the Art Of Self-Promotion
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You can tell me that your performance will wow me, but can you tell me why?
On the cover:
Romanian belly dancer Nejla Ates performing in a New York City Latin Quarter nightclub sometime in 1953.
How to Goldilocks your dance biography
She’s right. Another example of a non-dancing thing dancers should learn is how to write a good biography. It’s the blurb that tells you about a dancer and helps you determine if you want to take a workshop with her, sign up for ongoing classes, or hire her to perform. If the biography is well-written, you’ll probably trip over yourself to contact her. If it’s not so well written, you might hesitate.
So how does a dancer write a good biography? Here are some tips:
1) Check you’re spelling: did you notice the mistake? It was hard for me to type. Please, please, please edit your biography before printing your programs or sending the information to an event coordinator. You might be the most brilliant dancer on the planet, but if you can’t put a coherent sentence together, you’ll lose some of your potential audience.
Watch out for commonly misused words like “your” and “you’re,” “to, too,” and “two,” and “they’re, their,” and “there.” Spellcheck flagged that I used “you’re” above instead of “your,” but don’t rely on Spellcheck. Read your biography out loud. If it sounds stilted and awkward, if you started in past tense and switched to present midway through a sentence, you should be able to hear it. Better yet, ask a friend to edit for you.
2) Draw a fine line: this is self-promotion, but be careful not to sound egotistical. Why are you worth hiring? Why should someone take time out of their schedule to see you, even if it’s at a free show? If you’ve been performing for a while, ask some friends what words they would use to describe your dancing. A description like “Her dancing makes flowers fall from the sky!” might be a little much. “I love to dance!” is a little cliché. Is that obvious to anyone who watches you? If so, maybe you can use “engaging” or “vibrant” in your biography. Look in a thesaurus. Read other biographies and see what you think works and what doesn’t. Try to find a way to describe yourself that’s a happy medium between your biggest fan who will be blown away if you just walk into the room and the average audience member who came to see someone else or stumbled onto the show and decided to hang out for a few minutes.
3) Think about your skills: what’s different about what you bring to the table as a dancer? If you looked at my biography with a raised eyebrow, wondering if I can talk about how to write one, mine is fairly technical. I work here, I got into this troupe at x time, here’s information about my education and other dance styles I’ve studied. Nothing particularly flowery, but I wanted to include that I’ve danced and performed for a while, studied how to write, and have been published elsewhere. My biography sounds more like a resume than a movie review (“Must see!” “Movie of the year!”). It’s a work in progress that will probably change as my experience and needs change. If I was choreographing for a non-traditional show, the fact that I’ve been in other non-traditional performances and contributed choreography to Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac songs would be more important than where I went to college and where I work.
Now let’s talk about you. If you’re going to name your specific style of Middle Eastern dance, please learn from my mistake and categorize it correctly (don’t say you’re a folkloric dancer and perform in a cabaret costume). Tell me who you studied with, especially if it’s a preeminent dancer. Tell me about any dance certifications you might hold (without claiming you know everything there is to know about this dance style: see #2 above). Which style are you most comfortable in? Are you a pro with a certain prop? Do you forget there’s a sword on your head because it feels like a natural extension of your body? Are you familiar enough with the words and meaning of classical Middle Eastern songs that you can pass that knowledge to your audience? You can tell me that your performance will wow me, but can you tell me why?
I recently attended a concert where an opening act artist suggested the audience wouldn’t care to check out his new material. That blasé comment made me want to leave. Please be conscious about how you promote yourself – you put too much time and effort into your craft to have something like a careless comment or poorly-written biography turn off your potential audience members, students, and event coordinators. I’ll probably still watch a dancer whose biography could use some work, but her dancing would need to really wow me before she would get any more of my time or money. Why go there? Most dance classes obviously focus on teaching how to dance, not how to make it a career. But spending as much time polishing your biography and other promotional materials as you do polishing the dance shows your caliber as a professional and can help get people’s attention.
Meredith Cook, Contributor: Meredith is a legal secretary and Middle Eastern dancer in Flagstaff, Arizona. She started bellydancing in 2002 and joined Karen Custer Thurston's Al Rakasaat Turkish Egyptian troupe in 2006. Meredith has a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's degree in English. She regularly contributed to "Shimmy in the Spirit of Bellydance" magazine. Meredith has also studied ballet, modern, and jazz. (more...)