Setting Performance Boundaries

I came here to drink tea and offer criticism, and I'm all out of tea.

Time for some real talk, belly dancers… How often do you agree to a performance that you really don’t want to do? I don’t mean taking a paid gig that was kind of inconvenient but worth it monetarily, I mean all of the free or “for tips” shows we do for the community.

There’s a lot of valid reasons to not want to be part of a performance. It might not be a good fit for your artistic style. It might mean being out late on a work night. It might be in a venue that is difficult to get to, or has a bad parking lot, or a gross changing room. Maybe you’ve done the show before and it had a poor audience turn-out. Maybe it’s outdoors and every time you perform outside it rains.

And yet on the other hand, there are so many reasons why we agree to perform anyway. Our friend is hosting the event. The host organizes another event we want to be part of. We’re new to the community and we want to put ourselves out there. It’s a troupe gig and we’re trying only to say no to the shows we CAN’T do, not the ones we just don’t want to do.

Too often I think we’re afraid that if we say “no”, we’re somehow damaging our reputation. That if we respectfully decline to dance in someone’s show, they won’t like us anymore and they won’t invite us to be part of their other event we’re more interested in. That we’ll get a reputation for being too snooty to do community shows.

Look, I love performing, but there have been a few times this year where I’ve agreed to do a show because someone specifically asked me and I felt flattered… but the closer the show got, the less enthusiastic I felt. I couldn’t find music that seemed to fit the feel of the show. I didn’t feel like it. My performance, while done with a smile on my face, didn’t feel authentic. And while sometimes I’d be glad I went, more often than not I’d end up wishing I’d stayed home and watched Netflix.

It’s OK to Set Boundaries

As dancers we need to give ourselves permission to say “no” to things. Especially when we’re amateurs or semi-pros, desperately searching for the opportunity to put ourselves out there. Not every performance is going to be a good fit for every dancer’s style. Some dancers really shine in a restaurant, others in a bar, and others on the stage at the county fair.

It’s important to know who you are as a dancer, and to know where you really shine. For instance, even though I don’t really enjoy daytime outdoor festivals, I know that my fan veils are always a hit in that setting, especially with kids. Kids usually think I’m some sort of mermaid faerie princess when I dance with fan veils. On the other hand, if I break them out at a restaurant, I’m worried about dragging them through someone’s dinner, and it really impairs my ability to let loose and enjoy my performance.

How to Say “No”

You can turn down a performance opportunity and not ruin your reputation, I promise. Here are a few polite ways to reject a request to dance:

“Thank you for thinking of me but I’m not available”

“I don’t feel like this show is a good fit for my style, but I appreciate the thought!”

“It’s really hard for me to make it home from work, get ready, and get to the venue on time… But I’d love to come watch the show!”

“This month isn’t good for me, but do you have any openings for December’s show?”

“I can’t do this show, but have you asked Princess Sparklepants? She mentioned that she’d love to dance at one of your shows.”

And the ultimate way to make sure that the organizer isn’t upset, “I can’t dance but I’d love to buy a ticket and I’m telling all my friends about the show.”

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