For the past few months I supported my wife for the release of her debut album “The Fragrance of Memories.” Finally, it is available to stream and purchase.
Due to a bug in my regular blog theme, I am temporarily switching to this one. I hope the bug will be fixed soon. Until then, we will have this sleek, plain look.
The filter bubble is a term that describes the phenomenon of search engines, social media platforms, and online advertising systems showing you only the content that you are supposedly interested in while withholding the rest.
While the internet coined that term, the phenomenon itself is not new. The same happens to a lesser degree when you are primarily moving in only one social circle or one cultural scene. The topics that people talk about, as well as trends and political opinions, are (most of the time) consistent as long as you move within the same crowd.
This bubble leads to unintended tunnel-vision as information that is not part of our bubble goes unnoticed. Depending on your current situation, this can be good or bad.
Utilize a single bubble if you want to learn a craft that is specific to it.
If you want to learn a new skill or craft from one specific culture or subculture, immersing yourself into it is the best thing to do. Unwavering focus without any distractions will let you progress faster on your quest to learn a specific skill. That is the case if you want to learn hip hop dance or breaking. Dive into the scene, find friends, teachers, or mentors there, and become the greatest dancer you can be.
Avoid tunnel-vision by participating in multiple bubbles if you want to create or come up with a plan.
If you want to create something or come up with original or creative ideas, it is better to avoid bubbleism (I know that is not a word). You want to be on the edges of multiple bubbles. You have more influences and also access to more information. This is the case if you’re going to turn your dance passion into a sustainable dance business, beyond hip hop dance moves. You will be better off having access to the body of thought from the hip hop scene, entrepreneurs and community builders.
Know where you are on your journey and which bubbles you need to reach your destination.
The dream of making a living or even thriving in the dance business is dreamt of many. I know it is doable because I did it in the past, and I will do it again after taking a time-out after our daughter’s birth. A not so obvious point: making a living as a dancer is not that much harder than finding regular employment that pays well and is good for your soul.
I outline a simple four-step strategy that will take you there. Strategy means we talk about “what are we going to do?” The needed steps are universal and timeless. Executing the strategy is an individual thing and might differ from dancer to dancer because our situations are different. But the strategy stays the same.
Four Steps to a sustainable dance career
- Create Value
- Monetize It
That does not sound like a strategy for dancers. It isn’t. It is one basic strategy for running a sustainable business. Too many people who try their luck in the dance world fall into tunnel vision and only focus on their dance skills. This makes the more significant part of being successful a gamble, which is stupid. If you only work on the dance, you will eventually become an excellent dancer. But without understanding how to turn your dance skills into money, you will not turn pro.
Creating Value, Monetizing it, Scaling, and investing everything extra back into your business will pay your bills, even if you are not the best dancer. I never won a major competition, but dance and dance-related work feed me since 2008, and now it does the same for my family. If I can do it, so can you.
Creating value as a dancer
Creating value means nothing else, but “you need to have something that other people want.” These can be extraordinary dance skills that every choreographer wants to have in the show. It could also be the ability to teach people to dance, or to win battles, to entertain, or everything else you can come up with. As long as there are people who want it.
The more specific your offer is, the better your chances that there is little or no competition. Reinforce your strengths, try to work with the things that nobody else in your area has, and dare cover topics that others avoid.
For some inspiration on how to create value with your dance, check out the article about possibilities to build your dance business around.
Turn your value into money
When you have something to offer, it will not be hard to earn money from it. If every choreographer wants your skills in the production, there will be more than enough productions that pay you. If you are a good teacher, students will happily pay a fee for your class. If you can entertain people, you can create your own piece for the stage, go for videos, host dance events, and much more. And suppose you are really a battle winner. In that case, there is price money (but I don’t consider that a viable option to build a business upon).
The point here is that you have to commit to turning your value into money. Because the other option is to do it for your enjoyment only, which means you have to find different ways to pay the bills. That is perfectly fine if you want to have it that way. But you are reading an article for those who don’t want to do something else to earn a living.
I also wrote about pricing your dance classes, if you want to check that one out.
Scale your dance business
Here comes the thing that every entrepreneur thinks about when building a business. Dancers usually don’t, which is a grave mistake. Scaling means to multiply your income. Simple as that. Scaling would be to dance more shows or teach more classes. That version of scaling is for beginners because you will run out of hours to scale your business or burn-out.
Smart scaling would be to find opportunities that pay you better for the same work or create products that you can sell. Teaching that one class at a camp for 50 people should pay you better than teaching 10. Think digital age. Can you create an online course, where you can teach 50 people per week? If you can, you win.
I opted-in for writing. That way, I can reach many more people than in regular classes or talks, even besides trying to be a good father. Choose a way you are comfortable with. The most popular method right now is video. Create a Youtube channel, stream on Twitch or Instagram, become the next big thing on Tik Tok.
The point is: find something that allows you to reach more people in the same time or less time. If you are doing primarily shows, this might be a good moment to think about getting an agent.
Invest in your dance business
As soon as you have money left invest it, instead of spending it needless:
- Learn something new that makes you better at what you do
- Learn something new that helps you to reach more people
- Create a new product that you can sell
- Advertise what you have
This is a strategy that works. If you really want to make it in dance, you can. If you are already working in dance, check your business against the four steps above. Where are you doing good, and where are you lacking?
Be brave and let us know.
We live in a time of change, and the ability to adapt will make the difference between growth or suffering. This goes for your dance business and your personal development. To adapt, we need to be able to learn new skills when the need for them arises. Learning new skills is a skill in itself, and a lot of people call it a meta-skill.
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.Alvin Toffler
Learning something new is also a skill that we need to practice. So make it a habit to learn something or do something for the first time often. This way, your learning muscles stay healthy, and you can move fast when you need them.
Unlearning shit that does not help
There are also a lot of things that we apply or think to know that are, in reality, detrimental to our progress. Examples would be racism (or any other form of discrimination) or the simple belief that you are not good enough for whatever it is you want to do.
Asking the right questions, identifying those things that hinder us, and unlearn them or replace them with a mindset that serves us better is a hard task that requires, once more, brutal honesty with ourselves. But putting in the effort pays off and being honest with yourself, makes life much easier.
Racism is a global issue. A part of the world, especially the younger generation that grows up with black culture, understands that. But despite all the outrage and screams for justice, most folks fail to answer the question, “how can I help?”
The reality is, there are many ways we can help that depend on your situation, where you live, what you do, and in which community you are spending your time. For example, donating, signing petitions, send emails to authorities, supporting protests, find an NGO to work with, share news to your circles that would otherwise go unheard, and much more. When you flex your google skills a little (or start your research at the blacklivesmatter website), you will come up with more than enough things that you can do that are tailored specifically to you.
I will not talk about these specific things. Instead, I want to suggest one thing that every white human must do to purge racism. I did not come up with this myself, and I did not think I will write about the topic in the first place. I tried to process an overwhelming flood of information from people much more knowledgeable and most likely smarter than me, to find the right way to help that works for me. Below I will share how I think that we (the white people) can really combat racism.
Our responsibility against racism?
We must embrace the mindset that “racism ends with me.” Racism and oppression of the black people burnt itself into humanity over generations because some assholes thought it’s OK to enslave humans because their skin is different. Of course, that was wrong from the beginning. Sadly, we can’t change the past, and we are not responsible for what our ancestors did. But every single one of us is responsible for what happens now and in the future. Doing that work is not an option, it is our responsibility.
The beauty of “racism ends with me” is that the theory is simple to understand. We need to do everything we can in our daily lives to stop racism when we experience it. If we all do this, racism would be gone in one generation. That is, most likely, not going to happen. But the more people join the cause, the faster it will.
How will it end with us?
- Educate yourself about the problem. It is not someone else’s responsibility to teach you. White people created this issue, and black people suffer. That’s neither fair, nor can they fix it alone. We have to.
- Speak up when you encounter racism in your daily life. Just speak up instead of looking away. At work, in your family, with your friends, in public transports, wherever. And don’t vote for the wrong people when it’s election day.
- Examine yourself to find every influence of racism in your beliefs, your mindset, and everything you think you know. Then get rid of it, dissolve it, destroy it. We have been taught over generations that racism is right, but it’s not. If you can’t fix it yourself, get help. Most of us will need it. It’s similar to overcoming trauma.
- Don’t pass it on to your children. Your kids can never see you commit an act of racism. They need to see you stand up against it. Children learn by watching you. If you do right, so will they. Get rid of your racist behavior, and they will not learn it. If you fail, you put the responsibility on them.
Sounds simple enough for me, but it will be incredibly hard to pull off. It will hurt to see where our own minds are corrupted by the plague that is racism. It will be uncomfortable to raise our voice against idiots who still think it is OK to treat our black brothers and sisters like second class. And it will be exhausting to do it all the time. But that does not matter because it is the right thing to do, and all our discomfort is nothing compared to the suffering of generations of black people.
“White feelings should never be held in higher regard than black lives.”Rachel Elizabeth Cargle
I want my daughter to tell her children that grandpa was “one of the guys who made a difference against racism” instead of “yes, they knew but chose to remain silent.”
What about you?
Today I will cover the arsenal and tools for teaching dance that I use. There are, of course, more techniques out there that you can use to teach dance, but these are the ones that I think are the most important ones. They suffice in most regular classes. Later, I will cover more sophisticated techniques, but I want to dive into the other primary work fields as well, before going so much into the depths of teaching.
Show & Tell
Show & Tell is the basic principle of teaching other people anything related to dance. The technique is self-explanatory, as it is what it sounds like. The visual information of seeing and the added information about where to look for the details and intricacy of the material can be enough for people to understand what you want them to teach. This is your bread and butter. The go-to tool in teaching.
Corrections can be done in many ways. You can address general problems or give individual feedback. You should do both like a lot of topics will be relevant for everyone, and some students might need a unique problem addressed. Don’t fall into the habit of not giving feedback. This is one of the essential differences between someone who teaches people and someone who entertains with dance. That would be a viable business approach as well, but this time we talk all about teaching.
Give your students exercises that make them practice new material in a structured way. Drills are like dance push-ups. They are needed to build muscle memory and elevate movement quality. You might have a lot of drills from your teachers, or you can create your own.
Primarily if you teach a lot of kids, the idea of drilling something might not be the best approach to sell. Package the things your students need to work on in games. B-Boy Catch, Chinese Whispers with Dance Moves and similar ideas work well.
Let your students teach and correct each other. Trying to explain something to other students leads to a better understanding of the material. This can be done when experienced students teach the new ones or when a group of the same level feedbacks each other.
Teaching material in a sequence that makes sense is first and foremost a matter of planning your curriculum, but you can also use it to lead people to more complex moves. Go back to the basics of a movement if the students struggle with it and rebuild it from the foundation. In many cases, they did not yet master the previous motions you taught them.
Handouts and Teaching Material
Sadly, this one is not very widespread in the dance scene world. You can really support the progress of your interested students when you provide material that helps them to dive deeper into the matter. This can be additional background information, self-made video tutorials to remind them about the technique, links to tutorials from others, or documentaries. You can also provide videos of dancers that excel in certain areas that you covered in your classes. Make it easy for them to dig deep and go far with research if they are willing to.
Give them something to do or think about in between classes. You can’t force them to do it, but those who are willing to learn will do it and therefore progress faster.
Have some exercises ready that help them understand how music works. These can be taken from music theory, body percussion, or they can be created with simple dance steps.
Take notes. You, the teacher, not the students. They can do it as well, of course. Write down what you did in class, so you know what repeat next time. Write down if some students had issues with a specific topic and get back to it to help them out. Notes help to stay on track with everything, keep an overview of what you did in which in class and give you an excellent tool to evaluate the progress of the course.
History & Stories
The history of the dance you teach as well as stories and anecdotes from your own dance life or people you know are outstanding tools to keep your students motivated. When told in an inspiring way that the listener can relate to, it will make them wanna jump back to practice immediately.
The history of the dance is, of course, something you should teach as well and not only use it as a tool for teaching dance. But as it comes in with that double function, it works as the swiss-army-knife in your toolbox.
These are my most used tools for teaching dance, and of course, there are many more of them. Let me know which ones you use and if there are any basic ones that I missed.
If you want to see some of those in action, I teach a breaking class at Streetdance Center Salzburg, together with my colleague Gü.
Creating a stage performance is an individual process. Every artist has his own way of doing it. But there is one guiding principle that will transform our creation from an unsorted puzzle into a finished piece that makes sense. Making sense to be taken with a grain of salt as it is in the eye of the beholder.
The basic structure and its implications
One thing is sure: our piece has a beginning and an ending. In between, things are happening. Sometimes a lot of things, sometimes almost nothing. But those things in between are what messes up a lot of works, that started with brilliant ideas.
It’s easy to disregard the importance of this middle part, as the first impression and the last image you remember from a piece are defining moments. But it is this middle, that makes the difference between a persuasive speech and meaningless babble.
Only keep things that make sense in the context of the piece
Every scene in your piece should be necessary to bring you from the beginning of your piece to the end. It needs to change something. It can either be an action that alters the state of our world or introduce new information that makes our viewers understand. If a scene does not change anything that brings us closer to the end or gives us new insights, it needs to go.
To call this shot, it is important to know what you want to achieve with the production.
Removing scenes can be hard because we fell in love with them during the process. I recommend putting them into your treasure chest of ideas. Maybe you can build another piece around them, another time.
Let me close with an example: Our short piece is about a young lady that is an unhealthy relationship with a boyfriend. Throughout the piece, she understands that he will not change and decides she is better of alone and therefore ends the relationship.
Her being at work on her laptop is a necessary scene when she talks to a colleague who helps her to come to a conclusion or when she meets someone better for her. It is not required if we show off that we can use tutting to visualize the work with laptops and tablets.
All of this would change when the piece would be about showing what you can do with tutting, but that was not the goal in the example.
To share something with an audience, we need to understand it first. The journey of sharing what we want to show starts with understanding the matter. To do so, we define the world of the piece.
Defining the world of the piece means describing the circumstances in which our dancers live on stage. Those circumstances are the facts of the piece.
The world of the piece looks very different when we compare strictly narrative pieces with plain concept pieces. But as soon as the world of the piece is defined, the work inside this world is the same.
What is the World of the Piece?
These are the major points that come to my mind when I define the world of a piece:
- Where and when is it happening? Place, and Time.
- Who are the characters?
- What is happening? Story.
Place and time define all the circumstances and tell us where to look for references. A crew that presents a piece that is set in London of the Victorian Age needs to start their research in books and movies about this time. If the same crew is presenting a piece that is solely based on geometrics without referencing a real epoche or place, they shall still define their place and time as well. It makes a difference if you dance in a cube that is precisely the size of your stage or empty plains that extend into infinity.
Knowing who we are on stage is the next part. The range goes from full characters with backstory and individual goals to abulic agents of a system that is based on the ideas of the piece. Characters with a backstory are easy enough to understand, but what do I mean by agents of a system?
In concept pieces, you might not play a person or someone with feelings. You may represent a drone that follows simple programming like “repeat choreography A until you collide with dancer 2”. This task could be done with or without emotional involvement. Defining it creates the character. Not defining it creates confusion and inconsistent interpretation by different performers. This confusion can be part of the concept, but then it needs to be clear and becomes part of the world of the piece.
In every piece, something is going on. The story of the piece. It can be traditional storytelling or just a description of what is happening due to the abstract concepts and ideas that shape the piece. But there is always something happening. If that would not be the case, why would we make a piece?
Let me finish this with two examples. The first, from my older piece barcoded: The protagonists live in a slightly futuristic version of our world where the majority of people consents to what they want in their fellow citizens. Everyone who is outside these parameters is thrown in a penitentiary and kept there until they fit into the regular world. The dancers are those outsiders that are abandoned by society. We learn their backstories, the reasons for their imprisonment and accompany them on their attempt to break out of the prison.
As a contrast, here is an example of a piece that is not based on storytelling (you already heard about this one above):
The world of the piece is empty plains. There is no border as it extends into infinity. There are no landmarks, no irregularities, no texture. The plains are inhabited by dancers who follow a complex program that contains choreography and timings that are based on geometrics, perfect square angles. There are no decisions to be made, no questions to ask, no emotions to feel. The program is set and was decided by randomization. The performance is one of a million possibilities. It’s not the first one that is happening – and it will not be the last.
Both worlds are clear. One based on a storyline, the other based on a concept. We work with these descriptions to immerse ourselves in the matter.
It’s time to create worlds. Let’s do it.
One of the first questions that pop up from people interested in doing something on their own is: “how much does it cost to make a piece”? This depends on your goals, and therefore I can not answer it. But I can show you how to answer it yourself.
Dance piece budget calculation
First: You don’t need any money at all to create a dance piece. When you work with friends or your crew, in your spare time, have a composer/producer as part of your team and have a venue where you can play the piece for free, you can do it without investing a cent. This possibility is one you should consider if it is about creating your first piece because it takes away a lot of work and pressure.
When you are creating a big production, work with casted dancers, use mainstream music, costumes, and a state of the art set, you will need to budget all these positions and see the end-result on paper (or your screen).
Creating a dance piece budget is not that hard, but it is time-consuming and a matter of thinking about all details (very similar to calculating your real expenses). I usually start with an excel sheet template to get a rough overview. You can download my template here. It helps me to get an idea about what I will need. There are numbers in there to show how it works, but you need to replace them with your costs. If you don’t have an excel license, you can open the file in Google Docs or Open Office. Both of them are free to use. As soon as you found your workflow, I recommend you create your own template that you tailor to your needs.
The big boys in most dance production budgets
The biggest part of the budget are the people you work with. You want to pay them a fair price. A fair price differs from country to country and is also a matter of the situation of the people. For Austria, there is a recommendation of the IG Freie Theater to pay professional freelancers who work in your production EUR 3.000 per month. This amount is considered a fair price for a month of work with the same volume as a regular full-time job (5 days a week, 40 hours per week). However, it assumes your crew consists of pros who do what they do in your production for a living. On the other hand, paying that is the same as putting your team on minimum wage.
The second biggest part of the costs is usually housing, food, rehearsal room rent, and travel for your team. If you are lucky enough, this block can be zero if everyone lives in the same town, and you have a room that you can use.
The specific costs of your dance production
Everything else is a matter of preference and if your production needs it. Walkthrough the template step by step and see if the point applies to your creation.
At the end of the calculation, we usually add a safety buffer. It should cover things that came up spontaneously or because we forgot something. I love to use 20%, which is high. Most other producers I know calculate with 5% to 10%.
The income side of your budget
In the second (much shorter) part of the budget, you see your income. In general, it is composed of public funding and ticket sales. But you can put everything in there that you can make money with. Merchandise would be an option, but don’t forget to put the costs you will have to create it in the budget as well. Crowd Funding is an option.
I also add a line “your own money.” This one is visualizing how much money I will need to put in to break even. At the end of the calculation, you want the income to be equal or higher than the costs. The “your own money” line, shows you how far you are away.
A side note: In most cases, when you apply for public funding, your costs and income need to be equal to be eligible for financing. “Your own money” (with a more fancy term, depending on your location) is a way to make this happen.
That is the process. Take the time, break down your project, ask people for what they take for the job you want them to do, and find out what your piece will cost.
Usually, at the end of the calculation, we have a sum that is far beyond what we can easily lift. In that case, or when we get less public funding than needed, we can reduce the budget. Whenever we do that it is important to be transparent about our decisions and who gets paid how much. Communicate this before you agree with people outside your core team to work on a project together. This avoids arguments because everybody who is not cool with how things are set up can say no to the project before it starts.