Gig Clients, Students or Lonely Men: Who is Your Web Site Designed to Attract?
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A wide variety of personalities hire belly dancers, with quite different agendas for what they want the performance to be. Also, a wide variety of students sign up for classes, with rather different goals for what type of experience they are looking for. It's impossible for one dancer to serve the wishes of every potential client or student.
As a teacher or professional performer, it's important to make decisions about what type of client or student matches what you have to offer, then design your web site to attract that specific type of visitor. Some photos and text may alienate potential customers.
In addition, it's important to be aware of other people who explore belly dancers' web sites: lonely men and potential predators who may use information on your web site to target you for a crime. It's important to strike a balance between providing enough information to attract potential clients and students, but to avoid posting information that may draw the kind of attention you might prefer to avoid.
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.
Set an Appropriate Mood
The types of photographs you select and the accompanying text
set a mood. What kind of mood do you want to encourage? What
kind of person do you hope will contact you as a result of visiting
Consider these ideas that I've seen promoted on various dancers'
sites, and think about what kind of person is likely to respond
- Hiring a dancer is a great way to make a party more fun for
- The dance is a great way to exercise.
- The dance is seductive and sexually alluring.
- Learning this dance will lead to a better understanding of
Middle Eastern culture.
- The dance offers a way to explore your inner self.
- Belly dancing is empowering for women.
A photo of you standing in a tank top and yoga pants
with a scarf tied around your hips will send a very different
message from one of you wearing a very skimpy dance bra and leaning forward toward the camera in a pose that emphasizes your cleavage.
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Jeff Obermann, Corvallis, Oregon.
The message you send via your social media pages and your web site will generate a reaction
in the people who see it. If you emphasize the sensual/sexual
side of the dance, you're more likely to receive phone calls at midnight from drunken men asking you to come do a "private" performance at their hotel rooms. In contrast, if you emphasize the exercise
aspect, your site will attract people who are interested in fitness, but not those interested in glamor.
And so on.
As you plan the contents of your web presence, think about what
basic messages you want to convey about belly dancing to the people who see it, and what kind of people you hope will respond to those
messages. Choose text and photos to match.
Do Your Photos "Sell" the Right Thing?
It's normal to feature photo galleries of yourself and your troupe members
on your web site. Clients will want to know what you look like before they hire you. However, the way you present your photo gallery is important.
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Kaylyn Hoskins, Solon, Iowa.
- Photographers often suggest snapping a few photos of you reclining on your back on rumpled satin sheets, softly gazing up at the camera, your hair streaming around you. We don't recline like that when we dance, so why would you put such a photo of yourself on your web site or social media page? These photos suggest that you offer services that involve reclining on your back rather than dance performances. Photographers suggest them because the pose is popular for boudoir photos and model portfolios, but for belly dancers they don't represent what we actually do.
- Photos that show your headless torso draw attention to your breasts and hips. They invite the viewer to think of your body parts rather than thinking about you as a dance professional. There are situations where using such photos could be appropriate, but I suggest thinking carefully about when and where to use them.
- Photos that show you wearing some sort of veil to cover your entire face except for your eyes evoke the Orientalist stereotypes of a harem full of sexually-hungry women eager to take their turn with a Sultan. These photos can backfire by alienating people who find it distasteful to sexualize the modesty practices of Muslim women.
If you're marketing yourself as a professional performer, it's important to present yourself as an attractive dancer with beautiful professional costumes. Clients do expect to see glamor, and most also expect you to be sexy, but they often expect the sexiness to lie within the limits of what they would consider to be good taste.
If you feature photos that encourage viewers to think of you in a sexually objectifying way, or if you cross the line from sexy to seductress, you may alienate potential business contacts. For example, photos that are openly seductive may:
- Lead a client hiring a dancer for a family birthday party or a corporate function to believe that your act will be inappropriate for that event.
- Lead a city festival organizer to deny your student troupe a performance slot.
- Attract calls from lonely men who want to talk dirty to a belly dancer, but have no intention of hiring you for a gig.
- Alienate prospective students who don't want to learn whatever it is your photos imply you're selling.
- Lead a church council you have approached about renting its fellowship hall to you for teaching your classes or hosting a hafla to think they don't want "that kind of thing" in their facility.
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.
It's a balancing act. Most of us want people who visit our web sites and social media pages to think of us as beautiful and glamorous. However, at the same time we want to be thought of as more than that. We want to be perceived as competent professionals and skilled entertainers. Those of us who teach also want potential students to feel as though they would fit in with our classes.
For these reasons, it may be better to avoid choosing photos of costumes that you look in danger of busting out of, or photos with openly seductive poses and facial expressions. You might own some photos of this type that you find beautiful and artistic, but it may be better to keep those private, for your personal enjoyment, and choose less provocative ones for your promotional materials.
Quietly Say "No" to Lonely Men
Many dancers like to include an "about me" section on their web sites and social media profiles with a few carefully-chosen personal facts. These are usually separate from the formal professional dance credentials page. This serves a couple of functions:
- It makes you seem approachable and likeable. Sales professionals know that some customers want to feel a personal connection with sales people before they buy, and including a personal touch on your web page can help make that connection. An Adult Education director once told me the reason she hired me was because she liked seeing photos of my husband with me on my web site.
- It sends a quiet message to lonely men that you already have a vibrant personal life that doesn't have room to fulfill their fantasies about you.
PHOTO CREDIT: My husband and I are prancing in the park on a fine October day. Photo by Kaylyn Hoskins, Solon, Iowa.
Examples of information to include in this "personal touch" page to connect with clients and push away the people you would rather not deal with:
- Photo of your husband or brother, including mention of his role as your photographer, videographer, or drummer
- The city where you
- Why you started belly dancing
- Other kinds of dance
you have studied over the years
- A great recipe you have recently tried
- What you do
for a day job, if you feel it shows you in a positive light
- A photo of your large, protective dog, but don't mention the dog's name if you use it in passwords or security questions
- Comments about how much you enjoy your martial arts classes
The idea is to suggest, "I am an interesting person who can connect with my audience members and students. At the same time, I am not interested in talking dirty to lonely men, and I'm a strong, capable person who knows how to protect myself."
Don't Entice Criminals
In the interests of safety, there is some information you
should avoid placing on your web site or social media page. This would include:
- The address of your house or apartment. If you have a home studio, you may want to consider providing that information privately to students at the time they sign up, without publishing the address online.
- Your land line telephone number for your home, if you have one. (There are reverse lookup web sites that identify the physical address that goes with the land line.) If you teach through a community-sponsored
program or studio, publish the phone number for their office
instead of publishing your personal land line phone number.
- Genealogical information. Your mother's maiden name is often
used as a kind of password by banks and credit card companies.
A criminal could potentially use this information to get access
to your bank accounts.
- Any other information that you have used in passwords or security questions, such as pet names, your full birth date, a family member's stage name, or the name of the school you attended.
- Anything else that could make you more vulnerable to a stalker
or identity thief.
- A schedule or social media post of when you'll be out of town teaching or attending workshops
— that effectively invites would-be burglars to help themselves
to the contents of your home while you're gone, and I know dancers this has happened to.
- Rants about political news which could alienate potential clients whose positions are different from yours.
In short, think carefully about what kind of information you
provide, and how it could potentially be misused before you post
it on your site.
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.
When choosing photos and videos for your web site consider these additional recommendations:
- Don't use photos of you dancing in a costume style or with a prop that you don't actually know how to perform. Don't make promises you can't keep — doing so would be false advertising.
- Avoid photos that feature ugly backgrounds, poor lighting, blurry images, or other quality issues. Stick with photos that are high quality, clean, and professional-looking.
- Photos should be recent, not more than 10 years old, and they should provide an accurate view of your current body type.
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Michael Baxter, Santa Clara, California.
Everything you post on social media and your web site will reflect on you, one way or another. Ultimately, you'll want to choose photos and text that lead prospective students and clients to think you're the right performer or teacher for them.
At the same time, you won't want your web profile to make you a target for potential predators.
Choose thoughtfully as you make decisions on which photos and text to feature on your web site and your social media profile.
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