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Dancing Abroad - The Players

By Salome

As the daughter of an avid semi-pro Belly dancer, I had the good fortunate to get an early education. Belly dance and music were the central activities of my family and by seventeen I was performing professionally. My dance career took me overseas where I have performed intensively since 2000. In 2008, I began working for an international talent agency and this allowed me to learn from this side of the business as well.

Having a measure of experience, I often get requests from up and coming dancers, who are interested in working abroad and ask for knowledge on industry practices overseas. I will try to address the commonly asked questions as well as touch on issues that anyone considering this step should be aware of in the "Dancing Abroad..." series of articles.

Who is involved in the dance industry? Dancers, managers, talent agencies and clients.

How do they work together? There are variables, but most often this is the relationship structure; the client is the entity that has a venue and need. The client procures an agent. The agent has a roster of acts, some of whom fit the specifications of the client. The agent offers the client those acts for consideration. The client chooses the dancer that interests him. The agent makes an offer to that dancer. If she accepts, she enters into a contractual agreement with the agent. Alternatively, she may enter into a contract with the client and only a commission based contract with the agent.

Who pays who? The client will have a budget for the contract and disclose this amount to the agent. Agent's will typically take 10 to 30 % commission (per payment schedule) out of that budget with the remainder being the dancer's salary. The client pay's for all of the dancer's expenses; travel, meals, accommodation, visa fee's etc. If the dancer has a manager she is responsible for paying him, and often his expenses should he accompany her on the contract. Some regions are prepared to pay for a Manager's expenses, though never their commission.

Who are the clients? Hotels, Casinos, corporations, amusement and theme parks, private clubs, cruise ships...

Why do clients hire dancers? 5 star hotels and resorts are main employers. They are mini cities unto themselves. They have multiple restaurants and bars, a nightclub, swimming pools, a spa, a salon, shopping, and business services... The hotel anticipates and attends to every need their guests may have and this includes the desire for entertainment. Other venues operate under the same motivation.

Why do clients hire foreign dancers when they can hire locals? There may not be local talent or there may not be local talent of the caliber the venue desires. Also a foreign national import is prestigious and lends an 'upper crust' status which many clients take pride in advertising.

What is the typical duration of employment? There are one time events. These clients can be public or private and can have a vast range of purpose, such as an awards ceremony, New Years Eve, or a concert. There are short term contracts; these are one to three month engagements. And there are long term contracts; six months to one year and longer.

Do clients hire dancers directly? It happens but is not prevalent.

How can I get a crack at these jobs? Get an agent, if possible get several agents.

How do I get an agent? By auditioning via your promotional packet. The internet has revolutionized our ability to connect on a global scale. If you want to work in a certain country, Google for Talent agencies in that region or that sell acts to that region. Visit the website of the agency you want to be represented by and check out their application page. They may not be accepting new submissions, they may require certain details and have a very specific process. There is nothing that will get your promo pack in the garbage faster than not taking the time to follow their instructions on submittal.

What should be in my promotional packet? Your promotional packet is what you use to get your foot in the door and demonstrate that you are a marketable product. The quality of your promotional material matters.

COVER LETTER - This is your chance to address the agency directly. Keep it brief, three paragraphs max. Identify yourself, where and how you found out about them and what you are after. What you have to offer will be demonstrated in the rest of your materials. Tip: dont start with "To whom it may concern", or "Dear sir or madam". Take the time to research an agent's name, this can usually be found on their website.

RESUME - Unlike a resume for a 'civilian' job, a dancer's resume includes date of birth, height, weight, hair and eye color and nationality. Your resume is 'proof' that you are desirable and employable. It should highlight your exemplary work as a performer. Listing every dance job you have ever had is inappropriate (unless your work experience is limited). So is focusing on your experience as an Instructor. You are not applying for a teaching position. Keep it clear, concise and relevant - when, what, who and where. If you have worked in co- operation with local entertainment agencies, like a telegram service, be sure to indicate that along with the listing(s).

Oriental dance does not really have known educational institutions/individuals outside of the Middle Eastern dance scene. Listing every 'big' name instructor you took a workshop or class from doesn't mean anything to your reader. Instead indicate your length of training and in what style(s).

If you have won awards, titles, honors, or have special credentials include that information in its own section. If you have additional skills and talents i.e. instructing, choreographing, prop use, can play an instrument or sing put that on your resume as well. It's not necessary to pad, so avoid putting talents in this section that you can't actual manifest.

Lastly you should list three references. They will be checked so keep the contact info current and make sure your references know someone may contact them and why.

PROFILE - An agent spends a whole lot of time reviewing promo material. He or she wants the facts. When you write your profile keep it straight forward and relevant. Write for your audience. Don't write something like; her talent in dance was so immense that it catapulted her to stardom in the California dance scene. Do write something like; her talent in dance earned her the title "Miss California of Belly dance" and a subsequent interview with DANCE magazine. You need to back your writing up with facts and recognition by entities other than yourself.

PHOTO & DEMO VIDEO - this is where the meat, no pun intended, of your promo packet is. You need to include one 8x10 professional quality photo. It can be 3/4 or full length and needs to clearly show your face and body. Your demo video is the most important element in your package. It should be 5 minutes in duration, really no longer. It should be footage in front of a live audience. An agent wants to see how you perform for people not the camera. The content should display your entire repertoire, at your best, in a range of costumes. The footage itself needs to be good. No hand held, shaky home video with sub par lighting. It also needs to be professionally edited. You can find a decent editor for around 75 dollars an hour.

PRESS & TESTIMONIALS - if you have press clippings, interviews and the like, make photo copies and include it. If you have testimonials from past clients or noteworthy entities include those as well.

Spell check! Sign your cover letter. Put your name and contact information on everything in your packet. Paper clip all the papers together in order. Note: use high grade resume paper for all print outs. Buy a nice folder, put your photo in one sleeve and the papers in the other. Most folders have a pocket for a business card, put one there. Label your demo video.

Edited to add

In this day and age, promo packets are a thing of the past. Most auditioning for this arena happens electronically, so you get to forgo all the hard copy stuff. In lieu of that, you should have a presentational website, where all of the above information is available for agent review. Keep in mind that the agent will never show a client your website or any material with your direct contact information on it. So you will need to have an 'agent friendly' showreel, pictures and other material that they can show the client. Digital photo's should be 300 dpi or higher for printing resolution and if you DO land a contract be sure you show up prepared with your promotional pictures (on disc is fine) and the like. Press releases will need to be sent out, posters made...

I sent my promo package, now what? The agency will review your submission and contact you of their own accord either expressing interest or saying thanks but no thanks. OR after a respectable amount of time you might contact the agency regarding your status (some are very adamant about not telephoning - again read their application page).

A promo packet is expensive, can I get it back? Some agencies will return packets IF you include a postage paid, self addressed envelope with your submittal. If they are willing to do this it will be stated on their application page.

What does a Manager do? A Manager can play many roles, but simplistically it is his or her job to advise and counsel you about every step and faucet of your career in the intent of promotion. He or she may accompany you on contracts and act as 'protector' of your interests.

Do I need a Manager? It's not a necessity; it's more of a luxury. It can also be a hefty expense. You are responsible for covering his or her costs, if applicable, as well as payment for services.

How do I get a Manager? As with Agents, Manager's choose the talent. They must believe in you and your potential to consider taking your career on. It can be a full time job. Dancer's that are a cut above and already "proven" are the ones that tend to elicit interest.

For a continuation of the topic visit the next installment "Dancing Abroad - The Dangers".