Right now, most of you are probably reading from a country in quarantine (or, close to it). I am; all of our classes, socials, and parties have been cancelled. I’m staring down the barrel of a potential event cancellation if the virus does not pass quickly.
I’m one of the “lucky” dance teachers in this situation. I have a steady job that is not at risk of disappearing, and can easily work from home. I don’t have a studio to pay for (other than a couple per-hour bookings). At maximum, I’m a couple thousand dollars out from cancelled classes (cancelling the event would be another ballpark entirely). I’m not at risk of losing my home, or of not being able to feed myself.
A lot of artists are not so lucky.
By extension, a lot of our venues, studios, and events are also at risk of shuttering their doors forever. Great artists may have to consider changing their field of work entirely. This includes performers, photographers, teachers, (the rare) professional organizers, studio owners, and DJs.
If we do nothing, we run the risk that, when this is all over, our communities will need to be rebuilt from zero (or close to it).
The power of community
As a community, we have a way we can save our fellows. Much like social distancing, it can only be done by acting together – and with those more capable taking on more of the responsibility. The single, most powerful weapon we have is to pay for services, or give donations.
Many hobbyists have higher incomes and work in jobs (for example, technology) that can be done remotely. For many of those people, life in quarantine still features an 8h work day with a reliable paycheque and benefits. These are also the people who make up a large chunk of the financial backbone for studios, socials, and events.
The members of our community with disposable income are the front line for the dance community surviving COVID-19. For example, they can:
- Pay a monthly membership fee; studios can cover their rent
- Book virtual privates or coaching; artists can feed themselves
- Sign up for an online course; the teacher continues to have income
- “Donate” the value of their ticket to an organizer from a cancelled event; the event may survive
- Buy music or playlists from a DJ; the DJ can continue to pay their expenses
- Order takeout from a nighttime venue; the restaurant can continue operating
- Purchase prints or future sessions from a photographer/videographer; that person may keep a roof over their head.
For most of us, we are used to paying for a high-quality, in-person experience. Many of us may not be used to paying for music at all. But, in a time of crisis, the same value proposition may not be there. Video is not the best learning tool. Online classes are not necessarily the same as being in-person to receive corrections. In some cases, there may be no classes, socials, or events at all.
This is part of being a patron. It can mean you are providing more money than your personal valuation because you see the value on a higher level. For example, the value in keeping a studio alive through quarantine by paying for services that cannot be rendered, in order to ensure they will be able to re-open once this difficult time passes. Or, by not asking for a refund or pass transfer forward for an event that is cancelled, in the hopes that you can offset the financial burden enough to make sure it happens again next year.
Even in the case of online classes or coaching, it may mean that you pay the same as what you would pay for the in-person experience – even if you think the value is not quite as high. Or, maybe instead of YouTube, you buy the music directly from the artist.
Above and beyond
If you are someone in the top percentages of earnings within the dance community, consider whether you wish to support more than your “fair share”. Buy services you don’t need – or even just donate. Make up for the ground lost by others being out of work and unable to support the artists.
Yes, this is completely your personal decision. There is no obligation on anyone to provide relief to the artists in our communities. In fact, that support should only be given when there is an absence of obligation or resentment – on both sides.
For example, artists can ask for contributions and describe why the contributions are needed, but should not be pressuring or threatening their students into giving. When classes resume, patrons should not be using their past contributions to bully or force artists into providing specific services or benefits to them.
At the end, our patronage should be a freely given, no-strings-attached, life-saving gift to the community – not an obligation.
I won’t be creating my own public for-profit video series. The reason why is that I’m not in serious financial risk (aside from our event) – and I don’t want to divert funds away from my more vulnerable colleagues. If you are an artist with a sufficient, secure source of income, please leave the bulk of online classes to those who desperately need the financial support.
That doesn’t mean you should stop teaching your current students online, but it does mean that the biggest support you can give to the community is to promote those who are at risk of shuttering forever. Provide those people a platform to subsist. Or, even buy their services yourself (it never hurts to see how others do things!).
One other thing that is worth noting: if you are a providing free online services through videos or coaching, please consider that this may negatively impact those who are trying to survive. There is also a big difference between providing a single, free demo versus a full free online program. If you are secure enough financially to offer free programs, you likely fall under the “secure artists” umbrella and may want to reconsider online services at this time.
We have the power
We can get through this and largely protect most of our vulnerable members. But, it will take a group effort. Just like choosing social distancing can save lives, choosing to actively support our venues, artists, and organizers can save the life of our dance communities.
We are not an economic powerhouse; we are a vulnerable artistic service industry. We likely aren’t going to receive government bailouts. Many landlords are unlikely to give studios or artists any special treatment unless mandated by the government.
But, we have a community with strong bonds. We have a sense of what it means to act as a collective instead of in pursuit of individual interests. We can come through this ready to dance another day – or we can come out of quarantine to a gutted community teetering on life support.
So: which future will we choose?