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Being Poor and Working in Dance

Talking about money and dance is hard for me, for a lot of reasons. So for my first blog post of 2017 (oops), that's exactly what I'm going to do. In my eleven years in this community, I've taken on almost all of the roles one can have in this community. I was a student first, then an organizer, then a DJ, and now I teach as well. All of these mantles are additive: I am still a student and don't think that will ever change. But throughout all of these roles, one thing has been true: I, Joey Science, have been pretty damn poor.

I've been a poor student, forking over every spare dollar to the great alter of dance, working door and clean up crew when I couldn't afford my passes.

I've been a poor organizer working to make instruction affordable to people like me, scraping it together. I've lost money on events when I focused too much on making them affordable.

I've been a poor DJ, trying to build the best collection of music for the least amount of money. I've been striving to support living artists and almost entirely reinvesting what I get paid to DJ into my music collection. I've lost money to travel for playing music because I knew I had the tunes that would fit the vibe.

I've been a poor instructor trying to make sure that I got hired enough at big enough events to become well known enough to get hired at other events. I've eaten as little as possible during a weekend to make sure I would have enough to make up for the travel costs that weren't covered because the event only had a budget to cover the big name instructors. I've contributed to this system by continuing to accept jobs that don't pay my travel because I love the work and I think I have something important to say about dance. I think students benefit from seeing a gender nonconforming lead teaching classes.

Because I have lived each of these roles, I have so much empathy for the organizers that aren't budgeting travel for their guest instructors and DJs, but are still trying to bring in great people to get enough people in the door to meet costs. I have empathy for the students who are struggling to get their pass money together, and appreciate the budget cutting that organizers do.

But as a working artist who is still trying to make ends meet financially, I feel that struggle most poignantly these days. As I cut back on events that I'm attending just for fun and increasing the events that I'm attending as a member of staff, I sometimes end up losing money just to work an event on the off chance that I'll get hired by an event with more budget in the future.

Fair compensation for the artists in our world is a thing that impacts every member of our community in one way or another. You're probably thinking of pass prices or organizer profits or teacher's costs. But, more than that, fair compensation is the only way forward for us as a community of artists. When artists make money on art, they have the time and energy to dedicate to their art. In that dedication and practice, we see the forefront of our art innovate and bring new life to the dance. Imagine where our art will go when every single working artist is paid fairly for their efforts.

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