The Entrepreneurial Bellydancer

I just got back from a workshop with Pamela Slim, author of the book Escape from Cubicle Nation.  She also blogs, tweets, and life coaches.  The workshop itself was filled with current and future entrepreneurs who are looking for a change in their career or how they run their businesses, and everyone had amazing and creative ideas. Today’s workshop got me thinking… (as most things often do.)

Before I left my day job, I had been reading several blogs on freelancing, escaping the cube, creativity, and simpler living.  (I also follow most of them on Twitter, which is how I found out about Pam’s DC workshop.) Some of these blogs include:

To me, it seemed like the natural thing to do.  I wanted to start my own business as a freelance, independent creative contractor, in charge of my own schedule and my own life.  It seemed natural to want to approach dancing full-time as an entrepreneurial endeavor, so I wanted to read blogs written by and that inspire entrepreneurs.

What surprises me, though, is that many dancers, even and maybe especially the part-time professionals (those who are dancing, performing, and teaching for pay) are not looking at their dance as business.  They don’t file taxes with their state or with, in the case of the United States, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  They don’t have business licenses on file with their home city.  They don’t itemize their deductions at tax time (because they’re not even paying taxes).  They aren’t demanding that their sponsors obtain work visas for them when they teach outside of their country of residence.

This lack of business prudence indicates several things to me:

  • We, as a community, do not place a high value on being legally official.
  • We, as a community, do not think that we need to pay taxes because, at least in the case of the part-timers, we make very little.
  • We, as a community, do not take ourselves seriously as businesswomen… Even though we are selling services, knowledge, skills, and sometimes products.

And what that boils down to, in my eyes, is a fundamental lack of self-respect.

We owe it to ourselves and the community to go to our local government authorities and get the appropriate business license to teach and perform (and sell wares). Plus, it’s a pretty awesome feeling when you come home with a business license to put up on your wall at home.  We owe it to our students as examples and mentors that belly dance is a legitimate business venture, something respectable and honorable.  We owe it to ourselves and our community to show that we can be professional artists in an obscure and often misunderstood dance form, and still be official and legal about it.

If you’re teaching dance or performing for pay, it takes only a few hours to set up a business as a sole proprietor.  If you have questions about how to set up an official business, take a look at the blogs I’ve posted above… or ask your mentors.  Ask me.  I might not have the answers, but when we fail to report our income and our expenses to our local and federal governments, what we’re saying is, “What we’re doing isn’t a legitimate business”, and therefore “What we’re doing isn’t legitimate.” It’s under the table, shady and hidden.

In my eyes, belly dance deserves better than under-the-table dealings.  It demands respect, which we all claim to want, but unless we can respect ourselves enough to look at ourselves as businesswomen/men and entrepreneurs, then how do we expect those NOT in our community to respect us?

 

Comments: 7

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I already have a biz/production company name picked out for when that happens. I am thinking ahead and using the name now to try to brand myself as things pick up with my dancing!

 

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And thank you so much for those awesome links!

 

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Great ideas, although it always depends on the person – although a tax ID# isn’t hard to get for even the most part time performer. For my business and for my dancing, I’ve been a sole proprietor for many years – and I find it really rewarding. And I absolutely agree. If you expect it to be your living, or a large portion of your living, take the classes to learn how to conduct a business, if you need to, and get a tax ID#. Put some honest work into it and give it an actual shot at succeeding.

There’s nothing that bugs me more than someone who expects others to hire them or to buy their goods, but who doesn’t do the work of creating, branding, marketing, advertising, networking, web development, customer service (yes – even for dancers! customer service is not just for vendors), and all the ‘boring’ paperwork. At least hire someone, if necessary, to do some of those things for you. It does stand to reason that if you treat your business with respect, other people will automatically treat it that way, as well. Although that advice would lean more toward full time vendors and performers.

And who says we make ‘very little’? 😉 I know you meant it for the part timers, and most of them do make very little. Oh – I LOVE zenhabits – one of my very few subscriptions. Awesome call. I’ll be checking out some of the other ones, too! Thanks.

 

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    Amy – Of course these things depend on the dancer. I didn’t have a tax ID until I officially quit my day job, but I was paying taxes on my earnings and claiming deductions every April 15th. When I made dance my main income, I knew I had to go forth and be completely official. But it really bugs me when dancers don’t even think about it… or they think about it and say, “well, I’m not going to claim this income.” What? It’s one thing to be working on a business plan, figuring out what kind of business to be, or whether or not you’ll even be making enough money to claim it on taxes, but it’s another to say, “Well, I know that I’m supposed to do this legally, but it’s a hassle/I don’t want to claim it/I don’t want to pay taxes on it…”

    And thank you for the comment! 😀

     

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Great blog post and great comments! I absolutely agree with you, and I’m just informing myself now how to make my teaching and dancing legal and official come september – that’s when everything begins for real and I can’t wait!

 

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Mark my words: when I started charging tax, customer mostly stopped to negotiate their price. I felt like I was now in the major league. Awesome feeling!

 

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Hey, Asharah,

Love this post. An additional great read for entrepreneurs is “The Small Business Bible” by Steven D Strauss.

 

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