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Since I was asked to remove my comment under the Bay Area Travel and Adventure Show post as my comment was about gig pay in general and not specifically about getting dancers for that gig, and other, later, comments I responded to were edited to remove some specific points I addressed, I'm reposting it here along with some subsequent thoughts, after the quoted text. I don't think the issue can begin and end with "If you don't like doing unpaid gigs, don't do them," -- or at least not if we care how this art form and its practitioners are perceived. And certainly not if we're as serious about supporting other dancers as we say we are."It's not that I don't or can't enjoy dancing for free; Dancing charity gigs or sundays streets is great, and paying to dance is no less fun, in class or renting the studio for practice. Our enjoyment of what we do is a given, i assume. It's that I don't think our enjoyment of it is really the issue. Outside of a charity or fundraiser context, or some other such community building event like a street fair, I don't think people respect what they don't have to pay for--especially if it is definitely in a commercial context. And the fact is that not only BDBD, but FCBD also does many gigs it does not charge for. FCBD dances every month in a bar. Anyone who goes to F8 knows that if they want a beer they will have to hand over 5 or 6 bucks, and that is non-negotiable. If they want to see dance, well, we'll give it to them either way and they can pay or not, any amount they choose, or not, whatevs.What we're saying by accepting that dynamic that is that beer has real value and art does not. Society might have that attitude, but why should we agree? We're not going to change their minds by playing along.I think the fact that we don't really see (as a group) anything wrong with performing for free in commercial venues and events is that we overrate the generosity of people and businesses that "give" us venues. We're saying that in exchange for giving us a place to dance (like that is all a performer could possibly want out of her career), we are paying them with our art. That is an absurd transaction model. It was explained to me once that, for instance, F8 doesn't charge Amar to host Underground Nomads every tuesday, and that that somehow makes up for this bar--this commercial establishment-- not paying people who entertain its patrons, as if it isn't already a ridiculous notion that artists would otherwise have to and be willing to pay for the privilege of providing art and entertainment to customers of any venue. LOL, would you actually PAY for the privilege of putting on a show in a bar? Throw in the perk of the bar usually being empty--or at least on the nights that you're offered. Gratitude is great, and being grateful to venues for hosting us is fine but should have an upper limit--because they're not just *giving* us a place to dance, they are getting our art. We class up any joint we set foot in, whether it's some bar or a travel show or a private party. Appropriate payment for dancing is not covered by the opportunity to dance at all, but we're acting like it is. We are acting like these venues are giving us something bigger and better than what we are giving them, and that is nonsense. They provide a pleasurable experience to their consumers, who pay for everything that is provided to them-- the booze, the toilet paper, the catering, waitstaff and bussers--and we, the artists, are just tossed in as extras--used to enhance the pleasure and excitement level, and expected to do it for free because we "enjoy" it. And because we've done it before, and they're all by now used to us underrating our contribution to their enterprise. We might enjoy ourselves while we're doing it (because dancing is fun whatever the context) but that does not mean we aren't teaching people to disrespect our art, and us. And you know that you're being disrespected when a $2.2billion industry has the cheek to ask you to come dance at its event for nothing except the pleasure of helping it make more money. And the possibility that someone there might get interested and come take a class. Which is at best a circuitous and laborious way to attempt to get more students to the school, and still not at all the same as getting artists paid. I hear a lot of groaning around the school and on Facebook from the rest of the dance community about how hard it is to get paid. We have no business groaning about that when we contribute to the problem every time we dance at a commercial venue for free. If there were solidarity amongst dancers, this problem would not exist. producers who wanted dancers would not be able to just go with the lowest bidder, namely, freebies. Secondly, even when everyone else is dancing for free, there are people, businesses, even the non-profit venues with budgets like museums, that WANT the ones who have enough self-respect to require payment. Because whether it's correct or not, people associate remuneration with quality and professionalism. When SFMOMA reopens, do you think they're going to prefer for their gala the entertainers who charge the least or nothing? Do you think Nion McEvoy wants to brag about getting the lowest-charging dancers in town for his Christmas party? Of course not. Sure, this or that bar might, but shouldn't we set our sights higher? Venues that take themselves and art seriously are not going to see how little they can get away with paying artists. Why model our goals after the venues that respect us the least? Even if we do this for love, we are disrespecting ourselves and our art, by participating in a disrespectful, exploitative system."Now, the response to this creed was that BDBD doesn't charge for gigs. That is not a satisfying answer. Did, for instance, the Travel show contacts offer to pay? Were they asked? Were they asked and responded with "no"? It doesn't matter, actually. It's a commercial enterprise--and a loaded one, at that. They state right on their website what kind of money is generated there. If FCBD charges and BDBD doesn't, why on earth would we send the troupe that doesn't charge to this orgy of money-flinging? And if they refused to pay, why would we, knowing that they are perfectly capable of paying, not understand that that is a slap in the face, and decline to send them anyone at all? If BDBD's main concern is generating performance experience for new dancers, there are various worthy non-profits, senior centers, etc., that may actually be incapable of paying, and are far more deserving of our charity than some convention that's all about getting a slice of people's disposable income, or a bar, or a restaurant, either of which makes bank even on a slow night in San Francisco. Again, the attitude that people who don't like doing unpaid gigs should just not do them is a problem: it presumes that the only thing at stake is whether the performer makes enough cash off a gig to take a taxi home, or pay for a month of classes, or whatever. If that were the case I doubt even I would object. When i still did Underground Nomads, the two dollars i'd take home from gathering tips off Gina Grandi and that one drunk guy who showed up every Tuesday did not make my life much different, and the absence of that monthly two dollars has had little effect on my mostly laughable income. But that is not where the influence of the exchange (or non-exchange) of money for art ends. An art form is not undervalued in a vacuum. How artists value themselves, in which contexts they are willing to give their art freely and in which contexts they require compensation--and acting like it matters, which we don't-- teach the public how to value them. A couple of years ago, FCBD's Facebook page posted some parody ads, one of which bore a complaint that went something like, "People don't think belly dance deserves grants??" Well of course they don't. It doesn't matter how serious we are about belly dance--if we treat it hobbyistically, the powers that be will too, and dancing in bars for free translates as hobbyism. They give grants to artists who perform in venues that charge admission and pay their dancers. You can disagree with their assessment, but again, we're not in a vacuum. You can't really claim that people who devalue your work are mistaken when you've basically validated the attitude that beer has a quantifiable value and your dancing doesn't. And on top of that, you might not be too concerned about this, but there are dancers out there who dream of being able to make a living from dance. And of course the plethora of dancers willing to dance for free completely sabotages that possibility. I'm not suggesting that if we all refused to dance for free then everyone would be able to get rich belly dancing. but it's a legitimate dream, that not only ballet dancers, and the occasional flamenco legend, should be able to pay their bills with their art, but that belly dancers should, too. How sisterly is it for us to do our part to make sure that that is an impossibility? Does our community stand for supporting each other in a way that actually means something outside the studio? The amazing solidarity of dancers in the wake of the Tribal Fest scandal made me think so. The continued acceptance of our society's dismal estimation of our work, and our own hand in perpetuating it, does not.
Thanks for posting, Larissa. I'm disturbed by your comment that someone edited or removed posts that you made to the other thread. If that happened, it's disappointing.I know BDBD doesn't charge for gigs, I think everyone knows that, so posting that as a response to Larissa's question doesn't answer the question. The question isn't "Why doesn't BDBD get paid?" The question is, "Should anyone be supporting an organization that clearly could pay but chooses not to because dancers are traditionally one group who get overlooked when it's time to compensate for entertainment?" I believe that's the question Larissa is asking. The deeper question is, should anyone use their student troupes to perpetuate this practice, and that is a question that is circling around the belly dance world as many organizations seek studios who will send their student troupes "for the experience." Nanna Candelaria, Shira, Surreya, and countless others talk in the professional circles about how we as belly dancers undercut our own industry regularly, and this is one way that it happens. When I agreed to take points for the Travel show, I definitely had reservations because it was clear this is an organization that wants to get dancers for free despite its ability to compensate, and that does bother me. Yet, I opted to take it on because I knew I wasn't going to win that battle, and I put my own needs first: I have a small troupe, usually 2 or 3 total, and I'm starting to do more solo work, which means I'm losing practice dancing in a large group, and I wanted to keep my skills up. At this point, I'm committed to what I said I would do which is lead the gig (not that it matters, because no one is signing up, so I'll probably just cancel anyway). However, I do feel that it would be good for the studio to have a conversation (and perhaps in person, not a thread) about what gigs are appropriate to charge for and what gigs are not. This clarity will help everyone make better decisions that support not only the dancers in BDBD, FCBD and other troupes, but the dance industry as a whole. We do have a responsibility to our industry, and it would be good to get some common rules on how we will uphold that responsibility.
Thank you for making a separate post about this Larissa. I'm sure Michiyo just wanted the other thread to be about those who were interested in signing up to the gig. This topic deserves its own thread.That being said - Let's have a Town Hall style meeting about all things BDBD (including this topic) Carolena will be in attendance, as will some of the teachers/management. Keep an eye on your inbox for an invite.
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