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> Date: Thu, 13 Oct 2011 13:04:14 -0400
> From: Read Weaver <rweaver(a)igc.org>
> To: A list for dance organizers <organizers(a)sharedweight.net>
> Subject: Re: [Organizers] A discussion on attendance fees
> We also pass the hat (for our "Live Musicians Fund") during
> announcements, and have a sponsorship program where individuals or
> groups can pay for the evening's band. (The above is for the Boston
> contra dance I go to, which I'm not actually an organizer for.)
> We also raise money by running a food booth at NEFFA, and we're 501(c)
> (3) which probably gets us some additional donations.
> --Read Weaver
To add to Read's comments, we also have a Live Music Match fund; several individuals give large donations earmarked to that fund. On two or three nights a year we have a Live Music Match night where each dollar donated is matched by two from the match fund. On those nights we collect $100-250 instead of the usual $20-$40.
A very interesting discussion is happening on the PVCD list (Pioneer
Valley Contra Dance - Western Massachusetts/Southern VT) regarding the
cost of attending a contra dance. The original post and replies are
pasted below. I'd be interested in hearing people's thoughts. I'll post
mine in a separate e-mail.
I thought I would bring this up as no one seems to ever talk about it. Many
times at dances there is a student admission price and general admission
price. The basis here seems to be based on the assumption that students are
on a fixed income and those who are not students live on a higher income.
While, yes, many students are living on a low or fixed income, there are
many people who are not students who also live on a low or fixed income.
Some less than many of the students. There are some dancers who live on very
little. I live on barely $700 a month myself. That is less than what many
dancers make in a week. Why can't low income dancers pay a reduced price
like the students? The Brattleboro contra dance does this. I also know there
is a dance in Greenfield that do sliding scale or barter. I think that this
should at least be given some thought.-Andy Johnathan
This is a challenging question that could in fact be addressed to many areas
of life, not just contra dances. I think you are correct that there is an
assumption that most, but obviously not all, students have a low or fixed
income and that many but not all contra dance organizers offer a
discount to full-time students. I think this happens primarily as a way of
encouraging students and younger dancers in general to check out contra
dancing and perhaps also because it¹s been customary for so long.
I think one of the reasons why a student discount is offered by many dance
series is that it is at least somewhat verifiable via a student ID. I think
two reasons why more discounts or a broader, user-determined sliding scale
are not offered by most dance series are: 1) someone¹s income status is not
verifiable; and even if it was, 2) no organizer wants to get into a
situation of making those kinds of judgment calls.
Yes, there are plenty of people who live on low or fixed incomes who would
like to come to dances and no one wants to see them turned away because they
can¹t afford to come. There are also plenty of people who choose a very
low-income lifestyle for a huge variety of reasons ranging from war tax
resistance to being a dance gypsy with no fixed address. I have friends who
are on disability and also friends who are in the tax resistance and dance
gypsy categories all of whom could qualify as ³low income² based on their
annual gross income. I also know of the occasional conscientious student who
is not on fixed income and pays full price and I know dancers of relative
means who frequently put more in than what is required.
However, I think the real bottom line reason you don¹t see more sliding
scales or discounts is simply the economics of running a contra dance.
Nearly all contra dances are run on a break-even basis with performers, and
sometimes the organizer, receiving a share of the net gate after expenses.
Depending on the night weather, other events happening at the same time,
etc. - that OEshare¹ is frequently short of what the musicians and caller
should appropriately receive for the time, effort, skill and gas that goes
into what they do. Organizers often only take a share or partial share if
the dance does particularly well. Some organizers who also perform as
musician or caller (this includes myself and others you likely know) will
sometimes forgo their share to make sure the other performers get paid
Organizers strive to ensure performers receive a minimum amount for an
evening and fairly often wind up paying out of their own pockets to cover
the difference. In addition, many contra dance musicians would probably
qualify as ³low income² because they make their living in a way that broader
US society generally does not value highly. Personally, as a dance organizer
(the Downtown Amherst series) and as someone who works with community arts
organizations all day long, I am deeply committed to seeing that performers
get appropriate compensation for what they do and since I¹m not able to
cover shortfalls out of my own pocket, we are working over time to setup
financial structures that allow us to always guarantee a minimum.
So, what I think it comes down to is this: in order to offer a broader range
of self-determined discounts, which and I¹m making an assumption here
would reduce the per dancer income, you have to: 1) paying the performers
less, and/or 2) charge dancers more. Some dance series organizers choose the
first option, and that option is made easier when the organizer is also the
caller and/or lead musician. And, some musicians and callers do have OEday
jobs¹ such that they don¹t need the income as much.
The latter option would presumably mean increasing the base rate for the
dance to say $12 from the current norm of $10 at most dances, and then
offering more discounts. Alternately, one could simply state that a sliding
scale goes from $5-15 and see how the money comes in and whether it works
out financially. My guess, based on some experience with sliding scales, is
that if you go from a fix rate, such as $10 admission/$8 students, to a
sliding scale of $5-15, the number people paying on the lower end might or
might not be enough to compensate for the few who can and will pay on the
So, I¹ve been addressing the realities and challenges of running a contra
dance in a way that makes it economically viable for the most people,
including: dancers, performers and organizers. There is also the larger
question that is currently fueling the ³Occupy Wall Street² protests, which
is the ever-increasing wealth disparity in the US as well as the gradual
erosion over the last 20+ years of real purchasing power, with those on the
lowest end of the income scale getting squeezed the hardest. Any discussion
of wealth-redistribution and that is what the discounts or sliding scales
your are proposing really are gets into very difficult questions of
fairness and equity, but also the effects of classism, racism, sexism,
³able-bodiedism² and what is the best way for society as a whole, as well as
smaller parts of society such as community contra dances, to address them.
>From a very practical standpoint, I think most organizers have found the
combination of a student discount along with a willingness to trade work for
admission - usually help with cleanup after the dance or at the admissions
table a manageable compromise. Some go further and choose to offer a
sliding scale and/or barter, it¹s just a question of priorities and an
assessment that each organizer needs to make. At the Downtown Amherst dance
we have offered discounts or admission to folks who volunteer to help with
the door or closing, as well as a student discount. If the economics of
running a dance improves something I¹m not counting on anytime soon then
we might consider other possibilities, but for now and with our rent about
to increase, this is what works and is most manageable for us.
Downtown Amherst Contra Dance
Will - Good presentation of the organizer's performer's perspective
I thought I would add a comment from another perspectives.
The Dance Gypsy lists contra dances with prices ranging from $3 to
$15, with median price around $8 ... the more interesting thing is to
compare the price of a contra dance to other recreational
opportunities. generally a contra dance evening is cheaper than:
- a swing dance, ballroom dance or tango evening (typically $15-20)
- a concert (even one featuring musicians who also play for
contra dances (go figure))
- a movie
- a community theater or comedy venue
- a visit to a museum
- a meal at McDonalds, Subway or the farmers' market
- 2 beers or a glass of wine (remember: no tax or tip at a
- parking at a public lot in a large city
- baby sitting for the evening.
- a lesson in almost anything
- a one-time visit to a gym
- inviting a friend over for dinner ...
Bottom line: even with no discount, contra dancing is one of the
cheapest entertainments available for an evening. You would have to
look very hard to find a better deal for the evening.
There are some dances that have their discount labeled as "student/low
income"; I would be curious to hear how that works for them.
The BIDA dance deals with this by using a sliding scale ($5-$10 for
everyone) and actively recruiting volunteers (1hr means free
Hi all- I would like to add that the big difference between contra
dancing and other rec activities is that the money goes directly to the
sponsoring organization, the musician an/or hall rental. None of whom
are EVER rolling in money. A typical average night might yield $75-150
for a musician. Take into account promo and hours and it it ends up
being close to minimum wage for some musicians. Coming to a dance is a
choice, and as a musician, if I go to a dance I make sure that I am
paying the musician for the time that he/she is giving me. The big
difference is that the performers/ callers are not "the man". This is
not a judgment but I would like to think and hope that the same folks
that put less money in the fiddle case on one of our honor system nights
are also foregoing cable, and asking for a discount when they go to
movies as well. The movies, and the cable companies will not suffer
financially, and if they do, it's rich shareholders that suffer. On the
other hand we musicians and grassroots orgs DO take a direct hit when
people pay less or don't pay. It's not that we are not willing to offer
a discount, but sometimes (and I only speak for myself when I say this),
I feel like I feel a little taken advantage of when someone who
potentially makes more money than I do pays the limited income price.
That said, I feel that people do deserve a discount if they cannot pay
and I want to go on record in saying that we honor that request on
friday nights and always have. I only hope that folks understand the
impact it has on us musicians. Thanks for reading! Peter PS: Experiment:
Try asking the mutiplex cinemas to offer a "limited income discount" and
see what the 17 year old being paid $8 an hour behind the glass says.
I'm with you on this one. I suspect that the fixed income of many
students, especially in this area, is higher than what many non-students
have to work with. It had been my understanding that some of the
non-Friday dances had a low-income option, but the one time I tried
that, I got a look of such disgust from the person at the door that I
would rather not show up when I can't swing the full price. I want to
say that this has nothing to do with the value of the dance. Everyone
knows that I love to contra dance. I do believe that the musicians
should be paid well for their hard work and energy. And of course I
support the continued renovation of our lovely building. But the door
cost keeps going up and my income doesn't. I can go to two swing or
ballroom or tango dances to recorded music for the cost of one contra,
and that includes gas. Or I could go to one other kind of dance and have
some money left to start the new week. The entrance cost is a topic that
comes up from time to time, but without much of a solution. I don't have
a solution, either. I'm mostly writing in commiseration and to
acknowledge the situation. The bigger economic picture continues to
squeeze us all, but may we keep dancing, however we can.
First off, I am very much appreciating the thoughtful quality of this
A couple of reflections to add - I have a dear friend who is a wonderful
contra dance musician who stopped playing dances in California because
his expenses to get to dances were more than his "take" and his finances
didn't allow him to underwrite the dances. An example of the cost of the
tight finances of contra dancing.
Two creative possibilities I am wondering about...
1) in places like New Zealand there are "woofers" who barter a certain
amount of labor for reduced cost/free admission to events (e.g. posting
flyers, getting events in local papers etc.). Are there any tasks which
could be assigned which would generate more participants (and thus more
revenue) and would create a win-win for both the dances and a few
regular dancers who are living on limited means? (I am not seeking to
add to the workload of the producers here and am imagining something
very small scale which, if you needed help with, I could volunteer to
2) what would happen if a sliding scale were arranged upward to create a
bit more money in the budget for those who are cutting it tight
(musicians, producers, and low budget dancers) - a gentle encouragement
for those who can give more to do so. Thus, if I used to see $8-12
dollars at a dance and gave $12 when I could, I might just as willingly
put in $15 if the new range was $8-15. I am someone who always gives to
street musicians because I want to live in a world where street music
happens. For the same reason, I will always give what I can to a dance -
whether it goes to the people who produce it or people whose spirits are
called to dance but whose finances don't allow for it.
My guess is that I am not alone in being open to giving a few dollars
more to support what I care for. I suspect that we (in dance circles)
protect the dancers from the real economics of the dance at the expense
of the musicians but that is a whole topic on its own...
I wish there was more ride sharing by all...
I think many make good points. Yes, I do understand the cost to run a
contra dance. I understand it is not cheap. There is the cost of rent,
paying the band, paying the caller etc. However, I do know that the
Brattleboro contra dance includes low income with the lower price and
that dance also has to pay the band and caller. I also do like that at
some dances you can get reduced/free admission by helping to clean up. I
have done this the past and have no qualms about it. I also do see the
problem of an organizer determining whether or not someone is low
income. That situation could get a little out of hand if many dancers
claim they are low income when they actually are not. However, I do
think some dancers are driven away because they can't afford the price.
I also am not a fan of the assumption of many contra dancers that if you
are young you must be in college and if you are not there is something
wrong with you. I never went to college and have been contra dancing
since I was 16. When I was 18 through 22 (the traditional college ages)
I payed full price even though I was in a much more severe economic
situation than many of my peers who were in college. Speaking of
classism, it is rampant with some of the dancers. I had one dancer make
a snide remark about the tape on my vehicle. Now what does tape on a
vehicle have to do with contra dancing? Why would someone even randomly
make a snide remark like that? Greg, I *wish* I could afford the things
you mentioned! You are wrong about the gym membership, though, I pay $10
a month at my gym. Also, yes I could easily find entertainment cheaper
than a contra dance, but I *do* love contra dancing so I pay full price
when I do go even though I can't really afford it. There are some dance
series that are worth paying full price and I have no qualms about it.
This brings me to the issue of dance "atmosphere" and "attitude", which
may be separate post all together. I think one idea could be some form
of "work exchange", which some dances do already. Or even some form of
"scholarship" one could apply for, similar to some of the dance camps.
Possibly make the "scholarships" have some sort of work requirement and
even make them in limited number so the callers and bands don't lose
income, either. Or make some sort of contra dance discount card in
limited number, similar to a student I.D. One could apply for one so the
organizers know the person is truly in a hard economic situation.
Anyway, just some thoughts. To be honest I don't really expect anything
to change anytime soon, I just think this topic should be brought up
from time to time. Just as many other topics involving the contra dance
"community" should be discussed. -Andy Johnathan
I think the idea of of working for reduced cost/free admission is a good
one. -Andy Johnathan
I wanted to respond to the discussion of admission prices with a
clarification about the dances that I run. Third Saturday contra dances
in Greenfield offer an admission price of $8-10, and the Brattleboro
dances charge $7-10, where the lower number is advertised as
students/seniors/low income individuals. We allow people to choose which
category or which end of the scale works for them on that particular
night, and trust that folks will take into account the many issues that
have been raised in this discussion (performer pay, cost of other
entertainment options, expenses of running a dance, etc.) when making
their decision. Both series also always need volunteers to help with
setup, cleanup, sitting at the door, and other tasks in exchange for
free admission. If you are interested to volunteer at one of my dances
you can email me at ethan(a)ethanhw.com <mailto:ethan%40ethanhw.com> or
call me at 802-257-9234 during the week before the dance. Thanks! See
you on the dance floor,
I know you acknowledged the difficulty but I just want to say again that as
a dance organizer, I don't want to be in the position of continually having
to make judgment calls about who is "truly in a hard economic situation". I
appreciate your situation and the of those on truly tight incomes. You've
made some good suggestions about how to reduce the cost of admission for
those who genuinely benefit from it, but for me the issue is how to keep the
overall revenue from going down and impacting the performers.
Just for some additional perspective, the economics of running a dance can
vary considerably with the particulars of the venue. Our hall rental fee in
Amherst isn't bad but we do pay nearly $500/year for liability insurance
regardless of the number of events. We are still acquiring sound equipment
so we don't have to rent or cobble something together for each dance, though
that is mostly through separate fundraising. Rental of the Guiding Star
Grange is slightly more expensive than what we pay in Amherst but users to
my knowledge do not need to bring their own insurance or sound system. The
Peterborough Town Hall is very expensive, $400 if I recall, and my
understanding is that the monthly dances there at $8 admission almost never
break even and benefits events are then held to make up the difference.
It may be that once we have our sound system a sound system paid for we can
do an experiment with a sliding scale and see how the numbers work out. We
have a generous community here - as evidenced by Nan's note - and it might
work out just fine.
Another thought: how you label where the money is going makes a
difference to how much people are willing to put into it. If you label
the cost of a single dance as a sliding scale from $5-20, say, then even
those who can afford the $20 may figure that a single dance isn't worth
that much, given that no other dance costs that much. And for people
like me (I'm a grad student with a low fixed income), I see a sliding
scale and think 'yep, I'm low-income, so I'll pay the lower amount',
since even when I have more money available at the time, I don't know
what my next expense is going to be. However, what if you had a second
pot at the door, for donations to the "2nd and 4th Friday Contra Fund",
or whatever? I feel like it's easier to put some extra money into
something that feels like it's a more long-term investment like that
than it is to pay a lot more for a single dance. Personally, my savings
fluctuate up and down during the year based on things like how much our
heating oil costs. During the summer, I'd be willing to throw some extra
money into a fund that I thought might help offset my lesser ability to
pay during the winter. To organizers, a fund like that could help even
out pay for musicians and dance halls on days where fewer people show
up, and to dancers, it's an investment that's helping to ensure that the
regular event continues. -- Brooks
The North Adams dance (next: Oct 21) asks for $5-$10, first-time
contra dancers free, leaving the exact amount to the judgement of the
dancers. Though we have a small crowd, and live in a low-wealth area,
I find the average to be close to $10.
The economics of playing music is difficult, because the music that
most needs to be played rarely coincides with living-wage money.
However, community dances work because the dance organizers and
culture-setting musicians (I could name a dozen offhand) are
ethical to a fault, and that demands a respect that is also
currency. As long as I see that it's fair (and it's often slightly
unfair in my favor), I've got no complaints about pay.
Also, it's fun. This is important.
I have endless respect for dance organizers, who generally work for
little (often no, sometimes ngative) money, and often get far less
recognition than us local-ish musicians who just pop in, play, and go
Anyway, to the point: there can't be a single right price for a dance
these days; wealth varies too much. I think asking low-income dancers
to register as low-income, or otherwise prove hardship, is likely
to hurt attendance.
I believe that this combination works well, at least in a small
- strong community ethic, reinforced by the organizer and caller at
every dance. I think open-fiddle-case collection makes this stronger.
- a sliding scale, left to dancers' judgement, but with friendly
encouragement to be generous.
- openness about finances, *before* anyone asks.
- acceptance of barter, as much as possible. Homemade refreshments at break!
- exceptions made, privately, as needed
That said, the North Adams dance has spectacular community support
(musicians, callers, venue), so our expenses are quite forgiving.
How many levels of liability protection does your group have? Our group, Queen City Contras (Burlington, Vermont), is considering paying a lawyer for some details on this matter. Here's what I have gathered so far:
There seem to be at least 4 levels of legal protection:
-General Liability Insurance.
-Forming a corporation, so the corporation is liable, not the individual members.
-Officers & Directors Liability Insurance (to protect the officers, directors, etc.)
-Workers' Compensation Insurance (to protect against a suite from a "volunteer," who is legally an employee because she/he is compensated by receiving free/reduced admission, etc.).
Thanks for you comments.
The Friends of the Guiding Star Grange in Greenfield, Mass. have been
purchasing our own insurance on a per-dance basis ($50/event) from CDSS. We do
not run a regular series, only a few dances a year on an irregular
schedule, so it's not worth it to us to buy at the yearly rate.
I don't know what the several other Greenfield dance organizers do. The
Grange itself has insurance which theoretically covers any events which rent
the hall, but we on the Friends board opted to further protect ourselves
with another layer of coverage.
In a message dated 10/12/2011 9:54:22 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
Hi All, Thanks Brian - I run a small dance in Central NH and for the
first time we
are required to purchase Liability insurance. The Town suggested a vendor
Tenant Users Liability Insurance Policy (TULIP) the rate I located (with
considerable digging )
in their list of events, was quite reasonable (compared to DEFFA)
If I had to go through all the other hurdles, that Brian and others have
mentioned, I would
probably give it up.
The dance I organize and call barely makes enough to pay performers
any more hassles and it won't be worth doing. I may be nieve but I feel
that dancers are
honest and will take responsibility for their own well being in the event
of an accident . I also realize that times are changing... thanks Gale
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