Dollars to Donuts:
Thoughts About Proper Compensation
posted April 18, 2012
Dancing and compensation is, emotionally, a highly charged topic. In some ways, I understand the need for people to debate proper compensation publicly; but rightfully, compensation is something private between the individual and the employer.
Compensation is so personal because it reflects your values and what you really want out of life.
Discussing compensation shows you how someone defines her own worth, what she wants to contribute to the world, and how she sees her place in it. This is why people generally don’t talk about compensation; it’s so personal, and it is so easy to cast judgment on something so subjective. Criticism hits so close to home, and who would want to deal with that issue?
Please notice I’m not talking about money. Money is one form of compensation, but there are many ways someone can be compensated. To dive into my daytime world for a short time, (I am a design consultant working with mobile and Web apps.) sometimes startups don’t have cash with which to pay you, so they may choose to pay you in shares with some cash, provide a more casual work environment, and give you the freedom to come and go as you wish, work at home, or bring your dog into work. Larger firms may be more formal, but they typically offer higher salaries, better benefit packages, more social outlets, and more resources to get things done.
In the end, you make your decision about where to work based on what the company is offering that matches your values.
Keep in mind that people know in general, “You get what you pay for”. This is true of any service. If someone makes a decision for a service purely based on price or cost, in all fields, that means that he doesn’t understand what you are offering and bringing to the table. In those situations, the person undercutting you or trying to steal work away from you is doing you a favor. Most likely that client will be the biggest pain, won’t understand what you are offering, won’t respect what you are doing, and you will wish you never agreed to the gig. In my experience, people like this turn out to be your worst clients! When someone asks me to do a gig for nothing, I value in return; I smile and answer, “No thanks!” Privately, I sigh with relief because I dodged a bullet.
Notice I said that I wouldn’t do a gig if I were offered nothing that I value.
If a charity asks me to do a gig, or a colleague is putting on a show in a large venue where I’ll get great publicity (but I would be paid no money) I would do the show. In both cases, I may not be getting cash, but I’ll be getting exposure that I otherwise would not have gotten by myself.
I determine which gig is most lucrative for me based on the following criteria:
- Able to entertain a good group of people who respect Belly dancers and want me there
- Able to make a party memorable
- Limited hassle and stress
- Exposure for future gigs
- Paid in cash
Therefore, let’s say someone wants me to dance at a party but doesn’t have the right amount of money to pay me. During negotiations, sometimes I’ll give someone a discount if I know the person, and assume that because this is a good person, probably his friends will be good people too. From past experience, I know that, typically, I get great tips at parties like that. Additionally, I get leads for other parties.
I don’t like to feel stressed when running between parties, worrying about being on time or not leaving anything behind. I would rather be at a single party for the evening than dance at 3 parties for 30 minutes each. Also, I’d rather dance for a group who will appreciate my talent (and potentially pay less) than dash between places for people who are so concerned with cost that they don’t care what I’m doing and in turn, make the experience a little less fun for me. With my approach, I have been lucky; I have never danced anywhere sketchy and always have performed for wonderful people. Nevertheless, even so, dancing for a nice group for $50 less is better for me than dancing for jerks for an additional $100 more.
When it comes to dancing at a restaurant, I’m expecting to get exposure to get private parties and build up my name as a dancer. I’m a shy person and that is probably the best way for me to become better-known. Of course, I expect some pay, but my goal that night is to get audience approval (usually demonstrated by applause and tips) so I have to have my A-game on! Yes, honestly, I’d prefer getting tips, but I can’t count on that happening, unless I do an exceptionally unique show. (Sometimes, the hope for tips give me extra encouragement to be "on" that night.)
When I danced at Al Masri, I did the gig to become known, to get experience, and simply learn how to work an audience. (I’m surprised Sausan let me dance there at first. Honestly; I was so scared to get onstage and so stiff, I don’t think I would have hired myself!) However, Sausan gave me a chance, and I still appreciate that she let me dance on her stage and learn how to perform. Given that I was going to meet all of my personal values that go beyond cash payment, (making people happy, getting me better-known as a performer) working for trade made sense for me. Yes, you did read that right; I worked for trade!
What I gave Sausan: 2 nights dancing and dancing for special events as requested.
What I received in return:
- Free coaching: 1-2 hours/week (value: $100/hr)
- Free wine: $8-24/night
- Free food: $15-25/night, depending
Which came to $73 – 249 per night plus tips, plus getting a following, plus being included in all of her shows as one of the principal dancers.
As I grew more experienced, I received:
- Free rehearsal space: $15-25/hr (4-6 hours/week)
- Free wine: $8-24 per night
- Free food: $15-25 per night, depending
- Free music: invaluable experience for me
All of this totaled to $53 to 124/night plus tips, (The better I got, the more tips I made.) plus building my following, being included in all of her shows as one of the principal dancers.
Between what I got in trade and the experience I gained, I believe that I was generously compensated. To be clear, I was generously compensated within my own value system.
I want to demonstrate a different perspective of compensation that one does not often hear these days. I dance because I love to dance.
Receiving money for my performance is important, and definitely helps the ego and pocket, but to my way of thinking, the compensation comes in a complete package. It’s about the money, extras (tips, trade deals, etc.), as well as being in a positive environment. (Definitely, dancing at Al Masri was a positive experience for me, and all the parties at which I danced were great fun!) It’s a combination of many factors that keeps me motivated, including my love of dance.
Please note: cash-wise, I do make a profit from my dancing; it is not a large profit, but a profit nonetheless. The money I get from dancing part-time pays for my classes, workshops, transportation costs, and costumes, plus a little extra. That makes it a better deal. However, at the end of the day, no matter what gig I take; private party, restaurant gig, or stage show, I know I need to live with myself and my values, and keeping my values clear means more to me than changing myself into someone who cares too much about what other people think, including how other dancers regard what and exactly how much money I receive.
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