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Computer programs for dancers

Computer Programs for Bellydance Business
Megan Hartmann recently posted a great blog entry on things she has had to learn as a professional dancer, which included detailed information on software she uses to edit music and video. Thanks, Megan; great post! Head over there to see her recommendations (and I heartily second her “Audacity” recommendation for music editing. I have been happily using it for years now). And all of Meghan’s offerings are freeware, which is even greater! I would like to add a few of my own, if I may. Not all of mine are free, but they are some of the best you are going to get, and are in my opinion worth the money!

Photo Editing for your Bellydance BusinessWHAT I NEED TO DO: Edit Photos
PROGRAM: http://www.picnik.com/
WHERE TO GET IT: http://www.picnik.com/
COST: Free

Picnik is actually an online service for photo editing, so you can do it anyplace anytime. It allows you to open photos directly from anyplace you keep them, including your desktop, Facebook, Flickr, Picasa and more. Using Web 2.0 technology, you can edit them then and there in a myriad of ways, simple to complex. Use the incredibly intuitive interface to crop, tweak colors, sharpen, and more, and then save back to your desktop. You can even add captions, frames or add artistic effects via simple pre-sets. There are lots of simple pop-up descriptions and tutorials to help walk you through each step of the process, and even some auto-editing options in case you don’t trust your own skills just yet. If you upgrade to premium, there are some truly amazing Touch-Up options available now, from wrinkle, blemish, and shine removal; to highlights in your hair, punching up eye color, and even “sunless tanning” (with the right pre-sets, it looks natural!) It’s no Photoshop, but it’s much simpler to use, and also free compared to the $999 reaming you will get from Adobe.


Video Editing for BellydanceWHAT I NEED TO DO: Edit video
PROGRAM: iMovie (for PC’s, Microsoft Movie Maker)
OS: Mac
WHERE TO GET IT: http://www.store.apple.com , it is part of the iLife suite
COST: $79

While this is not cheap, you will get your money’s worth out of this suite of programs if you want to edit video. It is very simple, intuitive, and has lots of options for making your video interesting–with different transition effects and titling. Since iLife comes with iDVD, it is also one-click simple to burn your videos to DVD to pass out as demos or bring to friends and family to watch footage. As of ’08, there is even an option to send your video straight to YouTube. Just sign in to your YouTube account, and iMovie will compress and upload your video in one step. The output isn’t always the best compression for YouTube available, but it certainly is simple if you don’t also want to learn all about video compression condecs (You don’t! Trust me!)

The suite of programs in iLife (which comes free with every Mac) is one reason enough to become a Mac lover. I was a PC gal all the way, die hard, never gonna change me no sir for my entire life…until about 4 years ago when hubby convinced me to get a Mac Laptop. It really was perfect for my photo editing, video editing, graphic design, and pretty much everything I have to do for my dance work and beyond. Now I have a second laptop and a 24″ iMac. I adore them all with the passion of a thousand suns, yes I do. But I digress…

Accounting for your Bellydance BusinessWHAT I NEED TO DO: Track mah moneh! $$
PROGRAM: Quicken Home and Business
OS: PC (I use it on my Mac using Parallels, you can also use BootCamp)
WHERE TO GET IT: http://www.quicken.intuit.com
COST: It is $79 on Quicken’s site, but Amazon sells it for $49 and the XP version can be downloaded! Use the Quicken site to read more about it, then buy on Amazon.

I used to be an office manager for a small software company, and for a few years we didn’t have an accountant, so that was my bailiwick. I had to learn to use Quickbooks for that job, which is incredibly robust. When I left the rat race and came home to start my own business, I bought Quickbooks because I knew it, but it always felt like using a sledgehammer when tweezers would do. I have never EVER been good with accounting–it is the bane of my existence. But the fact is, as a business entity, you MUST keep good records, and so I struggled through.

Skip ahead 7 years into my business, and I realize I want to keep better track of my home finances versus my business finances–they were often getting quite muddled. And I was kinda sick of the data-entry part of filing receipts. Enter Quicken Home and Business. Not only could I keep two separate accountings, side by side, of my personal expenses and my business expenses, but it also interfaced with my bank *directly*, inputting all my transactions, and I simply had to click each one to assign it a category and then “approve” it for entry into the permanent database. It even remembers regular transactions and automatically assigns it to different categories (tax line items), so you just click “Approve” and it’s done. I WISH I had known much earlier about this program, and recommend it to any small businessperson!

Blogs and Websites for your Bellydance BusinessWHAT I NEED TO DO: Create a website
PROGRAM: Blogspot/Blogger
WHERE TO GET IT: http://www.blogspot.com
OS: All
COST: Free

I create websites as a side-job, so I am pretty in-the-know. I have many websites of my own that I think are beautiful and intuitive, which I am proud of having created. I am completely self-taught (with help from hubby at times, and lots of reading and experimentation). For those who are interested, I use Dreamweaver for my coding, though I code almost entirely by hand now and don’t really use the WYSIWYG any more, since I design for the Drupal CMS (<—wow old info! Now I’m in Coda and WordPress But I digress…)

This blog started as a way to bring forward more of what I have to teach to students around the world, and get to share my thoughts and experiences as a dancer and a teacher. My FAQ on my website was getting obscenely large, and I realized I had a lot more I wanted to share than I could share in just a one-hour class, and my website where people just want to find out when class starts wasn’t the ideal place. I already have a LiveJournal, but it was more personal. I wanted something focused on the business of dance.

Enter Blogspot. It is so very simple for the most basic blogs, and robust and scalable for the more tech savvy who want to really dig in and make it their own, as I have. As a blog alone it is a great way to stay in touch with your students and fans, and keep yourself in their field of vision from a marketing standpoint. But did you know it is a great way to have essentially a free hosted website? One can use Blogspot as a sort of content management system, and with a little know-how you can tweak the templates to create your own look and feel. You can even buy a domain and have it point to your blog so the domain name is www.yoursitename.com rather than www.yourname.blogspot.com

Combined with Picasa and YouTube, I can also link friends and fans up to the latest imagery and video of performances, and whet their appetites for future performances and events I am participating in.

One of the best parts is that if you use a blog for your website, people can “Follow” your current posts through either the interface built into the blog system, or through various RSS feeds, such as Google Reader or Friend Connect. So you don’t always have to reach out and tell them when something new has been posted, they will be automatically notified.

It’s far too much to go into in this post, but I encourage you to do some research and see what can be done with a little effort and careful following of step-by-step online tutorials. Oh, and when working directly with the HTML templates, when they say ALWAYS back up your code before editing, they mean it. DO IT. ALWAYS.

Twitter for your Bellydance BusinessWHAT I NEED TO DO: Create an opt-in mailing/notification list
PROGRAM: Twitter
WHERE TO GET IT: http://www.twitter.com
OS: All
COST: Free

If you’re reading this, you already know how Blogspot is working for me with keeping in touch with students, friends and fans (and if you’re reading this on Facebook or LiveJournal, you can see how RSS reeds can spread your message even further without any regular additional effort to your part). Twitter has also been a great way to reach a wider audience, and it is entirely “opt-in”. Meaning I am never spamming someone unsolicited, which I try very hard not to do. Instead, whomever is reading the content has always chosen to voluntarily, and they can stop following me anytime they wish to opt-out. Combined with my blog here, it can become an opt-in newsletter quite easily. I just post a Tweet to my “distribution list” notifying them of new content here on my blog. Since on my blog I tag my class-related info as “newsletter”, with a mouse-click my readers can hop over and see what the latest news is.

Twitter also creates dynamic content in the moment that keeps your audience engaged. I have had friends and fans live-blog/tweet from performances, combined with Twitpic so folks around the world could experience what we were doing right then and there. I sometimes Tweet from workshops or rehearsals, again putting my friends and fans “in the moment” with me, engaging and including my audience in my dance experiences even if they can’t be there in the flesh.

So if you are not on the Twitter bandwagon because you weren’t sure what it’s really good for, let me assure you it has been a quick and powerful asset to my business in just the few months I have been using it. Oh and if you want to opt-in, I am @TheTribalDancer

PROGRAM: Google Calendar
WHERE TO GET IT: http://www.google.com
OS: All
COST: Free

Google has revolutionized so many parts of our lives that we don’t even think about. I mean, the very name is a household word for finding everything we want to know But have you been using the calendar?

I started using it this past year, and it is not indispensable. I can access it anywhere I can get internet access, including on my smartphone. I can keep separate calendars, color coded, for my personal appointments, class schedule, performance schedule, and internal schedule for my troupe. (Even my husband has his meetings and on-call schedule in there, so I can see with one glance what our combined availability is.)

I have a regular class schedule, which students can subscribe to and add to their own calendars. This means anytime I make an update to the schedule, it can be reflected on theirs immediately. Class canceled? They can get a notification on their calendars. Schedule shifted? No problem. (Of course I also make announcements on my Twitter and my student newsletter on my blog…) I also keep a public calendar of our troupe performances, including location, cost, and any other pertinent details; as well as other workshops, performances, and events in the area I think would be of interest to my students.

For troupe, we keep an internal calendar, which shows rehearsal times, and performance details such as who is booked to dance, the music we decided on, costuming, and what time we need to be there (which is of course different from the start time on the public calendar). We also keep member birthdays and holidays/vacations on there so we know everyone’s general availability at a glance.

We have combined this with our own GoogleGroup–a discussion area only our troupe is subscribed to, where we can discuss anything we need to. The great thing is that no one can lose an e-mail or say they couldn’t find the details–they are all on the group, archived for all time for everyone to access at will. So it’s a permanent, stable record of our communications as a troupe. We can also exchange documents, such as event flyers, music, set lists, and choreographies, which can be downloaded by any member at any time.

Google is a great way to centralize your communication, and again create an opt-in network of students, fans, and friends to stay appraised of your comings and goings as a dancer. Completely scalable and personlizable (is that a word?) to your needs.

Dancer with LaptopOkay that is my short list, if you can believe it! I would love to hear about these or other technologies you have used in your dance business/life that has enhanced, improved, or simplified things for you!

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Shay Moore is the director and primary instructor at Deep Roots Dance in Seattle, WA. She loves writing, movies, costuming, knitting, cooking, and bellydance to the moon and back again; and loves her amazing husband and doggies even more than that.

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    great suggestions, Thank YOU!

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