I have been meaning to sit and write an article about professionalism.  As a dancer, as a business owner, as a human being, professionalism for me is an all encompassing set of choices.  Reflected in our actions and reactions to situations we find ourselves in, it gives us a chance to look at a bigger picture than just our little world, to see that our actions and choices do affect others.

There is a philosophy that floats around self-help groups based on the concept of, ” I cannot change anyone else, I can  only change myself.”or even ” I am not responsible for the actions of others, only my own.”

Both of these sentiments can be used to guide ones actions in a very positive light.  But they can, like any other catch phrase, be used to justify odd and selfish behavior that serves no purpose but to alienate and disturb.

If we behave in a way that takes into account only our reactions and consequences, we may be “being ourselves”, “living true”, and growing into a place of confidence and integrity.  But if it goes so far that we become so ignorant of others needs in order to accommodate our choices, that can go too far. Divas, dictators, and invaders come to life.

We “cannot please everyone all the time” is another statement that can be used to justify extreme actions that defy emotional intelligence.  Does it really mean that you should only please yourself?

We live in an assortment of societies that to some degree all have “working together” as an integral part of human evolution. As familial clans grew into tribal groups organized to survive by working for the benefit of their groups interests, conflicts could erupt between “rival” tribes/clans.

None of this is new, so I won’t belabor the point, but I guess my real question is, when are we going to reach that point where the tribal lines are blurred enough to allow us to be that global village? It might be totally unrealistic. It might be so far off in the future that I won’t see it in my lifetime, but maybe working in our own little universes, we can keep working towards it.

But what is it? With so many different cultures and civilizations to deal with, at what point is one deemed equal to another, equal but different? And can we co-exist without coming to blows if our ideals are completely different?  “Being civilized” has been both a curse and a blessing. In the name of “civilization”, a lot of wrongs have been committed. Also in the name of religion, political beliefs, and so many other excuses for bad behavior have affected our world in epic proportions.

AND what does this have to do with professionalism?

Again, I believe that our choices and reactions affect every aspect of our lives, and choosing to be professional in every situation can be a positive choice to make. That is not to say that I want to be stiff and at a distance from everyone I deal with, from new clients down to my closest family members. It means that the respect accorded to the stranger I meet on the street who needs a helping hand should also be accorded to my closest friends and family.

The training, through observation and experience, I received growing up was not always polite and respectful. Mixed messages in those formative years, of expected behaviors outside the home to show proper manners, and the demonstrated and experienced behavior in the home valuing a “witty barb.  It has taken me a long time to grow up and become my own person who does not need to be “mean” all the time. Though it really does creep in, once and a while, and comes out of me before I can stop it! My apologies to those who are the occasional victims of my past training!

This affected how I taught belly dance in the beginning, giving me some presumed freedom to isolate and pick on students who were not “getting it”. After witnessing a similar act of teacher superiority at a dance workshop I attended a few years into my teaching, I saw it from the other side. While the person isolated and picked upon was not me, it was one of my students who was a good dancer, and I felt the pang of embarrassment when she was singled out.  I immediately resolved to make an effort to offer constructive suggestions if someone was really not understanding the move. Though I still occasionally slip up, I do try to be more positive and supportive in my treatment of my students.

Fortunately, that early training did instill the ability to be professional when working. I have always tried to make sure that I arrive slightly early or on time for any gigs that I am hired to dance at, and my very nature of being a control freak lends itself well to being pretty self-contained before any event. It takes some time and experiences to know what you can entrust to others, and what you need to make sure you do yourself, and how to do it gracefully and politely.

Always make sure you take your music to the DJ. Suggest he/she test it before your performance so that you’ll know if the disc will work in the player they have. Most professional systems will not have a problem, but some cd players won’t play MP3 discs. Have a back up if you can! When in doubt, burn an audio cd.

Always be prepared for whatever kind of changing room you are offered. It might be a large space with a mirror, it may be the largest stall in a public washroom, it may be the coat check room. If you can have your make-up done in advance, it saves time. If you can be partially dressed in costume, it saves effort. But each situation is different.

Not always a pretty sight!
Not always a pretty sight!

I arrived on time to a wedding a few years ago, and they were running early in their evenings plan. They had wanted me for 8:30 and I was actually at the hall by 8:15, fully dressed, in a caftan, walking in the doors of the building. To my right, a man was practically running out of the building in a black tux. He spotted me and followed me back in – “Oh great, you’re here!. We’re ready for you now, is that okay?”
“uh yeah…” I say, as he runs off. ” You need my cd…” I try to quietly yell.
He comes running back as I am quickly wrestling out of my caftan, in the main foyer of this banquet hall, and I can only fold it and place it on the floor near a plant. Fortunately my husband was outside in the car with my ID etc., so I did not have to worry about that.


Halyma and the caftan
Halyma and the caftan!

The music starts and I dance, and then I am done! Payment arrives within moments of me gathering my things in the foyer [ this includes my glasses and outdoor shoes!, and I leaving before I was even supposed to have started dancing! A positive experience as I was able to adjust my timing and was fully prepared upon arrival – I really enjoyed that one!

Other events have had me waiting in my car for 20 minutes after I was supposed to dance as they finished supper. It happens. You deal. Or you indicate in your contract/ brochure/ guidelines that you send your clients what happens if they make you wait – they pay more.

While I have only had my brochure for my Dancers For Hire services on my website for about 2 years now, it has been a blessing. I don’t have to remember to email all of the little details, they are already written up on a pdf that the potential client can download themselves. And it feels a bit more professional to be able to provide it. I had created the first one when people were asking for private lessons, and developed both info sheets as a result!

With all of this wading through the shallow end of the professionalism lake, I was also inspired by DanceAdvantage, who wrote a 2 part series on the same topic recently, and her article is so worth reading!

My preferred policies:

  • Please as many people as you can, including yourself – keep it “Win-Win” for everyone involved!
  • Build your community through acts of support and appreciation, not words and rhetoric.
  • It is okay to say, “no, I cannot” but try to offer a solution, recommend someone else to do the job, help in any way you can that won’t infringe on your moment of self preservation!
And come out to the Teacher’s Fundraiser and the Dancers’ Bazaar here in Ottawa on the weekend of October 18 and 19!

0 thoughts on “Professionalism…

  1. Those preferred policies work everywhere, I think. Being properly prepared for a gig, meeting or even social event makes an impression.

    Nicely written post, Halyma.

  2. Great and completely spot-on post.

    Just because there is a “saying” that covers a variety of choices, it doesn’t mean that these choices are right. As you say, our actions are who we are. This is true for both our offline and online persona’s, as well as our business and personal relationships.

    There is one saying that I’ve always tried to adhere to: “Treat others as you’d like to be treated yourself.”

    I’ve found that helps to keep you on the right track. 🙂