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About Asking The Right Questions

You need to put the right questions in your book to get answers worth your time

For me, creating any kind of artistic work and most of my regular work is about asking and answering questions. To maximise the potential of our work and the answers, it is essential to ask the right questions. To find the questions that are worth your time and the time of your audience.

Whole industries ask and answer the same questions over and over. In advertising and marketing, it is often about how to reach the maximum amount of people. How to keep their attention for the longest time possible.

As artists, it is our responsibility to ask different questions, to show the world that there is more than what they are used to see. As artists, we ask questions that go deeper. We avoid scratching the surface by only interrupting the audience on social media because we have something to say that needs more attention than the swipe of a finger.

We want to ignite thoughts and spark ideas, or at least take their thoughts away from the everyday business for a short while. You can’t do that by touching the same topics, they already know. You can do it by asking questions that matter.

I believe if asked the right questions, most people will use their answers to lead themselves to an appropriate outcome. 

Mary White

What questions are these? Probably the same questions that really matter to you. Find out which questions you want to be answered and then do it. If you care for the questions you ask, people will too because someone genuinely exploring an interesting topic, is always worth following.

Don’t be stupid about taxes and the law – Dance Business Advice

Don't ignore laws and taxes as a dancer

A lot of people start out doing dance-related stuff as a side-hustle besides studying or their regular job. That is a great idea. What is not so great is that most of them don’t care about doing in the right way, which can lead to major problems later on. As soon as your income is above a certain threshold, most countries require you to pay taxes and/or mandatory insurance. I will not go into detail about this as taxes and laws are different from country to country and sometimes even from county to county.

What I want you to be aware of is the fact that the money you save by not registering your freelance activity and therefore not paying taxes is nothing compared to the potential issues you can run into.

What are the potential problems?

  • When you get caught you have to pay the money you saved plus an additional fee, which sets you back money-wise.
  • Depending on the severeness, you might get a criminal record. In some countries, it is legal and easy to check these. If you have a criminal record, a lot of people won’t hire you at all.
  • Dealing with an examination of the tax office is a pain in the ass, that will keep you from doing your work.
  • If you don’t work official, your time does not count towards your pension.

So what shall we do?

Inform yourself about the legal situation for freelance dancers in your country. Start with finding out if there is a lobby or special interest group for dancers. It’s most likely a part of freelance artists or freelance entrepreneurs. Google will tell you.

FOR AUSTRIA: You can find all the relevant info online. You need the “Finanzamt” of your hometown, the “Sozialversischerungsanstalt der gewerblichen Wirtschaft bald Sozialversicherung der Selbständigen” (Dance is a “Freies Gewerbe”) and for potential general questions the “Wirtschaftskammer”.

If you can not find the Infos you need online, call the office of said institutions and ask for an appointment to talk you through the process of setting you up for legal work in your field.

If there is really no interest group taking care of your work, then just hit up the municipal authorities and they will point you in the right direction.

Get help!

It is possible to do everything on your own but I highly recommend working with an accountant and an attorney.

The accountant will take care of all your tax-related stuff and usually save you more money than he or she costs. Look for a freelance accountant and not one inside a big office. There are people specialized in small businesses. If your company will grow big, you can still change to a bigger office, when you need the additional manpower.

Hopefully, you will never need your attorney but in case you have issues, he can help with settling it. No matter if you need someone to defend you or someone is trying not to pay an invoice. Having legal expense insurance comes in handy if you need the attorney’s help.

With everything regarding taxes and law taken care of, you can focus on doing your work that matters. Do yourself that favour.

How to get more dance jobs in Austria

how to get more dance jobs in asutria title graphic

I already wrote about the topic “how to get more dance jobs” a few months back. I get some feedback on this article (that the stuff in there does not work) and some new requests about how to do it in Austria.

What is different in Austria?

That is the question we have to answer first before we can dive into the specifics. All the points from the general article I already wrote apply to the fullest but it can feel like you don’t get any results by applying them. The main reason is that the business side of the scene and the Austrian dance industry are still in their build-up. What I mean by that is that there are people producing shows, there are agencies taking care of bookings for urban artists and there are dance studios in most major cities but there are not plenty of them.

In countries with a developed dance industry, you have the possibility to audition for jobs that you want to be part of every other week. You have multiple standing companies with a regular cast and stand-ins for most positions. You have multiple people that take care of the production side of things. And you have many agencies with a widespread network that generates opportunities to show your art.

In Austria and many other countries with a dance-scene that is on the rise, we have some of these, but we don’t have an abundance. So you maybe have four to ten auditions per year, for pieces you want to do. There are 2 or 3 agencies that seriously care and know about the capabilities and needs of hip hop dance. And there might be five promoters who manage to do recurring events that have international relevance.

Austria has a dance scene and dance industry on the rise. We need to build the infrastructure first to create the jobs we want to do. Nobody will give them to us. Who should?

That sounds like a bad thing in the first place, but it really isn’t. Because what it does, is leaving a lot of space for everyone who really cares and wants to make it with dance and dance-related work.

How to do it?

First, this is not science. Second, I am writing from my own experience of doing business with dance and dance-related topics since 2007. Third, I believe this is the best way forward for the Austria scene as a whole. Some individual people might be better of alone but looking at the bigger picture from a holistic point of view, these are my recommendations.

As mentioned above, our scene and industry are not yet fully established, we are building it right now. This means that there is a lot of space to be filled.

What we should do, is create the infrastructure that we lack. This also ensures that the infrastructure and businesses hold up the values that we want to represent. That is extra important as the possibility of breaking (that’s the thing you should not call breakdance) becoming Olympic will attract people from outside (sports, finance, and advertisers of all kind) who have the business part down towards our scene and their values will not necessarily align with ours.

What can a single person do?

Everything. That is the point. Through the scarcity in the scene, you can contribute very quickly.

You can organize classes yourself. Everything you need it to find is a room and a mobile sound system. I know people who teach twenty classes a week and are set. All self-sustained.

You can organize events. It’s not impossible to do jams and competitions on a low budget. In fact, we need those to have the inhibition threshold low for the new blood.

You can reach out to potential customers proactively and sell your shows. By doing this you fill the role of an artist agency and might become one if you want to.

You can audition for all pieces around and try to land that spot or you can start your own production. This feels overwhelming in the beginning but if you want to create, you should.

How is this getting more jobs?

The part above isn’t, but it is a prerequisite for our scene to grow and move forward into something that can provide a sustainable life for everyone who wants it. From there we need to start connecting and work together (I already wrote about that too).

By creating multiple working platforms (this can be crews, dance companies, production companies, agencies, artist collectives, solo freelancers and more) and connecting them, we can provide more work. If I sell shows, you produce pieces and a third guy organizes workshops we can hustle on our own, or connect and everyone has three jobs instead of one.

Of course, that is simplified as nobody can work with everyone and some people are more suited for this job and not the other. But take into consideration how far our scene came in the last ten years. Think about how many talented people are out there hustling. We just need to connect and build together. In a country with a small scene, there is not really a competition as the market is not nearly saturated. There are only missed opportunities.

Don’t stop there

When we established a network that provides enough opportunities for everyone who wants to dance, the inclusion does not stop. Think about all the street fashion designers, dance content creators, music producers, MCs , DJs and so on. These are valuable for us too, as we are to them. Spotting these opportunities and taking them, is what we should cultivate.

It has been done before in Austria. On a smaller scale. And these islands still exist. Where people work together, but most of the time they only extend to crew and friends. Which is fine, but we all could do better.

As this scene and industry are built now, it is us who should it build and make the rules. Or we can let others built it and play by their rules. Easy decision for me, it always has been.

Your Signal/Noise Ratio

Frequency Spectrum showing signal and noise

When we talk about marketing, one of the things we should be aware of is our Signal/Noise ratio. The metaphor refers to a technical issue from analog radio broadcasts. When you communicate via radio, you have to listen on the same frequency as the sender is broadcasting and vice versa. If you are slightly off the frequency, you hear the broadcast but with a lot of hisses. If you are far away from the frequency you receive either only hiss, aka noise, or another signal (that you are not looking for).

What does Signal/Noise ration mean as a metaphor?

In times of social media, we all broadcast continuously with our posts, likes, shares, tweets, and whatever. If we are smart with our marketing strategy, and if we know our goals and artist identity, we aspire to send a lot of signal, while avoiding to add noise. Signal would be everything that aligns with our purposes, the message we want to spread, and the thing we want to be associated with. Noise is everything that has nothing to do with our signal or even distracts from it.

An example: when we want to spread a message about dancing, choreographing, and traveling the world, everything that is about our dancing and seeing exciting places works as a signal. But posting our daily coffee is a distraction, as are videos from our cats. Those two would be adding noise.

Who defines what noise is?

You do. Only you decide what it is that you want to “broadcast” to the world. It’s not essential what you send out if you only have a private channel and want to connect with friends. But as soon as your social media channels are part of your business, defining and sticking to your signal matters. It’s part of your promise to the world.

How much noise is fine?

Again, that is a question that only you can answer. It depends heavily on what strategy you have to connect with your followers. Noise is everywhere on the frequency spectrum, so it might help you to reach people you might not reach without it. But noise also waters down the value of your broadcast for everyone who is looking for your signal. As a rule of thumb: When you want to be perceived as an expert in your field and it is a niche, keep the noise level low. If you want to reach a broad audience, the noise percentage can be higher. If it’s not possible to differentiate between signal and noise, the noise is too high.

As I recently released my first book Dance Smart, I dived a little bit more into marketing and therefore stumbled upon this topic. While I am doing a pretty good job with my Signal/Noise ratio on the blog and Facebook, my Twitter and Instagram Signal/Noise ratios suck. That’s one of my projects for 2020.

Read you all next year.

Dance Smart Available Now

Dance Smart is now available on Amazon

Finally “Dance Smart: Dance Concepts for all Hip-Hop Styles” is available. From Dec 23 to Dec 29, you can grab it at a discounted introductory price of 1 Euro for the ebook and 10 Euro for the paperback. Exact prices will vary due to your local VAT rate.

Dance Smart - Concepts for all Hip Hop Styles is now available

Here are some first reaction from early readers:

A very well written ragbag of how to improve your dancing! For me a dancer’s must-read!

Stuggi

Very useful tool-kit for everybody who wants to level up their dance!

Vanny

I also received very valuable feedback on how to improve my writing and presentation of the concepts, that will, for sure, find its way into an updated version later down the road.

Thanks everyone for the support.

Why I call it Breaking instead of B-Boying and Breakdance

Illustration with Breakdance and B-Boying/B-Girking crossed out

Today I will give you my 2 cents about terminology: Do you call it breaking or Breakdance? Or is it B-Boying? Read about my absolutely subjective, personal opinion.

It’s called Breaking

I call the dance that I love breaking. I consider it to be the correct original term, which also makes sense as B-Boys & B-Girls initially danced to the break of the record. Therefore the term B-Boy refers to Break-Boy. I am aware that Bronx-Boy is also a common meaning, but the word Bronx-Boy relates to where one comes from and not what he dances, so I go with the other one.

B-Boying is also a thing, but I’m not too fond of it

The term B-Boying is also accepted and common within our scene, but I don’t like and use it for multiple reasons:

  • It names the dance after the dancer, but the name of the dancer is, in my books, already named after the dance. You would not say Break-Boying, would you?
  • The word B-Boying does not flow well about my lips when I try to say it. 🙂
  • B-Boy and B-Girl are terms that have a gender. Using B-Boying as the name for the dance opens up a lot of questions like: Is it B-Girling if a female does that dance? If so, do we just call it different, or is it another thing? If it is another thing, can B-Girls do B-Boying and vice versa? What happens if we enter the realm of transgender and so on? For me, that whole discussion is an endless loop that I don’t want to be a part of. For me, B-Girls and B-Boys are Breakers and do Breaking.

Breakdance is the no-go

Breakdance is a term that was introduced by a British music promoter who could either not remember Breaking and made up Breakdance on the spot or just said it the wrong way.

The term has nothing to do with the people who created our dance. If you use it for promotional purposes because the uninitiated would not show up otherwise – it’s your obligation to teach them about it in your first class. Yes, I am serious about this.

Here you have it. My highly biased, personal opinion about the Breaking/B-Boying/B-Girling/Breakdance discussion.

What promo material do I need as a dancer?

promo material needed in the dance industry aka promotion papers

No matter if you have your own shows or are auditioning to be part of other productions, there will be times when people ask you for promo material. These are the things you should have ready to send at any given time.

  1. Your CV (Curriculum Vitae) or vita is a list of your education, your employment, and the freelance jobs you did. If it does not include the education part, some people call it references. If someone asks for an artist vita, include only the things relevant to dance, for a complete vita send one that provides for everything. The CV usually has one portrait picture included somewhere at the top.
  2. A Bio or Biography is a text that tells people who you are. This might be used to introduce you on a website or program booklet or anywhere else where people would be interested in who you are. Make it interesting to read and full of relevant things.
  3. When asked for your data, you should be able to provide a one-page document that contains your name, birth date, country of origin, current residence, phone number, email address, passport number, height, weight, clothing, and shoe sizes. If your numbers are good on social media, include views and followers. Your popularity can influence a decision, especially when you audition for shows, as all of your fans are potential customers.
  4. High-quality photographs. Sometimes people decide on your looks. You need a good selection of photos to send along. In auditions, often, the picture is on top of the other papers when handed out to directors or choreographers. You don’t want to waste that first impression. I recommend having three different good portraits and three or more appealing action shots. It is an advantage if you have both from different distances (face only, including shoulders, half body, full body). If possible, make sure they align with your artist identity.
  5. Videos. Potential customers want to see you dance. You should have at least one full show and a demo reel with multiple appearances online, that you can send if someone asks. You can either host them on your own website or pick a hoster like Youtube or Vimeo.
  6. Your online presence. People will check your homepage. So be sure it is up-to-date.
  7. A scan of your passport. This is not part of your regular promo material, but as soon as you are booked for a job abroad, most agencies will ask for a copy of the passport to arrange flights and hotels.

Prepare everything in pdf format and have it ready at any time. Response time is crucial. You will be fast when you have everything prepared to pull into an email and hit send. That gives you an edge over the competition that has to start looking for everything first.

My best Memories of Red Bull BC One 2019 in Mumbai

India's B-Boy Flying Machine posing in the streets of Mumbai
India's B-Boy Flying Machine posing in the streets of Mumbai. Photo: Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool

Yesterday I came back home from the Red Bull BC One World Final 2019, which went down in Mumbai/India. The trip was an outstanding experience, and I want to share some of my experiences here. As Manny and I already covered the event itself as part of our work, I will not talk about everything that happened there. You can find the links to those stories below:

Flying Machine disses Robin while jumping
Flying Machine from India vs Robin from Ukraine.
Photo: Little Shao/Red Bull Content Pool

I want to share my experiences with the Indian dance scene and the culture instead. Here is what stood out at my time in Mumbai:

  1. The hospitality: being friendly and helpful seems to be part of the culture in India. Never before, I have experienced a welcome as warm and honest as during that stay in Mumbai.
  2. The enthusiasm for the hip hop culture: the Indian dancers celebrated the dance, the music, and the gathering in the name of hip hop on a whole other level when compared to events in Europe. As Poe One pointed out, most of these dancers have never been outside of their country, and seeing all the dancers that they only know from videos alive in their home country made the crowd go wild.
  3. The positive vibes in the Cyphers: Sadly, I didn’t have the time to dance with the local guys a lot, but I managed to make my way into one cypher during the camp. What should I say? My level is nowhere near that of a BC One competitor or even a BC One Cypher winner. Nevertheless, the dancers cheered for everyone and appreciated every round that was rocked in the circles. Also interesting: when the music was right, breakers and hip hop dancers shared the cyphers without the urgent need for separating. Watch and learn, Austria. 🙂
  4. The freedom in dance. Probably as a result of the two points above, most dancers (also from abroad) had an easy time to let go of the pressure that comes from the competitive mindset that usually is present in our dance. That led to people dancing more freely and giving way funkier rounds than we are used to.
  5. The will to connect: During the World Final itself, I was sitting in a sector with dozens of b-boys from India. Connecting with these guys was super easy, and we casually exchanged opinions and stories during the finals.

All in all, this trip was an outstanding experience, and I learned a lot about life and dance in these few days. Also, the energy of the dancers from India refueled my desire to get back into dancing.

All that’s left to say is: Thank you so much for the beautiful experience and the outstanding trip. ābhārī hōṅ

Red Flags to watch out for when signing an artist agency contract

A red flag that warns you about signing the contract.

You are ready to launch into the dance industry and found an agency that is eager to sign you? That’s amazing. But be careful and take the time to read your contract to avoid signing with a scammy agency. Sadly they are out there. Here are some points you should look out for. All of them in isolation might be fine, but when more of them come together, you might rethink if you can trust that agency.

Membership Fees

Real agencies know they earn money with every job you dance. Therefore they don’t ask for any fee to include you in their catalog. Some real agencies have this as well to prevent people who are not serious from applying. But if you want to ignore it, make sure that none of the other points is a match as well.

An exhaustive catalog that lacks definition

If the agency has a million different artists without a clear direction or categorization, this is a problem. Especially if it comes together with membership fees. Do the math yourself. If you take the membership fee, they asked for and multiply it with the artist in the catalog, is there an additional need for the agency to sell any jobs or are they already set?

No active promotion

If they don’t offer any other promotion besides the catalog on their website, they probably don’t put in any work. Ignore this for agencies that are big in their respective industries.

No detail interest in you or your work

If the agency is asking for no or very little detail or reference material, you should ask yourself how are they going to sell you. The same goes if they never ask for updates of your work or references.

When your agency contract has multiple of the issues mentioned reconsider, don't sign it.

Automated registration

If you can sign up online and pop up on their homepage without ever talking (or writing) with an actual human, it does not look like there is an interest in providing quality as obviously nobody reviewed your application.

You need to use their photographer or videographer

When your material is good, and they still want you to create new things with their photographer or camera guys, and you need to pay for it. If they cover the costs, it should be fine.

They don’t require a written contract

A contract is there to secure both parties in your working relationship. Only forgo this if you know that guys personally and you trust them.

Sign Now

If they use a time-constraint to put pressure on you to sign the contract. If they see your work as a benefit for their agency and not only your money, there is no reason to make a fast deal but a good one.

You know nobody

If the agency is active in your area, it is improbable that you know nobody in their catalog. Check with your circle if anyone knows the other dancers to find out if they are real or fake.

Not every agency is a scam, and there is no need for paranoia. But when you encounter multiple of the points above, it is probably wise to continue your search instead of signing.

Booking Agency vs Self Booking – a comparison

Booking Agency vs Self Booking

Having enough shows to dance is one of the central points of setting up your dance business when you choose performances as part of your portfolio. There are two general approaches to it: having one or more agents taking care of it or doing it yourself. Both ways have their advantages that we will look into right now.

Working with an agent or agency.

The two main benefits of having an agent are that you can focus on your dance and shows without getting distracted and that the agent probably has a much bigger network of potential customers than you. These two points alone are reason enough for most artists to work with an agent. In fact, I recommend working with an agent if you can. When making performances a central part of your dance business, you should always have new shows and skills ready. It helps when you can put the hours you would need for booking into your abilities and appearances.

The downsides of the work with an agent are that a part of the fee that the customer pays goes to the agent and that in some cases, you don’t have complete control about how your act is presented. Both things can be countered. The fee thing by putting in the contract with the agency that their fee goes on top of yours and the presentation issue by providing high-quality material on your own. This means you already have good photos, a visually pleasing description of your act, a trailer, and a fully recorded show available. The agent will then work with what you provide.

It is crucial to set up a contract with your agency that regulates precisely how the partnership works, so both parties can benefit from it. Here are the points to cover:

  • What do you have to provide?
  • What does the agent do to acquire shows for you? Does he only sell your existing shows or also send you to auditions for other productions? Does the agency provide additional advertising material? If yes, do you have the last word regarding the content?
  • How much is the agent’s fee, and is it on top or part of your payment?
  • Can you book shows on your own or with another agent? An exclusive contract would mean that all the shows you dance have to be booked via that agency. A non-exclusive agreement allows you to do work without that agency, as well. I recommend not to sign an exclusive deal, except the agent guarantees a volume of work that is sufficient for you, as part of the written contract.
  • Reaction times. Both parties need to get a quick response from the other one. You need to confirm availability or fees quickly. The agent needs to bring all the necessary info for the shows and should take care of customer questions. More often than not, he will need answers from you for that.
  • Payment conditions. Do you invoice the customer, and the agent invoices you for their fee, or does he invoice the customer, and you invoice the agent? In both cases, you should be fast and know how to write a proper invoice.

One thing about good manners: when you are booked via an agency, you also represent them to a certain degree. Be professional and don’t hand out private business cards. When you are there via an agency, they usually provide business cards that you can hand out to people who are looking for a show. Even if your contract is non-exclusive, it is not ok to bypass the agency with follow up jobs. If they don’t provide cards, ask them what contact you should give away if asked.

Doing it on your own.

The advantage of being a self-booker is total control. But this control also comes with sole responsibility. You will keep all the money, but if you sweat aspects of the business, your show numbers will be low.

You should set up a website, promo material that you can send out, be fast to reply to customer inquiries, and be good with networking. Obviously, you don’t need a contract with yourself, but you think about having contracts with your customers. It is not necessary in every case, but when there are disagreements, a contract helps to solve them fast.

When you work without an agent, it is also easier to experiment with the price of your shows as you can change it on the fly to cope with the customer situation.

Here are the essential points to have in mind:

  • Be reachable. Reply to your emails every workday and answer your phone. Not responding fast enough might equal a missed show opportunity.
  • Be able to send promo material fast. This means you have it collected in a folder that you can send as an email attachment, and you also have it online where you only need to send a link. Be able to send that link from your smartphone for faster response time.
  • If you dance together with others, make it clear that they need to be able to confirm availability fast as well. You can not confirm a show before you know you have the dancers available.
  • Be proactive, approach potential customers with show offers that fit their needs.
  • Do your homework. When you approach customers, research what they are doing and on what scale. A small society will have another budget than a multi-million dollar company. Don’t be the guy who knows nothing about the people he talks to.
  • Know your worth. Your show has a price. Be sure about the starting point for your negotiations before picking up the phone or writing an email. You can adapt along the way. Talk about the price early in your negotiations. Don’t fix details, book hotels, or flights before you agreed on your fee. It’s a negotiation tactic to agree on many parts, so you are already in the mood of saying yes, and save the weak spot for the end. Don’t fall into that trap, especially when you are not used to negotiations.  
  • Know your needs. Customers need to know what are the prerequisites for your show. How many space do you need? Floor conditions? How many people are traveling and performing? Do you bring the sound digital or a CD? Do you need separate dressing rooms, or is one enough? Wam Up space? If you are far away from home, consider hotel and food. Travel costs, if you go by car. Depending on your show, not everything might be applicable, or there might be additional points. You have to know those.

My general recommendation is to go with an agent who offers you a non-exclusive deal. It saves you so much time that you can invest in honing your craft, which will ultimately keep on top of your game. The non-exclusive agreement allows you to join a dance company that books their own gigs and also take show requests that come directly to you.