there are dancers who can make at least a partial income from gigs, but they are in large cities with many restaurant & private party opportunities, usually teach several dance classes (or even fitness) a week, and are really, really GOOD. Plus they already have years of experience.

Well, think you still want to do this?  Yes? Great. Then BE professional. It may take a while to get all your ducks in a row, but make it a priority before you seek out any (more) professional gigs. Walk the walk, talk the talk. Keep learning and growing. How we behave while calling ourselves professionals affects belly dancers all over the world. Sounds exaggerated, but it isn't.  I'm trying to do my best to represent us well.  I hope you'll do yours!

Bellydance Social for Hope House

On April 15th, join me to learn some bellydance moves and shimmy your cares away at Baba Ganoush!  No charge, but donations will be accepted to benefit the Hope House women's and children's shelter in downtown Fredericksburg. Baba Ganoush is letting us use their space, so purchasing a beverage and/or food item will be appreciated.  The fun starts at 3 pm.  (Baba Ganoush is located in the Eagle Village on Rte. 1 in Fredericksburg.)

Why Hope House?  A couple years ago, my home phone number was accidentally printed on a resource list for women seeking help. The result was women leaving messages on our answering machine, usually speaking in hushed tones or whispers, desperate for assistance. I would call them back and give them the correct number(s) to call, but, WOW, it really made an impression on me. 

I hope we can make a difference for these women and their children!!!! 

Printable large flyer (PDF format).

Printable half-sheet flyer (PDF format).

Girl Scout Programs

NEW!  Coloring page of Kiyaana. Enjoy!

I was a Girl Scout for 12 years and am thrilled to help girls learn about Middle Eastern dance.  Whether your troop is working on a Dance badge, want to learn some moves for Thinking Day, or want bellydance to be part of a fun night together, I can help you make it happen! As a certified public school educator, certified fitness instructor, active bellydance instructor and professional dancer, I'm more than prepared to assist you.

If your troop is visiting the Gainesville area, visiting Nora (Lebanese restaurant) on a Friday or Saturday night will make your trip even more memorable! In Richmond, try The Phoenician on a Saturday night. The manager at each location can work with you to customize your visit.  In the Fredericksburg area, we can explore a couple of restaurant options, if you wish. Contact me for more information.

These are some suggestions for badge requirements I can help you address:

Brownie - Dancercize, Making Music, BS Around the World - Complete the Follow the leader, Dance on stage, Move to the beat, My own dance, and Around the World activities.

Junior - Dance - Fulfill the Dance Watcher, Dance Around the World, and Dance Party requirements.  Either attend one of my Friday or Saturday night restaurant shows or schedule a time for me to visit one of your gatherings.

Cadette/Senior - Invitation to the Dance (Cadette/Senior) - A1, A3 (Lebanese dabke), A4, B1, B5

I'm sure there are more!  Please let me know what I have missed.

Ballet for Belly Dancers Plus Jillina's Pop Choreo DVDs

I shared this on
"Ballet For Belly Dancersalt is another high quality video production from Cheeky Girls. I was really excited to hear that this DVD was coming out because whenever I take a belly dance workshop and the instructor uses ballet terms, I feel a little lost. I had looked into ballet-specific DVDs, but didn't want to get that involved with ballet, so this was a perfect fit for me. Brianna is clear and easy to follow. The filming and sound quality are excellent. There's even a glossary of ballet terms inside the cover. I highly recommend this DVD!"

I also recently viewed Bellydance With Jillina, Vol. 2: Lebanese Pop Choreographyalt.  This DVD showcases a full choreography with step-by-step instructions for the included combinations. 
Jillina is easy to follow and the overall quality is great.  If you like Jillina's style, you will be very happy with this instructional DVD.  I rarely follow choreographies exactly for my own dancing.  Instead I use them to observe how another dancer has interpreted the music and am inspired by new combinations of movements.  (It's important to note that while the music is Lebanese pop, the dance style is not Lebanese-specific.  The music used is "Ya Hawa" by Shady Sayegh.  From what I can tell, this version is available only on Jillina's Companion CD, which includes the music for her other instructional DVDs in this series.  This song was previously recorded by Wael Kfoury, so you may be able to easily adapt this to his version, which is longer by about 1 1/2 minutes.)  

Pain Free

A few summers ago I couldn't move my left arm without excruciating pain.  (I prefer waiting it out, trying home remedies, homeopathic methods, etc. to going to a medical doctor.)  My self-diagnosis was tendonitis in my elbow and, along with a trip to the local health store, I ordered the book Pain Free: A Revolutionary Method for Stopping Chronic Painalt.  Reviews I found online were very positive and the author's realignment approach made sense to me.  As soon as I received the book (next-day shipping!) I read the first couple of chapters and then went to the section on elbows, wrists, and hands.  Because of the pain, I doubted that I could do some of the exercises, but I was able to do them with no problem. ( My favorite was the Supine Groin Stretch at the end on p.72.)  My arm felt so much better after one day of following the routine!  I kept it up every day, as recommended.

Since that time I have consulted this book for mild hip, then knee pain (it helped!) and also for my husband's shoulder pain.  While the exercises themselves have been very useful, I especially appreciate that the author, Peter Egoscue, reminds us throughout the book that we are out of alignment and eventually in pain because we don't MOVE enough.  Keeping up your range of motion and flexibility just makes sense.

Keep moving and feel good!