Friday, June 29, 2012

How Contracts Protect YOU

In the bellydance world, people seem to balk at the word contract. But contracts are an industry standard in the performing arts world, and with good reason. Contracts protect YOU, the artist - as much if not more than it protects the company or troupe offering the contract. I'd like to tell you a little bit about why you should seek a company with a contract (or encourage your director to write one) as well as what it should cover. The following are a few examples of what is included in our contract, but is by no means all inclusive.

Working Conditions
Just a few ways that a contract should protect your working conditions  include not requiring dancers to perform or rehearse on dangerous surfaces such as a wet floor or a raked (sloped) stage (obviously the show must go on but dancers can voluntarily approve of the conditions and make decisions for themselves), removing obstacles such as power cords, requiring stage seams to be taped down, having a first aid kit on hand with extra supplies such as sprain wraps, cold packs etc.Compensating dancers for feats of extraordinary risk, and taking necessary steps to minimize danger for performing with fire, sharp blades, suspension in the air or acrobatic leaps or falls, is also a great benefit to dancers.

Traveling arrangements and conditions
So you just got hired for a gig out of town, or a tour! Yay! Wow, now you're crammed into a too small car with your suitcase in your lap and you stop for the night at a dirty, sleazy motel and have to sleep on the floor. Ack! As someone who has gone on the road quite a bit (and been in some pretty sticky situations), traveling arrangements are a big deal, especially for extended engagements. A good contract will provide minimum conditions such as per diem, travel accommodations such as booking a sleeping room if traveling in a train overnight, sleeping in a bed to yourself in hotels, having time to rest after flying or time to recover from altitude sickness etc, baggage handling, travel breaks, etc etc. Overseas travel is a whole other ball game and should be covered in depth. (The travel article is the longest in our contract)

A professional company should offer compensation whenever possible - we do *some* free performances, for charity events or for major public events, and every once and a while for trade. Our contract has a minimum payment amount for gigs - and any free performances are voluntary. We also offer perks such as free classes, discounted merch, etc. Knowing the specifics of how, when and how much you are being paid helps you make decisions regarding your dancing, especially if you have another job.

Costumes and supplies
While not every company can provide your costumes (we do) you should at least know what is required and how much you have to spend, and whether or not you have to make your own. If you are required to buy some sort of supply like a particular lipstick or pantyhose, you should know if you will be reimbursed for that.

Holidays, vacation, leave
You don't want to find out last minute that you've been booked Christmas Eve. Contracts should state upfront what holidays you might work (such as new year's eve), what the terms are, what holidays you have off from rehearsal or class, when your breaks are and how long they are (ours are about 3 weeks in summer and over the winter holidays). If you get pregnant or have a death in the family, maternity and bereavement leave excusing you from classes, rehearsals and performances should also be covered.

Rest periods and length of rehersal
No one wants to rehearse for 8 hours straight - minimum break times, maximum rehearsal and performance times, and periods of rest after long rehearsals, performance or travel are included in contract.

Our contract includes a strict non-discrimination policy (race, gender, height, weight, religion, whatever) that also extends to any client that books dancers with us. I once had a prospective client that insulted some of the dancers and asked for a certain "type" - but we don't discriminate and can't allow our clients to either. This protection extends to other situations If I am under contract to provide a certain condition for my dancers, there are no if's and's or but's. I look at clients or theater managers and say "This needs to be fixed asap, I'm under contract to my dancers to provide x". There's no arguing with that.This protects everyone involved.

Say you get booked for a bachelor party . . we don't do them . . . but say you do - is there going to be an escort with you? If you leave a theater at midnight is someone going to walk you to your car? These are things that are good to know.

No surprises!
Of course, much of a contract will protect the company as a business as well. Examples include non-compete, behavior, tardiness, and generally what behavior is expected at events, rehearsal, etc. The good news with knowing all of that upfront is one, that you won't be surprised by something the director expects and two, the director and artistic staff can't take advantage of you intentionally or unintentionally.

The contract I wrote for my company involved massive amounts of research into performing arts union standards, worker's rights, laws, contracts for other professional dance companies of all kinds, other random contracts, business models, etc.

Please feel free to ask questions and discuss. I hope this article helps dancers make decisions, and helps other troupe directors provide better care for their dancers and better protection for their company!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How to wash your belly dance costume

Many dancers get shivers just thinking about the idea of dunking a 200-800 dollar costume in water - in fact, many dancers are taught to never wash their costumes. If you perform a song occasionally you probably won't need to. However contrary to the other reaction, many professional dancers cringe at the thought of not washing their costumes. "Sweat butter" as Savannah fondly puts it, particularly after 2 hour shows or 15 minute to half hour marathon sets - coming backstage literally dripping, mascara running (the one day I didn't wear waterproof . . ) is reason enough. Add lotion, glitter, hair spray, bronzer, dirt, smoke and whatever other things you might come in contact with on a semi daily basis as a professional dancer, and before long, the insides of your costumes will look like this. Pretty dingy.
So, we've established that you should probably wash your costumes every few months or so, depending on how frequently you perform.  Around here, that's several times a week. Now before we get to the "how to" part, let me state you should not over wash - you will eventually loose luster. When I washed these guys I did have a litle metallic glitter float to the top, however they were brighter and shinier when I was done. The cleaner lining is well worth it.

So to start out you will need mild soap - many dancers use Woolite or lingerie detergent, however I suspect that any detergent is too strong for the beads and sequins. I use mild hand soap that is designed to break down body oils. You will also need towels, a place to dry the costumes flat, a fan, and a tooth brush or other gentle scrubbing brush.

Step 1 - Spot test
Always, always, always check to see how your costume first reacts to water, and then to soapy water. Let it dry so you can see any discoloration or warping. Some people have reported sequins curling up or loosing their luster, though I've never had a problem. The quality of the material has a lot do with it.

Step 2 - Prep.
Gather your materials and costume, and first remove any padding as it will not dry properly. Check for loose hooks, stones or sequins so you don't loose them. Fill your tub with water and a little bit of soap. Just a few drops ought to do.

Step 3 - Dunk, swish and scrub!
 Go ahead and swish the costume around a bit to circulate the soap around the beads. Rub extra soap onto dirty lining and scrub gently with a tooth brush. Don't worry about scrubbing too much, you won't hurt the lining. Eventually it will wear out anyway even if you don't wash it and you'll need to replace it. Be careful not to get too much soap on the sequins, and never ever scrub on the decorated side! Try not to let the costume soak for too long.

Step 4 - Rub

Gently rub the sequins and swish the fringe around a little bit. If there is an obvious stain on the decorated side you can gently rub it with a soft wash cloth.

Check out the difference in the pictures on the right!
Go ahead and have at the lining. I scrubbed it pretty vigorously.

Step 5 - Rinse
Dump out the soapy water and replace it with clean cold water and swish the costumes very thoroughly. You do not want any soap residue as it will slowly break down the fabric and beads, and dirt will stick to it like a magnet. I rinsed twice.
Step 6 - Dry
 First let the costumes drip a good bit, give them a little shake to get as much water off as possible, then wrap in a dry fluffy towel and gently squeeze, being careful not to crunch the sequins.
Lay the costumes flat to dry, preferably with as much circulation as possible. I laid mine out on a wire rack and put a fan underneath, blowing straight up under the costumes. I don't recommend drying them outside. The sun has amazing fading effects, and there is always the risk of bird poo, rain,  etc. Make
sure the costume is completely dry before putting it away, and put it in something it can breathe in! Stay away from plastic or sealing containers.

A few more things to know:
Never wash a costume with faux pearls - the coating will come right off as soon as it hits the water! Certain cheap plastic sequins aren't much better - always spot check.
Don't try to wash a cheap costume. I bought cheap Indian costumes (they were terrible, you get what you pay for) and I had extra fabric so I
tested some of it - not only did the dye bleed right out but the fabric itself pretty well disintegrated.
I don't recommend machine washing costumes. I know some people pop their costumes in a pillow case and put it on gentle but I don't think it's good to have them in the water that long.
Don't panic if you see sparkles floating around - you will loose some metallic bits, but keep in mind any time you perform you're likely losing shiny bits too.
The results of cleaning these costumes were fantastic! I have six (or seven? . . ) of these so I washed two today and compared to the unwashed ones and they were definitely brighter and more sparkly, and the lining looked brand new!
And at that, I will leave you to go inspect the linings of your costume!