Selling and distributing art has always been a pain in the ass, but blockchain offers a potential solution with NFTs – which stands for Non-Fungible Token. Imagine being able to sell your piece of work, which can be everything that you can bring into the digital space, immediately and worldwide with 100% proof of who created it, who bought and therefore owns it, and built-in mechanics to collect royalties if it is resold. That is the concept behind NFTs.
How does it work?
A blockchain is a list of transactions. When you create an NFT, you summon a token that represents your work in the digital space. This token has a smart contract attached. A smart contract is just a fancy term for a code (a programme) that handles the sales and ownership. If someone buys the work, ownership is transferred (as if you would buy a painting). But the blockchain will forever show that you are the creator. Suppose the new owner decides to sell it again. In that case, the smart contract will automatically send a % of the resell price – defined in the smart contract – to you. No intermediaries needed.
Honestly, not yet. NFTs are slowly drifting into the mainstream, and everyone who gets on board now can be considered an early adopter. Not super early, but still. If you want to use them now, you need to be a little bit tech-savvy and interested in how these things work.
At the moment, NFTs are priced and bought in cryptocurrency. This will likely remain the status quo for a while. But with the rise of NFTs, there will be apps and service providers that will make it easy for everyone to enter the NFT space.
I suggest you get on-board immediately, but I understand if you want to watch the space first. Just don’t sleep on it and miss a potential opportunity that could unleash your work. Early adopters are always the ones who profited most when “their” tech goes mainstream.
My experiences with NFTs
I tried it and created my own NFT. As I can’t record a more significant dance piece right now, I went with a comic that speaks to the crypto-community. I am not a painter myself, so I commissioned the piece. Setting up the contract was a matter of 30 minutes, but I already had a crypto-wallet ready for use.
Until now, I did not run into any issues technically. I am currently promoting the piece on Twitter around crypto-folks and hope someone buys it.
It cost me around 0,17 ETH (which is EUR 230 at the moment of this writing), including the artwork itself and the fees to set up the smart contract.
As my intent is not selling but getting my head around how it works, I priced the token relatively high for what it offers. If someone buys – nice, if not – I have a token that predicts the future of cryptocurrency, created in 2021 – before the whole world started talking about NFTs.
I write a lot about the work and life of a professional dancer. Recently someone asks me when I consider someone to be a professional dancer. Good question. Let’s check it out.
What is a professional dancer?
When we look at the words’ definition only, we conclude that a professional dancer is someone who earns his money with dancing. That’s it if we are looking into terminology and what I use to determine if someone is a pro.
What we associate with the word professional
The word professional is loaded with a lot of meaning that is not really part of the package. Here is a list of things:
better than amateurs
always on time
know exactly what they do
always available for serious work
do everything as long as you pay them
knows how to behave
And the list goes on. All of these can be true but don’t have to be.
There is also a difference in the mindset between two kinds of people who do business with dance. As much as I’d love to avoid this distinction, it often comes back to me in the form of “but he is not a professional dancer” or something that rhymes with it.
The professional dancer and the dance entrepreneur
You can be both, but most peeps aren’t. The regular professional dancers focus absolutely on their craft – the dance. They perform, teach and compete. That is the lifestyle that we love and surrounds the dance when you look at it outside the dance world.
The dance entrepreneurs dance as well, but they look for opportunities outside the dance as well to nurture their business. This can be the addition of work that synergizes with dance or doing jobs where knowing dance is a prerequisite. These could be social influencers, event promoters, corporate consultants, creatives, or health service providers who specialize in dance topics.
When I talk about the dance business, I usually speak about both of those and I would be happy if we would not need to separate those two.
The detail that makes all the difference
For many professional dancers, the perceived challenge is merely finding and doing more dance jobs. They care a lot about the question, “how can I get more dance jobs?” Whatever answer we find to that question is not the answer to building a sustainable and secure lifestyle around dance.
There are 2 particular reasons:
As long as we look for jobs created by others, we are manoeuvring ourselves deeper into dependency and into a territory of pseudo-employment.
If our only income source is the jobs we can do, we have a serious issue if we can’t do these jobs anymore. Injuries, government-regulations, loss of interest of the corporations giving us those gigs, … you name it. Almost everyone in dance knows someone who had to quit due to injuries. We can feel the pain of government regulations as a response to the pandemic right now. So this threat is real.
As an entrepreneur, you know about the importance of having multiple streams of income. Independence is the game, as is getting rid of middle-men where possible. This does not mean we can not do gigs with companies or dance paid shows with others. Both are significant parts of almost every dance business I know. The difference is that we don’t want to depend on them and have enough to offer on our own.
Then dance entrepreneur looks for additional ways to offer value and earn money. It is not important which kind you are, as long as you love what you do and feel secure enough. But when you feel the pain of uncertainty and the need for more stability, try to find additional income sources that synergize with what you do. Because you are leaving money behind and make your life harder than it needs to be.
The headline is dramatic, I know, but so is the emotional impact of slaving away at work if you don’t care about it. Deep down, you think that the work you do is not worth doing. You know that there is something more fulfilling or even meaningful for you. If you don’t act on that, some of you (probably your subconsciousness – but I’m no psychologist so take the details with a grain of salt) will tell you that you are a loser, a slave or worse.
To lead a fulfilled life, you need to have the whole you on the team, not a part of you throwing punchlines to your head all the time. Trust me, I have been there, felt that, have quit the job and now life is better.
Deadlines can be a catalyst for good work if you care about what you do. If you don’t, deadlines create unnecessary and unhealthy stress. Most jobs nowadays consist of holding multiple deadlines a week.
Someone else defines that what you do is urgent, but you disagree because it is simply not important.
Living a life, you don’t care about
If you don’t care for the work you do and are working a regular 9 to 5, you spent most of your life sleeping and doing stuff you don’t care about.
That’s one of the things you should read again.
You can simply test out the waters.
There is no need to quit your job immediately if you feel that dance is calling for you. Start it as a side-hustle and see if you can earn some extra money. If you can, slowly decrease your regular work and increase your dance biz.
The good thing is: if you find out, dance is not for you, you can just quit the side-hustle or go back to a regular job. The commitment is not eternal.
Job security is a lie.
With any given crisis, you can lose your “secure” job as well. So there is no need to pretend it is more secure than doing what you love.
Build your vision
You either build your vision or help someone else build theirs. So you always help to make something. What reason is there to help to create something you don’t identify with. What reason is there to slave away in a job you hate?
You owe it to yourself.
You should treat yourself with enough respect to a least try doing something you love. You don’t want to look back at your life and wonder “what if I had become a pro dancer”, do you?
Research is an essential component in most contemporary works of art and also in a lot of jobs that aren’t related to art at all. The opinions what research is and how to research appropriately vary by great lengths. This is my point of view on this topic.
Not all research is equal
Depending on your project, your requirements for research will differ. In a scientific paper, you will need to quote all sources, verify their credibility and do so as well for the sources of your sources, if you want to be taken seriously. When you research for an artistic project like a stage piece, it might be sufficient to find opinions instead of facts, so the need for verification of every source might not be needed.
If your art wanders into the fields of political activism (which is indeed often the case and the premise for the core of this article), you better dig deep and make sure that you are telling the truth or you risk to lose all credibility when it easy to debunk your claims. People tend to not believe people again, once they could find a lie themselves.
Tools of research
Access to information via the internet seems to make research much easier than ever before. This is partially true. It is easier than ever before to find info about every topic, but the quality of that information is not as reliable as it was in a time when putting out information was harder to do.
Nevertheless, our research usually starts online. Google the topic. Make your search specific and not generic. If you consider censorship and filter-bubbles as an issue (you should) do the same search with another search engine (like duckduckgo) that is not based on Google.
Search social networks, discussion forums, community pages and specialized sites for info on the topic. Don’t stop after checking Facebook and Youtube. These two platforms are owned by the biggest corporations that earn money, with your data and preferences. They cater strongly to what they think you want to read. Specific discussion forums and alternative networks that don’t earn money with your data should be your preferred sources online. Examples would be reddit or the social network minds. Which platforms you go to depends on the topics you search for. I already wrote about alternative social media platforms, if you want to dig deeper into that topic.
Check out documentaries about the topic.
During steps 1 – 3, you hopefully picked up some names of experts for your topic. Grab their books from the library if they published something, check their blog, social media and whatever is available. If possible, get in contact and talk or write with them.
If they reference others in their work, repeat the steps above with those people as well. This can be a time-consuming loop until you really get to the point when you find the source of something.
Don’t prefer one opinion over the other, just because it suits your point of view. Check all theories with the same enthusiasm and depth of research, until you debunk or confirm them.
The fewer sources you have, the less reliable your information.
The farther away your sources are from the origin of the information, the less reliable your info.
Spreading false information will hurt your reputation.
So will sharing misleading information.
If you consider your topics to be the target of censorship and your primary sources are platforms that use algorithms to decide what they show you, you are doing it wrong.
In the end, research always comes down to asking the right questions. Only you can know what these questions should. Be honest to yourself and invest enough time to come up with everything important to your project.
Last week we talked about the elements that we need to master to run a dance business (and I strongly believe it is the same for almost every other business) and become a professional dancer. What we did not cover are the actual possibilities that we have to create income with. I separate those into primary possibilities and secondary ones. The primary ones being the things that directly involve your dancing skills and the secondary ones being things that you can apply your dance knowledge to and therefore turn them into dance-related work.
Let’s look at the primary ones. While all of these are very diverse on the inside, you can split it up into four general activities.
Performing can be summed up by “dancing for an audience”. It is not relevant what kind of “piece” you perform or in what “stage situation”. Productions can be contemporary pieces, dance theatre, muscials, commercial shows, streetshows and performing for movies, music videos or ads in front of a camera. If you put in the work, performing can bring you a stable income.
For most of us performing is done on a freelance base where you write an invoice and must take care of everything tax-related yourself. If you are really lucky you can get into a standing company that can employ you. In this case, they would pay for your insurance and tax. The downside of performing is that it is not completely in your hand how many shows you can do, because you never know how many gigs you will book.
Teaching is your solid base for any dance business
Out of these four primary work fields teaching is the one that is most reliable in terms of a steady income. It might not be the one you can earn the most money with, but it provides a good amount of stability and security. As soon as you have your classes established and running you know how many people come to you. Therefore you know how much cash will be in your pocket at the end of the month.
Teaching can be done as a freelancer or employed. Depending on the laws in your country, only one of these options might be legal. The downside of teaching: if you have a lot of classes it might feel like a regular job and can get boring if you are not good at motivating yourself.
Creating the choreography for performances, shows or camerawork is one of the opportunities that can earn you a lot of money in a short time. If you are booked by a big production to do this job you develop the dance and rehearse with the cast until they can do it. Then your job is done.
While they do the performances, you are already good to go and work on the next job. Downside: You need some strong references or a good network to book the jobs that pay well.
Competing is part of the marketing for your dance business
You can earn money by winning battles. There is price money out there. But the events that have a proper amount of it are rare, and the competition is fierce. If you are not top of the pops – this will not work.
In my opinion, competitions should never be seen as an income stream. There are other reasons to join competitions like building your name, testing your skills and having fun, but for most of us, it is not an option to rely on.
So far so good, let’s look into some secondary possibilities that can directly benefit your dance career development:
Working in or running an artist agency
An evergreen that has tremendous value. If you are doing the booking in an agency that books dancers you might be able to book some good jobs for yourself or for your crew. As no serious agency gives gigs to people they don’t know you are going to meet a lot of people aspiring to a dance career that might be future colleagues on stages.
Therefore you are sitting on the source for jobs and potential new colleagues. Of course, your agency needs to be cool with you doing this, but if you do great work and have the skills to convince on stage, there should not be a problem. On a side note: if you are running the agency yourself it’s no problem at all.
Producing stage pieces
This one is big. It is a shitload of work but can pay off. I live in Austria and at the time I started there was no hip hop dance theatre in the country. In 2006 we started working on changing that – and we did. In the last 10 years, Austrian dance companies, crews and solo artists created more than 15 pieces in a genre that did not exist before in our country. I call this good work. *brofist to everyone who did a piece or show, you guys know who you are*
At the start, most people tend to choreograph and dance in the pieces they produce. So you just created the opportunity for you to do more work. If you are creating pieces for more dancers, you start meeting new people again and grow your network.
Making the event
Creating Dance Events is as big as producing for the stage. You help your scene to grow. You build opportunities and depending on your kind of event you get to dance yourself. Possible events are jams, competitions, theatre, workshops and so on. You can get really creative with this one. The best thing about making events happen is that you really meet a lot of people that dance too. If you treat them well they will eventually become a great addition to your professional network.
And now on to some possibilities that where you can fill a niche that might be unreachable for someone without dance background.
This list is a little bit longer and more creative than the one before. Most of the following jobs are perfectly doable without any knowledge about dance. But being able to dance or having the daily practise that you need to stay on top of your game will give you an edge here. In some cases, you can use your knowledge to become an expert in a niche, which is always an advantage. The list is in no specific order.
I put those two together, which does not mean you need to do both, but all points are valid for both. Every event that wants to grow requires proper documentation or ads. As a dancer, you have a better understanding of what to shoot and can produce better images. You can also use this to create products like photo books, prints or movies that might give you some income through sales.
Dancing is trendy at the moment, and a lot of companies are investing in the scene to grow their revenue. If there is some expert knowledge needed for blogs, copy or whatever, your experience sets you apart from the people who can write but know nothing (like john snow). If you have valuable stuff to say you might be able to publish a book and create income through sales.
Be it on your own channels, on tv productions for upcoming big events, or online live streams. Breaking (which we don’t call Breakdance, remember?) is slowly entering the realms of sports and sports have commentators. With Olympia 2024 incoming, all the qualifying events that lead up to it and even existing events like the yearly Red Bull BC One World Final, that already has multilungal commentary, the demand for dance expertise will only rise.
Sometimes a role asks for someone well versed with moving and doing stuff with his body that untrained people can’t. I produced short movies myself and heard more than once that it is so refreshing to see “actors” on the screen that know how to move.
Most dancers that practise hard have a physique that goes well with being a model. As you train your body regularly you are always in shape when a request comes in. I have a lot of colleagues that do model and dance back to back. The only bad thing about modelling: if you are a living photobomb like me, it does not work.
Dance needs music. The DJ provides it. While you are not actively dancing behind the decks, you are there at a lot of events and get paid. On good events, the DJs does not have to work the whole night alone. In that case, there is still time to hit the cyphers when your backup is playing.
When you have the taste and the skills to create danceable music: go for it. Dancers are always on the search for new music. If you can deliver, you have nothing to worry about. This is another one that can add money from selling your music or through royalties.
New trends are coming up in the fitness world every day. At the moment of this writing, Breakletics is a thing, as well as dance fitness. If you are into this stuff, you can seriously pimp your income because people are fast in spending money on their “healthy lifestyle”. I did some of those earlier in my career, and these were the most profitable classes with the most participants I ever had. And this might go very well with being a fitness model for the club you are working at.
This one could be in the other category (stuff that aids your dance career) as well. Some people get deep into Yoga, Pilates, Feldenkrais or some similar practises. While I am well aware that those are very different, this makes no difference in our business perspective. If you get deep enough into something, teaching might come naturally for you. That is the case here. Like the fitness trainer above, it is one hell of a chance to add substantially to your income. Some of my friends established themselves as the dance experts in physiotherapy. A smart move and it works. Maybe you can design a yoga class tailored to the need of dancers.
I almost forgot about this one. If you build yourself a reputation that will get you invited to judge significant events, then you can earn money with judging. This said you need to get to the big battles. Smaller competitions can pay you most of the time, but the income is not significant.
I am pretty sure I forgot something, probably a lot of things. If you can think of additional dance business ideas, let me know in the comments and I will add it to the list. And I will give credits for helping me out. With the work fields above there is one important thing. While you can make money with them, you need to be good. Doing any of those bad will damage your reputation while killing time you should use for dancing. So there is no easy-going in any of those.
Secondary work fields are things where you do not actively dance, so they take away time from your dancing. This sounds not too beneficial at first sight but there are reasons why you might want to include secondary work fields in your job setup.
your secondary job benefits your active dance career (the first list of secondaries)
your knowledge of dance qualifies you for a job that non-dancers could not do or makes your results better than from a non-dancer (the second list of secondaries). This makes negotiating higher fees/salary easier.
you are not yet able to support all your financial needs by dancing alone.
you are not that much into “the hustle” and appreciate the stable extra income.
the point we never want to talk about: a lot of the secondaries can provide stability and income when you are not able to dance because of an injury or because you need a break or even when it is time to say goodbye to your active dance career. I know we don’t talk about this. But it is wise to think about it and have a plan.
As a research task for you on the path to becoming a fulltime dance entrepreneur and creating your personal dance business plan (fancy wordings over here) think about which of the possibilities above might work for you. Where do you have the right skills? What do you enjoy? What would be a thing that you would love to learn that could play into your work in a reasonable amount of time? Go through your options and map them out on paper. There is power in seeing what you can do in writing.
Clear communication is one of the essential pillars of running your business. It optimises workflows and saves you and your customers a lot of headaches. If neglected, it is a guaranteed set up for misunderstandings, that can damage your relationship with the customer or partner (fellow performers, booking agencies, etc).
The goal of clear communication
We aim to answer all necessary questions and make requirements as well as the outcome clear for everyone. One issue that arises regularly is that details remain unclear because one side thinks they are apparent while the other side is unaware of the point at all.
Let’s take a show booking as an example: the following points require clarification:
Time of the show
The arrival time of the dancers
Is there a soundcheck/tech rehearsal? If yes, when?
How do you deliver the music?
Space requirements/availability for the show
Which floor is in the venue? It there the need to bring PVC or something else?
How many dancers are part of the show (is not needed in every case, especial when the group is big)
Do you need additional rehearsal-time on the stage due to insufficient space?
Is there a dressing room for the dancers? Do you share it with another group? Can you lock it?
Who is the contact person for the dancers on-site? How can we reach them?
Who is the main contact person on your team for the customer? Make sure they have the phone number.
How much does the show cost? Include travel expenses or at least negotiate that they are covered.
Is catering provided for the team (not necessary in every case but you should clarify it)
If the show is late or the travel is long: who takes care of accommodation?
Depending on the type of shows you do, there might be more or less points to discuss, but it is more than the regular customer thinks about when he is not used to booking a show.
The principle is the same for every business communication.
The rules of clear communication
Don’t assume. If something is unclear, ask.
Try to speak/write in a language that avoids technical terms or explain them. Your counterpart might not know those.
Have it in written form so that everybody can revisit it, in case of uncertainty.
Don’t be afraid of being the one who points out that some parts are still unclear or missing. While some people might perceive it as counterproductive or even rude in the beginning, everyone will thank you in the long run.
Make it a habit to make things clear
Making things 100% clear for everyone gives you and everyone involved the security of knowing what’s up. There are neither loose ends nor room for interpretation.
That is precisely what we want in our business. Applying clear communication standards to all of our business talks/mails lets you work and sleep better.
For many aspiring dancers, the most significant topic that seems to hinder career progress is the acquisition of jobs. Without an appropriate network, it becomes even harder to create momentum and establish yourself, more so if you even lack a crew. Let’s add being an introvert, which isn’t as outgoing and has a hard time connecting.
A lot of companies are not casting at all. The reason for that, in my opinion, is that a lot of choreographers and directors know who they want for a specific role, while creating the piece – long before the rehearsals start. Organising a casting and checking other dancers, is a waste of time and money, if you already have your preferences. It’s not happening to exclude anyone, but makes much more sense from a production point of view as you can invest your time and money better.
To make things even worse: not all countries have a big developed scene. Depending on your location, there might be only one or two companies that are doing the kind of pieces you want to dance in. If there are only two companies and none of them is casting, you are out of luck – or so it seems.
So, what to do to get more jobs?
1. Get out of your comfort zone and invest in your network
I know, this is is not the answer that satisfies the real introvert dancer, but it is the best advice, to get ahead when you consider only the business side of things.
There is a saying that goes “your network is your net worth.” In most cases, this is true. The more people you know that are creating pieces, manage dance companies, or book shows, the better your chances to be considered for either the work itself or at least being invited to castings.
This means you can’t spend the whole night in the cypher. There are times to dance, and there are times to talk.
Of course, there are other things you can do, to get more dance jobs, but be warned that this advice #1 is the one that gives you the best results.
2. Do your own research
No matter what kind of production you want to dance in, you need to know when there is an opportunity to join. Those opportunities are not always obvious or easy to find.
Google and social media are your best friends. Research all the companies and crews that do the work you want to do, within the area that you are eager to travel. Bookmark their websites, follow their social media accounts and get on their email list if they have one. Some companies have a list for notifications on upcoming castings only.
Find and join groups on facebook, telegram, reddit or whichever social media platform you prefer. If you really want it, get on all of them.
There are print magazines out there that have calendars with upcoming shows and auditions. Additional potential sources of opportunities are dance universities, private education facilities or the culture departments of administration. Depending on your countries policies, some companies might be required to publish their auditions there.
3. Consider other genres
Many dancers only want to be part of productions within their scene. Means a hip hop dancer only wants to be in shows from hip hop dancers. There are many opportunities outside your scene. As a hip hop dancer consider auditions for contemporary pieces. Choreographers from there often appreciate the additional movement vocabulary and open to cooperations. Contemporary dance is much more established and therefore usually has more active companies.
4. Nourish your existing relationship with companies
If you booked and with a company or choreographer and enjoyed the work, stay in touch. Find out when something new comes up and let them know you are interested. Show up at shows and interact on social media from time to time. You might be invited to audition again or go directly to the show, if you fit the role.
5. Get to know the others
When you are in a production, take the time to get to know your fellow dancers. More often than not, people dance in one production but run their own projects as well.
6. Be versatile
The broader your repetoire, the easier it is for others to fit them into their production. If you can only do one dance style, your are limited to roles that require precisely this one dancestyle. If you have a solid foundation in many styles or are a real jack-of-all-trades, you can fulfil multiple roles.
7. Be more than a dancer
When you can do more than dance, your value to smaller companies, who don’t have everything covered, increases a lot. In small productions it often happens that the choreographer dances in the piece. Can you provide music, do dramaturgy, create costumes, stage design, shoot videos or photos? Whatever you can offer might be your ticket in.
8. Run the show yourself
This one is counter-intuitive at first but has proven correct many times. When there are no jobs, start creating them yourself. Make a piece, create jobs and people start showing up. If you are valuable to others on the same path, they will consider you for their projects as well.
Make it easy for people to see that you can do the job. Have videos online, that show what you are good at. If you are a fantastic storyteller, create some narrative dance clips. Good at choreography? Choreograph the shit out of that super complex or emotional track.
10. Bring your fans
First, I suck at this one – because my following on social media is super small, but it is still a thing. If you have a lot of fans or even just followers on social media, that make a significant difference for the group you want to work with, play that card.
When you are based in the town where the production of company X premieres and your local fans are enough to sell out the theatre, only the most established companies will be able to resist. That’s leverage.
Not every point will work for everyone. I consider #1 the best advice in general, as being able to do what needs to be done to create your network is a skill that will benefit you in your business forever.
#2 is also an essential skill in today’s information society and will give you many more opportunities. It is just essential to dig deep in your research.
#5, #6, #7 and #8 are the points that I used myself. I was never the best dancer in any production, but I always had way more to offer than my dance skills and I produced my own pieces as well. That helped we grow my network and build a reputation as someone who makes stuff happen.
You don’t have to work all the suggestions above. Check out which feel right for you and focus on those. If you can apply #1 and #2, go for it and add some of the others for extra spice.
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.
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
Four Steps to a sustainable dance career
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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?
The Artist Identity is at the core of your marketing process. Most issues in independent (means self-made) marketing come from the lack of definition and therefore the potential fans not knowing what to expect. The Artist Identity is a universal idea that is as true in the dance industry as it is in the music business or any other endeavor that requires Marketing. But what is it?
The artist identity is a curated version of yourself that emphasizes your work and the message you want to send out while hiding everything irrelevant. It also takes your target audience and market into consideration.
The Artist Identity is the perceived image of you, as an artist, by the audience. It is the promise to your fans what they can expect when consuming your work. It is the story you tell.
two fundamentally different approaches to the definition/creation process. I
will call them the artist-first-approach and the market-first-approach. Both
are extremes that lead to potential upcoming issues in the artist’s career, and
I recommend taking the best from both worlds to create your process.
The artist-first-approach follows the idea of not creating an Artist Identity at all but by merely going with who the artist is. It would mean you are 100% real with yourself and the audience about everything and let the people who love this find you. As great as this sounds, it fails to take into consideration that every one of us has some weird sides, that might be detrimental to building a consistent story that resonates with an audience that is big enough to make a sustainable career around. It also fails when dealing with people who just have no idea of who they are or who they want to be.
The market-first-approach is what has been done by the big players in the music industry for decades. They studied trends in the market, understood what people considered cool and created artificial artist personas (just another fancy term for the Artist Identity) to match these needs. For that, it was essential to find a new artist without a developed identity and tailor his story to what sells well. That is still common practice in pop music, especially with young artists who might not be sure about who they really are themselves. This approach bears a high risk of the artist becoming unsatisfied with her playing a role instead of following her own intentions and ideas. That might backfire in the long-term.
As mentioned before, I recommend taking the best of both approaches. You start by clearly understanding who you are and what moves you. You think about what you do and the reasons behind it. We already answered a lot of these questions when thinking about Your Bigger Picture and Artisan or Originator. By making the motivations and interests of you the main inspiration for the Artist Persona, you ensure that you are motivated in the long run to stick with the identity that you created.
Step by Step to your
Let’s do this in a structured way. Step by step. I recommend you take notes. Here is how to create/find your Artist Identity:
You need to
answer these questions to make sure you know the foundation you are building
the future of your project on. They are the building stones of what you are
doing. If they are not right, the rest is not going to work. When you meet
issues based on the wrong foundation along the way, you can correct them, but
it is much more work than getting it right in the beginning.
Who are you and What are you doing?
Why are you doing it?
What is your vision of a better
world, aka Your Bigger Picture?
If you are
already settled in your identity and far on your way of character-development the
answers can be simple but going into depth has advantages along the way because
you know more details. In the example, we will go with easy answers from my
perspective to make the article not unnecessarily complicated and lengthy.
My simple answer to #1 would be a dancer. While
this would be the obvious one, it is not detailed enough and would not match
what I really do. If I dig deeper and check with myself honestly what I do, I
arrive at “telling stories with dance as my primary and writing my secondary
means of communication”. Does not sound too sexy now, but it is a much
better start. With the original answer (“a dancer”) I would put
myself in a position to compete with guys like Les Twins and thousands of other
people who are just better than me when we talk about dancing. That’s not a
good position to be in when we talk about business.
I am doing this because I was drawn to
experiencing and presenting stories ever since, but never by merely telling
them. Long before I started to dance, I was into role-playing games (DSA and
Shadowrun for my fellow players), mostly as the game master. I organised
multiple LARPs, which are Live Action Role Playing games – impro theatre
without an audience, just for the pleasure of the guys playing. As soon as I
felt a little confident in my skills, I created my first own dance theatre
piece and later short movies. During all these times I danced myself (in
battles or other productions), but all the projects I launched on my own have
that story-driven background.
In my bigger picture, everyone has something he
or she likes to do, that adds value to the life of others. Everyone should be
able to do exactly that in his life and be able to earn a living doing it.
What are your influences
in the section above are of general nature. Influences and interests are, in my
opinion, where our ideas and topics come from. It’s where we look for
inspiration, where we take our topics from or what shaped our world views. They
are specific. It’s the genres we watch/read, the music we listen to, the
passions we follow, our hobbies and the ways we waste our time with. It’s also
our upbringing, our education and therefore the way we think.
these points helps us stay consistent as we know the things our mind is drawn
I am from a working family – Mum and Dad had
regular jobs to feed the family. Mom in day-care and Dad ran his own software
company. I was in a technical school and graduated as a software engineer. Since
school, my mind is wired to take the logical approach to every issue it is
I did a good amount of martial arts in my life
– with Judo being the one I stayed with for the longest. I did it for 9 years
and held a first dan (black belt) when I quit. I guess it’s fair to say Martial
Arts were the defining thing in my teenage years. Judo is a full-contact
discipline, so one gets used to rough handling.
As already teased above my other interests were
in the realms of RPGs and as a software developer of course videogames (for me
that cliché is true). The topics or genres I follow are mostly Science Fiction
(especially Cyberpunk) and Fantasy (both with a postapocalyptic touch). I love
those because they usually deal with the same topics that we must deal within
our lives but disguise them as something completely different. I hope to be
able to do that in my work as well.
that we have collected this bit of information, what do we make from it? We use
it to create our persona in a way that can stay consistent.
For me, it would not be wise to create my
Artist Identity around being a wealthy kid, that is a fantastic choreography
dancer from an art school and promote following your gut feeling. I could not
keep up with one of these parts, let alone all three. Playing a role is not in
the interest of us, because we are here for the long term and being real with
yourself makes a consistent game much more pleasant.
Your main discipline
your primary way of reaching your audience? Probably by dancing, I know. But
how do you approach it? Common in dance is entertainment, education and
competition. Not saying these are the only three but in most cases at least one
of them fits.
is precise, I guess – you dance or create dance pieces that are there to amaze
people. Education means you help people grow in some way. Competition means you
are out in the arena to proof you are the best – this can be battles,
choreography contests but also competitive art exhibitions. These disciplines
are not mutually exclusive, but it helps to define your main.
I see myself in the education field. While I
try to make my work as entertaining as possible, my main interest is to make
people think about what I want to tell them. This goes well with my analytical
thinking and writing. I guess there is no question that the article you read
right now can be considered education as well.
Up to this
point, we looked at ourselves, the work we do and what we want to
represent. We will now change our perspective
and look at our potential audience.
the answers we collected until now we think about the promise – the offer we
make to people what they will get from us. From there, we develop a matching
lifestyle and the cultural/social aspects that go well with our message. It
will also help us to define topics for visuals and promotional content in
is a creative task that you should take enough time to complete thoroughly.
There is no silver bullet to this one. Everything that came before and comes
after are abstract methods that are similar for everyone. This one is about
taking time and condensing everything you know into a neat package.
My promise is “I will show you my art, help you
to create yours and give you the knowledge to turn it into a business if you
Often the key message might not translate into a slogan. That’s not a problem. You don’t tell people but show. The following examples will work fine, as well:
“I will blow your mind with creative concepts and movement design”. (Would work as the promise from Phillip Chbeeb @phillipchbeeb)
“I will show you how we did it back in the days”. (Could be from Buddha Stretch @buddhastretch)
“When you join me, you will see some sexy choreography pieces”. (Fits Jade Chynoweth @jadebug98)
I did not ask any of these guys for their Artist Identity planning. But by looking at their presentation I found that the examples above work. Only the single sentence I made up, catches the essence of what you can expect from these artists. It’s easy to understand, and that is the point.
What we share
The next step is to define what we want to share with people. Other people call this defining the lifestyle and culture around the artist, which is valid to some extent, but I dislike calling it like that. We are not changing our lifestyle or culture. We are choosing what to show people. This step should take everything into consideration that we already know from this text and include the insights from Your Bigger Picture, Artisan or Originator and your chosen work fields (primary and secondary if you have multiple).
your lifestyle (the real-life you live). What parts of it are relevant and
exciting for someone who might take you by the word of your promise? Don’t make
a mistake and think it’s all of it. Most people are not interested in your
morning routine, diet or family affairs when they are there to watch excellent
movement design and creative concepts like promised in the first example above.
Maybe some hardcore fans want to know that later down the road, but that is a
topic for another time.
Here I am, more or less talent-free but a
hard-worker, trying to decide what’s worth sharing: I chose to go with my
finished pieces of work, in some situations the work in progress, the methods I
use to get there, things that inspire me, what I know about dancing and
everything I know about the business. Things I don’t share as part of my Artist
Identity are my private life, parties (except they are part of my work), my
training, pets, and so on.
At the time of this writing, you can not see
this reflected on my social channels as I am working on my first book release
and will tackle the time-consuming tasks of implementing the Artist Identity in
my social media presence after I finished the publication of the book.
you share are there to build trust between you and viewers, and eventually,
they will turn viewers into fans and then true fans. They are what we need. You
remember the theory of 1.000 true fans, don’t you? You want the people to come
back because they love what you offer, and you want them to come back often.
Therefore, it is essential to find the sweet spot of what you can and want to
give and what they want. If you can deliver that, you are set up for success.
Check the things you put out into the world against your decision of what’s part of the image you want to share. When you teach kids as a central pillar of your identity, consider sharing great moments from your workshops instead of drunk pics from your recent parties. Because the kids are watching and teachers have responsibility. On the other hand, if being there at every party you can get is part of your lifestyle and image that you want to spread, you should share these moments.
Refine by research
there are people out there who are doing something similar or even the same you
are doing. Take your time and check how they present themselves, what they
share with the world and try to find the reasons for things that are not
obvious. If something does not make sense, it could be that the artist you are
checking just did not define his persona well or at all.
is working well for others and evaluate if it makes sense to adapt it for
yourself. Is there an agenda that you can adopt that empowers your vision? Can
you add some quotes, that go well with the mood of your presentation? If yes,
see if it aligns with your image. Don’t throw around rough quotes from mixed
martial arts if you are a Yoga guy who is into zen-like mastery of
self-control. Check methods from similar work fields and see if you find ideas
I added writing blogs because I was inspired by
the work of people like Austin Kleon and Seth Godin. Both are authors but run
their own blog to keep the attention of their readers alive in between book
releases. I might adopt specific tactics from them but tactics are details, and
we are talking strategy now.
If you see
something that works and makes sense for you, just add it to your game plan.
You can always change things if you need to.
Take your time with the process presented in that monster of an article. It took me longer to write it as it is the longest text on that blog. You should also invest the time and not rush the development of your Artist Identity. When you are ready, feel free to share them if you want. Or don’t. However, you feel. But you better be confident about your result.
PS: whenever I talk about share in this article, it means showing it to your audience. This includes appearances in real life and in any media. Just adding this, in case it is not obvious that I am talking general and not only in social media terms.
Apropos “share”: if you dig this article, do me a favour and send it to someone who may need this advice. Much appreciated.
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