Behind the Rates – Why Belly Dancers Charge What They Do
Everyone wants their event to be a grand success. You’ve chosen the most delicious food, you’ve put great attention into your guest list, you’ve selected the right location and now you are thinking about entertainment. Although most of us would love every thing as grand and wonderful as possible, we also have to consider our budget. A belly dancer, like most things, can be acquired at different prices. The quality of entertainment can also vary widely for those prices, so you need to decide, do you go with the cheapest dancer or with one that is more expensive. How do you know you can trust them to be professional and reliable? What if you want a dancer that is above and beyond the norm in grace, ability and entertainment value? What goes into the pricing of a belly dancer?
What’s behind the pricing of a belly dancer?
Like most all performing arts, the expense is in the preparation. Before arriving at your door step, a belly dancer will have already have spent time putting together music for your event, preparing the dances she will do to that music, selecting the right costume or costumes, applying her performance make-up and journeying to your event. A quality dancer will have spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars on dance training, music, make-up, accessories, props and costumes as well as a typical business’s expenses of advertising, computers, software, web site, business cards, accounting, photographs, gas, car maintenance and travel. She will also have spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours, in practice, studying, editing music, adjusting costumes, talking with clients, working and performing. Although the price tag may seem high for a relatively short performance, what you are paying for is all the things that make it possible for that performer to be able to give you the quality entertainment you deserve. Because of the high cost of belly dance necessaries*, many belly dance performers make very little profit at all, but do it because it is something they enjoy.
*For example one professional costume can range in price from $300 for a relatively simple ensemble, up to $1300 for a more deluxe outfit, most professional ensembles average from $500-$1000. The costumes are handmade in Egypt and Turkey. Want to know where we get them? Here is a list of vendors.
Why do different performer’s rates vary?
In most communities the belly dancers come to a general consensus about how much it is appropriate to charge. If you ask around, you will find most working dancers charging near the same rates for the same service.
If you find a dancer charging significantly less, then you can expect that individual to have lower than professional standards – beware of them, they may embarrass you in front of your guests. Some of these dancers may be students, or women who do it as a hobby, but perhaps don’t take it very seriously.
Dancers at the middle to higher end, in general, tend to be stronger dancers, more in demand and therefore able to ask for a higher amount. Sometimes they offer rare specialties or have particular cultural insight. They also might be choosing to limit the amount of work and type of work they are getting by only working for higher end clients. Obviously higher cost doesn’t guarantee higher quality, but as a general rule you will find the more expensive dancers worth the added cost.
When you see a price posted on a web site, that may indicate what they actually charge or it may indicate a base rate upon which they add. For example, a dancer may advertise a base rate of $200, but she will add for travel, she will add if you want props, she will add depending on the length of the set and she’ll add if you have a special request, so your final price will be more around $275. Another dancer may state on her site that she charges $250 for a 20 minute show in the DC metro area and that will be pretty much exactly what you pay.
Most dancers adjust their rates for different clients depending on several variables. These will usually include travel, how long and how many times you want them to dance, special requests, if it’s a wedding or a larger event that might require more flexibility, some charge per prop (sword, cane, zills, veil,candelabrum, etc.). What night the performance is will also be taken into account. For example, if it’s on a Saturday night a dancer might be giving up her regular restaurant engagement to work for you and if she has to travel a long way or wait a long time, she might be giving up more than one possible weekend engagement to be at yours. She will need to take that loss into account when she sets her rate.
The frequency of a performance and the exposure it gives a dancer will also be taken into account. For example, if a dancer is hired to perform once a week at a club or restaurant, she generally accepts a little less per performance than she what she is paid to perform at a one time event. This is because it’s an ongoing engagement giving her a steady income that might also net her customers that will hire her for special events. To expect a dancer to perform for those same wages at your one time special event is unfair to the performer. If you hold your special event at a restaurant that has regular dancers, then you can either plan it at the time of her regular performance and be willing to share her attention with all the other patrons, or you can hire her at her special event rate to dance just for your party at the restaurant.
Some dancers will also take into account the relative income of the person looking to hire them. If it is a small party for an obviously lower income family in their home, a dancer will often ask for less than when it’s a huge event for hundreds in a grand hotel ballroom. If you can afford to be, please be generous. Belly dancers are struggling artists who work very hard and put in major and ongoing investments for very low pay. They are one of the few professions who are making less now than they did 20 years ago.*
The enjoyment your dancer brings to your special occasion will be worth every penny you spend and more.
*To understand this phenomena better I recommend reading Morocco’s article “If Prices Are Up All Over, Why Are Oriental Dancers Getting Less?”