I have been learning dance for 22 years. Yes, that is a lot.
Often, people ask us whether this means that we have our own dance classes.
No. That is not the only reason to learn dance.
“How much would you charge for a performance?” is the next question.
“It depends on what sort of performance it is,” I reply. “If you want a full-fledged dance drama, obviously, our cost is higher, so we charge more.”
If it is not a dance drama, people ask, “Why is it so expensive?”
I never know what to reply. I have so many ideas in my head, but I think, “Isn’t it obvious?”
1) We practise a lot. If we need to put up something that is professional, it is necessary, don’t you think?
2) If you want us to be “professional”, at some level, you accept that performance is our source of income. We perform three or four times a year, usually. Calculate how much a performance ought to cost if you think of it in terms of annual income.
3) We pay our accompanying artists well. Just because organisers don’t pay us does not mean we don’t pay them. This means we pay a vocalist, a mridangist, a violinist, sometimes a flautist and make-up artists.
4) “Why don’t you use recorded music?” people ask.
Professionally recorded music is at least four times as expensive, and certainly less rewarding for the audience.
Again, I say, don’t you think it is not exactly what you would call ‘expensive’?
These are conversations that happen all the time. Sometimes they happen out there in the open. More often, people just think “these artists are very pricey” and let go of the idea of professional performers.
It was in France that I discovered things could be different. We performed in a place that was totally out of the way, and, as a result, only ten people showed up for the performance. The nominal entry fee probably just about covered the costs of the programme.
Yet, we were paid over double what the organisers would have received from ticket sales.
“We’re sorry we’re paying you so little …”
“But you don’t need to pay us at all,” we protested. “Not when you recovered nothing from ticket sales!”
Our Ethiopian hosts and French organisers were aghast. “But artists must be respected! There’s no question of not paying you! We should pay you at least five times this amount but, unfortunately, we can’t …”
Another world, that is. Another world altogether.