“It’s ok if you sit on my lap, my wife doesn’t mind.” The older man at the birthday party said. I ignored him in disbelief. “Really, it’s fine. Tell her you don’t mind” he told his wife. “Oh, I don’t care.” she said. This was one of my first paid gigs. I was nine years younger and ten pounds thinner (Oh how I miss being 120 pounds). “No.” I said quietly and walked away to change from my costume back to my regular street clothing.
I had accepted the gig a week prior. It was with elation that I had accepted the gig. At the time, I was not much of a negotiator with money, nor did I have a contract system set up. I honestly did not know what I should charge and did not have a mentor at the time to ask. I received the gig from a trusted friend who was familiar with the Arab community as he was Arabic as well. “What do you think you will charge?” he asked. ” Seventy-five dollars.” I said. “Oh, and do you think there is another dancer you can bring as well?’ he replied. “Oh, I’m sure .” I said and mentioned the other dancer’s name. “So seventy-five dollars for the both of you?” he asked. “No way! Seventy-five dollars for me and seventy-five dollars for her.” I insisted. “That is a lot of money.” he replied “Can you do it for fifty dollars each instead? This is my very good friend.” he continued. “No, sorry, seventy-five for each of us is the best I can do.” I said. Now, as those of you who gig regularly know, this is a below average price for a dancer. However, this is Albuquerque, and that is enough said right there.
Before the party, I researched on etiquette for belly dancer’s. I came across an article that suggested the following: Don’t eat the food at the party even if you are offered. Let them know that you have time constraints and you must leave at a specific time. Make sure that they have a secure room where you can change in. Make sure you bring a back-up CD and costume just incase something goes wrong. “Ok.” I thought. “This is what professionals do.”
The other dancer, L, and I drove to the party in separate vehicles. When we got there, we pulled out our suitcases, and walked to the door. It was a middle/upper class home in a very nice neighborhood. The house was immaculate and smelled of woman’s perfume. “Come in ladies. Welcome! Have some food!” said a gentleman that answered the door. “Thank you so much.” I said “Is there a room we can change into?” “A room?” he asked, “Of course, you can change in a room, but why did you not come in your costumes?” He laughed. His girlfriend came by to greet us also “There is a room back here where you can change.” she said. L and I rushed into the room and got dressed. Fifteen minutes after that we were ready to dance.
L and I walked out into the living room area that was directly connected to the kitchen. I was waiting for direction, a nod, any kind of clue that would inform me of where they might want us to perform. The man walked up to us and said, “You can dance here in the living room.” I saw the stereo in the corner of the room a proceeded to walk with my music when I was stopped and asked, “Why do you have some food first or how about some wine?” said an adorable older lady from Lebanon. “Oh, I really shouldn’t” I said, “I might gain a pound and burst out of my costume.” She persisted, “Well, you will stay and have some when you finish. Go ahead and dance.”
As I danced, they smiled, giggled and clapped while also video taping me. I danced to three songs, two of which I knew were very popular: Bitawnes Beek and Zeina which they were very happy with. Some of the family members were even singing the words.
L danced too and they loved her as well. Together, we danced for about thirty minutes for the party. I remembered reading that when you are done with a performance you should leave after. The article had said some like “Dancer’s are performers, expected to perform and should exit gigs as performers.” As the member of a large Spanish family, consisting of sixteen uncles and aunts I thought this might be a little harsh but it was what I read. I wanted to be professional and I said before no one was there at the time to mentor me “I think we should leave soon. We have a very busy afternoon.” I said, but before I could leave to the room and change the older man gave us some advice “You two are beautiful dancer’s but you need to shake it more!” “Don’t be afraid to be sexy! he continued, “You’re suppose to be sexy!” He then proceeded to dance Lebanese Dabke by himself.
The older Lebanese woman intervened. “I like the way you dance!” she said happily clasping her hands together with a darling grin. This made me giddy. She didn’t speak much English but the fact that she liked my dancing meant a lot to me. I tried to have somewhat of a conversation with her when the older man began to dance around us in Dabke again. He was having a good time, stomping and jumping and then grabbed my hand to dance with him. I was having fun until he stopped and said “Sit on my lap.” I ignored this at first thinking maybe he just was not aware that asking a girl to sit on his lap is just bad manners. He continued, “”It’s ok if you sit on my lap, my wife doesn’t mind.” As you have already read you know that his wife didn’t mind but what she said after is what bothered me. “You know a real dancer always wears heels when she dances. Samia Gamal was a real dancer.” she said as she glared at me.
We left the party and proceeded back to the room and changed out of our costumes. I wasn’t angry but I was a bit offended by the comment. We collected our money and left. In my mind I had two questions. “What does me being a belly dance performer really mean? and ” Who is Samia Gamal?”