Do what you love and the money will follow.
Do what you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life.
This is our era, and it hasn't always been this way. Most of us remember a time where almost every American had the same life plan template:
Graduate high school
Go to college
Get a stable job with health benefits
Retire and play with grandchildren.
In our era, people are getting paid money to eat loudly and closely into a microphone. One young boy has completely funded himself for life by unpacking toys on video. Miranda sings puts on really awful clothes and makeup and acts a total fool, just the way we used to with our friends, except she's making millions for it.
Cool. Also, there's nothing wrong with our parent's era either.
For every magical thing we can say about breaking the 9-5 and paving our own way, it had its own set of benefits and drawbacks well, statistically, people were a lot of happier then.
The idea about monetizing what you do has become a low-grade fever in our generation. It rages through everything, this feeling that if you love making people laugh, you can be a paid youtube star. Or that as a dancer, we should be making a full-time income if we really love it and work hard enough. Today I want to talk about a huge point of confusion and help direct us a place where we can be honest with ourselves about where our greatest joy lies...because just like everyone that bought into the life plan template of previous generations, we're all buying into this one, and it's probably hella worse than any other.
I want to start by reaching for lowest hanging fruit, that is, what becomes of your passion when you turn it into your income.
I hope that one day I can stop adding these disclaimers but since this is the prime time of call-out culture, here it is: there are exceptions to every rule.
However, monetizing anything comes with an automatic policing that weaves its way through the creative process. Money can start controlling arts. We don't consider this often, because we consider brilliant painters who worked off of whim and were paid handsomely for their efforts.
These have been highlighted, but we don’t understand what an exception this is.
There have been multiple instances of brilliant artists who found themselves on a fast track to mediocrity as they attempt to appeal to a mass audience.
I've done plenty of paid dance projects, and here's a shortlist of the ways getting paid to dance or choreograph has directly led to compromises:
Here's a scenario I've faced several times:
They end up on a contract for something they don’t really want to draw or paint.
They work through the contract, getting approval for all stages of work. Even though the person who’s directing the contract, has no idea what dance could, should or would be.
Near the end, someone higher up says, “Ehh, I want something totally different!”
The artist says, “Payout on this contract, and I’ll write up a new contract for what your big boss wanted all along, but never mentioned to you.”
Big boss gets wind of this and shouts: “I’m not paying for something I don’t want to use!”
The original contract is either paid out and the work is never used or now the artist is spending more time and money trying to collect what’s owed to them than they are creating art.
This is not an uncommon scenario.
One of the things that’s been really frustrating is working with commercialized marketing campaigns that love the ideas of a FlashMob but don’t realize the saturation, or they love the idea of having dance in their marketing campaigns, but they get really fixated on a viral video they saw, and they want it to be just like the viral video.
It’s really hard to make people understand the truth behind the artistic process or what the outcomes could be.
So I have been in scenarios where I have put my dancers to work and I have paid them for their time, but then that work was never used.
Money or not, it is extremely frustrating. For all of us.
Fun right? Oohhh that passion.
Another common scenario is getting paid to provide a show and realizing that despite your best communication, they have absolutely no idea how even their smallest choices so deeply affect the performance.
So we will show up the day of, and they never told us that we will be dancing on asphalt, or that we have a stage, but there will be speakers all over the stage that cannot move out of our way. Or, there is no dressing room or space to get ready or warmup. The list goes on.
It is not malicious. But when you start getting into the paid work as a dancer, you find that there is a huge chasm when it comes to what people think dancers need and what dancers actually need.
Dancers find it hard to press into niches. There are some wonderful dancers that rise up because of their incredibly unique style and as the attention and money grow, they seem to start generalizing more and more, losing those first promises of authenticity.
All of these are common pitfalls...but by far, the saddest possible outcome of monetizing your passion is that what was once your greatest source of joy becomes your greatest source of stress.
That beautiful, ripe with possibilities all-encompassing joy, now becomes the thing that keeps you up at night as you plot, plan, and stress over the hustle involved...hustle that invariable changes your craft.
If you're a dancer, you're not worried about finding gigs, fitting the look, training on what the industry is looking for, and keeping your connections, networking with the right people
If you're a competitive choreographer you're worried about what's hot, what works, who's winning, and what the judges are looking for
If you're a studio owner you're worried about seasonal changes, growth rates, and whether a class has to be cut, knowing you adore the teacher.
And let me tell you if you're going to monetize dance, you sure as heck better get savvy as crud about your business skills. You'd better start understanding marketing, customer acquisition, retention, lifetime value, contracts, etc. You don't get to make an independent career by just doing art and not getting smart about your business and money. If you don't, your lack of knowledge with creates disaster.
Making money off of your passion changes everything. Everything. I am not saying don't do it. Many do, and many are really happy. But I want to specifically challenge the word passion and it's connection to dance. I would like to challenge whether dance is the true passion, which, spoiler alert, in turn, will tip this whole thing on its head and will result in my telling you to deeply chase and monetize your passion. I started this podcast telling you not to monetize your passion and I am going to finish by telling you, yes, follow and monetize your passion.. but we're going to take a very short walk together and detangle a few things first.
The driving force behind the most remarkable humans is that they operating out of a strong why. WIthout, understand our most compelling why we start to base our life decisions and priorities around how or what.
This podcast, my studio, all of my dance projects, the reasons I teach...it is not because dance is my number one passion...
It is because eradicating loneliness is the number one passion.
Loneliness is my animus. It riles me up. I can't stomach it. Imagining any human as lonely hurts me to my core. This is my why. This is my true passion. Eradicate loneliness. Facilitate human connection.
Dance is how I do that. I have chosen dance as a medium.
Dance is the how, dance is the what, but dance is not the why.
Dancers are a passionate bunch, and I would challenge all of them to dig into WHY dance has become such a crucial part of who they are. People who dance because they experienced trauma and dance allow physical control and recovery. People dance because they feel like they don't community and express well in words, but dance is a language they can get behind. People are drawn to dance because they want to make other people feel capable-- they want to inspire some sort of change.
As working adults, dance is often something we do after work or prioritize in our extra time. It’s no surprise we feel pressure to monetize our passion in such a toxic culture of busyness. But hear me out: You can do something just because it brings you joy. You don't need to complicate that with money. But if you're determined, be prepared for the work of becoming a business person.
But given this new frame of looking at dance, of asking what we're really after, a new question emerges:
If I want to reserve dance for me, for the joy of expressing and creating and no further obligations, what are the other "hows" I can assign to my passion?
This is such a powerful question. This puts the world at your doorstep.
I have a very short list of companies that I keep in my planner. Three, to be exact. If for some reason, it all goes south and I lost what I've built and had to get another job, these are the only companies I would work for. Three is not a lot, but each of them is so powerfully embedded in my why, that I am willing to take on the how of whatever those companies choose to do.
Your "how" is malleable. It can change over and over. It can be 12 different careers and a few volunteer gigs and some conversation with a friend. You have an animus and it riles you up. Once you find it, you will realize that dance was an incredibly powerful way to play it out, but unless you're willing to study the business of and hustle for your dancing, the world can be your oyster in other ways.
Yes, you can make money from your passion. But for your work to remain your passion, there must always be a tie to authenticity, the kind that ferments and grows from a community of like-minded individuals who can learn from each other and foster beginners into experts.
So Dancers, before you put that pressure on yourself and spend all your time analyzing how to monetize your Youtube Channel or creating groundbreaking paid choreography, do the hard work of asking yourself what you are really after. Ask yourself if assigning this whole set of new set of values and pressures to dance, will make you feel expansive and ready for life. Or, whether that thing that gets you so worked up inside, can be channeled through other mediums that make you happy, reserving the expression and freedom of dance, just for you.