interview with a professional belly dancer

Recently a commenter here mentioned that she used to be a professional belly dancer, and I wanted to know more. She kindly agreed to be interviewed, and here’s our conversation.

So you were a professional belly dancer! How did you get into that line of work? 

I started belly dancing classes on a whim at the YMCA. I had done tap, jazz, and ballet all my life up until college, and afterwards I would take the occasional dance class here and there recreationally. Belly dance just captured me from the very start and I fell in love with it. I wound up doing some student and non-professional performances at dance events, and was eventually asked by a pro dancer in the area to perform with her at her weekly restaurant gig. My success there led to booking private parties both with her and on my own, and around that time I also started teaching classes through a local park and rec department. I started performing professionally in 2005, and in 2007 I took it full-time.

I did eventually go back to having a day job in 2010 for financial reasons (it’s very difficult to make a living at belly dance unless you’re a well-known national or international instructor) but continued to perform professionally until 2014. In 2015, I got a new and more demanding job, so I stopped teaching then as well and am currently back to being a hobbyist. So basically 10 years of being a professional dancer.

What was the job like? Did you work through an agency or on your own? At events?

99% of the time it was wonderful! I always worked on my own or through referrals from other dancers. Most of my gigs were booked through my website, which I designed myself. I performed at public events like community festivals and fairs, did educational presentations at colleges and corporate events, and performed at private parties in people’s homes or banquet rooms. I also did lesson/performance combos for bachelorette and wedding showers.

I once got to perform at a Turkish-American wedding where the groom’s family had all come over from Turkey for the wedding, and elaborate Sweet 16 party that was right out of MTV. I performed for the 100th birthday party of a woman who had traveled all over the world. But mostly I was hired by wives to perform at their husband’s birthday parties as a surprise! I always kept things 100% tasteful and focused on all of the guests and not just the guest of honor. I especially loved getting children up to dance with me, which made of the more concerned looking guests realize that my act was family-friendly all the way.

I never performed for bachelor parties or any all male events with one exception. Another dancer had previously performed at some sort of ceremonial dinner for the Masons, where they hire entertainment that might have existed in Medieval times. She said they were highly professional and respectful, so I took the gig but brought my husband along with me just to be on the safe side. My friend was right and the performance passed without incident. It was really weird when at the end of my set, someone stood up and yelled “Huzzah to the King for this wonderful entertainment!”

What did you like best about the work?

As far as performing, I loved bringing something special to people’s celebrations and making them even better. At one man’s 50th birthday party, I got him and his 4-year-old granddaughter dancing together, and his wife said that they’d remember it forever as he was usually very staid and serious. An 80-year-old gentleman serenaded me after my performance at his party and his entire family was in tears. In general my goal for every gig was to come in, sprinkle fabulous all over the place, then leave with the guests happier than before I arrived.

Teaching was also very rewarding for me. I built up a great student base and eventually started my own dance troupe which grew to 10 women. Many students were in a dance class for the first time, and I really loved helping them gain confidence and an understanding of their bodies and how they work. I also really enjoyed passing on my extensive knowledge of Middle Eastern culture surrounding the dance, especially in a very conservative white suburban area where most of my students’ exposure to the Middle East was its negative portrayal on the news.

What do you think it is about dancing that makes people so happy?

I think it’s the energy that a dancer gives off when they’re in the zone and loving every minute of it. It’s infectious; if a performer feels beautiful, powerful, and graceful, people watching will pick up on that vibe and internalize it. And when you’re a talking about a belly dancer? A lot of people who wouldn’t normally do so would get up and dance with me, I think because they figured when would they ever have a chance to dance with one? Unless you’re involved with the community or know someone who is, most people will very rarely get to see a live belly dance performance.

What was the most challenging thing about the work?

The most challenging part was battling misconceptions — that belly dancers are strippers or prostitutes (not that I have a problem with sex workers, but it wasn’t what I or most professional belly dancers do), and also that belly dancing is easy and cheap. I spent thousands of dollars on classes, workshops and DVDs, pushing my mid 30’s to 40’s body harder than ever before physically. People would be shocked at the price for a 10 minute “Bellygram,” but they didn’t get that they were paying for more than that — that price included my experience, trained technique, and very expensive costumes/props/stage makeup. Oh, and mileage – you wouldn’t believe how many clients were appalled that mileage was only included within a 30-minute drive time! I knew so many dancers who were so desperate for gigs they didn’t even realize they were losing money by driving over an hour, but my background in traditional business settings refused to let myself make that mistake.

People are so weird about pricing. When people were surprised by your prices, did they usually come around and pay it anyway, or just go away muttering darkly to themselves?

Well, the sad thing about pricing is that there’s always someone out there who’s willing to dance for free or close to it. Undercutting is a huge issue in the belly dance community, much like writing, graphic art, musicians, etc. I think in those cases people often get what they pay for, but have to learn that lesson the hard way. Most of the time I was able to win them over, but then you had the ones who thought it would cost $25 to hire me to dance for an hour and there was just no way I could convince them their budget was out of whack.

I always valued my time highly and was never upset to turn down a gig for a cheap client. The dancers I knew who took them often found that those jobs took place in less than ideal circumstances and were often treated less than respectfully. By sticking to my pricing and presenting myself as a professional that was well worth it, I believe I got a lot of quality gigs where I was treated wonderfully by clients. I have very few horror stories compared to some dancers I know.

What didn’t you know when you started that ended up surprising you?

How expensive it is to be a working professional belly dancer. You can get costumes for cheap on Ebay, sure. But they’re ill fitting and fall apart easily, and in some cases are unprofessionally revealing. A brand new designer costume is anywhere from $600 to well over $1000, and even the smaller houses are a minimum of $300 unless you’re a talented seamstress and can make your own. Good finger cymbals (real musical instruments and not cheap props) are anywhere from $40 – $80. Silk veils are usually around $50-60, and they need to coordinate with the colors of your different costumes (I have a drawerful that’s easily worth over $1,000). Local classes are usually reasonable, but workshops are in the $40-70 range for big national and international instructors. Not to mention traveling if you don’t live in a fairly large city where these instructor’s workshops are hosted. Many dancers who are serious about their craft will even travel to the Middle East to study with the dancers who live and work there.

I was also surprised at how rich and varied the music and dance of the Middle East is. I specialized in Egyptian style and delved deeply into different folkloric styles like Ghawazee, Saidi, and Beladi, just to name a few under that umbrella. And of course, there are hundreds more when you account for other countries and regions of the Middle East. I think we get accustomed to thinking of the Middle East as one homogeneous area, when in fact it’s incredibly diverse.

I suspect I’m not the only person in the world who dances only when I’ve had a few cocktails. What advice do you have for the non-dancers of the world?

The old chestnut of a saying is true — “Dance like no one is watching.” Because in most cases, they’re really not! I would have so many students nervous in classes or workshops who were terrified of looking stupid, but I would assure them that everyone else was so wrapped up in getting the material down they were hardly paying attention to anyone else. And if anyone is judging you, they’re not really someone who’s opinion you should care about because they’re missing the point entirely.

My husband is a terrible dancer technique-wise, but when we’re on the dance floor at a wedding he’s my own personal Gene Kelly, because I just love dancing with him. When it comes to recreational dancing, emotion trumps sick dance moves every single time.

You’re now a part-time romance writer! How did you get into that?

I started fiction writing very late in life – in 2010, and I’m 45 years old now. Believe it or not, I started out writing fanfiction for a TV show and pairing I was obsessed with. They weren’t a couple according to show canon, but I has so many ideas about how they could/should get together that I started writing about them and posting my stories online. At one time I was one of the most well-known authors for that pairing, but it all fell apart when the show took a very disappointing turn and I lost interest. By that point I’d been writing for three years and didn’t want to give it up, and at the same time didn’t want to pick up another fandom because the other had been so disappointing in the end. I basically decided I wanted to create my own characters, so that I’d be in control of everything that happened to them.

So in 2013, I wrote an original novel called Under the Knife, which I published as a serial work in progress on LiveJournal over the course of a year. It’s the story of two chefs who fall in love while participating in a televised cooking competition along the lines of Top Chef or Hell’s Kitchen. It got a small but loyal following, and when it was finished I did some additional editing and submitted it to a small niche publisher who accepted it in about three days. Under the Knife will be officially released by Less Than Three Press on July 20. People can get it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and pretty much anywhere books are sold online. It’s more than I ever dreamed could happen and I’m just thrilled to pieces! I also just submitted a novella to a collection and am about halfway through the first draft of my second novel.

Of course I have to ask this — do you talk to coworkers about that side business? I bet people are really interested if so.

My coworkers and most of the people in my life except those I’m closest to don’t know about my writing. This is because I write male/male gay romance, so it’s a little controversial of a topic to bust out in the breakroom. Also, while my writing’s not exactly a smut-fest, there are a few intimate scenes and they’re rather explicit. I have clients and coworkers who are on the conservative side so I really err with caution, and also write under a pseudonym. It’s tough when really exciting things happen; I got a positive review in Publisher’s Weekly and USA Today requested an advance copy of the book from Net Galley this month, and I was DYING to shout it from the rooftops. But I doubt I’ll make a living as a writer, so I need to play things close to the chest. I already did the starving artist thing with belly dance and I’m not eager to repeat the experience. If I sell a million copies though, all bets are off! :D

Read an update to the interview here.

{ 160 comments… read them below }

  1. Stephanie*

    Fascinating! I tried a belly dance class in my area–it was a lot of fun. (The studio closed, unfortunately.)

  2. JMegan*

    So interesting! Thank you Alison, and the belly-dancing, novel-writing, fabulous-sprinkling commenter for doing this story!

    1. Gandalf the Nude*

      I am so ready for this book.

      And I know there’s good reason for not including her fanfiction handle, and I won’t ask her to, but I SO want to know what it is!

    2. Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon*

      Yay! I was hoping for some possible book sales – I hope you’ll be pleased with it. It was such a labor of love that really paid off. :)

      As far as my fanfiction handle goes, it’s not super secret; I even thank that fandom in the dedication page of Under the Knife. I’ll just say that if your google-fu is strong you can likely suss it out.

      1. Sue Wilson*

        If the fandom is what I think it is, while I don’t ship your pairing, I fully agree on the disappointment!

        1. Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon*

          If you’ve guessed right, you and I are far from the only ones! I couldn’t even tune into the finale for nostalgia, I was just so horribly over it by that point. I did make some wonderful forever friends in that fandom though, and all of them have been super supportive of my original work even though they tell me they still miss my fanfics.

          1. schuylersister*

            Ooooh. Now I think I know the fandom (and the disappointment)…although it’s a pretty vast one, so I might be wrong…

  3. LQ*

    I love these interviews. Thank you so much for doing them, and thank you to all the people who are willing to share glimpses into their lives!

  4. Me2*

    I love these “unusual job” interviews, so interesting to learn about something someone is passionate about. I think many Americans don’t understand the diversity of the Middle East or Europe, as America has become more and more homogeneous. In other parts of the world you can go a few miles and have completely different traditions and culture. Absolutely fascinating.

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      My step-mother’s Lebanese-American. They do what we would call belly dancing at family gatherings – to them it’s just dancing. (My father’s very impressed by the younger women’s ability to do it while holding a baby.)

      1. Bea W*

        They do this in Jordan as well. Long after my mother stopped dancing she attended a wedding and this is how they danced like normal dancing at a party. She was probably thankful she had been a belly dancer because she could blend right in and not be that one awkward American at the party.

    2. Triangle Pose*

      In what ways do you think America has become more and more homogenous? No snark, truly curious.

      1. AVP*

        I’ve been traveling around the country for work for the past 10 years, and one change that’s stuck me is that I can go to the same stores and restaurants in nearly every part of the country, rural or urban, in a way that I couldn’t when I started. It’s not that one can’t find regional or local places to eat, but I can’t remember the last time I went somewhere that didn’t have a Starbucks and a Panera within 20 driving minutes. [When I started we used to have to look up local gas stations to get coffee!]

        *Of course this is a generalization that isn’t true in every single part of the country. But more than I expected to see.

        1. Bea W*

          I’ve noticed this too in my travels. Heck, even in my international travels I have seen the same chains!

      2. Me2*

        Definitely what AVP said. Where isn’t there a Gap, Starbucks, Costco, Walmart, etc? It’s hard to find truly unique shops. Restaurants are a little easier, especially with regional specialties. When I lived in Germany (for three years), it seemed like Tschibo was everywhere but you could find so many one-off shops. Every hamlet had it’s own specialty events and food, you could drive 30 kilometers and being in a region with a different dialect or completely different language, and the differences were celebrated.

        1. LQ*

          This is kind of funny, to get to a Gap/Starbucks/Costco/Walmart I have to get on a bus. (Well ok there is a Target that is walkableish but that’s about 4 miles.) And I live in a very major metro downtown.

          1. LQ*

            Oh no, wait there is a Starbucks on the opposite side of downtown. But there are…I believe 7 coffee shops between here and there. Three of them are local chain. The rest are one or two offs.

            1. Bea W*

              I’ve found that in the heart of major cities there are still many small one-off stores or local chains. I think it’s a space/cost issue. I mean where in the heck are you going to fit a Costco or Home Depot downtown. They’re all out on the edges where there’s more real estate for sprawling strip malls.

    3. LabTech*

      Yes, it was very refreshing to see the one of my favorite bloggers have a post that mentions how rich and beautiful Middle Eastern culture really is. With the state of the world and politics I’m so used to having to defend my culture and religion. Pleasantly surprised by this post – thank you Alison and Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon. :)

      Also, congrats on your novel getting high-profile exposure!

  5. Bethlam*

    Fabulously interesting. Thanks to both interviewer and interviewee for some insight into an unusual profession and experience.

  6. Development Professional*

    I had a roommate in college who was a very active hobbyist belly dancer, and I know from her that the costumes are indeed super expensive. But it’s for a good reason – there’s a ton of beadwork that’s sewn on by hand. I used to pick up a little cash from her by altering them for her, so I got to work with the costumes and see them up close. Also the construction and boning on the tops is very elaborate – not dissimilar to a wedding dress.

    1. Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon*

      Yes, pro belly dance costumes are generally not factory made – they’re sewn and beaded by hand, even the lower end ones. Whenever I had to have my costumes altered, I would go to a seamstress who altered ballroom costumes and was used to working with elaborate beading.

    2. Liz in a Library*

      A good friend and former boss was an active hobbyist dancing in a local cirque for years. I know that the group did as much of their own costuming as possible, and it still added up very fast.

      Those costumes are beautiful, but complex!

  7. Francis J. Dillon*

    I love that you turned a profit writing coming out of fanfiction! There’s some writers out there creating quality, gripping works all for free! It’s so awesome you’re writing your own stuff now. Congrats!

  8. Anonsydance*

    As a professional belly dancer myself (not my sole source of income), this is so spot on! For me, teaching is perhaps the best part of it! I actually really miss teaching right now, but I’m trying to focus on other life goals, so it’s taken a backseat. I still have my troupe though and we’re picking up the gig situation too so that’s nice.

    It’s so great to see something on here that I can relate to so much! This definitely made my day! (Workwise, we’re actually having an incredibly stressful day/week so it was nice to see this!)

  9. Manders*

    I love this interview! And I totally needed a reminder today that careers aren’t always a straight line from point A to point Z.

    1. Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon*

      I have the craziest work history of just about anyone I know! I’ve been an advertising exec, technical writer, belly dancer, cost accountant and now work in the pharma industry. It’s been more like a drunken stagger than a straight line, but I’ve got a lot of diverse skills under my belt as a result.

      1. Manders*

        Oh wow, that’s amazing. And it’s helping put my current waffling about career choices in perspective. Thank you again for doing this interview!

      2. Barefoot Librarian*

        This is me too! I’ve been a teacher, a medical transcriptionist, a psychotherapist, a seamstress, provided IRS audit assistance, designed romance novel covers, and done a bunch of random jobs, before becoming a librarian (some of which I still do freelance from time to time). I wouldn’t trade my weird job history for anything. I have TONS of useful skills.

  10. jay*

    “In general my goal for every gig was to come in, sprinkle fabulous all over the place, then leave with the guests happier than before I arrived”

    As a one-time professional musician (now hobbyist), this might be the best description ever of what performers do. I love it!

    1. Dynamic Beige*

      Uh-oh! I think you may have AAM knocking on your Inbox with an interview request ;)

      And that sprinkle fabulous is an awesome turn of phrase! Consider it stolen…

  11. RegPosterbutAnon*

    This is interesting. I was a stripper for 6 years-and got my mba with zero loans as a result!–and reactions to “dancers” of any kind always shock me. Men seem to assume that strippers, belly dancer, Latin dancers are prostitutes–even ballerinas are fetishized and I don’t understand it.

    Best of luck with your book!

    1. CollegeAdmin*

      In all seriousness, I would be so interested to learn about your work and experiences as a stripper. If you’d be up for it – Alison, could you interview RegPosterbutAnon?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        RegPosterbutAnon, feel free to email me if you’re up for that! (Note that it may need to be a while from now because I have a couple others lined up and I’m trying to space them out.)

        A request to everyone: Not in this case, but other times it can put me in an awkward position when you ask me to interview someone because I tend to have really weird and specific criteria for when I want to do a whole interview post, and I feel bad saying “nope, not you” when someone suggests someone specific. So if you can resist, that would minimize weirdness for me. Thank you :)

        1. RegPosterbutAnon*

          Sure, I’d be happy to, as long as I can continue as “anon”. I’ve transitioned to the regular working world, and while I’m not in the least bit ashamed of my past work, I’m used to pearl-clutching in response and would like to minimize as much as possible.

          1. anon1234*

            I’ve actually always had a question that I haven’t had an opportunity to ask, so I hope you may be up to/OK with it (if not, totally get it!) I’ve always wondered how the structure worked.

            That is, when you dance, do you pay a flat fee to secure your spot for the night (sort of like a hairdresser who rents their chair)? Or do tip out a percentage of your tips at the end of the night?

        2. A Bug!*

          Maybe this kind of thing would be another good place to compromise with a deflection to an open thread for a Q&A? Assuming the person’s willing to answer questions, they could start a thread in the next open thread and answer whichever reader questions they feel like answering.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            That’s a great idea! Maybe we can default to that and I can step in with a request to do an interview instead when it feels like the right fit for that.

          2. zora.dee*

            Haha, it’s an AAM-AMA!

            Love it!
            (p.s. on Reddit there is a feature called “AMA” for Ask Me Anything in a Q&A format)

      2. The Other Katie*

        Agreed! I’d love a thoughtful, intelligent, respectful look into that profession, and I know Alison is the one to do it!

    2. Panda Bandit*

      Sounds like an (idiotic) assumption born out of wishful thinking. I’d be interested in reading about your former profession, too!

    3. Charity*

      I’ve been dancing to pay for my B. S. And I’m applying to vet school now. It’s definitely helped but raises really particular challenges with balancing resumes, making money, getting to classes, and trying to remain professional.

  12. synonym rolls*

    I always love these interviews, but since I took belly dance lessons for about 7 years, I especially enjoyed this one. I loved taking classes and followed my instructor from studio to studio. My class also performed as a troupe at local events. I have some beautiful wardrobe pieces that I dig out for Halloween. A high point of that time was taking a workshop from the phenomenal Rachel Brice. Thanks for bringing back some great memories!

  13. AdAgencyChick*

    “come in, sprinkle fabulous all over the place, then leave”

    This is what I want my life to be. Brava. (And double brava for holding firm on your rates and saying no to cheap clients!)

  14. Doodle*

    “Undercutting is a huge issue in the belly dance community, much like writing, graphic art, musicians, etc. I think in those cases people often get what they pay for, but have to learn that lesson the hard way. ” As a graphic designer I couldn’t agree more… and yet my heart broke when I read that she designed the website herself. Hire one of us! Please! We can help!

    But maybe (hopefully!) she has a design background…

    1. Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon*

      I used to work in advertising, so I had the skill set to create and maintain a simple site. There are so many costs associated with being a pro dancer, I had to limit myself to outsourcing only what I couldn’t do myself. You will be happy to know that my publisher hired a fantastic graphic artist to do the cover of my novel, though. :)

    2. Dynamic Beige*

      But on the upside… it’s not like she contacted the local web designers and attempted to get them to work for free for their “portfolios”, “the exposure”, “a good reference” or “future projects down the road that we will pay you for”

        1. Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon*

          I used to use that all the time back in my dance days!

          1. Florida*

            I’m a performer too. Usually, it is the super large mega-charities that asks me to work for free. Yesterday, Toys R Us (yes, the for-profit company) ask me to donate. I always say that I don’t volunteer at organizations that make more money on one day than I make in a year.

        2. Simonthegrey*

          My friend and I have a small jewelry business and we say this to one another often.

  15. CM*

    What I found most interesting about this was the combo of professional belly dancing and writing a novel — clearly this is someone very creative who’s not afraid to take some risks, but at the same time has business knowledge and uses that in combination with her creative pursuits. I’ve been trying to unlock my old creativity after years in conservative office environments, so this story is inspiring for me!

    1. Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon*

      Yes, my years of traditional business experience were hugely beneficial while running my own business. I was so used to looking at the cost/benefit analysis of everything that it absolutely spilled over into dance.

  16. Nonnie*

    Such an interesting interview! And, as a voracious consumer of fanfiction, I’m so curious to know what pairing she wrote about :P

      1. Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon*

        If you do some googling around my book name and pseudonym, you can probably find it. Or if you buy Under the Knife, I thank that fandom in my dedication page.

        1. Ros*

          Not to be creepy… but I’ve totally read and commented on your fic, and MAN is it ever a small world. :)

          Thanks for the bellydancing interview – I’ve taken classes before (best unexpected conclusion: the hip movements learned in beginner’s classes are 100% the best stretches for too-much-sitting-in-office-chairs lower-back pain) but I had no idea how people actually made a go at it professionally. Thanks for satisfying my curiosity. :)

          1. Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon*

            Holy crap, it it ever! here I though if anyone recognized me through the details I posted it would be someone I knew through dance, not fanfiction. Now this makes two AAM posters who I’m associated with through fanfic – OMG!

            1. Ros*

              Ficcers are EVERYWHERE.

              Not quite as awkward as when my SIL figured out that she was commenting on porn I was writing (oh god), but… ;)

            2. November*

              A little off-topic, but I’ve seen a not-so veiled reference to AAM IN a fanfic I recently read (the author admitted in the comments that AAM, indeed, WAS the work advice blog one of the characters was reading).

        2. Nonnie*

          Ha, I think I found you! Your main fandom isn’t one I’m active in, but I see you have one older story in my favorite fandom about my OTP (I’m following your lead here in keeping things vague so I hope you know which one I’m talking about). Can’t wait to read it when I get home tonight!

          1. Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon*

            If it’s the one I wrote like 15 years ago, and then never wrote another thing for 10 years? That’s me. :)

  17. voluptuousfire*

    I took a bellydancing class once and it was probably the most awkward I’ve ever felt about my body. The instructor was a fill in for the usual instructor and she was terrible. I don’t think she taught, just danced, and it showed! She was also tall, thin and had a bit of a booty and was pleasant enough but not an empathetic character, so she didn’t necessarily come off as an approachable. (Sort of like how some yoga instructors are super lean, lithe and athletic that can be hard to relate to if you’re chubby and out of shape.)

    I’d like to try it again but with in instructor who looks more like your average woman than something out of a reality TV show.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      I took lessons for a number of years, and my favorite instructor is a teeny little thing. Couldn’t look less like me, except that we’re both short. But…she’s great at breaking things down, and openly shares that some things were difficult for her to grasp, and that it’s ok if it doesn’t come easy. She makes her classes super supportive, and it helped me so much. Sometimes it takes a bit to find the right instructor – but if you’re interested and have the opportunity, it can be worth trying a few different options.

      1. Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon*

        +1000 that finding the right teacher is key. Anyone with a couple of instructional DVDs can hang out their shingle, so it’s worth it to look for well trained, knowledgeable instructors who never stop learning themselves.

    2. Anonsydance*

      There are plenty of teachers who don’t fit the cultural beauty standards, unfortunately you just have to look (and hope they have an updated website). I’ve attached my website as proof that we exist! Granted it’s probably not of much use because I’m not teaching right now and we’re probably no where near eachother.

      I’m sorry that was your experience though. :(

  18. Critter*

    So interesting! Thank you!

    Also LOVE LOVE LOVE how much you’ve learned and shared about the region and cultures. People think appropriation is all about “it’s my culture you can’t have it herp derp derp” – when really it’s when people don’t take the time to learn about other people and cultures.

  19. Ida Sales*

    I want the book but I am having trouble finding it because there are more than one. Link?

    1. GG*

      Ugh. I tried posting a link, and forgot that those go into the moderation queue.

      Google “under the knife laurin kelly” and look for the link that has “PREORDER” in the title.

      1. Pam Adams*

        Thanks. I had the same issue, but the long list did allow me to purchase another ‘Under the Knife,’ which was a non-fiction book about an African-American surgeon in the Jim Crow era. (Now to buy this one!)

    2. Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon*

      There was a free version online for a while, so you’ll probably come up with Google searches that send you a few different places. But if you to to the Less Than Three Press website and type Under the Knife in the search bar you’ll have it.

  20. Liana*

    This was fascinating. Thank you for doing the interview! Dancing is one of those things I always wished I was good at, but I’m not. I just don’t have the grace or self-awareness about my body. Bellydancing has always looked beautiful, and I’m glad you also used it as an opportunity to spread some positive influence about Middle Eastern culture.

  21. KimberlyR*

    We have a belly dance studio in my area and I have a few friends who do it (a couple that are very into it and belong to a local troupe, and 1 that just does it as a hobby). I was thinking about starting a beginner class when I have the extra money, both for the exercise and for helping me become more comfortable in my own body. I have seen a bunch of the dancers and they range from slender to heavyset, but they all look comfortable and confident in themselves. I really want that as well.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      Do it – seriously! I took bellydance lessons for a number of years, and it really did help me feel more comfortable and confident with my body.

  22. many bells down*

    This makes me miss belly dancing! I did it for a little bit in my early 20’s until I got too pregnant to keep it up. Now I’m over 40 and I still miss it!

  23. Former Retail Manager*

    Great interview! Thanks for this. I now want to look into hiring a belly dancer for the next big event!

    1. CS Rep by Day, Writer by Night*

      Yeeeesssss! *fist pump* Depending on where you live I might even be able to give a referral.

  24. MadLori*

    I’ve been writing fanfiction for 20 years, so from one fanfic author turned pro to another, congrats! I loved reading your interview and like others, I’m dying to know what pairing you wrote that you got soured on (I have my suspicions).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You are the one millionth comment on Ask a Manager!

      That is all.

      (I’ve been watching and waiting to see which comment it would be for days, so this is exciting for me.)

        1. JBurr*

          There are a lot of fanfiction readers/writers in our ranks. I actually read a great fic the other day where a character was reading Ask A Manager, which was especially hilarious, because if any character needed Alison’s guidance in the actual canon, it was that guy.

            1. JBurr*

              Y’know, I thought you’d get a kick out of it, but when I commented, the author was like, “I don’t know if Alison would appreciate getting a shout-out in Kylux porn.”

              1. Jess*

                I don’t even have to read the fic to find the concept of one of those characters reading AAM HILARIOUS.

          1. Kyrielle*

            That is awesome. Also, my Google-fu is failing me and I am not finding that fic. I want to read it…I want to read it even if it’s not a fandom I’m familiar with…. Don’t suppose you have a link? :)

                1. Sarahnova*

                  As a fanfic reader and writer who has tons of MadLori’s stuff on my Kindle, this conversation made me explode in a puff of awesome.

      1. Ultraviolet*

        I’m so glad the millionth comment wasn’t a mean one! That would have been a little disappointing.

    2. Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon*

      I just need to say that I recognize your handle – I’ve read just about all your Johnlock fics! I also follow you under my fanfic handle on Tumblr and reblog you from time to time. :)

        1. Kate H*

          I saw Johnlock and had to check to see if you were someone I knew. I love your fics!

      1. Tee Pee Too*

        I love Johnlock fanfic! I used to write a lot of RPF on Live Journal, actually. Always nice to meet another fanfic author!

        1. Kate H*

          Now I’m doubly curious what the fandom and pairing is! There’s a chance I may already have read it…

  25. Nour*

    Thank you so much for posting this. I will share with my belly dancing community in Chicago,

  26. animaniactoo*

    This was really fascinating to read about. One of the things that’s always amazed me about bellydancing is that you don’t have to be thin and pretty to be professional, skilled, and successful. I can well believe that it’s an expensive thing to train for and maintain.

    Question: You mentioned that $25/hr was an absurdly low price. If you don’t mind answering, how much would you charge? Were there variations in pricing structure and if so, what went into that?

    1. Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon*

      Rates tend to vary by region – a dancer in Chicago or L.A. is usually going to be a lot pricier than say one in Topeka, KS. I live in a mid-sized city in the Midwest, and my absolute minimum for a performance was $125 for 10 minutes. I had several different packages that were priced over that based on the amount of time and prep, and I was never afraid to add additional fees for special requests (like if they wanted me to bring additional hip scarves for guests). I’m not sure that the $125 is even still the market rate in my area, but it was as of 2-3 years ago.

    2. Bea W*

      Good god! Back in the 80s my mother was charging about twice that or more for what was maybe 20 minutes at most. I have no idea what the going rate is now.

      1. Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon*

        And believe it or not, I was one of the highest priced dancers in my market!

  27. Liz in a Library*

    These interviews are one of my favorite semi-regular features of this site! It’s so fascinating to get a look into careers that you never really heard about on career day, and this one was especially fun to read as a person who loves being an audience member for belly dance!

    Congrats on the book, OP! It sounds like a great read!

  28. Lemon Zinger*

    I love these interviews. This one was especially interesting! My only real encounter with a belly dancer was at a Moroccan restaurant I went to as a kid with family friends. The restaurant owner employed a belly dancer to perform for the guests, but she was very aggressive and in-your-face and kept demanding tips. It was a weird experience!

    1. Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon*

      Sometimes that’s a result of a dancer who’s only pay is tips. It’s a bad practice for both the owner and the performer – I loved tips but they were always icing on the cake, not how I got paid for the gig.

  29. Lead, Follow or Get Outta the Way!*

    Awesome interview! Alison, THIS is why you rock. You present us with great content that pushes us to think beyond our boundaries and open us up to different ideas. Thank you Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon for allowing us a glimpse into your world!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Totally agree. I am richer and more aware of my world because of reading here. And interviews with folks like Belly Dancer, who are so articulate and explain things so clearly, are such a pleasure to read. So many thanks, Alison and Belly Dancer. And thank you, Belly Dancer for participating in the comment section also. You did not have to participate here and, yet, you chose to. I enjoyed reading your comments as well.

      1. Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon*

        You are very welcome! It’s been a real joy to read all the lovely comments today. :)

  30. she was a fast machine*

    Wow, that’s so cool! I’ve watched belly dancers at a local Renfest and every time I’m amazed at the skill they bring to it. Once they tried to teach me as I was the only one in their audience for that particular show but despite apparently having the body for it I do *NOT* have the coordination!

    This fandom, it wouldn’t perhaps happen to take place in a land of myth and a time of magic, would it? If so, I can relate about the disappointing finale!

    1. Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon*

      Nope, 100% sent in current times in the United States. :)

  31. Freddie Milano*

    OMG! The more I read about your book the more I was like…this sounds familiar. I already follow you on Twitter – I’m also a Less Than Three author! I have one story in an anthology, another to come in August, and a novella later this year. So happy to bump into another LT3 author in a space I was not expecting to see one. I am looking forward to your book. Love the concept!

    (Also this is just showing me how small the world can be)

    AAM – thank you for doing this interview!

    1. Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon*

      I think I follow you on Twitter as well! I’m blown n away by how small the world s on the interwebz!

  32. Newsie*

    Alison, thank you for doing these interviews. They’re fascinating. And Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon, thanks for talking to Alison! I love learning about people’s jobs.

  33. Elizabeth West*

    I always valued my time highly and was never upset to turn down a gig for a cheap client. The dancers I knew who took them often found that those jobs took place in less than ideal circumstances and were often treated less than respectfully. By sticking to my pricing and presenting myself as a professional that was well worth it, I believe I got a lot of quality gigs where I was treated wonderfully by clients. I have very few horror stories compared to some dancers I know.

    I know a few people who need to read this paragraph! It’s really hard to know what to charge, and when you’re new at something, you don’t want to overcharge for your skill set. But I think once artists (and dancers, writers, etc.) get more experience under their belts and improve their craft, it’s scary to think about charging more because you don’t want to drive people away . But really, the ones who would complain are probably not the best clients anyway.

    Thanks for this awesome interview, Alison and OP! (Also you’ve given me something to think about re the serial online writing thing.) :)

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Great point, Elizabeth, about this being applied to many types of jobs. One thing I will say to anyone reading, if your friends/customers are telling you that you do not charge enough, LISTEN to them.

      When I met my friend who helps with my house, he was charging peanuts. We argued. And we argued. Yes, he got angry with me. Folks, do not do this. If your friend tells you that you are not charging enough, your friend is trying to HELP you. There is no need to argue. Finally, I got him to increase his rate by $5, he should have gone $10 but at that point I felt he at least was trying to listen to what I was saying. A few years later he bumped up by $5 more dollars per hour. Last year he bumped up by $5 more per hour. He is still well below what others are getting. Now I feel that he has gotten into the swing of valuing his own work, so we don’t argue over it any more. Yes, I pay him his increased rates and I do not ask for a discount. For his part, he sees that I do not argue over the increase and he does extra little things that help make it easier and easier for me to keep/maintain my house.

      If we don’t value our work, then it is less likely that others will value it either.

      1. Florida*

        Performer here, and I disagree with you 100%. If you friend tells you they don’t want to raise their prices, don’t argue with them. It’s their business.
        People have different business models. If someone wants to base their business on being the cheapest, let them do it. I don’t want to be the cheapest in town, but I understand if other people want to use that as their competitive advantage. It works very well for a lot of businesses.
        Another person might do half the number of gigs but make the same amount of money, but who cares (unless yo are the one doing it)? If your friends wants to do 100 jobs instead of 50 jobs, you do not need to argue with him.

  34. Bea W*

    My mother was a belly dancer for several years while we were still kids. She made her own costumes, some of which were just found this year among her things. (She died 6 years ago). This was 30 years ago. She was a SAHM who took lessons for fun and enjoyed it so much she continued and made some money mostly dancing at parties. She was always on the lookout for colorful fabrics and items like coins and jingly things for costumes and made elaborate tops out of a standard bra, shiny fabric, embroidery, dripping with chains of fake coins and charms. Looking closely at them 30 years later they were really incredible.

    The crappy part was the stigma and misconceptions and kids being cruel and asking me if she was a slit or a prostitute because she was a belly dancer. Really, it’s not about sex and sexuality at all, and the costumes were anything but skimpy, long full flowing skirts and layers of beautiful fabric or full baggy harem pants, big belts, scarves. There’s not a lot of breasty cleavage happening either. You move around a lot and the girls need to be full secured in their seats at all times. Some costumes may not even expose the belly. I’ve seen people wear skimping more revealing clothing to work! The dancing can be sensual or not, but it’s not raunchy even if the dancer is giving a performance with a seductive tone. I’m happy to see it gaining more mainstream interest now, but back in the day where I lived it was considered akin to stripping and prostitution. Ugh!

    It’s also a fantastic work out for your abs, back, hips, and butt. That was a side benefit from dancing my mother wasn’t expecting, and I think it gave her a lot of confidence learning to dance and perform in front of others and improved her self image being able to do that and being happy with the improvements to her physique.

    1. Belly Dancing Romance Writer Anon*

      Oh, I have a few dance friends who started dancing in the 70’s and 80’s, and it was such a different scene back then! They made their own costumes like your mom, and often danced to live music since recordings from the Middle East were really hard to come by back then. A lot of dancers have never had the experience of improv-ing with musicians, and it’s become a lost skill among a lot of newer dancers.

      Now it’s so easy to find costumes, DVDs, MP3’s and workshops all over. I’m torn about it – on the one hand the accessibility of every resource a dancer could need is good, but sometimes I feel like the mainstream access has made belly dance a little less special and rare than it was even when I first started taking classes. Dancers used to travel across the country to study with Bobby Farrah or John Compton, where now in some areas you have poor turnouts for workshops because there’s an event every single weekend.

      Your mom was an awesome trailbazer for dancers like me, and the ones that will come long after I’m gone!

  35. Leisabet*

    Fellow ficcers doing well for themselves makes my heart sing. This is a fantastic interview, and you’ve got another book sale from me. :)

  36. Saniyah*

    As someone who is teaching and performing belly dance part time I am looking forward to growing the business into something that offers more than just entertainment. This was a fantastic open and honest article. Thank you for the little inspiration to hang in there. Some of the challenges we face are issues for other industries as well. Having support, being creative and showing that you are knowledgeable about the dance, the music and culture of the style that you are presenting demonstrates to your customers that this is more than just a pretty lady shimmying while you eat hummus. Looks like I also have some fan fic to add to the collection. Shimmies & Smooches.

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