Pies and the Economics of Bellydance

i’ve been talking about typing about this for what seems like months now, so with my schedule completely out-of-whack, it’s time to spend a little time on a subject that i’ve seen “from the outside” as i travel from event to event. hopefully, i can get away with this (without hurting any feelings or stepping on any dancing toes) – i’m looking in from the outside, and this is just a perspective.

it’s about the economics. it’s about the community. and it’s about you dancers.

i think this should be talked about, and i’m happy to get things going, from there it’s up to you… perhaps more importantly, dancers can do something about all this.

back in march, i took some time to put together a map to show the geographic distribution (but not density) of “danse orientale” instructors in the united states. that gave me some basic data to build on.

more recently, i was browsing the wameda newsletter and noticed that there were 14 instructors listed for virginia, 21 in maryland and 5 in dc. plus another 6 that thought listing in the wameda publication was worth doing. that’s 46 instructors in “wameda territory.”

looking at the same issue of the newsletter, there are 10 venues listed with regularly scheduled dance events.

now for the bottleneck part. if you pick a completely wild guess of 10 students per instructor (work with me on this), that means there are 460 dance students (give or take) in the wameda territory – plus 46 instructors – so 506 dancers.

let’s say half of those dancers would never dance in public – they’re dancing for themselves, or for the exercise, or because the aliens implanted glitter in their brainstems. so that leaves 253 dancers that might dance in front of an audience.

let’s further say that half of those dancers aren’t ready for a public performance yet. now we have 126 dancers.

and finally, let’s say (without picking on anyone in particular) that half of those dancers really shouldn’t be dancing in front of an audience (and you can each pick your own reasons why…). we’re down to 63.

now, if you just accept all those assumptions with me for a moment, there are 63 dancers in the wameda territory that are a) willing, b) ready and c) able to dance “out.”

and flashback with me for a minute to remember that there are 10 places with regular dancers in the wameda territory. put it all together, and that means 63 dancers competing for 10 spaces. and that’s the problem. too many dancers, not enough places for dancers to dance (and get paid).

you, of course, can do your own version of this math. in fact, i encourage you to do so… here. in the comments. tell me what you think about each assumption in this story – is 10 students per teacher low or high? why? more than half not ready? why? i’d love to see your perspectives.

the dc area has a huge, growing dance community, but it’s still a fairly isolated community. it’s the same restaurants and the same formats.

sure, each venue can do more than one dancer, but the broad point i’m trying to spur some discussion on is this: you can spend a lot of time and energy trying to get into those same 10 gigs, or you can spend probably less time and energy finding new gigs that work. equally important is finding “semi-professional” or “starter” gigs for dancers making the transition from studio to stage.

some of you out there are doing this already, and if i weren’t going out of my way to be completely neutral with this post, i’d mention the ones i know.

today, in the dc area, there is a fairly limited pie, and a lot of dancers trying to get a piece of it. please, if you want to see public dance continue to evolve in this area, and you have any motivation of your own… please get out there and do what you can to make some new pies. think outside the “middle eastern restaurant” and find other places that would consider a mutually-beneficial arrangement with the deep pool of talent that is the dc dance community.

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