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The big questions in the production process and why to answer them

Five Questions to answer before you start your dance theater 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 just want to try if you can make a piece?
  • Establish yourself as a producer, choreographer or director?
  • Rep your crew on a new terrain?
  • Build a company of professionals that will be relevant on an international scale?
  • 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.

Dance Theater Production in a Nutshell

An empty dance theater stage

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.

Preproduction

Preproduction is all the work that you usually do before you hit the rehearsal room. It consists of defining the 5 big W questions, being “what”, “why”, “where”, “when” and “who”. By far the most important ones are “what” and “why” because they will help you answer questions that pop up along the way.

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 choreographer
  • a director
  • a producer
  • a photographer
  • a videographer
  • a graphic designer

You can find those people either by casting them or you know people you can ask.

Production

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.

Performing

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.

About Asking The Right Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary White

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

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

Don't ignore laws and taxes as a dancer

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

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

What are the potential problems?

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

So what shall we do?

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

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

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

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

Get help!

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

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

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

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

How to get more dance jobs in Austria

how to get more dance jobs in asutria title graphic

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

What is different in Austria?

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

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

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

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

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

How to do it?

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

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

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

What can a single person do?

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

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

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

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

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

How is this getting more jobs?

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

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

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

Don’t stop there

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

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

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

Your Signal/Noise Ratio

Frequency Spectrum showing signal and noise

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

What does Signal/Noise ration mean as a metaphor?

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

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

Who defines what noise is?

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

How much noise is fine?

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

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

Read you all next year.

Dance Smart Available Now

Dance Smart is now available on Amazon

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

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

Here are some first reaction from early readers:

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

Stuggi

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

Vanny

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

Thanks everyone for the support.

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

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

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

It’s called Breaking

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

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

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

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

Breakdance is the no-go

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

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

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

What promo material do I need as a dancer?

promo material needed in the dance industry aka promotion papers

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

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

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

My best Memories of Red Bull BC One 2019 in Mumbai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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