Once upon a time, I was a broke student who wanted to dance. I jumped at opportunities that allowed me to learn for low or no cost whenever I could. Eventually, one of those opportunities turned into a full dance partnership.
When I started teaching, I remembered dancing on a budget. So, for the first while that I was teaching classes, I thought that students should have access to classes – even if they couldn’t pay. So, I very frequently would accept students who said they were “unable” to pay.
I rarely do that anymore. This is why.
A Few Types of Discount Requesters
The first part of why I rarely give out free or discounted dance-related services anymore is because the majority of people who request free things are perfectly capable of paying for it – they just don’t want to. Here are the most common types of requests that I get:
1. The Budgeter
As an event organizer and teacher, I’ve lost track of all the people who have asked me for discounts because they “couldn’t afford it.” Many of those people then “found” money to travel to faraway events, take private lessons, and do other programs.
What this tells me about the person is not that they don’t have money to spend on what I have to offer – it’s that they don’t value what I’m offering enough to pay for it. Or, put simply: they’d rather spend their money on something else.
If someone wants to spend money on something else, that’s perfectly fine. Everyone is entitled to spend their money in the way that makes the most sense for them. But, I’m not about to discount classes for someone so that they can find enough money to go pay full price for someone else’s program, event, or class.
Now, there are some people who are legitimately on a budget and cannot otherwise afford classes. But, they have other characteristics – and are very rarely the ones who lead with “can I take classes for free/cheap because I’m broke?” Rather, they usually lead with “is there any way I can get involved in a way that will let me reduce the cost of classes?”
2. The “I won’t be there for all the classes!” or “I only want to do part of the event!”
The second most common reason that people ask for a discount is because they’ll miss some of a particular program, or because they only are interested in part of the package.
Is it reasonable to ask Ticketmaster for a discounted concert ticket because you don’t want to watch the opening act? No, it’s not. Ticketmaster would say “tough luck”. So do most other activity programs, from martial arts to yoga.
Further, when you purchase an event ticket or a class program, the prices are very often already discounted. For example, if I charge $100 for four 2-hour lessons, the per lesson rate is $25. However, the actual per-lesson cost outside of the package may be $40 ($20/hr, or $160 for four classes). For an event, the ticket may cost $200. It may be $130 for a nights-only pass, or perhaps $160 for workshops only (total $290). The discount is already built in because it is a package.
If you’re not into the whole package, it’s fair to inquire about individual item prices… just recognize that you may end up spending more per item.
Additionally, if your teacher is willing to let you pay for installments, don’t assume that means that you can stop paying if you decide you want to go away for a few weeks. If you sign up for a full pass or program that is not typically paid in installments, respect that you’ve signed up (and are responsible for paying) for the entire program. Otherwise, you should be paying a la carte prices.
3. The “Some money is better than no money!”
These are the dancers who think they are doing dance teachers and organizers a ‘favour’ by being willing to pay anything for the service. For example, “I think you’re prices are too high. Instead of $150, I’m willing to pay $100 because I think that’s fair. Otherwise I won’t buy a ticket, so you should accept my offer. $100 is better than $0.”
In my experience, the people who try to take this approach are way more trouble than they are worth. A customer isn’t doing a “favour” to a store by haggling the price of a pair of shoes. A dancer is similarly not doing a “favour” for an organizer or teacher by haggling the price of classes or an event pass.
Attendees are absolutely important to the vibe and success of any event. But, the ones who are actually supportive (as opposed to entitled) are of infinitely more value than the five or ten people who think that the event should be blessed to have them.
Further, in my experience, those people who believe they are doing the organizer a ‘favour’ often end up being troublemakers at the actual event or class. This makes me even less likely to humour their discount request.
Who I still do give free or discounted things to
Every once in a while, I come across a person who is actually budget-constrained, or otherwise very appreciative of the opportunity. They’re desperate for knowledge, and want to jump in with both feet. But, these people have something in common: they’re thankful for the opportunity, and they want to give back and get involved.
How do I know someone falls into this category? These are the main signs.
1. They attack the opportunity fully
I’ve seen some people who request free classes or passes, and when given the opportunity, don’t take it seriously. They may show up chronically late (or not at all), or disengage with the process. When I see this, it tells me that the person doesn’t really care about the opportunity.
By contrast, when I give it to someone who is actually hungry, they attack every opportunity. For example, they will come to all the classes they possibly can, even if it requires dancing in the other role, or watching from the sidelines because they don’t have a partner.
2. They recognize opportunities
A big red flag for me is people who fail to appreciate opportunities they may have. For example, a student who says “if I help out with this class, can I get this other class for free? After all, this class is a lower level than my skill, and I’m willing to show up.”
In this situation, the person is failing to recognize that the other class is still a learning opportunity for them. Getting to take a class for free is already an opportunity – even if it isn’t at your level. It doesn’t mean that you should get more stuff for free.
By contrast, when someone realizes that ‘helping out’ with the other class is an opportunity for them to also grow, it indicates that this is a person who is serious about learning.
3. It’s not all about what they can get
In most situations, there is an element of getting something when a person agrees to volunteer or somehow help out in exchange for a discount or free service. However, most people who are hungry for the opportunity view their help as a way of giving back what they’ve received – even without a formal volunteering arrangement.
This can be as simple as a scholarship student recognizing when the room isn’t appropriately set up for class, and taking the initiative. Or, it can be the volunteer who shows up with a positive attitude willing to help – rather than sitting in the corner on a phone.
In some cases, people who are paying for classes are also willing to do these things. Very often, they recognize the contributions that the teacher or organizer is making – and they want to be part of making that happen beyond simply paying for services.
At times, those contributions can become so substantial that organizers end up providing free things to that person to thank them for their tremendous efforts.
What should you think about if you really want or need a scholarship or other discount
If you feel that you really are in need of free or discounted dance related activities, it is possible for you to find the opportunity. However, you should ask yourself a few things first:
1. Do I actually want this? Does the opportunity excite me?
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is important to make sure your motivations are in the right place prior to moving forward.
2a. If I am given this opportunity, will I be excited to give back?
If your answer is that you just want to receive free/discounted stuff and aren’t looking to actually give back, re-think embarking on this path. That doesn’t mean you need to commit to being a front-line volunteer at all times, but you should have some desire to reciprocate and express appreciation for the opportunity.
2b. Am I willing to give back in ways that are actually of value?
This is a big one. Some people are willing to “give back”, but only in a very selective way. For example, they’re willing to “give back” by selling their jewelry to students at a social or DJing – and nothing else.
Keep in mind that your ideal method of ‘giving back’ may not be of actual value to the person who gave you an opportunity. Usually, the things that mean the most are tasks that are mundane, repetitive, or boring. This includes setting up and tear down at socials and classes, or sitting at the registration desk instead of dancing. It may include facilitating a fun time for beginners.
I love being able to provide opportunities for people – but it makes me really happy when those people are willing to help out in ways that aren’t necessarily their “favourite” job. It tells me that they aren’t only thinking about what I’m giving them – but also what they can do to make my life a little easier.
3. Do I feel like the opportunity provider owes me something?
This is a big one. If you feel like your help is “worth more” than your opportunity and you feel the opportunity provider is in debt to you, this type of arrangement probably isn’t for you.
Questions or comments? Leave them below.
Thanks for this great post! I’d add that giving too much away for free doesn’t help the dance scene generally. I.e. perhaps one dance teacher has a great ‘day job’ and can afford to teach for free, which undercuts another teacher who is trying to make a living charging a fair price.
This is so true! Great point, Salsafeet, and great article, Laura! I also want to add that venues, staff, late night food, etc… also cost money. Organizers in some dances, in particular dances that aren’t as well known (eg Brazilian Zouk) often work for free. If too many people get in for free, then they pay for the events out of pocket. Some people who have great day jobs can afford to make up the difference to help feed their and their community’s passion and help grow a scene, but for those who can’t, it’s crucial that their students pay and pay enough to help break even (see salsafeet’s reply too, teachers who give away to much hurt teachers who depend on these classes to pay rent). I’m one of those people who wants to learn but needs to be on a budget. I volunteer every chance I get, but if there’s a life changing opportunity for me to grow and the organizer cannot afford to let me in for free, I’ll ride Greyhound, eat trailmix and carrotsticks for lunch, and sleep on air mattresses and couches to make ends meet and pay for the event. In the long run, if I’ve gotten in for free elsewhere, one event pass can effectively cover multiple events as well as help support the future of these opportunities so I can keep enjoying them, which is the whole point anyway 🙂
I often run into issues with people who really really want me to run a free event… But aren’t willing to help find an appropriate venue, or negotiate with vendors or sponsors, or source music, or anything else. They just want me to do all the work (taking time from my day job, and thus losing all that opportunity cost) so that they can dance for free. Or they tell me that something is a great marketing opportunity and then disappear when I ask them to find out more about what is needed for us to participate 🙂 Or even ask them to find five other people to participate in a demo…
Yep, if you want to do something for free, you have to do some of the volunteer work that goes into providing it.
My daughter is very interested in Ballet lessons. We are on a fixed income we receive survivor benefits my husband her father passed 2 years ago and she’s ready to get involved in dance. I was just wanting some information and pricing if available and thank you so much.
I am sorry for your loss. I would recommend reaching out to ballet schools in your area to inquire about scholarships, program assistance, or volunteering. There also may be some community classes at community centers, etc. that are catered towards people on a fixed income.
This blog doesn’t really delve into solo dances like ballet; it’s more geared towards social dancers.