Hiring a Bellydancer for your Wedding
Happy Spring! The arrival of May marks the beginning of wedding season, and my favorite time of year as a performer.
As a New York City professional bellydancer for over 10 years, I have been lucky enough to bear witness and perform at hundreds of wedding receptions and special events from the most opulent and lavish affairs to the most intimate of family gatherings. Nothing is more fulfilling than doing my part in adding to the joy and magic of these happy occasions.
For many families it is an important cultural tradition, and they can’t imagine a wedding celebration without the beautiful, exciting and authentic entertainment that a bellydancer brings. But across all backgrounds and cultures, bellydance is an elegant and unique way to entertain your wedding guests that has been gaining in popularity.
Here are a few of the most important things to consider when hiring a bellydancer for your wedding:
1. PRICE SHOPPING (cheaper is not better)
The biggest mistake that people can make is shopping around to find a bellydancer based on price alone. Because most bellydancers are freelance individuals in charge of their own business – you may be quoted a range of prices and it might be tempting to save a little money. You may think, “How much of a difference can it be?” A LOT different.
Attitudes on this may vary, depending on what’s important to you and what you want your guests to come away with. A nightclub owner may be happy with a pretty face in a sparkly suit as background decoration, but in my experience, most of my wedding clients are looking for a skilled and professional entertainer who will elevate the reception with a beautiful and impressive performance that their guests won’t soon forget.
They are also looking for someone with a warm and sparkling personality, who is happy to work with them in carefully crafting the show exactly suited to their needs. This may mean starting a debkah at a Lebanese wedding, incorporating an assaya (cane) routine at an Egyptian wedding, understanding the stylistic differences in Turkish verses Arabic music and dancing, or accommodating a request for particular music or costuming.
It’s also in the minor details – will she arrive early, be well put-together and have everything organized with her music and props before ShowTime? Or will she arrive late, harried and rushing from another job and creating unnecessary chaos and worry on your wedding day?
And another thing – hiring an entertainer is IMPORTANT! If you’ve spent considerable money on the venue, the food, the flowers, the DJ, you should be prepared to spend money on the entertainment. Your guests will far more likely remember and talk about for years to come the performance they saw over the salmon entrée they ate. So, it should be a priority and not an element you decide to go the budget route.
Taking all of the above into consideration, a dancer who charges on the low end likely does not have the skill-set, experience, or time to provide you with what you are looking for. It is far more likely that you will end up with a dancer who either falls short in her ability to impress you with her performance and presentation or one who charges so little that she over-books her time and leaves you in the lurch.
2. UNDERSTANDING WHY BELLYDANCERS CHARGE WHAT THEY DO
Ok, so you’ve done your research and found a pro that has everything you’re looking for and inquire about booking them. The current professional rate for a wedding performance is between $300 -$500 for NYC and the regional area. “But wait, you charge WHAT for HOW long? It’s only 25-30 minutes. Couldn’t you do it for less?”
In consideration of your time, I’ll just elaborate on a few of the most important facts about what goes into a bellydancer’s rates. First, the idea that you are hiring someone for 30 minutes of work needs to be thrown out altogether. Getting performance ready (make-up, hair, costume, and overall presentation) as well as travel to and from the venue must also be taken into account. Choreographed troupe shows also require hours of rehearsal time and studio rental fees. But more importantly, it’s these other lesser-know facts about what goes into being a professional bellydancer that need to be addressed.
It’s important to consider that a professional in ANY field has undergone a significant amount of training to be able to begin marketing him or herself for hire. For bellydancers, that consists of years and years of classes and continually enrolling in workshops and dance projects – all of which is a substantial financial investment. A dancer of any genre MUST continue to invest in her training and development while performing or risk injury to her body and stagnation of her skills.
A bellydancer’s foremost expense is most often her costuming, which on the average costs around $700- $800 for each professional costume. For a dancer who frequently performs at weddings and galas, investing in numerous high-end costumes every year is a must. Props such as wings, veils, fan-veils, swords, fire props, finger cymbals, and supplies such as stage make-up, dance shoes, and acquiring new music all cost a good deal of money too.
And lastly, marketing and advertising are another expense that factors in a great deal. Websites, business cards, online ads, listing services, and the production of media such as photo shoots and video editing are an important necessity of doing business for a bellydancer. The tasks of managing a small business also require hours and hours of work outside of performing or training. That is why freelancer rates are often a mystery to many people, precisely because there is so much “invisible work” involved. There may only be 10 hours per week of work available for what he or she does, but he or she will often still work 30 to 40 hours per week to be able to work those 10 hours.
3. THE CONCLUSION
In conclusion, no one becomes a dancer in hopes of getting rich or profiting greatly. You can be assured that the dancers who quote $50-$100 higher than the budget dancer are not taking advantage or over-charging. The bulk of our profits are re-invested in order to be able to continue dancing professionally. Because for us lucky ones, our art and passion is one and the same with our livelihood and we can’t imagine any other life. So, it’s important that we understand each other and that you don’t ask me to lower my rates. It’s important that we both value the service I provide and value the profession as a whole.
Your wedding day is one of the most important days of your life, so my advice to you in hiring a bellydancer is to go for the gold standard. Do your research, ask questions, and when you find a pro don’t hesitate to hire them for the going rate they charge. You’ll be more than happy you did.