The story is always the same:
-Young person begins new job or career; must prove his/her self
-Young person becomes good at job; hopes to gain recognition
-Young person is stagnant for a few years; no promotion
-Young person remains stagnant, or finally leaves; finds new job.
For dancers, this can unfortunately be the norm: you train hard, you audition, you post videos, you try and get noticed in class, you may book a job or two, but for the most part this cycle becomes your life until you catch a big break, or you give up. Beside the fact that a career in the arts is a really difficult one, dance is literally at the bottom of the food chain. Many young artists relish at the thought of a dream job; getting paid to do something you would do for free…only they don’t tell you that that’s exactly what happens. You basically bust your ASS training and working in one of the most physically and mentally challenging forms of free spirited expressions, and mostly you earn close to nothing. Good times. So how exactly have we come to regard art based work as wage worthy…or not?
Make It Rain.
If you’re anything like me (well, really no one is like me..but let’s pretend for a second), you value “the point”, or the “bigger picture”. Why am I doing this? Will this promote growth? Will I gain something? Will this inspire someone? Can this cause change? I dance because I love to, my passion really speaks for itself. But there’s also my need for dance to be useful. Be it to spread love, messages, feelings of empathy and compassion, or because I need to get something off my chest, it serves a GREAT purpose.
That’s where things get a bit tricky. Not everyone has the same intention for dance; they don’t look at it through a catalytic lens. For some, if they aren’t booking and getting paid for a gig, or capitalizing on a niche in the market, just dancing is a waste of their time. A lot of people know they’re good, have the right combination of looks and opportunity, and so they milk the industry. Which of course, is perfectly OK. So where’s the problem? I’ll give you just one…
“…the presence of superstars continues to tilt the arts market toward a select few. Technological advances have helped magnify small differences in talent and diffuse that information, while marketers have increasingly focused on certain artists as “the best.” These developments tend to coalesce demand around a very few stars and drive their wages above everyone else’s in the field. Like professional athletes, few performing artists make it to the top, but many are inspired by stories of those who do. New technologies such as the Internet could give artists more control over their futures by allowing them to market themselves directly to audiences. But it seems more likely that the importance of critics and marketers will increase, not decrease, in an Internet-driven entertainment world.”
Technology, while ridiculously helpful in expanding your brand, can be harmful to those artists that are often overshadowed by the select few the media glorifies. According to this RAND report on author Kevin McCarthy’s book, The Performing Arts in a New Era, the issue of media coverage in the Performing arts has greatly (and in some instances fatally) impacted the state of live arts performances, the demand in recorded performance, and in turn, individual careers. Those that know how to use it WELL, often end up on top, and dance ability has little (if anything) to do with it. Demand for a specific style or dance move made popular by a few big dancer and/or Choreographer names online spikes, and you’re left confused as to how it became a trend in the first place. Throw in a greater platform for more critics and pickier audiences, and the stakes get even higher. You could be incredibly passionate and talented, but if you aren't prepared to swim with the Katy Perry sharks of the dance world, you will be eaten alive.
Not all publicity is good publicity. Ask left shark.
C’mon, we’ve all done it: You see a Youtube video, notice the 65,146,654,165,461 views, next thing you know this person is teaching at a prestigious dance school, and you think…
“HOW does he/she get work?!?”
Will Smith has it right: “If you stay ready, you never have to get ready”. Opportunities will only be seized by those prepared, and in this game, it requires staying up to date with the evolution of dance as trade, and adjusting accordingly. Just like any job in any industry, you have to make a name for yourself before you can even begin to ask for your merit. Trust me, it has nothing to do with your skill set, and everything to do with your business savvy. Oh, and knowing some people doesn’t hurt either.
I often hear dancers say “know your worth! Don’t take jobs or gigs just for exposure! You deserve to be paid for your work!”. All true statements. There are those though, that tend to (conveniently) forget where they come from. I stated earlier that not everyone is like me, and that’s really just because of how I choose to spend my days. I actually spend a lot of time volunteering and using my talents to plant seeds. If there is work I believe in, and I can fit it into my schedule without making considerable adjustments, I will do it. In fact, there is volunteer work I schedule part of my life around! Am I talented? Do I deserve to be paid heftily for my work? Do I have the experiences and credentials to be booking major jobs across the spectrum? Of course. But I also recognize the importance of staying grounded in the humble beginnings of dance as an art, and I’m blessed to have it. I know who my friends are, and what to keep as a business deal. I keep it professional at all times, and yes, I do also strive for those dream gigs, but I never compromise real worth: my self worth.
There is something to be said about keeping your integrity in tact, and I don’t know about yours, but mine doesn’t come with a price tag.
But hey, what do I know?
I just Move.