Dallas — Don’t be afraid to ask for money.
That’s the one thing they never tell when you’re starting your own organization. You’re always advised to have money, find money, get money, get people behind your project that have money, but you’re never told to just ask for money.
For many choreographers, their ideal world is one where they are able to be the artistic director of their own company, producing show after show, touring, and having a solid base of dancers who just work for them. It’s a beautiful dream, and maybe it can happen. But let’s be honest: it doesn’t happen that often. Not anymore. Not in this economic age. Making dance is easy, making money, well, that’s a whole other beast. The hardest part of any choreographer’s task is finding sustainable funding. Who is going to support your projects?
Luckily, we don’t live in an age where we need patrons with deep, deep pockets; instead, we need people with active pockets. People who support the arts, and people who support you. You know that friend base you have so steadily built up on Facebook, all of your followers on Twitter and Instagram? They are your best resource. They are your built-in crowd. They are the ones who are going to be your most vocal ambassadors. They are the ones who are going to fund your projects.
In the last 10 years due to the increase of social media platforms, crowdfunding (an offshoot of crowdsourcing) has become a go-to for creative projects. Small dance companies and individual dancers have been turning to sites like Kickstarter, Headstart, FundAnything, and Indiegogo (just to name a few) to raise money and increase awareness of their projects.
Crowdfunding, by definition, is the collective effort of individuals who network and pool their money together to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations. It’s the role of the crowd that matters, as they are the ones who influence the ultimate outcome. For example, their participation in your Kickstarter campaign is how you successfully reach your goal. Their donation is the line between you and your show.
So in between rehearsals, production meetings, interviews, PR campaigns, and trying to sleep, you need to find ways to keep motivating the crowd to participate. Find ways to help them feel like they are part of your company, and show them how their participation helps them to be partly responsible for the success of the funding campaign, the final product, and how they will always be a part of your family, whether you are working on a show or not.
And that’s the Sixth Position, the part that no one talks about: When you are not building a show, you still need to be building an audience.
That’s where we get stuck. If it’s so obvious, as I have stated here, then why don’t we just do it. Part of the issue is that once we get use to using one form of marketing or social media, something new, shiner, and sexy comes along, and the learning curve is readjusted.
But that’s the thing: you have to stay flexible. And that’s exactly what a dancer is built for. Social media is not scary. It’s just a different stage space, and that’s how I want to approach the following concepts of audience building.
Play to your strengths.
What do you know better than anyone else? Dance. So post about it. Link to videos that inspire you. Share articles that discuss issues you are interested in. Share shows you are going to see, want to see, or motivate you. Discuss your own activities. You have to tell people about your projects for them to know about it. Talk about yourself.
Be that person (you know who I’m talking about. Don’t worry, you’re friends will still “like” you).
Become an arts authority. Be the person in your circle that people come to for dance-related, or even arts-related, questions and information. Become a resource. What do you have to say about an issue? Celebrate your field, not just to your own work. Keep current and leverage pop culture references and headline news. How does dance affect your community? Become a part of that conversation.
Keep your standards high.
Hire better photographers. Does your friend have a camera? Great. Who cares? Everyone can be a “photographer,” but you really should consider spending some money to make sure you’re getting the shot you want. Hire someone who genuinely cares about your relationship. Not too professional, that they just want their cut. North Texas is full of photographers and videographers that want more for their portfolio and are interested in dance.
Dance is ephemeral. An image lasts longer than a word. Unless you are lucky enough to tour, all that remains of your performance is an image. Make sure it’s a good one. And then, share it. Share it, share it, share it.
Extending the ownership to your audience.
Engage your audience. After you’ve shared your photos or posts, start a conversation. Or if one has already been started, contribute to it. Don’t be afraid to dialogue; everyone loves to talk. And let your audience be a part of your process.
Share behind the scenes photos, videos, dancer confessionals—this puts a face to the names. Or create a contest. Make an online contest for song submissions to be choreographed. Poll your audience about themes and ideas. This might even stretch and inspire you toward ideas that you would have not come up with on your own.
The Tipping Point
How do you get the people who are involved in everything else, involved with you? Collaborate extensively and often. Make yourself visible. Have meetings even if you’re not currently working on anything, because you never know what someone can bring to your company. Every conversation could lead to potential donors, collaborators, or audience members. Just say yes.
Dance is about community building. It’s the one art form we can all understand, as it is based on the body and how that body moves through and in space. It’s one of the most beautiful, inspiring, motivational, and understood images we have. It tells a story, and it’s the first mode of storytelling we had. So what better way to push dance into the digital age than by creating an online presence for it. Dance companies need to use the resources available to them to extend the life of their organization. They need to rewrite their stories in 140 characters or less.
But if you’re not as keen on grassroots development, perhaps fiscal sponsorship is more your speed.
In 2012, the Wall Street Journal published an article that outlined this concept for the non-accounting types out there. Based on research done in New York City by Dance/NYC—the service organization for the dance industry in the state—that examined the role of sustainable funding and establishment of nonprofits to manage that funding, they found that fiscal sponsorships were having a comeback moment as new online tools have made it easier for artists to interact with sponsors and donors, through an secondary intermediary.
A fiscal sponsorship guarantees the choreographer artistic autonomy while the sponsor organization handles the administrative burdens of achieving and maintaining tax-exempt status, as defined by the 501(c)(3) section of the IRS code. Any funds raised are donated through the sponsoring 501(c)(3), and then passed along to the choreographer or company.
In other words: make friends. Join up with an existing arts organization, learn from them before you go out and try to establish your own nonprofit entity, because, it’s true what they say: respect your elders, they know what’s up.
» Danielle Georgiou is a dance education, critic and writer. She is the Founder and Choreographer of DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group) and performance artist. DGDG’s upcoming performance, Dirty Filthy Diamonds runs February 26-March 8 at the Margo Jones Theatre. Her column Sixth Position appears the third Sunday of the month on TheaterJones.com.