Top Twenty Club Clichés
Survival Skills for the American Dancer
By Elizabeth Artemis Mourat
After more than twenty years in the Oriental dance world, I have learned the unique language spoken by many club owners. The words may be spoken in English (albeit broken English), but a translation is still needed. This is because the meanings are often quite different from the words. These bosses are not inherently evil, they simply do not do business with dancers on an honest basis. Most of this is a culturally imposed phenomenon. These owners are deliberately indirect. You must expect that they will always look for the best possible “deal” for the cheapest possible price. They do not expect to pay the first price quoted. Expect that they will not do business the same way we do because they play by different rules.
There are exceptions. We have all had good bosses. I have even known dancers who married their bosses and live very happy lives. There are jobs where the club owners treat us with the utmost respect. In some work situations the owners invite us to join them for their evening meal. This article is not written about them. To the good bosses, I offer my gratitude and an apology for this article. This piece is written for the other ones.
I have looked forward to writing this article for quite some time. In fact, I have been waiting for a killer mood swing to set the tone, and I’m in the midst of a real “humdinger.” So, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, I begin…
1) Boss: “We are going to change the schedule. You can take the night off and we’ll call you.”
This means that the dancer is probably fired or will soon be fired. They are trying out replacements or have already found one and don’t have the nerve to tell the dancer.
2) Dancer: “What time is the show?”
Boss: “Well, it depends.”
What this means is that business, she is not so good and they want the dancer to hang around until customers come in. This is why they do not want to commit to a show time. Besides, if the dancer sits in the club, it looks as though there is another customer there. A pretty woman in the audience is always a lure for other customers.
3) Boss: “We are going to re-evaluate the pay scale in two months. If you will work for the lower pay now, we will give you and all the dancers a raise then.”
This means that the dancer will never get the raise. In two months they will have another excuse. Tell them that WHEN they have changed the pay scale, you will be happy to come.
And don’t waste your time until then. If the dancer falls for this and then quits when they fail to keep their promise, they still got her cheaply for two months.
4) Boss: “You have to stay all evening because we never know when more custormers will come in and we may need another show” or “because we all work together here, like a family, so we come in together and we leave together.”
What this means is that they want to get more mileage out of the dancer’s presence. One more pretty face in the club is good for business.
5) Boss: “We don’t like our dancers to work in other places because we want them to have loyalty to our place.”
What this means is that they want to own the dancer. The boss wants the customers who follow the dancer to spend their money at his place not another place.
6) Boss: “We have our dancer split her tips with the band because the musicians work all night and she only dances for 25 minutes.”
Of course the band will never share THEIR tips with the dancer. The boss can get away with paying them less this way. He is paying them with THE DANCER’S money! The tips are not one cent out of the club owner’s pocket. This is a rip off — always has been and always will be.
7) Boss: “I want you to meet a friend who is a very important customer.”
This is the boss’s way to make his customers happy at the dancer’s expense. I usually say hello and beat feet. I have an arsenal of excuses ready. I have to fix my costume, get ready for the next show, make a phone call, talk business with someone, go to another club across town, water my camel, exercise my snake, etc. If the dancer gets into the habit of sitting with customers, she will have to do it forever. This is not her job.
8) Boss: “It is good exposure.”
This usually means that the job does not pay. I wonder about this exposure thing. It makes me chafed. Don’t fall for it.
9) Boss: “We have all of our girls audition during the evening hours so we can see if the audience responds well to them.”
What this means is that they will get a free show (and often tell the regular girl not to come that night — see #1). They know a good show when they see one. Offer to give them a video, invite them to see your show at another club, or agree to audition when they are closed.
10) Boss: “We agreed on $60.”
Dancer: “No, we agreed on $65.”
Boss: “You are so cheap that you would fight for only $5?”
This boils down to the game of trying to get the lowest price at any cost. HE is willing to fight over the lousy $5! He will curse the dancer behind her back for being a fool and he will laugh at his own “cleverness.” Don’t fall for it.
11) Boss: “Call us at 7:30 to see if we need you at 9:00.”
This is a disturbing new trend in the clubs. It is not the dancer’s fault that their business is bad. They do not want the dancer to get another job because they want her to be available IN CASE they need her. They want to own that time slot. This costs them absolutely nothing, but it costs the dancer plenty — usually a night’s wages. If she rejects job offers for that evening because MAYBE they will need her, and their business is slow that night, she loses a night’s pay.
12) Boss: “My cousin will write you a check, but he is not here now. Can you come on Saturday?”
This usually means that they are trying to get out of paying the dancer. Sometimes, they will even “forget” their English. If the dancer comes back on Saturday, they may be closed, or the cousin will be hiding in the back office. Insist on getting paid at the appointed time.
13) Boss: “Business is slow, honey. So, can we give you half of your money now and the rest of it next week?”
What this really means is that business is “down for the count.” Next week, it is unlikely that the boss will pay the dancer the full amount, but he will pay her some. If she falls for this, in a very short time he will owe her so much money that she will not want to quit because she keeps thinking that he will get caught up. The dancer may reason, “At least some money each week is better than nothing and, after all, they will catch up some time, right?” WRONG! They will NEVER catch up. It will cost them more to start with a new dancer who hasn’t or won’t fall for this. So, insist that you must be paid in full, in cash, each night. And start looking for another job.
14) Boss: “Can you dance a little faster, sexier, gain a few pounds, lose a few pounds, grow your hair longer, make your feet shorter, show more leg, grow 6 inches taller, and don’t you have another costume?”
This means that they are not happy with the dancer for some reason. She will probably never know what reason, and their remarks probably have NOTHING to do with the truth. Once, when a club owner told me that I was too thin, I told him that if he paid me more, I could eat better. Then, he shut up! If they continue to “pick on” the dancer, she should start scouting around for another job. They may fire her soon anyway.
15) Boss: “Can you dance for an hour?”
Dancer: “If I danced for an hour, they would have to take me out on a stretcher.”
Again, we see the boss trying to get more mileage out of the dancer. Force them to be reasonable.
16) Boss: “Can you do a thirty-minute show?”
Dancer: “Yes, I can.”
Boss: “What about two fifteen-minute shows?”
Dancer: “Yes, there will be an additional cost for the second show.”
Boss: “But that is really one show and I will give you a break in the middle. So, I will pay you the same amount for one show.”
No! No! No!
17) Dancer: “You still owe me money.”
Boss: “No, I already paid you in the last check. I know I already payed you, but I can’t prove it to you because I keep ‘the belly dancing books’ at home. You come back another day and I’ll prove it.”
On another day, the boss will tell the waiters to tell the dancer that he is not there and the nonexistent “belly dancer books” will still be “at home.”
18) Boss: “I did not tell you to come in tonight!”
What this means is that business is bad and they don’t want to pay the dancer so this is an excuse to get out of it.
19) Boss: “I’ll work with you and you work with me.”
This usually prefaces something that the dancer will not want to hear, so brace yourself.
20) Boss: “I want you to meet my nephew. He is a very good boy. He wants to take you out for coffee.”
These businesses are often family run operations, so everyone (no matter how distant the relation) is someone’s “cousin” or “nephew.” This does not constitute a character reference. “Dating” the staff is treading in treacherous waters. They are notorious for saying that the dancer did things that she never did. Tell the boss you have a boyfriend.
The next time you are given any of these statements, you will have an advantage. You know the Artemisian Translation System. You know what they really mean. They don’t know that you know, but you know. They think you are behaving in accordance with the lie. But you are behaving in accordance with the truth. You can choose not to let them in on your understanding. Either way, you will get the last laugh. If they tell you they are changing the schedule, you can be out scouting for a new job and have other potential gigs firmly tucked away in the wings! Or, you can take another job and quit before they fire you. Ha!
Well, I feel much better. Now if you will excuse me, I’m going to take a Midol.
Elizabeth Artemis Mourat, MA, MSW, is a dancer, historian and workshop instructor. She is currently writing a book and creating a documentary film on the history of Turkish Gypsy (Rom) dance, history and culture. www.serpentine.org