As a small business owner, I know we all look for free things and for “cheaper” options. But as a performance artist, there isn’t much available that is free.  So how can we be expected to provide free entertainment It boggles my mind when it is just assumed that as performance artist’s we can just give our services away for free or my personal favourite exposure.

I thought I would explore the reasoning behind why we can’t or shouldn’t:

Even if you are only a “hobbyist” or semi-professional artist it’s not a good idea.

  • We pay for classes (to learn the art of oriental belly dance, takes years of practice)
  • The more advanced the dancer the more expensive the classes or learning material become (As professional dancers we need to learn from “master teachers” – in our little city, there are none! Which means traveling and staying over in other parts of the country)
  • The costumes we wear are very expensive, an entry-level outfit costs around R2000. Even if we have them made locally, the beading is time intensive and the “bling” is costly.

I read a great blog recently by a photographer/communication specialist/marketing expert I love, where she broke down the reason even a “hobbyist” should charge a fair minimum amount! It’s actually part of an entire series on the value of paying.


So what did it cost the performing artist to come and dance her 15 min set at your show, versus what you paid her to do so:

  • Petrol (AA works it out for you based on your make and model of your vehicle – SARS has it pegged around R3.30 / km at the moment)
  • % of her outfit (Most outfits have a lifespan of approximately 10 wears, before it needs refurbishment.)
  • % of her training (Now it costs more to train a professional dancer than it does to train a hobbyist, a professional dancer takes around 3 years of training, a hobbyist could start after 1 year of training)

The professional dancer would have quoted you more and turned down the “opportunity” to dance for exposure. Her training costs her more than the hobbyist, as a professional dancer, the income from gigs pays for more classes and more outfits.

We have friends in JHB, their entire gig income, pays for props and outfits and only for props and outfits.

As a dancer, in a niche genre, it becomes even more apparent that “FREE” is quite often leads to misrepresentation within the genre. The number of times I have had someone complain about the “belly dancer” at a function is more than I can count. My answer is always: Did the organizer pay for the dancer? Did she check on the dancers’ credentials?

Credentials I hear you ask? What credentials?

Should my performer have credentials and why?

  • Of course, you should check that your performer has been properly trained in the genre you are employing her to dance.
  • You wouldn’t just hire any ballerina or ballroom couple to dance at your event.
  • You would surely ask them what level they are currently doing if they are still students (aka hobbyist).
  • Ask for video proof if they are professionals. (Now we have a YouTube channel, but before I would carry around our DVD’s or invite the client over to view our style of dance.)

Providing proof that you can do what you say you can do, shouldn’t be very difficult.

As studio owners and performers, Jessica and I are always fielding strange and wonderful questions and requests. When we quote for performances, we ask the organizer a ton of questions to ensure that the dancer and her presentation is suitable for the event and the people attending the event.

For example, we wouldn’t send a dancer to a church or school function in the industry standard of “Bra and Bedlah”. The dancer would wear the more appropriate dress, with “Oriental Belly dance” so very misunderstood, any performance is a chance to educate.

At the end of the day, it’s not just our name as Oriental Dancers at stake, but your name as an event organizer or restauranteur. So the next time you hire a performance artist, do yourself and your client’s guest a favour and make sure you are hiring a professional or a hobbyist with a stellar reputation.


Melanie Wallis

Melanie started dancing and performing for Janka’s Oriental Dance Studio in 2006.  Under the mentorship of Janka Kliment, Melanie began her training to become an Oriental Dance teacher in 2008 and completed it under Asja Samia in 2011.  Melanie is also a certified health and fitness instructor.   Following Janka’s return to Slovakia in 2013, Melanie and Jessica chose to carry forward the vision of their friend and mentor.  They purchased the studio and continue to teach the art and beauty of the dance to all aspiring belly dancers.