Belly Dance by ÂYA of Istanbul
Performance, Instruction, Choreography
TIPPING ETIQUETTE AT NICOLA’S RESTAURANT
by Âya of Istanbul, 2011
One of the subjects I get asked most about as a professional belly dancer is etiquette dealing with tipping the dancer. Although I feel somewhat uncomfortable talking about this in such great detail (since I am the one being tipped!), I have realized over the years that unless they grew up exposed to belly dancing, people simply don’t know what constitutes “good manners” when tipping a belly dancer. Understandably, this makes them feel awkward or uncomfortable. As a performer, the last thing I want is for my audience to feel this way! So, here’s a little background on this ancient practice along with an explanation of the dos and don’ts specifically as it relates to Nicola’s Restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia.
The folk origins of belly dance are apparent in the tradition of tipping the dancer. In the old days, young women who did not have enough dowry money would sometimes dance in the market place for gold coins which they would later sew on to their clothes for safe keeping (That’s why modern belly dancers often have decorations on their costumes which resemble coins!) This is a custom that has been carried on. In fact, tips are a major source of income for many belly dancers around the world.
In belly dancing the audience is an active part of the performance. Tipping is not only a way to praise a dancer’s talent, it is also a way for the audience to interact directly with the performer. Since tipping practices vary, I will limit my explanation of tipping etiquette to Nicola’s Restaurant and the house dancers that perform there (dancers that are actually employed there as opposed to dancers that book the restaurant for an evening show).
The Nicola’s Dancers happily accept tips in four ways:
Sometimes dancers don’t want to get too close to you for fear of making you shy or uncomfortable. So if you want to tip the dancer, but she isn’t coming your way, just hold up the money. She’ll come over when she sees it.
If you are wondering why the dancer does not pick up the money that falls to the floor, it is because this would be seen as very trashy behavior in belly dance etiquette. Therefore, as a rule, dancers do not pick up money that they accidentally drop or money that has been showered over them. This money is eventually picked up by someone other than the performer and given to her. Of course, if you feel like helping out the dancer by collecting her tips for her and putting them in her basket, that is much appreciated.
However, it is considered bad manners to pick up money off the floor and try to put it in the dancer’s belt or shower it over her head. This is the same as going to a restaurant and giving your waiter tip money that has been left by another customer at another table! Get it? You should tip with your OWN money or it doesn’t count.
Sometimes restaurant owners or staff will tip the dancer in order to encourage the customers to do the same. They may also “shower” customers or put money in their belts. This is meant as a compliment or a little joke as in “You are dancing so well that I’m going to tip you too!” Sorry, this does not make you an actual belly dancer! J Again, this is meant to encourage the audience to tip the dancer. It would be considered very tacky for the customer to actually take this money! Classy Middle Easterners would NEVER do this! Instead, they would take this as a sign that it is time to start tipping the dancer themselves.
A genuine professional dancer puts great time, effort, practice, and love into her art. She spends so much on expensive costumes, classes, and even music. She does all of this despite the knowledge that she won’t get much of a monetary return for her investment. When you tip her, you are not only helping her continue performing, but you are also saying “Good job! I appreciate your art!” That means a lot more to a dancer than you might realize.
Are you required to tip the dancer? No, of course not! That’s why it’s called a “tip” and not a “payment”. You are our guests, our beloved audience, and your presence is what is most important and most appreciated. We hope we can entertain you and share with you the joy we feel when we dance. That’s what we care about the most. After all, if it weren’t for you, there would be no performance!
Thanks for reading! Hope to see you at Nicola's!