If you are the person responsible for organizing performances of your Irish dance school, then you have probably been asked more than once to perform for free. You are, therefore, probably also familiar with the idea that some organizers believe, as artists, we should simply be delighted to be offered a chance to perform and that there’s no need for remuneration.
Of course we’re not doing it for the profit, but for the passion and love we have for Irish dance. But the bitter fact is that you can’t eat passion and love nor can they pay your bills.
Have you ever heard this before? “I can’t pay you, but you will get exposure, there will be people who will see you and you will become famous.” I find this really disrespectful. If you get called to perform at a major event with lots of TV coverage – then yes, this strikes as a pretty nice deal! Besides the fact that anyone organizing such a major event surely has a budget big enough for dancers’ fees – but still, free advertising is a fair deal.
But your typical ‘event’ is usually without any real media coverage; you are sometimes expected to dance on a very bad floor (concrete, grass, thick carpet, slippery tiles are all just a part of what I’ve come across during my involvement with Irish dance performance); they are surprised when you ask them for some place to change, as they probably expect you to get there in your full costume (we’ve had to change in toilets, behind bushes, in the van…) and are quite puzzled when you tell them you need monitors on stage to hear the music.
Probably the worst situation I have found myself in was when I wanted to put on a full concert in a theater and was told that my only expense is burning a CD with music, and therefore the theatre should keep most of the profits from the ticket sales.
If you ever get in a situation where you are asked to ‘do a little jig and get some exposure, but no fee’, consider letting the proprietor of the venue know the following. (Mind you, I’m not talking about charity events, school concerts or any kind of performing events for a good cause. I’m talking about commercial events, where people inviting you to perform expect to get some sort of profit from your skill, talent and passion.):
It takes years and years of practice to become a dancer they want to see perform. It takes a lot of time, a lot of sweat, a lot of tears and frustration to get where you are now. Also, it means having a skilled and good teacher, a professional that earns his wages from the time devoted to dancers. It’s a proper, full-time education sometimes, which means that they are hiring a professional to do their job. Do you expect your plumber or dentist to do their job for free? Then find the decency to respect dancer’s job too.
We invest a lot of our finances into attractive costumes, stage make-up and hair. This is almost as important part of our performance as our dance skill is. Unless they expect to see a stage full of greasy hair dancers in their sweat suits, they should consider chipping in.
It’s not like you wake up in the morning, make the steps up over a cup of coffee or tea and go and dance them on the stage. You need to rent a studio and it can’t be just any studio, it needs to have the right floor, good air-conditioning and sound system. You need to spend considerable time in it as well, perfecting the steps and the movements. So, basically, they’re not just paying for the 15 minute performance, they are paying for hours and hours of hard work put into making it.
Perhaps someday Scotty will be able to beam us up to the venue, but until we master that technology, covering travel expenses is something that should go without saying. Even if you don’t pay the dancers, it really isn’t fair to expect someone to spend money in order to perform at your venue.
This is something money can’t really buy, but I still think should be taken into consideration. Somebody is taking his or her time that could be spent with their families or friends to dance for your enjoyment. It would really be great if they didn’t have to face the “I’m doing you a favor by letting you perform here” attitude.
We are often too embarrassed to talk about fees and take the easy way out and simply don’t bring it up unless fees are offered for the dancers. This should not be something to be ashamed of. Make a list of all of your dancers’ expenses for a single performance and calculate the lowest fee that would cover them. That way you can be sure that everyone will be relaxed and comfortable taking part in performances and won’t worry about how much it’s going to cost them.
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