What is it like to work at an Orlando dinner show?

Orlando , Dinner Shows , orlando
What is it like to work at an Orlando dinner show?
By Susan and Simon Veness
We recently had the good fortune to meet a server, a performer, and the owner of Arabian Nights for the low-down on what it’s like to work at a major dinner show in the tourist capital of the world.
Are dinner show servers the hardest working people in Orlando? "Quite possibly," says Abdel Khalek Elhadiri, who has been working as a server at Arabian Nights since it opened in 1988. “It’s all about timing,” he said. “You have to serve the main course, serve desert, be out of the guest’s view during parts of the show, and then say goodbye to the guests. One wrong move can mess up the evening for that guest, so you really have to make sure everything is done perfectly. I want to be sure my guests have the most memorable moments.” 
Was this his first job? “I had experience at regular restaurants, but this is my first time at a dinner show. We are part of the show’s cast, as servants of the guests, and everybody has a task to do. At first I said, “Oh my gosh it’s hard!” But with practice it’s a piece of cake. You enjoy it as much as the guest enjoys it, and you see people from all over the world. Also, I like the exercise, and I don’t need to join a gym.”
But it’s not all work Abdel told us, he gets to watch parts of the show. “I take a few sneak peeks while I’m serving. Sometimes I feel like I’m a guest myself. I like the black stallion, he’s amazing. I like the beginning and I like the music.”
What is an Arabian Nights server’s day like? “Most of us here are teachers, or work in hotels, or at different businesses during the day,” Abdel said. “When it’s time to come here we have an hour to set up the arena, get dressed, and greet the guests. My typical day is I come here around 4:30pm, and by the time the guests come at 5pm we’re ready to go. I enjoy everything I do, otherwise I wouldn’t be here this long. It’s a great company with great people. We’re a family here, brothers and sisters.”
We met one of his brothers next, in the form of Csaba Szilagyi, an acrobatic rider with several roles to play. Originally from Budapest Hungary, Csaba has been with Arabian Nights for 11 years. We asked what sort of experience he needed to become a performer in the show. “I did gymnastics and I went to circus school when I was a kid,” he said. “I never sat on a horse until I came here. It’s in my blood, obviously, and people said, “You’re Hungarian, you must be really good with horses,” but I never rode before. It’s easy pretty easy for me. I already had the balance because I did acrobatics all my life, so I enjoyed it a lot.”
Csaba began gymnastics at the age of eight, joining circus school when he was ten. “It was five days a week, six hours a day,” he said, “and I had to go to two schools at a time. I left the house at 6:30 a.m. and got home at 8:30p.m. every day. On the weekends we had to perform. That was my childhood. Not many kids can go to circus school. You have to audition for it, they won’t just take you. When I auditioned we had about 100 students and they only took 20 of us. I was a short, stocky guy, so a good acrobat. The first teacher I saw was like, “I want you in there! You’re short so you can learn to tumble!” So that’s what I did. I learned everything you can think of in a circus, except for animals. I finished circus school when I was 16 and when I turned 17 I came here and worked at Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey for six years. Not horses though; I was a flyer for them, doing teeter board, Russian Board, aerial silks, and balance beam. When I left Ringling I came here, and I’ve been here for eleven years.”
How did he hear about Arabian Nights? “Friends that I worked with in Hungary and at Ringling worked here, and said, “You should come here! You would enjoy this a lot. You can learn how to ride a horse.” So I took the opportunity and came here. It took a couple of months to perfect standing on a horse, but once I learned it the tricks were pretty easy. I did tricks all my life, so that was not a problem; I just had to learn how to go with the horse. I get hard days, too. It’s a moving horse, it’s not easy, and there’s only a handful of people in the world who do it.” 
What is it like working with a four-legged co-worker? “Horses are moody,” Csaba told us. “They take some skill sometimes, and a lot of patience, and you have to deal with it. You can’t fight them, they’re much bigger than you, so it’s like, “Ok, I have to work with you this way today.” You can control it, but not all the way. It’s good for the horses to learn a new show, because once they learn a pattern they learn how to cheat. Once you change the pattern it’s like, ‘oh, something new’, and they pay attention more. They’re having a lot more fun. You can see they’re looking around and enjoying it.”
What is a dinner show performer’s day like? “Everybody comes in eight hours a day. The show is only two hours, and the rest of the time is training horses. We have new horses and performers coming in all the time. Many people leave and come back, many new people come too, so we have to train them and practice new drills for the horses. But everybody has adapted well.”
Did his Hungarian upbringing ultimately factor into his decision to join Arabian Nights? “I never wanted to work with horses. A lot of my friends worked with horses and I always saw them getting kicked or bit and all that, and I was like, “Why would you want to do that?” And then I ended up here. Ringling was good, but it was such a big company. Here I can have jokes and there are times when you can play and it makes me feel at home. I met my wife here, and we are here to stay. This is my life.”
But how did the whole idea begin in the first place? Mark Miller, owner of Arabian Nights, told us his story. “My mother was riding with me in womb when she was eight months pregnant, and I think that explains a lot about me. She bought the herd sire, which is the basis of all our horses for 67 years; he arrived in early June, I arrived in late June. To say that I grew up with this and that they are my family would be the understatement of the century.”
Mark shared the horse’s fascinating origins with us, saying, “This herd had been together since 1815. They were originally gathered in the desert by the Turkish governor of Arabia, and when he died his nephew took them. When he died there wasn’t really anyone around from his family, but as luck would have it Sir Wilfred and Lady Ann Blunt from England had been travelling through the desert on camels, with gold in their saddlebags—this was long before Lawrence of Arabia—and they took the horses to a place outside Cairo and established a stud there, then they took the horses back to Sussex, England. Later, their daughter Lady Wentworth took over, and she exported the herd to the U.S.. When Lady Wentworth died my mother bought the entire herd in the largest importation of Arabian horses to America ever.”
How did he come up with the idea for Arabian Nights? “I got tired of horse shows,” Mark said.  “I thought it would be really cool to start a place where non-show people could see the horses. We included other breeds here to showcase all horses.”
We asked if Orlando was the ideal place to run such an ambitious venture and to our surprise he said, “I’m not sure Orlando is the easiest place to put on a dinner show! I didn’t realize the level of competition here. Thirty-two dinner shows have closed since we opened.” 
But Arabian Nights regularly re-invents itself, to the benefit of the horses, the performers, and the guests who add it to their holiday line-up.
To experience a dinner show on your Orlando holiday be sure to check out the Attraction Tickets Direct range of  Dinner show tickets, including tickets for the Arabian Nights dinner show.

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Orlando , Dinner Shows , orlando