Why was he right? Because Jim’s words of wisdom for me were, “Lorna, you’re never going to be famous or make money from belly dance, you know that don’t you?”. I replied that others had, but actually that wasn’t my goal anyway. I loved dance and it made me happy and no employer can pay you in happiness the way dance does for me. If most of my waking hours of my life are going to be spent at work, why have a job that makes me miserable? All I want is enough. Thankfully this is exactly what i have actually always been given, enough. And it is , enough.
Jim’s reaction, when he was trying to get his head around the idea that it wasn’t all about the money, was that I “wouldn’t make money because I loved what i did too much”. When i asked him to explain he told me that when you don’t like doing something, people have to pay you a lot to make it worth your while, or you don’t do it. If you love it, often you end up doing it for free, or for less than it’s worth, even if you didn’t mean to.
Last night saw a perfect example of JD’s prediction come true.
Ellie of London, the newest singer in Cairo, had a gig on a private yacht last night. I went along as her chaperone, bodyguard, assistant, whatever you want to call it- actually i just went along because i was nosey and wanted a night on a yacht – is that so bad? No seriously, it is never wise for a woman, singer or dancer, to go alone to a gig unaccompanied and although the people turned out to be very decent and lovely, if Ellie had been out on the Nile on a yacht with people who were not that, it would be a potentially very difficult and dangerous situation for her. Anyway, it was the yacht owner’s party, to show off his new yacht to his friends and have a bit of a party, and they were lovely.
Ellie sounded amazing and sang songs from almost every genre you can think of. Some people danced , others they didn’t. When i saw women bopping in their seats but embarrassed to get up to dance i went over and got them onto the dance floor. Not because it was my job, or anyone asked or expected me to, but because I wanted the night to go well and everyone to have fun. That’s just what i do, play hostess even when it’s not my party! Maybe that is a line of business i should go into- party whipper upper... with a more suitable job title of course. Anyway, I was dancing with a group of about 5 Egyptian women to the shoop shoop song, or something of that ilk, when I heard one saying to the others, in arabic, “we should ask for baladi, I want to dance baladi”. I thought nothing more of it at the time, except that i understood and felt the same.
Later in the evening the yacht owner comes over and asks if he puts on baladi music would i do a show for them. I said “absolutely not, I am not working, you know I am not working tonight”. He tried to persuade me, i wouldn’t be moved. Eventually i did agree that if baladi music came on, and others were dancing, i would of course dance with them, as I had been dancing with everyone all night, no different... but no show.
Can you guess what happened yet...?
So, he asks me to ask Ellie to put on some Egyptian music. I did, then I ran to the bar to hide. Around me the women start dancing, but again, just in their seats... I pull them up (doh! THATS when i made my ‘mistake’) so we dance together. I tone down my dancing too so i don’t scare them off but slowly one by one, they slink off the dance floor. The owner, then the owners son, come to dance with me too, but they too drift off.
I find I’m on my own on the dance floor. I SHOULD, if i had taken JD’s advice all those years ago, gone to sit down immediately. Business wise, that would have been the ‘smart’ plan. Don’t perform for free, especially in front of people who might employ you at a later event.
Could I sit? No I couldn’t.
Why? Because i felt tricked or pressurised into performing? No, that wasn’t it.
It was because, quite frankly, i was loving dancing. I was blissfully happily lost in the music. I didn’t even ‘perform’, I just danced- for me. I loved it.
They applauded, they loved it too.
Ellie, bless her, was annoyed on my behalf, feeling I had essentially been pushed into having to work for free. The main thing that had annoyed her was that when she was booked for the gig she had recommended me to them in case they also wanted to hire a dancer. They had looked at her in disgust at the suggestion, saying oh no, we are not that sort of people. Their reaction to what she and i consider an art form, I think it was perhaps her first encounter of the hypocrisy which surrounds belly dance in this country and the misperceptions people have of dancers. The country where they place their 3 year old on the table to dance for everyone, but would disown her or worse if at 30 she chose to do the same! Egyptians love the music and dance, they feel it is part of them, but at the same time most look down on anyone who might choose to dance for a living, then of course they ‘force’ me to dance for free. I totally understand her point and very much appreciate her concern for me, but I don’t feel bad about it. Maybe the people who talked to me, interested to find out more about this British expat in Cairo, will then, seeing me dance, alter even slightly their impressions of what a belly dancer is. Yes, I might have blown my chance to charge for a performance on the same boat on another occasion. But maybe not. Perhaps, someone will remember the Scottish belly dancer they saw at a private yacht party on the Nile and decide to hire me for a wedding or party. It’s not overly likely I agree, but do I care? No, I don’t.
I love dancing.
There are times when the dance has to be just that, just for dance. If it is always work i would lose the joy it gives me. If that happens, I may start making money, but I’d be better off sat behind a desk, working 9-5 with a pension plan and paid holidays. I don’t need to make money, I don’t need to be rich, or famous. Those things don’t make a person happy.
I just hope that dance continues to do what it has always done for me... fills my soul, makes me happy and provides me with ‘just enough money’ to continue dancing my life away!
So no JD, sorry, but you are wrong. You can’t see the results in material things. I don’t own houses or yachts or wear designer clothes (except for designer costumes that is!). i don’t drive sports cars or wear diamonds.
However, love of dance actually makes me one of the richest people I know.
And it’s enough.
Nb- just for the record, I feel I should add here that I do NOT condone dancers undercutting others or dancing in restaurant for their meals or for tips or any of these horrible stories you hear of. That is a very different scenario than what I am discussing above. If you are working- treat your art, and other dancers, with respect and charge a fair rate for your work. Otherwise you undervalue us all along with yourself!