Gilded Serpent presents...

Because I’m Worth It!

The Perils of Pricing

Author Calitlyn

by Caitlyn
posted August 24, 2013

Some time ago, a fellow bellydancer posted on a social media site that she needed professional dancers for several unpaid shows and one was from a client organizing a “celebrity party”. It seemed strange that a party for celebrities would not have an entertainment budget. Another dancer explained,

"…is not that they have no money, but is promotion for u, thats how they see it. I used to dance for syrian embassadors and the first times we werent payed but then we were hired for other private parties, so it worked out very well…sometimes if u dont dare u dont get anything back."

This argument is missing something more than punctuation and capital letters: There is a difference between "daring" and "working for free, undercutting other dancers, and misunderstanding the economics of pricing whilst mindlessly genuflecting to celebrity culture."

Value Brand Bellydance

The most obvious problem with price-dropping and freebies is undercutting, even if you don’t mean to hurt someone else’s business. Offering a show for little or nothing means a client will almost certainly choose you over someone who’s requesting the market rate. But why are they choosing you? Not because they like you. Not because they think you’re the best dancer. They’re choosing you because you’re cheap. You’re presenting yourself as the generic Value Brand of bellydancers. Don’t be that guy.

Ooh, celebrities!

I am frequently asked to perform at “celebrity” or “VIP” events. Being in the presence of an alleged VIP is assumed to have monetary value, as is my ability to reference my performance for said VIP after the fact. VIP events are also expected tolead to future paid work, a fallacy I’ll address later.VIP shows do have monetary value, as people are more likely to book an artist who "performs for the stars", but that value is often exaggerated.  As for the fame factor? I’m sure I’m not alone in being indifferent unless it is a very specific celebrity I want to meet. When I ask “Which celebrity?” the person on the line often gets confused, as though I should be excited to be near any famous person. But I’m only asking in case the answer is something like “We’re calling you because Salman Rushdie is throwing a house party with Nobel-Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman”, which is sadly never the case (but would get a discount).

Furthermore, these requests seem unfair. Having fame doesn’t make one deserve a free performance when teachers, delivery men, bank tellers and the guys running the local kebab van are expected to pay for the same service. Celebrities who are generous patrons of the arts set a much finer example than those who exploit their social position to get freebies.

Free publicity?

I was stuffing my face with rather hard Jordan almonds the other day and as I result I now need a filling repaired. Would it be reasonable for me to call my dentist and ask him to do a repair in exchange for the free publicity? After all, I’m a performer and I am constantly being looked at and photographed. I meet a steady stream of new people and many of them compliment me on my teeth or my smile. Could I promise my dentist that I would repay his work by responding to all these compliments by giving out his business card? Many of the complimenters would no doubt have their own dentists or would have no need for such services in the near future. But my dentist might gain a client or two – maybe even a celebrity or a Saudi prince! – and would be able to brag that he does Caitlyn the Bellydancer’s teeth. Do you think he’ll go for it?

Just as I would never ask my dentist to give me free fillings or a teacher to give me free classes or a salesman to give me a free car, I would not expect a professional dancer to do her job for nothing. In addition to the practical consequences (if I made a habit of free shows, I could not afford to eat or pay my student loans or keep a large stock of glitter in thirty colours), free high-quality performances devalue professional shows as a whole by implying that such a service is, in fact, worth nothing.

Caitlyn

The Anchoring Effect

Free shows produce a shift in budget expectations. a client or guest who sees a show and knows it cost nothing will be influenced by that knowledge in future negotiations with performers. In economics, this is called the “anchoring effect”. Anchoring is an irrational cognitive bias in which a person uses an initial piece of information, which may not be logical or even relevant, to make subsequent decisions. Even if a person knows a bellydancer normally costs more than £0, if she sees a bellydancer perform at a party and the host says the show was free, her expected expenditure when she wants to book a dancer will be strongly biased toward £0. This may result in lost work for performers (and frustration on both sides!) as the person trying to hire them will have an unreasonable idea of what she should pay. It also helps explain why those free or discounted jobs that promise to pay the full fee on future bookings always find a reason to keep paying little or nothing. Once your client’s payment expectation is biased toward £0 or even £75, it’s very hard to drag it up to £150.

Dancing at a Premium

Free shows at private events lead to a lowered appreciation for Middle Eastern  dance. By reducing or removing its monetary value, one removes the status of the dance as a decadent luxury and an art worth paying for. A dancer who says "This dance costs 250 pounds" communicates, "I have invested a great deal of time and money to bring you this luxury: a performance of high aesthetic and artistic value" whereas a dancer who says "I am professional—but don’t pay me" communicates "This dance is worth nothing, even when performed by a master".

Several dancers I know practice “premium pricing”, also called “prestige pricing”: keeping the cost high to encourage value and respect for themselves and the dance. While this can have its own drawbacks (eg. excluding people below a certain income level from one’s clientele), it is much more helpful to the dance than performing for free.

But for you, special price!

That doesn’t mean discounts don’t exist. I have performed gratis at events for organisations such as the Oxford Middle Eastern Dance Society, for which I am a teacher. I also perform for a reduced rate at restaurants because such businesses struggle to make a profit in this economy and my full rate would be financially unfeasible without the kind of advance advertising beyond the ken of the average restaurant proprietor. And very occasionally I will agree to drop my rate because a job is very convenient: a ball I’m planning to attend anyway or a nightclub show perfectly en route home from a highly paid wedding gig. In the final case I will always make it clear to the client that s/he is lucky and getting a discounted show. What I will never do is dance for free just because it might lead to future work or allow me to bask in the radiance of a celebrity. If one is to give performances for a reduced or nonexistent fee, I think it is important to consider the impact the price has on ones’s future work, the work of other bellydancers, and the public’s perception of the dance.

Resources:

use the comment box

Have a comment? Use or comment section at the bottom of this page or Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?

  • Gypsy” Dance in America,
    Roma dance usually brings to mind tambourines and skirt-swirling, but these images are mainly a fantasy.
  • Market Yourself with Michelle Joyce, RaqsTV.com Exclusive Content Streams to Your Screen-"Insider Secrets"
    Unlike so many dance DVDs produced these days, the audience for Insider Secrets is not just any dancer. The information is aimed directly at the professional (and almost-professional) performer. Here Michelle Joyce acts as your personal mentor and guide to marketing topics, and she clearly knows a lot about the subject.
  • How to Charge What You Are Worth
    The first step to becoming an effective negotiator is to emotionally detach yourself from the outcome. If you can’t walk away from the deal, you have already lost.
  • How I Accidentally Became a Successful Belly Dance Teacher (and you can too!)
    Now mine is the most popular class, which led to a snowballing of other gyms adding belly dance aerobics classes.
  • Calling all professional dancers! How much do you charge?
    Over the years, we dancers have unwittingly kept the general rate ridiculously low in restaurants and nightclubs.
  • What Happened in Egypt, Egyptian Revolution Part 2: June & July 2013
    That new minister decided to try to ban ballet because it was “too naked for public viewing”. This sparked a round-the-clock sit-in by many artists who took turns performing their art each evening to show their defiance.
  • Photos from Zulu Lounge, May 3rd 2013 at the famous El Rey Theater in Los Angeles, California
    Below are a few highlight photos by Rawtography.com from the Zulu Lounge show held May 3, 2013 in Los Angles, California. The show was produced by dancer Khani Zulu and her husband, tattoo artist Zulu, at the swanky El Rey theater. The show’s theme was "La Nuit d’Absinthe" which inspired artists to be creative with their pieces.
  • "Der Schnerkle" Its Proper Uses and Functions
    Therefore, I reasoned, the use of ones extremities for dancing (beyond transporting one across the stage or making a movement appear finished) was to gather and distribute performance energy from the stage rather than simply wave arms about in the air with artistry and grace.
  • Venue Woes, Adventures in Event Production
    My philosophy is that dance teachers should make a living wage, be well fed and rested, and then, they will give you a great product as a result. Attendees should have a place to stay that is near (or in) the venue of the event. Events should be reasonably priced, and affordable food should be available nearby. Simple, right?
  • A Carousel of Challenges, Bellydancing at the County Fair
    Using correct terminology is important; belly dancers are community performers who are requesting to perform on a community stage.
  • Beauty Has Its Price, The Quest for Beauty, Part 4
    Being involved with an art form that is all about beauty, I too feel the need to present myself as best and as beautiful as possible. Beauty costs in time, pain, and money; and as philosophers have pointed out for millennia: its only fleeting.

  • A week long immersion into Middle Eastern music and dance while camping in the Mendocino redwood forest. Expect live music every night and classes with many music and dance teachers each day. Many of the names are linked to video interviews we have conducted with individuals or to their bio pages here on Gilded Serpent.
  • Munique brings Egypt to Spain Again, 7th International Festival of Egypt in Barcelona 2013
    Barcelona welcomed teachers and lucky participants for a festival that brought Egypt to Spain with well attended lectures, workshops, and galas during four days of fun and learning, January 31st until February 3rd, 2013. This event provided a unique opportunity to learn the art of Oriental dance from the best names in Egypt. span class=”artist”>Randa Kamel (Egypt), Mo Geddawi (Egypt), Gamal Seif (Egypt), Bozenka (Cuba/USA), Amar Gamal (Cuba/USA), Amaru Sabat (Spain), who together with Munique Neith ran workshops throughout an intensive weekend.

   |       |    6 Comments

  1. No Gravatar
    Helena Orientale

    Aug 28, 2013 - 05:08:11

    Required reading for every belly dancer and agent out there.

  2. No Gravatar
    Pauline Costianes

    Aug 28, 2013 - 07:08:22

    EXCELLENT ARTICLE AND SO TRUE!

  3. No Gravatar
    Jack Jones

    Sep 3, 2013 - 10:09:16

    Valuable words for artists ~ and fans/lovers of artists.

  4. No Gravatar
    Sharifa Asmar

    Sep 3, 2013 - 12:09:43

    Completes every conversation about the subject! Thank you for your thoughts and time to share them with us all.

  5. No Gravatar
    Sausan

    Sep 21, 2013 - 12:09:51

    Great article!
    I, also, wouldn’t ask my trusted and professional dentist for free fillings, although I might ask for discounts, as in a senior citizen’s discount.  🙂  Typically, one would go to a dental school for “free” fillings.

    And undercutting happens all the time — that’s simply a fact of life. I see it happening time and time again with companies like Groupon exploiting this “undercutting” phenomenon by offering daily deal discounts, thereby taking my customers away to other Middle Eastern restaurants and away from mine.  Yes, folks, that is a form of undercutting, and it’s legal.  And yes, I, too, have contracted with companies like Groupon to bring in customers into my restaurant.  Like this author, I am that good, and I also cook for virtually free just to get customers into my restaurant — and the price of food continues to rise.  Bottom line, it’s all about the money.

    We can’t demand certain price fixing for dancing, acting, singing, etc. of any entertainer — belly dancer or otherwise — outside another entertainer’s negotiating practices for her/his entertainment expertise.  Entertainment pay is entirely subjective and based solely on the compensation agreement between two people — the agent and the entertainer.  And agreement wins every time.

    Bottom line, and with all due respect to the author of this great article, if you don’t want to dance for free, then don’t.  People will pay for exactly what they get.  And only on a very rare occasion with they get more for what they paid.

    But we need articles like this to step up the thinking and acting on doing anything for free.  Thanks for writing it!

  6. No Gravatar
    Kelly

    Sep 24, 2013 - 03:09:09

    While I agree with everything this article is saying I also believe in performing for free as long as it is for a charity fundraising event.

Click and type in the comment box to add to this discussion. If you want to see an avatar for yourself, set up an avatar at http://www.Gravatar.com

 

Gilded Serpent

MaryEllen Donald