I was working with an agency, doing from 1-3 belly dance gigs a night in Bodrum, Turkey this summer, mostly in hotels, but occasionally at a wedding, nightclub, or circumcision feast. However, I still wanted more gigs, more money, and more excitement, so when a “friend” (not really a friend)–an artists’ manager and event organizer who we’ll call “Nur”–breezed into Bodrum from Istanbul and asked me if I’d be interested in picking up some extra gigs, I was all for it.
Nur, who I still considered a friend at the time, asked me to audition to perform at the Catamaran, a disco that’s actually a ship and sets out to sea at about midnight every night. The owner of the club is a friend of hers, and Nur was helping her out as a favor. I didn’t mention the audition to anyone. The policy for taking work outside of the agency had never been discussed, but I had a feeling there could potentially be some conflict, so I kept it to myself. After my agency gigs were finished for the night, I sneaked a costume into a handbag and slipped out of the the complex where I and all the dancers lived, passing the agency bosses, who were all having their late night tea in the courtyard. I figured I’d check the place out, decide if the hours and the pay worked for me, then tell the agency. No sense in bringing it up at all if I wasn’t interested in taking the job, I rationalized.
I met up with Nur at the Catamaran, and we were treated like VIPs–ushered to the front of the line, first passengers on the motorboat that shuttles party-goers to the Catamaran, free cocktails, excellent table. While my audition was supposed to be a short solo, the other belly dancer (a transsexual who wears many hats) protested, saying that her performance was coming up, and suggesting we both perform at the same time to her music. The owner asked me if this was okay, and I agreed, so as not to cause waves. The performance turned out pretty ridiculously–the other dancer pushed me out of view and launched into some bizarre and acrobatic floor work about 30 seconds into the 2 minute song. It was as if I wasn’t even there.
Nur spoke with the owner of the club about the audition (the owner hadn’t really been able to see me, but by what she had seen, she decided she wanted me to work there), pay, and hours. The owner wanted me to come back to start working the following day and we would “work out the details.” Nur relayed this information to me, and I told her that I wasn’t interested. The pay was too low, the hours were too long, and I was not going to come back the following day for another performance without an agreement.
Nur assured me that she’d discuss payment and hours with the owner, and that it really was worth my time to come again. Nur called me after having spoken with the club owner to tell me that she sent her apologies for wasting my time, that she really wanted to work with me, and that she would increase the pay and give me a set performance slot for every night. She just wanted me to do a solo, without the distraction of the other dancer performing by my side.
I was totally against the idea. I was skeptical that I was actually going to get the payment and schedule I’d requested, and I didn’t want to sneak out of my complex again without letting anyone know where I was going, and without telling the bosses that I was considering taking additional work outside the agency. Of course, Nur begged. “Please, Lara! This is an excellent place to work! And Müslüm Gürses will be there tonight!” Müslüm Gürses is a famous Turkish arabesque singer. I wasn’t impressed, because he’d been contracted to perform a few weeks in the spring at the venue where I dance in Istanbul, so I’d already met him. A few times. He’s cool.
Against my better judgement, I agreed to give performing at the Catamaran one more try. I packed my purse, sneaked out, got whisked onto the ship VIP-style once more, and waited until it was my time to perform. When the time came to get ready, I grabbed my bag and headed to the dressing room. On my way down, who should I see but Rahman, one of my agency’s drivers? He was waiting there with 3 of our Russian go-go dancers. The Catamaran had contracted our agency, and they were starting that very night. “Lara!” Rahman exclaimed. “What are you doing here?” My secret was out.
“I’m dancing here tonight as a favor to a friend,” I confessed. “Don’t tell anyone. I want [the boss] to find out from me.”
He bit his lip. . . . “Okay. . . he won’t find out from me. . . But if he finds out, he’ll be mad.”
What could I do? I had already given my word that I’d perform there, so I changed into my costume and performed (it was a packed house, and if I do say so myself, the crowd went wild). After I performed, the place went dark for an instant, then a spotlight lit upon Müslüm Baba, and he began to sing. The crowd went even wilder. I changed back into my street clothes, watched our go-go dancers, then rode home with my pal Rahman the driver and the Russians and awaited the consequences.
During my performance, I did notice that there was a cameraman basically lying on the floor directly beneath me.
The following day, I confessed to [the boss] that I had performed at the Catamaran. He acted like he knew already. (He was lying, but that’s his style.) He punished me by reducing my shows to one performance a night for four days. (Jerk.) Nur didn’t call me back with the renegotiation of my agreement with the Catamaran, and then, in the evening, 3 friends called me to tell me they’d seen me on Show TV performing at the Catamaran.
So, for the price of free, the Catamaran got a performance from the best belly dancer in Bodrum for their televised event, and I learned the policy on picking up gigs outside of the agency.