Monday, October 31, 2011

The Cost of a Good Education

I read a lot about performance undercutters on various message boards and online groups. Performers then often discuss the hidden costs of performing. Costumes, lessons, make-up, music, travel time and many other factors affect the cost of hiring a professional performer.

Here a few articles on Bellydance Performer's rates:
Shems: Behind the Rates
Mary: The High Cost of Rates
Shira: Why do you charge so much for only 15 minutes of dancing?

But today I am talking about the true cost of teaching a bellydance class and how I set my rates.

So students want to know why Bellydance classes aren't as low cost as other fitness classes, or don't come free with gym membership.

Well, for one bellydance is just that, dance. It is not a fitness class where an instructor can do the same basic steps over and over for the advantage of caloric burn (there are classes like this but they should supplement a regular dance regime). Being a bellydance instructor means a lot more than just showing up to class and leading a session of follow the bouncing butt.

An instructor spend on average 3 hours outside of class time for every hour of teaching. This time is spent selecting music, choreographing, writing notes, watching videos, making videos and training.
There is also a financial and time commitment of the instructors own continuing education. Bellydance does not have a finite end point. There isn't a book, that when you get to the end you know every thing there is to know about bellydance. There are countless books, dvds and workshops to be studied. I find it easy to attend at least one major workshop per month within driving distance. Because this dance comes from a historical and geographical context, it is important that good instructors study dance history, world history and keep up with how the geopolitical factors of today affect bellydance.
Even if you are only teaching one specific style, you owe it to your students to know enough about other styles that you can recommend good instructors and give them some sort of context of how your style differs and relates.
Aside from these exhaustive costs and time commitments, there are the direct costs of studio rent, liability insurance and advertising. For those instructors lucky enough to own their own studio then they pay more in utilities and higher rates on business and liability insurance.
All this goes into what an instructor charges for his/her classes.

Now I am not trying to make you say," oh 'Azraa, how committed you are to your students." The thing is, I love teaching.  Nothing makes me happier than when I see a student execute something I thought them, or recite a bit of history that I know they learned from me.
I just want people to understand that we, the dance teachers, aren't in it for the money. We can't be. To do all this, and to really work hard to be the best you can be and to make your students the best they can be well, you have to really be committed and practically commit-able.

It would also be a lot easier for me to say, "well, I make enough at my day job that I can teach for free." Sure I would have people lined up outside to take my classes, but that devalues the product we are trying to sell. A good quality dance education is worth something, until you make it worthless. I must also consider my fellow artists and instructors who do make their living from performing and teaching. Charging business sustainable rates means that all instructors whether part-time or full-time can support their business. So not only am I giving value to my classes which are definitely worth value but setting a standard so that other artists/performers/instructors can compete.
"But 'Azraa," you say. "why would you want competition?" Well, in truth, I don't. But I also don't want to drive competition away because I am the cheapest in town. That works for big box stores and corporate conglomerates but I am an artist and an educator. If I am going to drive the competition away it will be by being the best. And as long as the market is not over-saturated, a little competition is healthy. In this business , it is great to have other instructors and dancers who you can work with to put on events, have as guest artists, refer gigs to if you are booked up....there are plenty of reasons to be thankful for a bellydance community of more than just one. Granted, this only counts if you community is made up of reputable and well educated dancers, but that's a blog post for another day.

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