The Economics of Belly DanceAdd to favorites
Is it rational in these economic times, for dancers to think they can even make a living with belly dance? I’ve been wanting to write about the inevitable financial pitfalls we can all land ourselves in for awhile. There is no quick get rich scheme out there that will make you a top notch dancer that’s wealthy. The economy affects our gas, food, utilities and everything else, so why wouldn’t it effect our dance hobby or profession. Since I know that many women belly dance as a hobby, I want to relay my feelings on things that are done that can create an economic downfall that effects our dance communities. Some of these things might seem innocent enough but they ultimately effect the community as a whole. Dancing for free or below the going rate at restaurants or nightclubs, dancing at events for free, teaching class for below the average scale are just a few areas that have a domino effect. It’s important to remember that the lasting effect that free has on the minds of businesses, corporations or event coordinators stigmatizes our dance with the undesirable title of little to no worth. Benefit shows are not included in this because the intent is not to get something for nothing but to raise money for a worthy cause.
Years ago I received an email from a dancer who taught classes in a town Southeast of Albuquerque that stated she was offering classes for a whole dollar…yes that’s right, in case you thought you read it wrong, $1.00. I was flabbergasted and I wondered why she would do this to her community. She was a well known dancer and one that I like, so it made no sense whatsoever why she would do this. The impact on her dance community was as expected; no one would take from the other teachers because they charged $10.00 a class. This type of erroneous thinking is costly because if she wanted to raise her prices, who would pay her more? The economic pitfall bit her on her nose because she not only devalued her worth but she devalued the dance community as a whole. We are interconnected economically in more ways then anyone would think. At my studio I charged $15.00 drop in, $12.00 weekly and $10.00 if they took two or more classes a week. I occasionally received phone calls from women wanting to get in for less but I knew all the studios charged around the same price and this made it easier to set my price. We all knew we had to uphold the price so we could all make a living.
Making my own videos was a cheaper route to go that made them more economical for my students. My first video as I have stated in other blog posts, has finally made its money back but if I knew then what I know now, I would have done it all differently. Obviously, I would have made my money back a lot sooner and there would be more videos out. Sometimes cheaper is the way to go but invariably you have to do your homework to find out the best direction to go. Daniel did his homework and at first I dug in my heels thinking I needed to go the expensive route but as I thought about it, it became the obvious choice. I have more control over my videos and I know that the work I put into them will be a financial plus down the road sooner and with less stress. Plus I must emphasize here, Daniel is a tech wiz so that is imperative to a well thought out plan. You have to have the right back up and skills to make any decision work. I am lucky with Daniel and I’ll be the first to admit it.
Restaurant and nightclub performing is the biggest pain in the butt, especially when it comes to the drama and problems that dancers create. I was paid less then other dancers, other dancers were paid less then me and in the end it was all worked out. But the area that is the costliest, is dancers performing for free. Student night is not included in this, experience is golden but when a professional or professional hobbyist dances for free, this is the Achilles heel that brings the whole community to its knees. I wrote in my book about losing money big time to a dancer who performed for free at a nightclub I performed at in Houston. I couldn’t compete with free and what made it so disconcerting, was the fact she is a very well known dancer in Texas who should have known better. But when it comes to the ego or golden opportunities, some dancers just don’t care. The bottom line is, don’t dance for free if you are a professional unless it’s for a cause that is dear to your heart. I will dance for children’s hospitals for free and that is my vow to God for blessing me with my success in dance. Other then that, I am worth what I charge so I set my prices accordingly.
Now, I know there are small town gals who will say nobody will pay us. So here’s a rule of thumb that I think is very important. First, if they can’t afford to pay you, ask that they pay for gas or ask that you and your troupe at least are fed. Also make it clear that if you dance for them, they need advertize. Advertizing can be as cost effective as flyers and it doesn’t cost anything to contact local newspapers or TV. If you ask for nothing, they will give you nothing but expect you to perform for free. The value connected to free is usually not much. I know I’m repeating myself here from an earlier blog post but I think it’s necessary to state again because I get the same questions asked over and over again regarding problems with paying gigs, freebies and undercutting. I think dancers today, have to look at dancing for free versus their time, gas, costume expense and time away from family. It all adds into what’s worth your time versus what costs you for your time. If you come out on the short end of the stick, you have to look at new ways to make your dancing pay off especially in today’s economy.
I did a lecture/demo at the Hibben Center at UNM a couple of years ago. I was paid a limited amount of money but they did an amazing job of advertizing me in the newspaper, radio and mail outs. They were very appreciative and had me come back for another cultural event the following year. Another way to help gain the price leverage you desire is to dance for high profile people. I danced for world renowned Egyptologists when I was a member of ARCE, (American Research Center in Egypt) for free but I was able to listen to their lectures, meet them at private parties. As we all know, dinner parties can be expensive especially if they are by invitation only. Everyone at the private dinners were lucky enough to hear, first hand information of new discoveries before the general public, so I was in heaven because my alter ego has always been an Egyptologist.
Bob Brier(Mr. Mummy), Aidan Dodson, Kara Cooney (Discovery Channel, Out of Egypt), Salima Ikram (History Channel, National Geographic, Discovery Channel), are a few who I danced for. Adding high profile personalities to my bio has been priceless and I have gotten work because of this. Professional dancers know that being connected to celebrities, if even with those in their hometown, gives them the advantage and edge they need for their performance price. I’ve danced for the Mayor of Albuquerque, FBI and Diplomats domestic and foreign so all of this helps. When I give out my bio, I want interested patrons to know who I’ve danced for, because I have found most customers won’t feel the need to bargain down my price, especially if they know I’ve danced for well known people.
Producing shows takes a dancers professionalism up a notch into the realm of recognition and prominence. In any art form, what a person does to gain more acceptance and notoriety helps the outlook of their art form. It’s not just Hafla’s anymore that will keep the studio doors open, but dance plays and shows outside the studio. The economics of today will challenge performers, and I have a feeling that many dancers will find it necessary to have a regular job outside of dancing. For those dancers like myself making a living with dance, marketing, technology and training courses are a given. This means that with I-phones, Androids and I-pads coming into their own, my on-line classes and their accessibility have to catch up to everything coming out. We have Amazon, Kindle and Barns and Nobles, Nook so if you are a writer this is another way to earn extra income. Advertizing in dance magazines might be done for a variety of reasons. The question is, how much income individuals really make from the advertisements. I guess that would have to be independently determined but Daniel and I advertize for a few reasons, one is changing and upgrading our sites, two is new videos, and three is new applications. The websites have to show that changes are happening, otherwise people feel a particular product or person is inactive or unproductive.
Understanding your target market is vital today. I want beginners all the way through professional level but I have to know what each level wants. Doing videos has helped me understand that each group wants and needs something different. This also means I have to teach each level differently and that is the key to making videos that relate to dancers needs. I am still a student and I know that my needs are different then ten years ago. So Curriculums have to cater to the knowledge and needs of each group, changing to fit each level. This is what makes on-line different then live classes, the technique has to answer all questions before they are even asked.
Economy will always play a part in the decisions and direction dancers take, but in today’s day and age I think it’s important to be realistic on what’s over the horizon. Down the line, students might have to choose between gas or class, so Daniel and I are making sure the on-line classes are secure and up to date.
In these economic times, think about ways to keep your cash flow coming in. Think about gyms, military bases, dance schools and retreats for furthering your income. Revamp your image in a way that attracts students, dance gigs and corporate events. Work in your philosophy of life and dance experiences because attitude and success really go hand in hand, you just have to figure out your own formula.
I’ve lost an inch and a half in my midsection…yahoo!
I just finished the Thursday Train from Home video so it should be up on www.bellydancevillage.com by next week!!