I have done 21 nightclub performances since part one of this article and have learned a LOT! (63 five minute sets in all .. wow) I am sharing this to open up a dialog about hoop performance, so I can also learn from you, too! I hope my experiences encourage you to think about hooping at a club near you as a way to activate your own practice or hooping career. I won’t repeat anything from part one of this article which was already published here, but you may want to read it first.
In this installment I’ll speak to: booking gigs and contracts, rates, how to get club gigs, when you don’t feel like performing but have to, dancing, photographers, led hoops, dealing with a crisis on stage, bad music, fans, presentation skills and tools to improve your shows. This is a long article, but worth it. Read on!
First and foremost, I have found it VERY important to have a written contract with your client. There are many free downloadable samples for performers online if you do a google search. It is important to take time crafting your own and add clauses such as, “performer is not responsible for crowd clearing and control”, “artist requires at least 30 minutes break between sets”, “artist will be provided with beverages and water during evening”, “artist is entitled to one guest”, “club is responsible for making sure dance area is dry and free of drinks, bottles and other debris”, “performer cannot dance in a space smaller than ____ or higher than __ feet off the floor” and so on, according to your own policies.
People will treat you as if you are worth what you ask for, so think carefully about your rates. In some cases there may be bargaining and negotiating if you feel it is worth it, other times you may stand firm on your bottom line. If they offer you an amount less than what you want, you can always say yes, but note you will only be doing 2 sets instead of 3. No matter what, never take less than what you feel good about yourself recieving or you may regret it. Once you establish a rate with a client, it is hard to increase it very quickly.
Your written contract should clearly state how many performances you will do, how long they are and at what estimated times they will happen. Your payment method, if any deposit is required and when the balance will be paid and in what form should also be there. Honestly I have never gotten a deposit from a club gig unless it was out of country, but it is good to just have it in your general contract. If it is an out of country gig, it should clearly state your payment amount in US dollars as the total amount *after* any taxes, additional fees or currency exchange (I have been duped out of more than $400 by supposed “taxes” and exchange rate differences). Out of country gigs should always get a deposit before your leave the US, the client should always pay for all transport and lodging and hopefully a per deium.
I now avoid booking a performance after a long taxing experience, like after an 18 hour plane ride. After flying into Germany and driving 4 hours into Austria, I learned this the hard way when I had to perform within a few hours. I also avoid eating 3 hours prior to a gig or I tend to be sluggish. In general, the more I perform, the more I realize actually need to book “down time” which has no teaching, rehersals or performances involved so I can get back to my center. It is very easy to let yourself get booked up back to back for weeks.. and the quality of what I offer drops and the sweet spirit that should be motiviating it is tired and maybe even cranky.
I would encourage you to never, ever ever under any circumstances reveal to another performer hired to perform at your gig how much you are paid to be there. I did this once and it had the potential to create huge drama for me with the manager, who had asked me to keep it confidential. I let it slip carelessly and many other dancers there who work for many more hours than me per evening but get paid less seemed pissed. It could have put my entire relationship with the club at risk and lost me a great ongoing gig! Thank gosh nothing happened, but I learned a good lesson — when it comes to money, mum’s the word.
Club gigs don’t pay as much as other gigs.. but the vast exposure, performance experience and opportunity to get club footage and photos of yourself is worth the compromise in pay. My deal gives the club a break in how much they pay me based on increased bookings per month — so they often end up having me there 2-6 times. So obviously you should have different rates for nightclubs, private parties, corporate and commercial gigs.
How do you get club gigs? Every club gig I have gotten has been from a personal contact from someone who worked there who referred me to them based on seeing me perform in the past somewhere in the community – at a paid private party gig or just at a festival or something. None of the dozens of club solicitations I have done have ever panned out to a gig. Many people ask why I don’t bring my hoop out with me to nightclubs like I used to — in the past I used to hoop in the back of clubs and have a blast! But the cold reality is that a club will never pay you to do something you are willing to give away for free. This is why I am often hired at more swanky places which frown on freestyle jam artists hanging out in back, and was turned away when applying to a location where hoopers perform constantly for free (Club 1015 for those who know SF). Another interesting ancedote: When my boyfriend was hired to dj in Cancun I brought my hoop and a full costume and met with the club owner prior to the evening and explained that I was a professional performer and would give him a sample of my work. He was baffled, but excited. I did a high energy fully decked out 5 minute demo — and stopped. The crowd was screaming for more and everyone kept asking me to p-l-e-a-s-e do more, but I was firm and said it was just a demonstration for the manager. That self restraint created such a hunger in the club that I have been hired back with my hoop partner twice since then. When you decide to go pro, you make choices about when and how much you will hoop at venues which require self restraint. Unbridled fun happens for me in other settings, but everytime I perform in a club, I have to stay on pointe.
Anyways, I was speaking of other dancers before that digression. I always go out and watch the go go dancers performing before I perform. Their slow sultry and super sexy high energy moves ramp up my energy and I often try copying their movements in the corner to get my body limber and in the mood. Their elegant grace, elongated limbs, sucked in tummies, dramatic use of their arms, attitude, and arched backs model for me what I need to remember. And their slow movements, even when the music is pumpin, reminds me to slow down instead of letting my adrenaline run away with me. They are wonderful teachers, and even behind the scenes offer lots of makeup and costumery tips, just from watching them prepare.
I don’t always feel 100% on nights I am booked to perform. That is just the reality of life! If it is a really low energy night where I feel down or depressed or anything like that, I make it a point to choose the the flashiest, blingiest, most fabulous costume out of my closet. This creates a great “smoke and mirrors” to distract people from any potential deficiency in my performance. It also can actually totally shift my energy and make me feel great to be wearing such an awesome costume.
It also helps me to take a moment and think about feeling beautiful, graceful, angelic, sexy or whatever feelings are pleasurable and to think of just exuding these vibes while I dance. I remind myself to smile when I exhale and often engage my imagination to visualize things like swimming though honey, having long strings of diamonds swinging from my hips or something else wonderful and sensual. It kind of puts me in the mood so I have something to really share. In short, I practice a very important performance premise- fake it till you make it. It works.
Have a mentally rehersed series of moves to go through before performing, even if you review it only minutes before you go on — it will lend cohesion. I like to add variety to my sets by doing a single hoop set, a double hoop set then another single. I also have a distinct floorwork component I add to every set ( I look to bellydance, erotic dance and yoga traditions for inspiration). I have discovered too that having character transitions, at least one or two, really helps the crowd connect with you and looks very dynamic. Eye contact is KEY. To help with this I have created a catalog of personas in my hoop journal and I try to practice them when I am in the studio with mirrors.
I try to avoid what I call “octopus syndrome”, just wildly doing many moves strung together of varying planes and angles which are random. Instead, I try to do all my moves on specific planes which show the best angle to the audience(poi training is very useful in this regard — they so emphasize planes). I often use a box shape to guide my right-left, forward-back series of dance steps. Spotting with some object or some mark on the floor really helps with this. No matter what, I focus on performing three dimensionally (all angles, all sides, varying heights) and embedding moves within an already complete dance which shows the best angle to the audience.
It is so important to be aware of cameras and videotapers and to play to them. I didn’t used to have any awareness of them – and then I kept seeing terrible shots of me published. Yech! Then watching Anah perform one day, I realized she practically has a camera sonar in place where she instantly moves to perform in the best angle to any photographer who is there snapping away. I now know who the main magazine and e-zine photographers are now at the club — you can tell from tags around their necks and large fancy looking cameras. I maintain awareness of them while I perform and also have a series of stock hooping poses that I can jump into very quickly which look great — always remembering to suck in my tummy and arch my back. This may seem egoic or odd, but if you go pro, it is important to know how to work with the media in a way which shows your best side.
Although it can be tempting, I avoid mouthing the words to a song while performing. I watched a video of myself doing it. It looked terrible! And on the subject of mouths, I avoid what Anah playfully calls, “porno mouth”, where I keep my mouth somewhat open in a slightly pornographic manner because I am so into whatever I am doing. It can be unconscious when you are doing it, but if you watch yourself on video it looks downright cheap.
If using a PSI hoop I try to remember when batteries were last inserted and replace if there is *any* chance they could be going out. Also, remember to tape over the switch, as I have switched my hoop off mid performance! It is hard to stay in flow when trying to locate the switch again to turn it back on. When using any LED hoop, I always bring a back up hoop which is placed within arms reach of where I am performing in case the other one blinks out (which has happened to me several times). Plus, the reality is that no LED hoop on the market performs like a regularly balanced hoop. I force myself to practice with the same hoop I will perform with so I won’t be caught off guard by weight or balance differences. This is especially true for ones with large battery packs on one side which make tosses and rolls and duck outs and things wobbly.
I have found the best approach in dealing with any crisis while performing (such as a hoop blinking out, music stopping or any such thing) is TOTALLY staying in character and keeping on performing. For example, when I drop the hoop I put a hand to a pouty mouth and turn my head to the side in exagerated girlie-style embarassment, which people seem to love as part of the whole show. Another example- my legwarmers occasionally seem to sag, so now I make pulling them up while hooping part of the show by doing it in a slow sexy way with a long extended leg and a coy head lean. It is good to prepare how you will handle your crisis in a mirror during a rehearsal so you jump into your theatricality quickly and well.
I am never in control of the music at a club, but I must perform to it. So I play a game with myself — even if it is the worst music I have ever heard in my life, completely frenetic, crass, bizzare, boring or utterly uninspiring, I convince myself it is the best music I have ever heard in my life, and that it may be the last. This shifts my energy so the quality of my dance is independent from the music quality. It is pretty liberating, actually.
If there are other hoopers performing, I find it important not to compare myself to them. My comparing mind is very critical and can often say things to me which are mean and insensitive, and not always true. So I try to remember that my performance is my business, and other performers performance is their business — though I can choose to be inspired. My job is just to shine and share my energy and light.
Finally, fans. There will be fans and lots of them. They are so wonderful and such a gift — so affirming that you are on the right path! However, they may also run at you, touch you without permission and completely surround you so you cannot escape. It can be overwhelming and hard to stay in a light, playful, open and receptive place when this happens! At least for me. So if people try to touch me without asking and I don’t feel like experiencing that, I change my stance to have one foot forward and I actually intercept their hands or wrists with mine and hold them away from my skin. Not in an aggressive way, but just in a friendly setting boundaries kind of way. A lot of guys also think it is okay to touch or leave a hand on my waist or butt (what are they thinking?) I step away and turn to face them fully when I see it about to happen. They often understand immediately – I have never had anyone react badly to it. It helps to smile while you do it. When people say, “wow you are amazing, how did you learn that?” over and over, I often say, “it is easy with practice… I teach classes!” and slip them a business card. This shifts the energy from me to them and often results in a lot of fans becoming great hoopers! Plus their attention moves from me to the card and it often allows me to move to the dressing room and dry off faster.
It is important if you are self critical (like me) to always receive praise when given. Sometimes I feel badly about a performance and think of only what could have made it better, so I leave stage a bit sour. When someone wholeheartedly tells me how astounding and earth moving my performance was for them, I avoid saying anything or using body language that contradicts that. For example, I have actually responded to praise with, “well actually it was an off night for me”, “you should see me when I perform with my dance partner – it is so much better”, and “thanks but I felt a bit out of it tonight”. Or by shaking my head a bit, looking disbelieving, having a tight lipped smile or shifty downward eyes. Now it is part of my hoop practice to receive compliments wether I feel worthy of them or not. It feels disrespectful not to.
To close, here are some nitty gritty presentation tips: When wearing wigs, don’t forget to completely bobby pin them to your head so they are completely secure even with mad head tossing! I had a wig fly off at a gig and it was quite embarrassing. I also find that white or blond wigs show up in the dim lights much more than darker colors. I choose the largest sparkles from craft stores to apply on top of body lotion on my skin because they reflect the most light, instead of the super fine glitter. I bring a towel to wipe off sweat afterwards (instead of using tissues on site which can leave clumps of paper on your face) and translucent powder to absorb shine after each set.
Also, the one time I wore pasties, I realized how important it is to make sure all sides are firmly glued down with spirit gum! Halfway through one performance, a hoop lift started to peel one pastie off so I had to exit gracefully and quickly to recover it. Re-apply glue after each set to prevent this… I also use saftey pins to secure everything together that can possible migrate while I am hooping — like dancer tights to underwear to pants to belt — I have had an elastic sparkle belt migrate halfway up to my chest from hooping and it doesn’t look so great.
I wear flesh colored fishnets (with the hip elastic and feet cut off for comfort) with any outfit which shows my legs as it contains and firms. Even if you think you are buff, a camera can do weird things to your thighs. It is a good practice hooping in any new outfit once before going on stage with it because you never know what weirdness may occur, especially if it is skimpy. I now always double knot bikini tops after one behind the neck pass resulted in me untying my top on stage!
Speaking of tops, the go-go dancers taught me a cool trick. They get cheap nude push-up bras and cut the two straps which go over your shoulders, where they attach on your back and tie it behind their necks so your whole back is open, and cut out the fabric between the two straps that go back from the cup and clasp in back. This makes it look just like two thin nude straps going across your back, which people often don’t see from far away. It is finally a way I can get some support with the skimpy tops and not risk flying out as well.
A final note… the two most precious tools I have which help me improve my performance skills are my video camera and journal. I video tape every single gig I have (I randomly ask someone there to hold the machine or place it on a nearby surface). If it is a gig where I go to a dressing room between sets, I actually watch my performance between sets and can discover big things — slouching, something weird about my costume, something to tell the lighting guy, how I can expand my dance more, etc. Then my next set is that much better.
At the end of every evening, even if I get home at 4 am, I watch the entire video and do an entry in my journal. Each entry includes: gig name, costume, general impressions of my performance, moves, what I forgot or could have improved, and what I liked about what I did the most. I cherish my performance journals! They teach me so much.
More than anything I just want to say — have fun and enjoy yourself and shine your light bright! I would love to hear about your performances learnings or thoughts… there are so few hoop performers who actually dialog about these things! I hope my experiences are helpful and inspire you to take your performing to the next level!