Over the years, I've frequently heard belly dancers complaining about how their art form and in conjunction, themselves, are not accepted by the general public. How they can’t fill classes and shows, and how they are unfairly discriminated against. And by all means, yes, at times there are the uneducated and ignorant who dismiss belly dance and belly dancers unfairly without knowing anything about the dance. But there are also other occasions where I think belly dancers are shooting themselves in the foot by not taking advantage of every opportunity to present themselves and their art form in in a relevant and professional light. My observations come from applying my corporate business background to the business of belly dance. For those who don’t know me in the “real world”, I have a Bachelor’s degree in business, am a licensed CPA, I worked in professional financial services for eight years, and am now currently overseeing accounting and finance for a multi-state organization with a budget of almost $50 million. Below are a few observations I’ve noted over the years. None of these are radical, novel ideas, but they are common best business practices, no matter what line of business you are in.
1. Embrace Technology – Maybe it’s because dancers are so focused on perfecting their art form that they forget about the business side of things, but frequently I see that some belly dancers are behind the times in technology. For example, dancers not accepting credit card payments, requiring the printing and snail mailing of paper forms, no online scheduling for classes, outdated information on websites, etc. For example, I recall calling a phone number on one dancer’s website and that phone number was out of service. Eeek! Talk about losing customers. Ease of use and being able to complete tasks quickly with a few mouse clicks are becoming more and more important in our culture, and customers are expecting this as the norm. I’m not saying I’m immune to this, because I’ll be the first to admit I’m guilty of doing (or not doing) some of these things myself. But it’s on my radar and I have a plan to address them. Do you?
2. Stand Firm on Punctuality – Personally, this is a big pet peeve of mine. While I understand that belly dance originates in countries that have different concepts of time and punctuality than our own, if belly dance is going to be successful and appeal to the general American public, it needs to align with American cultures, one of which is punctuality. I have frequently been to shows that start anywhere from a half hour to an hour or more late. Where multiple breaks are taken and the whole event ends up lasting for hours longer than it really should. I’ve even seen audience members walk out before the show is over because the show has dragged on for too long, the hour has gotten too late, and a commitment of this this many hours is just not what they signed up for. There are certain dancers in my area who are notorious for this, and frankly, for the most part, I avoid their events. In our American culture, punctuality is important. Go to the symphony, the opera, the ballet, etc. and they start and end on time. Running late is unprofessional and disrespectful of your audience’s time. If you want more audience members at your belly dance events and you want the general public to take you seriously, run your event seriously: smoothly and by the clock.
3. Be Transparent – More often than not, belly dancers don’t quote their prices for performances on their websites. Again, this may come back to a cultural difference, but American culture is not one of barter and negotiation. When prices aren’t quoted, Americans get suspicious and wonder why. And I agree, why aren’t you listing at least a base price or a range? Is it a secret? Are you looking to gouge me because I’ve never been through this process before and don’t know what is or isn’t a reasonable quote? Am I going to have to go back and forth with you over the phone to settle on the price? Legislation and regulation in the U.S. continually moves toward more transparency in business transactions and this environment trickles down to the little guys as well. If I’m online looking for services, short of surgery, legal services, or extensive construction projects, I expect vendors to list either an exact price or at least a base price with a description of variables that will affect my ultimate ending price. Variables of course go hand-in-hand with belly dance shows as well, and each show will have its own formula of details that will make up the final price, such as length of performance, date of the event, specific requests, and location of the venue. But ultimately, there’s a minimum base price that you are willing to accept to show up. Consumers expect to make quick, snap decisions when they are online. If they have to call you to determine if you’re even in their price-range, they may have already ruled your services out. Not listing your pricing is simply outdated.
Alright, those are my personal observations, and yours may be different. Please leave comments, as I’d love to hear your own opinions on these topics!