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.
One of the first questions that pop up from people interested in doing something on their own is: “how much does it cost to make a piece”? This depends on your goals, and therefore I can not answer it. But I can show you how to answer it yourself.
Dance piece budget calculation
First: You don’t need any money at all to create a dance piece. When you work with friends or your crew, in your spare time, have a composer/producer as part of your team and have a venue where you can play the piece for free, you can do it without investing a cent. This possibility is one you should consider if it is about creating your first piece because it takes away a lot of work and pressure.
When you are creating a big production, work with casted dancers, use mainstream music, costumes, and a state of the art set, you will need to budget all these positions and see the end-result on paper (or your screen).
Creating a dance piece budget is not that hard, but it is time-consuming and a matter of thinking about all details (very similar to calculating your real expenses). I usually start with an excel sheet template to get a rough overview. You can download my template here. It helps me to get an idea about what I will need. There are numbers in there to show how it works, but you need to replace them with your costs. If you don’t have an excel license, you can open the file in Google Docs or Open Office. Both of them are free to use. As soon as you found your workflow, I recommend you create your own template that you tailor to your needs.
The big boys in most dance production budgets
The biggest part of the budget are the people you work with. You want to pay them a fair price. A fair price differs from country to country and is also a matter of the situation of the people. For Austria, there is a recommendation of the IG Freie Theater to pay professional freelancers who work in your production EUR 3.000 per month. This amount is considered a fair price for a month of work with the same volume as a regular full-time job (5 days a week, 40 hours per week). However, it assumes your crew consists of pros who do what they do in your production for a living. On the other hand, paying that is the same as putting your team on minimum wage.
The second biggest part of the costs is usually housing, food, rehearsal room rent, and travel for your team. If you are lucky enough, this block can be zero if everyone lives in the same town, and you have a room that you can use.
The specific costs of your dance production
Everything else is a matter of preference and if your production needs it. Walkthrough the template step by step and see if the point applies to your creation.
At the end of the calculation, we usually add a safety buffer. It should cover things that came up spontaneously or because we forgot something. I love to use 20%, which is high. Most other producers I know calculate with 5% to 10%.
The income side of your budget
In the second (much shorter) part of the budget, you see your income. In general, it is composed of public funding and ticket sales. But you can put everything in there that you can make money with. Merchandise would be an option, but don’t forget to put the costs you will have to create it in the budget as well. Crowd Funding is an option.
I also add a line “your own money.” This one is visualizing how much money I will need to put in to break even. At the end of the calculation, you want the income to be equal or higher than the costs. The “your own money” line, shows you how far you are away.
A side note: In most cases, when you apply for public funding, your costs and income need to be equal to be eligible for financing. “Your own money” (with a more fancy term, depending on your location) is a way to make this happen.
That is the process. Take the time, break down your project, ask people for what they take for the job you want them to do, and find out what your piece will cost.
Usually, at the end of the calculation, we have a sum that is far beyond what we can easily lift. In that case, or when we get less public funding than needed, we can reduce the budget. Whenever we do that it is important to be transparent about our decisions and who gets paid how much. Communicate this before you agree with people outside your core team to work on a project together. This avoids arguments because everybody who is not cool with how things are set up can say no to the project before it starts.
To finish any given project and make meaningful progress, we apply two different modes of operation. I like metaphors and call them clockmaker mode and clockwork mode. It would also be perfectly fine to label them smart mode and dumb mode or planning mode and execution mode.
The point is that both modes alone are worthless for real progress. Only a combination of both gets essential stuff done.
The clockmaker mode is about defining goals, asking the right questions, reflecting about your course of action, evaluating outcomes, and, most important, laying out the plan for clockwork mode.
Clockmaker mode is about navigation. It’s about finding out the place where you want to go with whatever you do. Its purpose is to set a course for your destination.
Clockmaker mode needs time, honesty, and free thought.
Clockwork mode means to take all the necessary steps to get you where you want to be. It is about ticking all the boxes on your to-do list and making all the tiny steps that will lead you to your goal.
In clockwork mode, it’s not about navigation as you already know your course. It is about traveling the distance.
Clockwork mode needs discipline and the will to push through uncomfortable times because you know where it leads you.
It’s always better to be part of a clockwork that you created or at least helped to create, so you know where you are heading.
The Right Balance
Smart mode and dumb mode need each other. The one provides the plan, and the other provides the action to make it happen.
Each one of them alone makes your whole endeavor and life miserable. People who are in smart mode all the time only talk without ever doing something. The others who are in a permanent dumb mode, work all the time without the feeling of accomplishment and are very likely to burn out.
It would be best if you had a healthy balance of planning and execution to go where you want to go. Define a goal, make a plan, work towards it, check if you are heading in the right direction, and adjust course if necessary.
In event management, smart mode is defining if you throw a jam or battle, who to invite, what program to plan, what you can offer to sponsors and so on. Dumb mode is contacting all the sponsors, asking the guys if they want to come, booking flights, doing all the things at the event itself. In short: making it happen.
None of the two modes has any worth without the other. Find your balance and start your journey.
In every dance production, there are a couple of fundamental tasks that you have to handle. In big productions, they are spread out over multiple people; in smaller ones, one person might do all of them. I already covered some of the basics in Dance Theater Production in A Nutshell.
The three roles that I call the Trinity of Dance Production are the producer, the choreographer, and the director.
When it is possible, I recommend having multiple people to avoid conflict in one person trying to take care of various things at once.
The tasks of the producer are to produce a dance piece. Obvious eh? But what does it mean? The producer is in the lead of putting together the best possible team to handle the job and to enable them to do their job without having to worry about anything else.
The producer takes care of all the orga work around the piece like the budget & accounting, finding sponsors, getting rehearsal rooms, securing showings, accommodation, food & travels (if needed), doing promotion, press work, dealing with collecting societies & taxes and doing everything else that the dance production process runs smooth.
His job also includes knowing when to involve the choreographer and director into decisions and when not. Hiring dancers without the choreographer and director does not make sense, but telling those two that we can’t hire a specific dancer because he is too expensive does.
The crucial quality of producer is the ability to work structured and have an overview of everything that happens during the dance production.
The choreographer’s job is to create the dance. Depending on her work style, she can do this all alone and then teach the dancers, or she can develop the choreography together with the dancers.
It is also her responsibility to lead the rehearsals and push the dancers to perform as good as they can. She should have an eye on the physical fitness of the dancers and make sure to make recommendations on how to improve it if needed.
The choreographer needs to be well versed in the dance styles that the piece uses, and she must have a good understanding of the music, space, timings, and dynamics.
The director is the one who is responsible for refining and executing the artistic vision of the production. This means he is in charge of the implementation of the story in narrative pieces or the idea and concepts of a piece if there is no story.
He should also work with the dancers on developing their stage character and guide them on their emotional journey through the piece. He helps to build the world of the piece in the mind of the dancers. And he decides whether an interaction or passage makes sense in the piece or not. Therefore, he feedbacks the choreographer when specific parts of the choreography need to be changed or cut.
The director should know about the principles of storytelling, piece structure, and dramaturgy. He also needs the abilities to make the dancers find and explore their character.
As already mentioned we don’t have three people all the time to take care of all these tasks but having them gives everyone the possibility to focus on what he does best.
There is also one more “role” in the production that is important. Please meet:
The Initiator is the one who started the party. She is the person who got the ball rolling and initiated the whole production. It’s the one who said “let’s do this”. In most cases, the initiator takes one or multiple roles from the production trinity and it rarely happens that someones who initiates a production is not more involved.
Depending on the relationships in the team the Initiator might change the roles that I described. For example, when I start a piece, choose the dancers and bring the producer on board afterward. In that case, the producer had no saying in the cast, which would usually be a part of his job description.
Things like this should be discussed before you commit to working together. Having disagreements because you simply did not talk about it and assumed something, can ruin every production.
I already mentioned the important questions to answer in the overview of dance theater production. Now it’s time to go into detail and find out what the answers can do for you throughout your journey.
The five big questions are “what”, “why”, “who”, “when” and “where”. The order is in my personal perception of their importance. “What” and “why” are at the beginning as the answers to them will have an impact on the questions “who” and “when”.
What do you want to do?
The “What” is the one master question that makes a lot of decisions during the production obvious if you take the time to answer it. It is about goal-setting from the art side of things.
What is is that the piece should do? This is primarily about what you want to show to your audience. Do you want to tell them a story, a philosophic idea, show outstanding choreographic skills, introduce a concept, show a puzzle of multiple ideas? This could go as far as “introduce a sponsored product” or “present fine art piece x in a dance piece”.
Can you commit to one goal? I highly recommend doing so. If needed choose a primary one and add some with lower priority because often the needs of multiple will not collide.
Now, if a question arises during the production you can go back to what you already know to move fast. Let’s say you are doing a story piece and have an outstanding choreography that you can keep or not. You just need to check if it advances or adds to the story. If not, get rid of it. Vice versa if you committed to showing the best choreography possible, adding a hint to a political situation is not as important as hitting the high notes of the music.
There is also the idea to figure out the “What” along the way. That is fine if you are willing to take the time to answer questions in the rehearsal process, lose valuable time and more important momentum. I disagree with that approach and advice to define what you want to do before jumping into the production.
Why are you doing it?
The “Why” is about goalsetting from the production side of your work. Why do you want to do this piece and where do you want to go with it?
Do you want to provide enough income to feed your whole team?
Is it about you or the piece? Be honest with this question. You don’t have to share the answer, but it will help as much as answering the other ones.
Maybe the answer is “it is part of my education as a dancer”.
With these answers you will be able to find out if you need a big budget, have a restricted timeframe (because if you need to pay people, time is money), need to hire people for costumes and stage design and so on.
Who to pick for the team?
If you answered the “What & Why” the answers should not be too hard. This stage is about finding the right balance of your skills as the one who runs the show, the skills of the dancers and other artists and the necessities of what you need to succeed with your goalsetting.
If you want to rep your crew, you already know who to pick as dancers. You just want to see if you can do it? Pick people who are on your skill level as it will make the journey more enjoyable. If you want to establish yourself as a choreographer you should first create choreography and then find the right dancers to learn and execute it fast and precisely. A mind-bending story that touches people will need dancers who know how to work with emotions on stage and project them to the audience. A piece that takes movement design and composition to a new level needs dancers who have an easy time working with concepts and the capability to execute the kind of moves you want. These can range from precise tutting, over-complicated rhythms to really athletic power moves.
As I said, it’s easy to answer if you know your what and why.
When are we going to create the piece?
This only a matter of organization. You need one or more rehearsal phases that are long enough to breathe life into the idea and polish it until it’s good enough to be on stage.
I recommend at least two rehearsal phases with a little bit of a break in between to reflect and correct the course without time pressure. If it is doable, let the last rehearsal phase directly transition into your showings.
If you have your people before you have the dates set, Doodle is your best friend to find dates easy.
When you have the rehearsal rooms ready and booked before you fixed the team, when you cast them for example, don’t choose people who are not available then. If you cast, put the timeframes where people need to be available in the casting info. This saves you and the people applying time.
Where are we going to rehearse and perform?
This goes hand in hand with the “when” as availability of rehearsal rooms and stages are a deciding factor. When you work with your crew only or have a good deal with whoever owns your regular practice spot, rehearsals might be easy. If not, ask around in dance studios, youth centers, culture centers, schools, sports societies and whatever comes to mind in your area. Having a big network of contacts definitely helps to find a room.
Finally, you need a place to perform at. This is a little bit more tricky as you want to rehearse a few times on the stage of your first showing and need to negotiate a good deal to have those extra days without burning all your budget. Negotiating with theaters is worth an own article later on. Again, if you are lucky and know the right people, this one is easy going. There are also dance festivals all around the globe that might be a good starting point for your research if you don’t have a connection to any stage.
Armed with the answers to the questions above, we can start by jumping in pre-production. See you there next week.
As a result of a recent survey on my Instagram, the next big topic for my blog will be Dance Theater Production. Today’s first post will give you a top-line overview of the things I will cover, in greater detail over the next few months.
In the preproduction phase, you usually decide on the topic or theme that the piece is about. You do the research around the said topic and decide on the dimension and timelines of the piece. You also decide on the basic look & feel and if you want to work with existing music or need it custom-made.
Base on those decisions, you create a budget and work on funding (if you choose to). You also start to recruit your team. Depending on everything you decided before you will or will not need:
at least one dancer (which could also be you)
musicians or a music producer
a stage designer
a costume designer
a light designer or light technician
a graphic designer
You can find those people either by casting them or you know people you can ask.
This is the phase where you create what’s happening on stage. All the artists that are involved do their part to create the dance, the music, the story or concepts, the costumes, the scenery, the visual and emotional identity of the piece and everything else.
That is the part of the process that is glamorized by most people and it is also the most intense part for everyone involved. The most difficult task in the production phase is to keep your team on track and together. That task is in the responsibility of the trinity producer/choreographer/director which can be three people but it could also be one. Leadership skills are what makes all the difference now.
It is also the time where it shows if you know what you want to do well enough. When you did your homework, you will be able to answer essential questions that arise very fast. If you have a structured workflow, your rehearsals will be so much more productive. When you give clear tasks and boundaries all your artists will be able to explore the matter of the piece freely and propose exciting material, instead of a basic one.
It is also the phase of polishing the material to the level of perfection that you want for your piece and the time to vigorously remove everything that is not necessary.
Here is the fun part. When you did an amazing job in production, performing is a blast. For the choreographer and the director, the job is done and in big productions, they are usually only there for the opening and closing nights. In most smaller productions those are dancing themselves as well and on stage with the rest of the team.
Again it is more about your leadership, than real work. Keeping your team fit – mentally and physically – is the hot task now. Depending on your playing schedule that can be easy going (weekly show) or a real challenge (2 daily shows for a longer amount of time). It is about ongoing corrections, not falling into bad routines, exploring the piece anew every time and being in the moment when you are on stage.
Tour Management & Marketing
Tour management and marketing don’t fall into the timeline “preproduction – production – performing”. They usually are running parallel all the time and in the hands of the producer. He or she will take care of promo materials, negotiate with potential venues and organize the dates. Producers also juggle travel planning and coordination (often down to booking hotels and flights), press work, advertising, and most of the stuff that people don’t think about. For example, dealing with copyright collecting societies, taxes, event registration, driving that injured dancer to the hospital, find spare parts for the damaged scenery and so on.
In short: the producers should get more love for the whole process as they have a lot of work, but no glory because they are not part of the performance most of the time. If you are lucky you can hire specialists for some producer tasks like press and advertising, but most people starting out do everything themselves. Therefore, I will cover everything as good as I can.
As this series will be with us for some months, let me know if there are topics that you are especially interested in, so we can talk about those earlier.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Your online presence. People will check your homepage. So be sure it is up-to-date.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.