Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Need for Business Sense

How can we ensure that dancers have more opportunities in the entertainment industry?

We need greater business sense and strategy in our careers. Now is a time when there are more opportunities than ever to launch ourselves via reality television shows, national tours, stage performances, videos, and teaching master classes. This past weekend, We are Heroes won the title of America's Best Dance Crew on the aptly titled MTV show. For these five ladies, the next year could be a turning point in their professional lives. They'll have to make smart decisions on what gigs to take, what ones to pass on, and how to nurture a following that will support them financially for the long-term.

Professional dancing, especially for hip hop, has usually been seen as freelance. Unless you're skilled and lucky enough to land a teaching job, most hip hop dancers have to work from one gig to the next. They stay relevant and connected to opportunities through their personal network. Friends recommend friends who are on time and deliver the goods. This system will likely continue, but how can we add on top of that? Are there measures that we can take to build better support for the dance community?

Within the U.S. entertainment industry, especially in Los Angeles, dancers are unfortunately low on the totem pole. In film and television; writers, directors, actors, and producers dominate the creative roles and financial rewards. Unions such as the Writer's Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actor's Guild (SAG) wield great influence and have appeared in the public radar with highly televised strikes in recent years. In this universe, dancers aren't seen as providing the creative content or direction that governs film and television. Often, we're the special effects in a dance movie or playing backup to a pop singer on stage. Only in recent years have we seen dancers as personalities or reality TV cast members on shows like So You Think You Can Dance and America's Best Dance Crew. To a young generation, these dancers are celebrities worth following.

If dancers become media figures, then there are more opportunities to capitalize on that career path. Product endorsements can follow. Multi-platform media deals can be negotiated, especially if a dancer is talented in acting or singing. These dreams aren't new or unfamiliar. Can we see dancers being regarded in the same public spotlight as pop singers and musicians? We've seen indie musicians start their careers from self-promoting on Myspace. Singers have concerts. Can we see dance crews build a financially profitable stage show venture like the Groovaloos? If music makes people feel something that they want to feel again and again at concerts, then we should be able to do this with our dancing as well. One question to ponder - can a hip hop dance performance make you cry?

We have to show the public that the lives of dancers are worth hearing and seeing. Our stories are compelling so why not bring them to the masses? When dancers have more opportunities to share who they are, where they've been, and what they're going through, there will always be an audience who wants to listen. It's easy for an uninformed audience to see dancers as superhuman beings, but we're really human at our core. We face the same struggles, pressures, and failures that anyone else faces. One of the most successful Broadway shows of all time - "A Chorus Line" is proof. Whether it's conveying these stories through stage shows, documentary films, video blogs, or even books, we can make this a coherent movement.

We need to have business-minded dancers who know how to creatively promote, negotiate, and nurture a community that appreciate our art form and our stories. Dancers with business expertise or like-minded partners are key to this development. Elm Pizarro and his staff have done a terrific job launching the Boogiezone.com community in southern California and worldwide. Classes are regularly marketed and taught. Shows are promoted. Social connections are made. We need more of this and more business dialogue with the entertainment world outside of our dance community. We have to defend and fight for our earnings and creative roles in professional collaborations with writers, directors, producers, and actors. As dancers, we need support from folks who'll defend our best interests. If we cross over more into the entertainment field, we'll need writers, directors, producers, and actors who are on our side. The way dance is being regarded in the public eye is changing. Let's see if we can do something new and exciting with this.

We also have the Internet and social networking. These are democratic tools that we're already using to connect with each other. It will only take a few saavy minds to creatively use these tools to bring more opportunities to dancers. Can we use these tools to create platforms where dancers are more front and center in television shows, films, and stage performances? Having the right idea and organizing the right team is all we need. The money will come when the idea is rock solid. These social networking tools are especially useful for building an audience from a younger generation who is already communicating with Facebook, Twitter, Ustream, and blogs. We can use them to convince producers and investors that there is a legitimate paying audience for our work.

In the end, the most important thing for us to do is dream. To dream that opportunities we don't see now will be possible tomorrow. When we allow ourselves to freely dream, our minds open up to a future that may never have been imagined. Creative ideas spring from this freedom. And with this influx of new ideas, there may be a few winners that change the professional world for future dancers.

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