by Catherine Mancuso, Ocean County College Lecturer II, Dance
Performing Arts Program
How to be a Financially Independent Dancer
In all my years of intensive dance training I was told that in order to succeed in the dance industry I needed to take as many classes as possible and train as hard as I could. I was told to take classes with choreographers I wanted to work with and to study at the best institutions in the country. I was told it would be hard but that if I was willing to put in the time and effort, I would be rewarded greatly. So what did I do? I trained hard and followed this advice to the letter. I’m sure many of you have done this as well. What no one told me was that being a dancer meant being the CEO of my own business. No one talks about a career in dance this way. The reality is that you need to be your own accountant, lawyer, manager, branding specialist, PR rep, website designer, social media strategist, content creator, media editor, HR, and payroll. I learned a lot of this information the hard way, but what I learned from my experience early on is that you must treat your dance life like a business or else you will be a starving artist. If I could go back and do college again I would have allocated one of my electives for a business 101 course. In my opinion, it should be a required course for all dance majors.
I can tell you from my own experience in the industry that treating your dance life as a business is vitally important information that will keep you from being a starving artist and allow you to thrive financially and mentally as a dancer. I’ve noticed a trend in the world of dance to push the business aspect aside and rely on your artistry alone to survive. The fact of the matter is that the number of jobs available is much lower than the number of people applying for those jobs. A 2014 study conducted by the BFAMFAPhD found that while 2 million arts graduates have degrees in the visual and performing arts, only 10% make their living as working artists. That is a staggeringly low statistic. If you want to survive and earn a living you must invest in yourself as a business entity.
The key to survival in the current job market is to implement a strong business plan that includes multiple streams of income, a strong marketing plan, and a unified brand image. So how exactly do you do this successfully?
Here are my top 3 strategies for setting up your dance life as a business:
- Invest your time and money into learning about business. When I first set out to create a business model for myself, I spent a lot of time researching business information online. I followed people on social media who were social media strategists, business advisors, and entrepreneurs who consistently gave out advice and information about running a business. When I had exhausted all of the free resources I began hiring coaches and mentors to take my plans to the next level. The biggest jumps in my business success came after I hired people to help me, but I made a lot of headway early on by investing my time when I didn’t have the money to invest. The free information gave me a solid foundation to start with and I definitely recommend you exhaust all these sources first.
- Identify your mission statement. What is your mission and purpose in life? Why do you do what you do? Your mission should encompass all aspects of your vision both performance and non-performance related. Use this mission to brand yourself and have this message everywhere for potential clients to see.
- Create multiple streams of income. In addition to performing what other services do you have to offer? There are a lot of people willing to pay for services that they don’t know how to do or don’t have time to do. Here’s a list of some ideas to get you started:
- Teach Private Dance Lessons
- One-on-One yoga sessions
- One-on-One Pilates sessions
- Music editing
- Writing about dance for magazines and news outlets
- Financial Planning
- Organization skills
- Dance Wear Designer
- Nutrition and Meal Planning
- Social Media Marketing
This is just a list of skills you may have and is only meant to be a reference point. Think about a problem that people have and how you can solve it. If it’s a common problem, people will be very interested in your services.
We as an industry must let go of the idea that being a starving artist is normal and acceptable. This image takes the control out of our hands and places it blindly in the hands of others. This is not, nor should it ever be the case. If you look at any other arts related endeavors, you’ll see that the business model is completely entrenched in it. One example is the film industry. You don’t see major Hollywood films creating a movie and just hoping that someone pays to see it. There is a huge team involved that ensures the business model for the film is set up to succeed and earn money. You must do the same for yourself as a dancer.