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Articles about business and entrepreneurship.

Possibilities to build your dance business around

Sketch of different dance business ideas

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). 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

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

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.

Choreography

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

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.

Photography/Videography

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.

Writing

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.

Acting

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.

Modelling

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.

DJing

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.

Producing Music

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.

Fitness Trainer

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.

Yoga/Pilates/whateva teacher

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.

Judging

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.

  1. your secondary job benefits your active dance career (the first list of secondaries)
  2. 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.
  3. you are not yet able to support all your financial needs by dancing alone.
  4. you are not that much into “the hustle” and appreciate the stable extra income.
  5. 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.

The 4 elements of running a dance business

4 colooured pillars and the headline "four elements of running a dance business

Most people who are into dance, flirt with the idea of becoming a professional dancer from time to time. While this is not the right thing for everybody, it is not too hard to pull off for someone who really wants it. With discipline, dedication and honesty about what oneself can do, it is doable, even without any talent. (Talking about myself here, not you :-p)

Being successful in your dance business is no matter of luck. There are four key components you have to take care to create a sustainable income. Only one of them is directly related to dancing. Invest time in all of them and you will see results in a matter of months.

  1. Honing your craft.
  2. Providing value.
  3. Finding your audience.
  4. Building your network.

If you have it all, you will be successful. Let me explain in a little bit more detail.

Honing your Craft

You need to be good at what you do. This is an essential rule in every business. You deliver bad quality, you are out – even when you have everything else down.

Put in the hours into your dance skills, your understanding of the music, your knowledge on how to create shows and how to present yourself. You want to create the illusion that everything you do is super easy and comes naturally to you. Every great dancer delivers this illusion and it is imperative that you can do it too.

This also goes for secondary dance workfields like organising events, judging, or anything where your knowledge and experience as a dancer is the key. But those are a topic for another post.

Providing Value

Giving the people something they crave is the key to success. If you think about it, it is obvious. Nonetheless, it often happens that people try to “sell” things that nobody really needs. Don’t fall into this trap.

The best methods of providing value to peoples lives (from a business point of view) are:

  • teach them
    If someone wants that move but does not get it for years and you help him finally get it, you can be sure you added some value to his life. This goes for everything you can teach dance wise: steps and moves, musical understanding, groves, concepts, choreography, …
  • enlighten them
    If you spark insights that give them an understanding of how they can improve by themselves. This is very similar to teaching but deserves its own place. You can introduce are a certain kind of thought process or sources of inspiration that may help their development. It is more like telling them where to look instead of what to do.
  • entertain them
    Entertainment is one of the biggest industries right now and dance can do it very well. People want to be distracted, they want to be amazed and see things they have never seen before. If you create that show that can take them out of their regular lives for even the shortest amount of time, you will earn your place in the hearts of the people and that is where you ultimately need to be.
  • touch them emotionally
    Connecting to people in a way that you can take them on a journey through more emotions than just enthusiasm is even better. You know the feeling when a movie or music takes you on an emotional rollercoaster, right? That is where your audience needs to be. To be honest: it is not easy and takes a lot of work and/or talent. There are very few dancers and choreographers out there that can do that. If you find out you can do it, look no further for what you should do.

Find your Audience

Jeff Goins writes in his bestseller Real Artists don’t Starve: “in order for art to have an impact, it must first have an audience”. This is another no-brainer if you hear it from somebody else. Building or finding your own audience is still one of the things that a lot of dancers neglect. Dance is art and art is a matter of taste (as soon as a certain level is reached of course). So the people that enjoy your dance might not be the same that enjoy the dance of some of your colleagues and vice versa.

You should take the time and research the people who love to watch your work. Create a place to present what you make and make it easy to find. Luckily today that is not as hard as it used to be. The internet is your best friend. These are some of the tools you can and should use:

  • Your Website
    There is really no excuse to wing this. On your website, you can introduce yourself, show your work, post events or shows you are attending and give people all the info about you. If you have things to sell, you can put it up there too.
  • Social Media
    Social networks help you connect with the people that like what you do. You go there and direct the traffic to your website, where they can learn everything about you. Don’t make the mistake to promote all the time. Spamming people will not bring you sympathy. On social media, the goal is to engage with your audience and build a relationship. When people are comfortable around you, they will care about your promotions as well.
  • Word of Mouth
    Still the strongest form of an ad! If you are recommended to someone by a friend of theirs, your chances are really good that they consider checking your stuff out.
  • Meeting in real life
    If you can meet people and make a real world impression, that is the way to go. The only disadvantage is that you can only be at one place at a time. This means it does not scale well.

Building your Network

This is the same work as building your audience but for a different group of people. Your professional network are the people that you collaborate with or that help you do what you do. It is imperative to have healthy relationships with them and to never let them down as long as they treat you right. Here are some examples of people you should have in your network (depending on your work fields not all may apply):

  • other dancers of course
  • choreographers
  • producers & directors
  • composers
  • musicians
  • booking agents
  • event promoters
  • festival directors
  • photographers
  • videographers
  • an accountant (if you are not into accounting yourself, this one is crucial)

You might not need all of them and depending on your personal niche there might be many more.

Here we have them: the four crucial elements to running your dance business. When you are planning to start your dance business, or you are already earning money with it, I encourage you to grab a notebook and think about all four elements in detail. List your strengths and weaknesses. What value can you offer to people? What do you know about your audience and in which ways do you connect with them? Make a list of your collaborators and see if you miss anyone. There is power in the clarity that you gain from seeing this base-line study in front of you.

From there, we can start to level up.

Let people do their Work

Bernd Christian Gassner / pixelio.de
Foto by Bernd Christian Gassner / pixelio.de

Photo from: Bernd Christian Gassner / pixelio.de

A lot of artists that are building their reputation are used to do a lot of stuff themselves, even stuff that is not really their core competency. We get so comfortable with doint it all, that there is a risk of thinking we can do everything that is related to our work better than others.

Most of the time this happens due to us not having the money to hire experts for some parts of the production. Later when we might have the money or we find people that can do the job, we think it is needless. We overlook that there is a big difference between a job done because we can do it and a job done by an expert who is really good at it.

I just saw this in the festival distribution of our movie Elsewhere. I have sent the movie to festivals myself and we got some screenings. Now a festival agency is taking care of that and within the first month of the cooperation we had new screening and won an award.

As a reminder to myself and everyone who finds himself in the situation from time to time: if you let people do the work they are good at, it pays off.

Marketing vs. Good Work

If you do good work, they will come.

A lot of good people live by that belief. But in my own experience and within of the range of research I did for an upcoming project, it looks like this is not true.

I guess most of us have that friend that is creating either great music, having awesome business concepts or doing some other part of great work for the sole purpose of creating. We have been told, that putting out good work will make the audience come and find you. This might have been true back in the days. Today good work is everywhere because technology helps people creating and so many people can do great work now that was not possible without computers and stuff.

But due to this fact there is a total overload of information and there is a very small chance that people who are looking for what you do, find you without you putting in the work into the marketing side of things too.

Promoting your art and selling it is not bad. There is no selling out if you stay true to your craft and vision. Selling out is doing whatever works in order to get the money.

So the question is not if you should focus on doing good work or marketing. In order to be successfull with your art, you need both.

In order for our work to have an impact, it must first have an audience.

Working together in flexible structures as strategy in niche markets

When active in a nice market people tend to avoid working with other people in the same niche. One is afraid of losing possible customers to the others.

In most cases it is much better to do the opposite and connect with as many active people in your field as possible.

I use an example from our austrian hip hop scene to show why:

There is a loose group of dancers that are responsible for doing a ton of projects, despite the fact that they are not in the same crew. Under different leadership they are doing event management, theater productions, movies, commercial shows, fashion labels and music production. The advantage is that everyone has an experienced workforce and at the same time more work during the year. All of this would not be happening if we avoided each other.

Artists Social Insurance Fund

Today I sent in the last papers for my application to the austrian artists social insurance fund. It pays a part of your social insurance if your work is considered art.

Before 2016 the rules were pretty strict and it was very hard to get accepted. In the beginning of 2016 the rules have been renewed so that you can also apply with work that is teaching art and promoting art.

Therefore I highly encourage you to check if you are within in the rules that qualify you to receive funding from there. The KSVF supports freelance artists that live and work in Austria.

More Info on the Homepage of the KSVF (in german language).

a plea to the djs

Todays post is about laziness … and how it does damage to people that did work that some of us make their money with. DJs that play only their own stuff can stop reading here.

The following stuff is based on laws in Austria. Most countries have their own societies for that and the details in the process may vary but the concept stays the same.

In Austria we have a very controversial insitution: the AKM. It is the copyright collecting society for musicians an composers. This means whenever a piece of music is played in a commercial context, the AKM takes care of giving some money to the people who created that music.

That’s great, right? Yep but a lot of DJs don’t care about doing their part in giving the people their money. Because the AKM gets money from the promoters. Either with a yearly fee or on a per event plan. The money goes to the artists of the music that was played during the event. But the AKM needs to know which music was played. And it is your responsibility as the one who plays the music to send your setlist there. If you don’t do this the fee that is payed by the promoter is distributed via a distribution key that favors mainstream artist and well known composers.

Damn, that means by not handing in the list of your set, you give money to the people that are aired on mainstream radiostations instead of the people that made the awesome sound you are playing. Shame!

 

book recommendation: Sketchnote Handbook

Recently I picked up my Sketchnote Handbook again. The book from Mike Rohde is a guide to visual notetaking. I have a notebook on me most of the time, but usually I struggle with catching all relevant data. The Sketchnote Handbook suggests an approach that focuses on core content and binary coding with words and images.

The Sketchnote Handbook. Mike Rohde. Peachpit Press.
ISBN 978-321-85789-7