First, it would be great if we got paid according to how much skill, expertise, education, effort, and love we put into our art form. Unfortunately, we don't. For many reasons, just about every art form is undervalued, and part of this is our own fault. Yet, this isn't to say we never do get paid according to these things. Are there not belly dancers you love and are willing to pay more to watch or to learn from? This is the result of their hard work, most often. Are there people that get gigs over better dancers? Yes, but my experience has told me those relationships are short-lived. A pretty girl in a skimpy costume isn't going to hold the attention of her audience the way an advanced dancer doing a 70's-style five part set will.
So what does that have to do with tipping? Well, if a dancer is getting tipped, and especially if her audience is one that is familiar with Middle Eastern tipping practices, she is going to inspire greater tips. Yes, sometimes the tippers are really just showing off how much money they have to rain upon a dancer, but more often than not, people giving tips are doing so for two reasons: they know the performer is dependant on the tips, and they are so greatly entertained, they want to express their gratitude for a skilled performance.
Wouldn't you like to be the dancer who makes her tips out of the love and appreciation of her audience, and not the obligation? I would.
This leads to another practice in the belly dance community. Many showcases send around baskets, and then evenly divide the tips among all the dancers. This means that the dancer who didn't tell anyone she was performing and didn't practice at all is getting the same as the dancer who filled the venue. I do this, too, with the Belly Dancers of the Antelope Valley Showcase, because I have yet to find a better way, but it has always seemed very unfair to me. I know some dancers justify it by saying it's not fair for the dancers who didn't get anyone to the venue, but to me, that just begs the question, Why didn't anyone come to see her?
I have had audiences who threw money at me for swishing around a pretty piece of fabric (also known as simple veil work), and who were completely unimpressed by things I had worked months on and finally nailed. I've had audiences jump up and shower me with cash because they were so moved by my performance, and I've had audiences stare at their hummus when I've poured my soul onto the stage. One time at a private party, the patriarch was literally getting a stack of cash out and standing up to dance with me, and the next song of the set came on, which he didn't like, and he sat down. He did not tip me. I've danced on top of so much cash, I was slipping around, I've been happy to make three dollars, and I've left with grocery bags filled with tips. It is not the obligation of your audience to give you money. It is your obligation to earn it.
I suppose, for myself, in the end, I like having a base pay, and then I like receiving tips. It reminds me that I am there to show my audience how much I love them, not the other way around, and it is a tangible way to find out if I have accomplished that.