What Belly Dancing Taught Me
about Personal Branding

image of belly dancer

I’m learning to belly dance.

Okay, that’s totally overstating it. I’m wiggling to music in what is labeled a belly dancing class.

I’ve found that I enjoy the constant movement, manipulating my limbs and taking any excuse I can to be silly. But more fun than the belly dancing is the instructor.

She loves this stuff. Her eyes light up when she enters the room, her voice changes pitch, and she hops around throwing out euphemisms that make even the bravest people blush. She’s a complete fruit loop. And she’s loved for it. It’s her schtick.

Or, in marketing terms, it’s her personal brand.

Oh no, not another post about personal branding

We’ve been hearing about personal brands ad nauseum for the past year. Even if you’re not sure why you need one, you’re certain that you do. It’s like a 401k. Or a spouse.

The trouble is, most personal brands make everybody else want to jab forks straight into their eyes. They’re based on egos, false promises, and personalities so obnoxious that you’d never be friends with this person in real life.

But as my belly dancing instructor has taught me, you don’t have to build a personal brand on being an egomaniac. You can build your brand on simply being human. Or better yet, you can build your brand on being your favorite version of yourself.

How do you create a personal brand that will garner attention instead of hate? Here are some tips I’ve picked up from my experience on the Web.

And belly dancing.

Claim your niche

My belly dancing instructor doesn’t teach the hip hop class that takes place after her session. Nor does she teach the weekend kickboxing class. She’s limited herself to belly dancing because she knows that’s where she can offer the greatest value.

Trying to teach everything would undermine what she’s about and the tribe she’s looking to attract. She sticks to what she does better than anyone else.

Think niche. You can’t be known for everything. Pick what’s most important to what you do, break it down to its simplest core, and be it.

While Copyblogger has established itself as one of the Web’s top resources on content, Brian Clark has branded himself the master of headlines. It’s a tiny microcosm of the whole content creation space that he owns. It’s where he’s untouchable.

Create your character

Like I said, my instructor is a fruit loop. The moment you think you’ve seen everything, she ups the ridiculousness.

She tears her sweats so you can watch her legs curl, and refers to body parts in ways you wish you could erase from your mind. She knows who she needs to be to attract the right audience, and she plays up her quirks to do so. She builds a tribe that falls in love not only with her class, but with her. It becomes so that the class and brand are so intertwined that you can’t tell them apart.

Lots of people will tell you to “be yourself” in social media. I’d advise creating a persona that mixes who you are and who you want to be. This heightened version of yourself allows you to lose the performance anxiety and magnify the personality traits needed to attract the right people.

We fall in love with those who are brave enough to do what we think we can’t. As long as you’re basing your character off who you really are, you’ll be able to keep it authentic and still look great naked.

Treat people like humans

My instructor has been dancing for longer than I’ve been an adult. She’s trained in moves and styles that my stiff body can’t even comprehend.

But you wouldn’t know that by talking to her. She’s unassuming and talks to you like you’re old friends meeting up for coffee. And she keeps that tone even when instruction has begun. There’s no jargon to confuse us, no making things complicated so we feel dumb and she wouldn’t dare call herself an “expert” or a “guru.” She’s just someone who loves belly dancing and is excited about the opportunity to share it with us.

Finding your voice and using it to be relatable is what will make or break your personal brand. It’s what separates the brands we love from the brands we wish would die.

It’s all about your ability to talk to people in a genuine way and show them that you’re one of them. This is where most people get tripped up. We elevate ourselves thinking that it makes us more impressive and authoritative and that our audience will trust us more. Truthfully, all this does is alienate you from the people you’re trying to connect with.

Figure out what the real you sounds like, and then use that voice to be real with others. You can’t fake this.

Make your brand accessible

My instructor shows up to class early. She stays late. She takes questions in the middle of instruction and will show and re-show certain movements until you’ve nailed them. Her email address is publicly available so that students can email her with questions. She has an email newsletter to help us stay in contact with not only her, but one another.

She’s not teaching a class, she’s creating a community.

When you make your brand accessible, you help it grow beyond your niche. Become part of your community. Answer questions. Lift up those who are doing well. Share trusted information. Look for ways to extend your brand through blogging, guest postings [cough], email newsletters, and direct mail.

Everything that you put out should incorporate and promote your personal brand. The more people see you and your tribe, the more they’ll gravitate toward it. It’s social proof.

Your personal brand is you. It’s who you are, what you believe, and what you want to put out there to others.

Use the social tools available to be you as loudly as you can, while always offering a benefit to those around you. Your personal brand may be all about you, but it’s also about how you make others feel.

It’s emotional DNA, and what separates the personal brands we love from those we love to tear apart.

About the Author: Lisa Barone is a writer, content marketer and social media strategist. She’s most known for saving brands (most often from themselves) and for her voracious tweeting. You can follow her on Twitter at @lisabarone or find her blogging about her own struggles with voice at VoiceInterrupted.com.

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Reader Comments (74)

  1. says

    Good tips and I love the belly dancing examples. Kinda wish I had a class nearby to check out for myself. The beginner ballet class has much more painful examples…. 😉

  2. says


    Another great article and gives a lot of information worth thinking about when it comes to creating a personal brand. Also shows that you can create a personal brand no matter what you are marketing.


  3. says

    Hi Lisa and thanks for this fun post! At first I didn’t see this was written by someone other than Brian, so I thought: “Hmmm. Interesting. He’s taking belly dancing…”

    What really resonated with me was when you said “Your personal brand is you.” It feels good to have this reminder, because occasionally I get stuck in thinking that my blog ‘should’ be or look a certain way. But when I can feel totally authentic in the brand I am promoting via my blog, the payoff is huge.

    My blog is called “Following Your Joy” and focuses on tapping into the things in life that make you come alive and bring you joy. The funny thing is that my middle name happens to be “Joy.” So you are right-on about how the personal brand is…well, “you”. The more I let myself be “me”…the more the good stuff continues to unfold.

    Thank you for getting us think bigger!

  4. says

    Great post! I like the analogy and the idea to base it on who we are becoming.

    Question about the niche: How narrow does it need to be? For instance, is the niche of “spirituality” specific enough, or do I need to narrow it further? Steve Pavlina does well writing about personal development, which is really a huge area.

  5. says


    Love this: “Your personal brand is you”


    I have been thinking about experiencing a belly dancing class for 2 years. You pushed me over the edge to sign up!


  6. says

    Great post Lisa.

    Personal branding is so important. You need to get in front of the people, but make sure that they like what you are giving them.

    I especially like the idea of making a character – I have many that want to..control…what was I saying?

    Anyways, great post and thanks :-)

  7. says

    Hi Lisa,

    Great tips and great correlation!

    WOW, how beautifully you have compared the two very different things – belly dancing and personal branding.

    Public’s perception is the thing that makes a real difference in competitive world.

  8. says

    Great post! I love “Be who you are and who you want to become” in social media. That’s sound advice! You got to be moving towards something… gravitate!

    Thanks for the amazing post! glad I stopped by!


  9. says

    Ugh, not a post about personal branding.

    How can we truly be authentic if your advice is to “create your character” and “be your favorite version of yourself?”

    What the f-bomb are you talking about – there is only one me! I am who I am, and you can’t one day decide to be only part of you.

    There’s a reason all of these personal branding fauxperts act like robots — their entire premise is based on not being who you are.

    There, I’m off my soapbox, but seriously. This personal branding thing is a joke.

  10. says

    Jason: yeah, I was waiting for someone to call me out on the “create a character” part of “being yourself”. I don’t really think it’s about being “one part” of yourself, it’s figuring out who you want to be.

    For example, I imagine my belly dancing instructor doesn’t walk around her home being as eccentric as she is in class. But once she’s there, that’s who she is and what she embodies. It’s the same thing in business. You’re just heightening the aspect of yourself that allows you to connect with people more.

    You know the person you are when you’re a little buzzed and you’re more comfortable in you, more able to express what you think and wave your freak flag without fear of judgement? Kind of like that. :)

  11. says

    Lisa, three things:

    1. It’s about time!
    2. Is that your belly in the photo?
    3. Kneesocks vs. belly dancing? What’s better?

    Seriously, good write.

    @Jason “This personal branding thing is a joke.”
    No, it’s a big part of the 1st Pillar. Comments in front of 106,405 highly-educated CB followers, on the other hand, may be.

  12. says

    If you’re the same single person with your mom as you are with your friends in a bar, then either I feel sorry for your mom or I’d be bored to tears out drinking with you. :)

  13. Sonia Simone says

    First of all, I am SO HAPPY Lisa finally wrote for us. Everyone please follow her on Twitter and pester her until she sends another post. Thank you.

    Second, @Shane, that is totally Lisa’s belly in the photo. Don’t tell anyone.

    Third, @Michelle, trust me, if Brian ever does a belly dancing post, we’ll do it in video. #hastobeseentobebelieved. (oops, not on Twitter, sorry.)

  14. says

    Where are the pics Lisa?!!! :-)

    Your comment “You know the person you are when you’re a little buzzed and you’re more comfortable in you, more able to express what you think and wave your freak flag without fear of judgment?” is so right on the money and I get EXACTLY what you mean.

    Thanks for sharing/relating this awesome experience with us. Really helps me clarify some things for myself.

    Btw, are you doing a recital we can come to? :)

  15. says

    Shane: Um. Sure. Let’s go with Sonia’s answer for the belly question. And I prefer to belly dance IN knee socks. :)

    Sonia: Thanks for the chance to post. I promise next time I’m asked I’ll be a little more, uh, prompt with writing something. :)

    Jacqueline: Ha! Ha! No…really…that’s very funny. :p

  16. says

    Thanks Lisa. It’s great to hear your experiences from belly dancing and how they relate to personal branding (I don’t know how you did this, but you pulled it off ;)). I agree that creating our character (the belly dancer teacher seems to have a fun personality) as well as treating people like human beings are two important aspects of creating a personal brand that help us build a close network and community.

  17. says

    Okay, I’ve been chuckling through the post and the comments – and I’ve been resisting because I really am sick of the whole notion of personal branding… maybe I’m too old? Too young? Too self-confident? Too….????

    Maybe what we really need to do is remind people they are okay, that they are wonderful and they don’t need to worry so much about getting it wrong?

    But I’ll keep chuckling, and Brian… my mom wouldn’t recognize me now 😉

  18. says

    Didn’t really pay much attention to the branding thing till people started telling me that now, when they see the word “nutmeg”, they think it’s a typo of me. I guess that’s called Inadvertent Personal Branding.

  19. says

    Lisa – I appreciate the response, but you haven’t sold me yet.

    Personal branding – at least the way that it’s portrayed online – is all about being “that guy.” And, quite honestly, who wants to be “that guy”?

    If you are to have a personal brand, it should be all encompassing of what you do and who you are — or else you’re stuck creating brands for every context of your life. And you can’t describe that in a catchy tagline after your name.

  20. says


    Taking this a step further, I think it is being the favorite person of yourself and who you want to be in the different environments that you in (relating to what Brian Clark said above in the comments). When I am with my 5 yr old I am a mom and have to be my favorite person of myself as a mom. I am not a yeller but ya know when kids are 5 a voice raising is needed sometimes but I do not like how I feel when I have to do that. As an owner of an agency that caters to small businesses, my favorite person of me is when I am able to help them achieve their goals – give them as much time as they need to understand what we are doing and why. I am the person who jumps up and down and gets excited when clients have sales increases or my friends have something great happening for them. That is when I am happiest being me. In each of these my character is different as is my favorite person of myself. Certain attributes do cross over but identifying my favorite part of me in my different roles does make a difference in my personal brand as people perceive me and look to me for what I have to offer.


  21. says

    Perfect intro. It turned “Just Another Personal Branding Blog Post” into and made you read the article through.

    You’re right on point. Nobody really wants to hear about how perfect someone is, but if your personal brand makes you think of the fx. the “headlines” niche, you’re golden.

    Entertaining as always. Thanks.

  22. says

    AS a recruiter and job seeker advisor, I continually stress the importance of having a brand in order to stand out from all the other job seekers. But on my best day…I couldn’t have said it better than this!
    thank you!

  23. says

    Belly Dancing! When you first described your instructor the first thing I began to think about was my Yoga instructor I once had. She was exactly how you described your teacher so I couldn’t help but to smile. Although many people are tired of reading about personal branding, I find that I am still picking up new information. I really enjoyed your points and the one I liked best was mixing yourself with someone who you want to be. Great article! definitely enjoyed the read!

  24. says

    @JasonUnger / @LisaBarone

    Personal branding isn’t a joke! If it is, that’d be pretty cruel… It’s about carving out a specified identity and building around it. The fatal flaw in it being “all encompassing of what you do and who you are” is spreading yourself too thin with too far of a reach.

    If creating a persona or focusing on one aspect of you isn’t what you want to do then voila therein lies *your* own personal brand. But for some, it can be about creating an alternate self that caters to a niche (as Lisa describes it). That alternate self is not an island, it doesn’t exist independent of all the other parts of you. Every part of you contributes, but you are the one who makes the conscious choice to filter it and focus it. Why? Because not all of it matters all the time. Not all of it is valuable or relevant to your brand.

    For me, the point of the personal brand isn’t to be “that guy” it’s to be ‘Simren Deogun’ or ‘Jason Unger’ as we choose the world to see us.

  25. says

    It’s no coincidence that the people who are “sick of hearing about personal branding” are the ones who still don’t understand what it actually is.

    Your “brand” is simply – How Others Perceive You. It’s the same as your reputation, just dressed up in a fancy buzz word.

    It has nothing to do with “robots”, or being “that guy”. It’s all about who you are as a person, which is expressed through your character, your words and your actions.

    If people perceive you as someone they wanna hang with/hire/date, you’ve got a good brand. If not, well, you may wanna step your game up.

    I believe PB’s bad rap stems from the fact that the concept of branding was co-opted from the business world of corporate advertising and marketing (Ooooh, Eeeevil!) and applied to humans (I am not a product, dammit, I am a man!)

    Once the haters understand this, and get over it, they’ll realize that Personal Branding is nothing worth forking their eyes about.

  26. says


    Excellent article!

    I love this part: “You can build your brand on simply being human. Or better yet, you can build your brand on being your favourite version of yourself.”

    This is the best personal branding post I’ve read to date, because it’s written a style and voice that appeals to me which frankly exemplifies your point.

    Thanks for sharing your words of wisdom!

  27. says

    Nicely done, Lisa. “Be your favorite version of yourself.” I never heard that phrase before, but it really nicely sums up the full truth that “Be yourself” hints at. Ourself (at least myself) includes laziness, fear, hatred, anger, etc. Your phrase calls upon the better angels of our nature in our own unique selves. Nicely said.

  28. says

    Actually, Lisa, I think you’re right on to highlight both the “who you are now,” AND the “who you are aspiring to be.” It’s not inauthentic to project the person you’re becoming. A rose in bud, or a rose in bloom – it’s still a rose.

  29. says

    wow! It has been a long time since I have heard somebody talk about belly dance with such passion.

    Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older blogs are not as good as this one, keep it up!

  30. says

    I think you really hit it home when you mentioned “accessibility.”

    This is the key to creating a brand that people will flock to and recognize from afar. People want someone they can share with, not just be dictated to. They get enough of that in their day jobs. If you can take the best/quirky parts of your personality and magnify them in a way that will make people pay attention, you don’t have to pretend to be a guru. You just show up and do your thang. The tribe will soon follow.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  31. says

    Hi Lisa:

    Nice, creative post on personal branding. Your personal brand HAS to be you – the most authentic you. I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Happy dancing!

  32. says

    I read this post on my blackberry and I couldn’t wait to get on line and respond!

    As a fellow belly dancer, I can sooo relate to the points in this article. My teacher is the same way. She lives her brand.

    I’m also a coach who helps folks figure out how to live into the brand they are and want to present. I love your comment about “When you make your brand accessible you help grow it beyond your niche.” Getting folks to understand that the key is not to come off like looking and sounding like Martha Stewart or Donald Trump or Oprah, but to be who they themselves are with a dash of what they want to communicate to others. What this approach is bound to reveal is that people have to get comfy with who they are, know who they are and feel safe with a little thing called vulnerability with others. I always say and teach: “Know, Like and Trust yourself first and THEN you’ll beocme a attractor magnet!”

    Keep shaking that shimmy Lisa!

  33. says

    Lisa, I love your article! One of the best I’ve read on CopyBlogger – and that’s saying a lot, since I think CB can be counted on to give terrific info.

    What stood out most for me was “favorite version of yourself” and “creating a community”. It do my best to do both, and your words inspired me to keep it up. Thank you!

  34. robyn says

    lisa, great article and so true – we are our business, blog, and have to have the right passion/believe to get out there and tell the world about us.

  35. says

    You have posted on of the few blogs that reflects that there needs to be a person hidden underneath the brand! So much personal branding information refers to social media marketing, and never mentions the ‘product’ (i.e. the authentic you) that you are trying to market. And I love the additon of the belly dancing which makes your blog memorable. Nicely done!

  36. says

    What a fab article! God, I spend ridiculous amounts of time teaching people that being yourself is flat out the best way to market yourself and your business (especially when *you* _are_ your business!)

    You just gotta have your Personality in your Marketing :-)

  37. says

    Really good post. I’ve read few personal branding articles and I can say I’ve learned a lot from this one (not including the belly dancing) haha!

  38. Sarah says

    i love this post. its the same people that make my eyes roll back into my head and think “who is this person?!” that get me interested becuase secretly I wish I could say or do what they’re doing.

  39. Diana says

    Ahaha I love your examples of your belly dancing class.

    I’m actually starting my first (private) belly dancing lesson on SUNDAY!!! (03oct10)

    I’m really excited but I’m also sort of scared that I won’t be able to get my hips to move because i’ve tried to dance by example and I can’t do it!

    But my instructor seems really nice over email. I’ll be meeting her on Sunday so i’ll find out soon. It’s a 1 hour drive from my house to get there so she’s cutting me a little bit of a break on the price.

    I hope my instructor is as vivid as yours!!!!!!!!!

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