The ethics of making dancers pay to perform
- Sumangala V Varun
e-mail: sumangalavarun@gmail.com

September 7, 2016

Today, art and culture are gaining popularity with the masses. Every nook and cranny has a dance or music school. Some dance students give up after few years (due to various reasons), but some eager and dedicated ones continue their lessons. After rigorous training comes the question of getting on the stage.

One of the common trends these days is to make the dancers pay to perform. In the guise of providing and creating opportunities for young and upcoming dancers, organizations and individuals are collecting payment. Some might say that the organization of a program is an expensive affair – there is the hall, the sound and lighting, a certificate or memento, seating etc. to be paid for. But how is it that some organizations with limited means are able to promote upcoming artists without collecting money from them?

Where does a budding dancer go? In order to build a profile and to work on some performance experience, most are ending up having to pay for these opportunities. No one expects to amass a fortune as a performing artist. Most don’t even expect any sort of payment as a dancer. However, to make them pay money to perform is unfair.

From where does the dancer get the money?
A dancer invests a good chunk of money in several years of classes, workshops, costumes, jewellery, accessories, boarding and lodging (if they travel to study under a guru) and all the sundry expenses that go with it. Not to mention the expense of a solo debut where one has to pay for the hall, the accompanists, a photo shoot, the printing of the brochures and invitations, mementos for the guests and dinner for all the invitees. After all this, when the dancer approaches a festival organizer, who sweetly says, “Solo Rs. 6,000 and group Rs. 10,000”, what should the dancer do? Bite the tongue and pay up the fees from a meagre pile of money scrimped and saved from a limited stock? Or refuse to give in and forgo the opportunity?

Most young dancers depend on their parents (or spouses in some cases) to fund their dance career. A few who give up cushy corporate jobs to focus on their dance will naturally find it difficult to make ends meet with the limited income they make out of temporary jobs. Over and above all this, if they have to pay ransoms to festival organizers, they might simply not have the luxury to dance. Is performing only the privilege of the well to do? And we complain when promising dancers choose to discontinue their classes once they get into higher studies and work. Dance is then relegated to a weekend hobby. Once the dancer climbs higher up the corporate ladder, time for classes becomes rarer. What are the choices here then? Unfortunately, it boils down to a choice between the daily bread and the passion.

Advertising the rates
Some organizers blatantly advertise the festival charges on social media. One ad reads something to the following effect:
Those selected will need to pay Rs. #,000. The expenditure for travel and stay will have to be borne by the artist. We will not pay for your accompaniments. You can use CD. Certificate and food (on the day of the program) will be provided.

I recently had a conversation with a leading socio-cultural organization in Kerala. The organizer said, “You will have to remit Rs. 10,000.” I could not process anything that was said beyond that. When I asked, “What is the money for?” the organizer responded with a giggle, “We collect it from all artists.” This is an established and well respected organization that is just a few years shy of a century. Their website identifies them as ‘a voluntary non-profit making, social and cultural organization’. How can the fleecing of hopeful performers be deemed as promotion of culture?

Likewise prime time spots like 6pm are more expensive than the 4pm slot. Dancers who choose to travel to multiple cities to perform have the added burden of their transport, accommodation and related expenditure without having to shell out even more to participate in a festival. They do not expect the organizers to refund their expenses, but only to be treated in a dignified manner.

In order to work towards perfection as a dancer, performance experience is essential. For this, the saga of ‘pay to get a platform’ has to go.

Possible fund sources for organizers
Festival organizers can look at corporate sponsors, paid memberships, or government support. Leading companies in the corporate have a portion of their profits earmarked for corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities. Organizations can approach them for grants and sponsorships. Another possibility is creating memberships for the organization. Registered organizations can have options for collecting a fee from their members and give them the benefit of attending a limited number of programs annually.

The government of India has several schemes and programs to support non-profit organizations. These are available in the form of grants and loans to registered organizations.

Apart from this, the latest trend of raising money through crowd funding is another option. Why not look at raising money from the general public online? When organizations are able to raise money through miscellaneous sources, they will be able to allocate a portion as payment to the artist as well. Here is hoping that such a day is not far off.

Sumangala V Varun is a dancer and a freelance writer from Bangalore.


Comments

Wonderful article and insight into this CRISIS that the dance world is facing. Approaching funding in various forms is a healthy way definitely… AMEN!
- Anon (Sept 8, 2016)



An interesting article. Though I have certain points--

“One of the common trends these days is to make the dancers pay to perform.”
These days? I think it's been there since 90-s for sure.

“Some might say that the organization of a program is an expensive affair – there is the hall, the sound and lighting, a certificate or memento, seating etc. to be paid for. But how is it that some organizations with limited means are able to promote upcoming artists without collecting money from them?”
Very simple, some sabhas are rich and some aren't, or some sabhas are greedy and some aren't. Just like some dancers are rich and others aren't!!

“However, to make them pay money to perform is unfair.”
Nobody makes them pay. The dancers make a choice of sabhas which charge. A similar analogy from the film industry is casting couch. Nobody forces an actor to sleep with the director and producer. It is an agreement; if the actor doesn't agree, s/he has the choice to walk out (do they?!) so it is a question of ethics of a dancer too. Does s/he choose to walk out of that platform, unfortunately h/she doesn’t. So high time dancers stop acting as victims, they chose to be one.

“A dancer invests a good chunk of money in several years of classes, workshops, costumes, jewellery, accessories, boarding and lodging (if they travel to study under a guru) and all the sundry expenses that go with it. Not to mention the expense of a solo debut where one has to pay for the hall, the accompanists, a photo shoot, the printing of the brochures and invitations, mementos for the guests and dinner for all the invitees. After all this, when the dancer approaches a festival organizer, who sweetly says, “Solo Rs.6,000 and group Rs.10,000,” what should the dancer do? Bite the tongue and pay up the fees from a meager pile of money scrimped and saved from a limited stock? Or refuse to give in and forgo the opportunity?”
The question is, what is an “opportunity?” Dancers are still a confused lot in answering this question itself!

I have another point. Let us compare this cost with say an IT student, a student studying medicine or a management student. Is it wrong to treat these costs for a performing artiste as an investment for his future? (This point is open to debate). I pity the dancing community which has failed to realize the economics. The supply of dancers is more than the demand. So these practices will prevail. Instead of cribbing, we should study, do a market research of how much revenue can classical dance performance generate. In a cosumerist society of today, expecting art forms with histories of patronage to survive is a BIG CHALLENGE. So instead of cribbing, we dancers should educate ourselves in the economics of performing arts of India. It is this educated mind sans sentimentality which will guide us in strategizing our careers.
- Anon (Sept 9, 2016)



I totally agree with it. Asking to pay for a performance becomes a burden. I at one point considered taking up dance as profession but it didn't work out to my daily needs. Dance is a costly affair and we have put in a lot of hard work to learn it. But there should be platforms where dancers can showcase their talent with nominal pay and little respect. I hope we can make better world for budding artists.
- Ramya Shastry (Sep 9, 2016)



Fantabulous article ! Really loved reading it.
- Anon (Sept 17, 2016)



Namaskara, I hope I write in time though it is a very late reply. I do feel obliged to reply as this is a collective voice that need to be answered. No Sabhas are poor, and yes it must have started in 80's or 90's but like many economic trends it should have stopped with the rise of internet. But it has not, not because of govt. bureaucracy or Sabha's greed but due to artist ignorance. Before I continue on the reasons it is a poor investment that only makes the Sabha Maama rich, let's have a look at the examples.
 
Casting Couch: That's an interesting way of looking at it. However, the problem is this, the actor who does agree to such prerequisites benefits by getting movies for which he or she does not have to PAY. It is a prerequisite (optional) before they get the fame, glam, money. How is the dancer benefiting by paying one organizer to give her or him an 'opportunity'? What is the point of it? There is no finance coming her way...too many mediocre artists anyway do it, giving the dancer no value but 'just another show'. Casting couch is not even an example that should be brought up here...not because of ethics but clearly is not a parallel example. The day artists start paying for one or two movies to get another movie, we can create parallel examples. Sabhas are not directors or a production company. They are a stage ...a Youtube link with your work will give you the same amount of audience.
 
Opportunity: I totally agree with you, we need to update ourselves with what is 'opportunity.' Paying for a stage to create an opportunity is outdated. One really does not have to do it. IT, engineering and all that jazz: My friend passed her CA on her first attempt. Two companies raised the package she takes home until she chose one close to her house. The per annum number was something that I had to sit n count the zeros. Whatever, she had paid for: tuitions, parents waiting with dreams in their eyes, college fees all were covered and more in the first year of her job. That would be a dream in the art field wouldn’t it?

What I am trying to say is, examples are not as parallel as you imagined it to be. Especially since the subject here is finance and progress of a performing artist. Paying a Sabha to perform is not the answer to good marketing or investments. It in no way makes one’s career better. It is their skill and sales pitch that would work for them. Also we need to keep in mind that it is the artists who are losing!! The poor ones, the rich ones...if a united art forum refuses to pay for such performances, it would cease to exist! Create an awareness of your performance through social media, put up links to your work. There are many organizations out there looking for sincere good work. But that's the catch: being good at your work, if you are good and can hold audience...they will call you again. Do not think within a city, think global. That's the change in the economy you will be looking for 'anonymous' not paying a Sabha. Not anymore.
- Anon (Oct 24, 2016)



Hi,

In response to the earlier response…

"No Sabhas are poor, and yes it must have started in 80's or 90's but like many economic trends it should have stopped with the rise of internet. "

How is the rise of internet related to the economics of dance!
Kindly explain....Did the rise of internet help in reducing the greed of organisers /artistes / or did the rise in internet help in the surge of audiences for classical dance performances ....

"Casting Couch: That's an interesting way of looking at it. However, the problem is this, the actor who does agree to such prerequisites benefits by getting movies for which he or she does not have to PAY. It is a prerequisite (optional) before they get the fame, glam, money. How is the dancer benefiting by paying one organizer to give her or him an 'opportunity'?"

You will be surprised to know that most of the actors go through the casting couch, but do they actually make it enough to achieve glamour, money etc. The stakes are high therefore the nature of malpractice is high too..... I remember asking a dancer this question that if she doesn't get money to perform in Chennai, why does she opt for it. She had a lame answer, "Arre, it adds to your profile!"

So I feel the actor of films and the classical dancer, both are in the same position....Both want to be placed on the cultural map of their own fields.....but how many actually make it is a different question ! And yes, there are struggling actors who do certain films for certain directors for free cos it will add up to their "profile"....the psychology is the same. I feel it’s a perfect analogy if you interpret it appropriately.

"The poor ones, the rich ones...if a united art forum refuses to pay for such performances, it would cease to exist!"

This is an important point, but in an area where solo performers are busy giving "khunnas" (mumbai slang) to each other, I am skeptical about this.

"Create an awareness of your performance through social media, put up links to your work. There are many organizations out there looking for sincere good work. But that's the catch: being good at your work, if you are good and can hold audience...they will call you again. Do not think within a city, think global. That's the change in the economy you will be looking for 'anonymous' not paying a Sabha. Not anymore."

I feel there are many dancers who are good at their work. But it is the initial capital which not all posses to market. Putting links on social media etc. is all very good....but I believe if you are in the shoes of an organiser, you are not going to choose just on the basis of that. No Chennai sabha person looks at a social media link to invite dancers! (if they do ....please let me know LOL!)
I admire your hope and romanticism at the end of your comment, however I expect more rationalism and realism to judge the current situation and to strategise ......

- Anon (Oct 27, 2016)








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