Becoming a professional belly dancer is an exciting time. All those years of practice and all the money you’ve invested in classes, workshops, troupe performances, and costumes are now finally going to start paying off. If you are fortunate to have a great mentor to hold your hand through the process, this transition period from advanced student to professional belly dancer will be easy. If you don’t have a good mentor to help guide you, so many questions are probably running through your head.
How do I become a professional belly dancer?
How do I book belly dance gigs?
How do I prove myself to my teacher and my community?
For this blog series, we will put the belly dancing part aside and focus on the professional part that you won’t learn in class (unless you have an awesome teacher) or from belly dance DVDs.
|Don’t be a copycat!
Image from Couscous, stolen from Nyla Crystal
Part I: Don’t plagiarize!
So you have decided to become a professional belly dancer and put up a website announcing your professional status to the world. What do you write? How do you convince people to hire you for their birthday party, wedding or corporate event? Many belly dancers are not trained writers and have no clue how to best market themselves. With the internet, it is so easy to check out what other belly dancers have written and even easier to copy and paste it onto your website. Don’t do it! Whether you are plagiarizing a local dancer’s website or copying a belly dancer from across the country, the consequences of plagiarism far outweigh the benefit of using another dancer’s words to describe your belly dance service.
Plagiarism has several forms ranging from blatant copying of written material without citing the source in an obvious way to changing one or two words in a copied sentence. Confused on what constitutes plagiarism? Read this article on the types of plagiarism.
Plagiarizing another belly dancer’s website is fraud and a crime.
Legal punishments for plagiarism range from misdemeanor fines starting at $100 to felony charges and jail time. According to www.plagerism.org, earning $2,500 or more off of plagiarized material can be punished with fines up to $250,000 and 10 years in jail. Now in all reality, most belly dancers probably won’t go after a plagiarizer in court and push for such a severe punishment, but if you copy from the wrong belly dancer on the wrong day, who knows what legal action they will take.
Why does it matter?
Writing a website is a reflection of yourself. Belly dancers know that customers not only want to hire a good dancer, but want to hire someone they feel comfortable letting into their home and being around their family. Personalities are a very important part of the hiring process. Would you steal another belly dancer’s photos? Or be creepy and edit your face into the photo? If not, then why would you edit your name into their personal writing?
In addition to misrepresenting yourself, think of the dancer who wrote the material. My friend Carrara Nour is a fabulous Orlando belly dancer and a fabulous writer. Because of her unique style of writing, her website is continually plagiarized. She pours hours of time and thought into writing the copy on her website to reflect her unique personality and business. How do you think she feels when she spends so much time on her website only to have someone else steal her writing and use it for their benefit? It is disheartening to say the least.
Other dancers who are not as good at writing pay copywriters to write their website content. If you copy their websites, you will not only be sued with the amount the dancer paid the copywriter, but you may also be chased after by the copywriter for plagiarism.
Besides misrepresenting yourself, committing a punishable crime, and potentially burning a bridge with another belly dancer(s), plagiarizing will directly impact your website in search engine rankings. Google heavily penalizes websites with plagiarized and duplicate content. This can result in Google lowering your search rankings, reducing your website exposure, and even banning your website completely.
People will notice.
The worldwide belly dance community is small and online it is even smaller. If you think you are the only belly dancer checking out other websites, you are wrong. I read other belly dancer’s websites all the time not only because I am curious about people who share my love for belly dance, but to also make new networking connections and see what others are doing in the community. I am writing this article on plagiarism because I am just shocked at how often I see the same paragraphs copied word for word throughout the internet.
Do you really want to get a bad reputation just because you are too lazy to write your own website wording? Even if you don’t care what other belly dancers think, your potential customers will know something is “off” with you by your website. Have you ever read something that just didn’t fit?
If you are not a good writer it is easy to spot the one or two perfect sentences that aren’t yours within a paragraph. If a client suspects you are unethical, why on Earth would they hire you to dance at their family party?
What to do if you are not a good writer.
As small business owners, it is hard to wear so many different hats. If writing is not your strong suit, do what any other business owner would do and outsource it. I do not consider myself a great writer so I outsourced my webpage. If someone stole the writing I paid for, I would go after them like they had just stolen my car. Stealing web copy is the same as stealing a costume, jewelry, etc.
What to do if you are caught plagiarizing.
Besides changing your wording right away or taking down your website until you can rewrite it in your own words, you will need to apologize to the dancer(s) you copied from. Everyone makes mistakes and if you admit to your mistake, there is room for forgiveness. Also remember that even if you change your website, evidence is left online. Archive.org has done an excellent job of cataloging webpages over time into a huge internet archive. You can even see how ugly my website was in 2008!
The best way to not get caught plagiarizing is to not do it!
Have you had your site plagiarized? Share your story below to let other belly dancers know it is not okay to copy other dancer’s websites. Did I miss a huge point? Please let me know and add it to the comment box. Not convinced plagiarizing is bad? Tell me why in the comment box below.