• International Dance Forms: The Dance World and Job Creation
  • Dr. Suki John
  • School for Classical & Contemporary Dance
  • Texas Christian University
  • Fort Worth, Texas

While it could be argued that no career is certain in these times, it’s undeniable that a career in dance is as impractical as it has ever been, if not more so. Dancers need a vast array of entrepreneurial skills to put their artistic talents to gainful employment. As educators we have a responsibility not only to train artists, but to educate those who can keep the arts alive. Dancers need to invent ways to find financial reward through their chosen profession, strengthening the role of art as a crucial aspect of a free society. They must develop their artistic talent alongside a savvy ability to make and keep dance relevant to a changing audience and changing media. With a combination of imagination, knowledge and ingenuity, dance professionals can create opportunities for self-employment, community outreach, and global artistic connections. This Spring semester I taught a class geared toward helping dancers think outside the box and become entrepreneurs of dance.

While it seems like an odd fit, I decided to go ahead and apply entrepreneurial skill sets to a class I was already teaching, called International Dance Forms. The logic here was that the class was offered during the final semester of senior year, when dance majors are focused solely on finding jobs and getting out into the “real world.” Because I was already scheduled to teach this class, and experience had taught me that dancers are in dire need of real life job creation skills, I decided to implement ideas culled from my Coleman Fellowship into this class. In the future it is my hope to offer a class strictly geared to Entrepreneurship in the Arts, and to switch the international aspects of the curriculum into other, earlier semesters in the four-year major. As it stands, I believe the experiment was quite successful, and dancers in this course learned many important new skills.

I was fortunate to attend the CEO Conference in October 2011, where I met other Coleman Fellows in the Arts. With their permission I studied syllabi and materials that helped me prepare and update my syllabus for International Dance Forms (as the course is still titled). While keeping an international component in the class, I incorporated many elements of job creation, opportunity recognition, venture brainstorming, and business modeling. The class was built around the concept of creating work in an international world of dance, where digital media and the universal nature of dance create opportunities in an art form that is constantly evolving.

Graduating seniors were required to complete the following assignments:

>Create and share personal Websites, Interests Folders, Publicity Portfolios, and Webliographies

>Research, create and apply for an international “dream job”

>Identify their passion, skills and potential for success in a particular aspect of dance entrepreneurship

>Conduct market research and develop marketing strategies for an entrepreneurial venture in dance

>Develop creative ideas and translate them into a viable business opportunity in the dance world

>Participate in an “elevator pitch” competition along with students from the Business School.

These assignments were constructed to help the students develop the materials and skills needed to research, recognize, and follow up on job creation and identification opportunities in the future. Working with Michael Sherrod, the Coleman Director at TCU Neeley Business School Center for Entrepreneurship, we created a special “Elevator Pitch” competition for dance majors. This competition was judged by Business Students on the merits of the ideas and presentations. This was a good chance to get students together from across campus and to allow for the sharing of ideas and critical thinking in an interdisciplinary setting.

The class was successful in many ways. Students all created websites and cover letters that they will take with them into the professional world. They learned how to research and imagine employment in unusual settings. While there remains much room for growth, I believe the course as a whole was useful and empowering for those involved.

Below is a description of the assignments mentioned above, as written in the syllabus:


1) Interests Folder

These do not need to be jobs you are currently qualified to do!! The idea is to brainstorm possible ways to use your dance talent and passion in new settings. Be sure to note whenever internship opportunities are mentioned. Annotate websites briefly so their value is apparent to classmates. Interests Folders may be researched collectively, but be sure to add your name when posting Webliographies; they will be posted online as a class resource through eCollege.

Performance: International performing opportunities; choreographic showcases and competitions (domestic/international); commercial choreographic opportunities; non-Western dance forms to perform locally

Private businesses: Studio ownership/operation; Dancewear; Website and resource development for dancers; New media for dance; New technology for dance; Press agents/managers for dance; Presenters/agents for touring companies working internationally and tours visiting from abroad; Business plans

Arts/Dance administration: Arts lobbyists; Grant writers; Company directors; Production, Technical/backstage work; How to write a press release; How to get the press to attend; Creating and operating non-profits; Arts administration; Management; Press Agencies; Artist agencies

Dance in education Teaching (certification, public schools, Pilates, Gyrotonics, Alexander Technique, etc.) International teaching opportunities; Community outreach; World dance in the schools, Dance therapy; Physical therapy; Dance journalism; Dance scholarship; Graduate School in preparation for…what kind of careers?

New Media: Dance in new forms; online competitions, dance dissemination and new technology projects; interactive projects; the next new thing!

2) PR Portfolio

Create/update a website with basic information about your dance experience, abilities, strengths, and goals. Online contents must include (hard copies may be requested):

1. Three resumes

a. multi-page (for educational, entrepreneurial and creative gigs)

b. one page (can be glued to the back of a photo for auditions)

c. 100 word narrative bio (for a program or index)

2. Professional goals (be specific – say what kind of work you are seeking)

3. Statements of Artistry &/or Teaching Philosophy (this will depend on item #2)

professional skill you are offering

4. Streaming video (or link) of performance &/or choreography

5. Head and body shots (At least one of each)

3) Dream Job Project

For your “dream job project,” you will be asked to imagine, research, pinpoint and apply for an international dance job. This job may be advertised, or you may “invent” a job for a particular company/location in an actual setting where you feel you could do well. You will create an application for this job, including the appropriate materials from your Portfolio. Be sure to include:

1. A cover letter (even if none is requested, we will use one for class)

2. Appropriate resume or C.V. (tweaked if necessary)

3. DVD or streaming video if called for.

NOTE: If the materials require translation you will have them translated; if the DVD format is other than that used in the US, you will have your materials transferred. The application should be ready to send in its entirety by the date the project is due. Presentation will include a ‘mock interview’ by the class.

4) Venture in Dance

Building on your findings and materials, you will conduct market research and develop a business plan for an entrepreneurial venture in dance. This assignment will be presented to the class in all its parts and summarized in brief on paper (partners will hand in one hard copy of the completed assignment together). Except, that is, for #6, the Elevator Pitch, which will be staged in a live and hopefully lively competition. Find a partner and…go through ALL of the following steps. Be prepared to present, explain, and back up your ideas to your peers – just as if you were in a meeting with an interested party.

1. Research what currently exists in the local, national and international world of dance. What’s missing? What could you add to the picture? How might you fit in with a new concept? What is the social, political, or ethical contribution you want to make?

2. Analyze the market. What works? Who makes a profit, who breaks even and who goes under? How do not-for-profits compare to for-profit companies? What is appropriate for your venture? Are grants available for this sort of project?? What does your target market/company/client value the most?

3. Brainstorm. Creativity and Opportunity recognition. What can you do that no one else can? What are you willing to risk? Where would you like to go? What are you interested in learning, seeing, doing or contributing to the world? What does your idea bringing to the table… (revenue, press, artistic recognition, new enrollees)??

4. Business model. Use the webliography and Neeley sources to create a simple business model. How can you stack the odds in your favor? How will you build your ‘brand,’ develop your idea, market it?

5. Press Release - one page or less. How do you get the media to come to your event, cover your studio opening, photograph your class or interview you??

6. Elevator pitch. You find yourself in an elevator with ________ (a person who can make a difference in your future). You have 90 seconds to convince them to take your call/ look at your video/read your C.V./have a meeting. What will you say??

This part of this assignment, the Elevator Pitch, will be part of a competition we will create with a business class from The Neeley School. Consider consulting your peers in the Business School to see how you might share ideas. They may want to back you one day!

You and your partner will present your Venture to a panel of experts – your peers – who will grill you on your idea. Be prepared to win them over!

5) Webliography

Update and share information on the webliography through the course of the semester. Submissions are organized by topic. Please share items that are useful, inspirational or interesting but not time stealers...even entertaining ones.

This class will be as successful as you make it. The value will be in in what you produce and the skills you choose to develop personally. I will not be keeping track of your readings or process but will grade your product; these results showcase skills that enhance your ability to create meaningful dance work for yourself at home and abroad. Your assignments will require that you take initiative to find the information and develop the ideas that will be most useful to you. You will have access to a lot of materials that you may use at your discretion. I have created a webliography that you will augment over the course of the semester. No one owns this information, so as a class you will get the most out of the experience by sharing what you know.

Here is the Elevator Pitch guide as adapted to the interests and needs of dance students:

Elevator Pitch Guide (dance version)

The term “elevator pitch” captures the ability of an entrepreneur to have his or her business (idea, concert, etc.) concept down so tightly and effectively that he or she could walk into a hypothetical elevator, meet a potential investor (backer, presenter, company director), and convey the essence of his or her business by the time the elevator reaches the 20th floor. You should be able to deliver your pitch in 120 seconds—2 minutes.

The Substance or Content: What You Should Cover in Your Elevator Pitch

1. The problem: Everything starts and ends with the customer (in this case this can be the audience, student, press, etc). So open with the customer problem you are solving or the need you are fulfilling. Tell a story or communicate a real life scenario about a customer or relate your personal experience with the venture. This is memorable to the listener and helps the investor understand the problem or need in personal terms.

2. The solution: Briefly describe what you sell (teach, offer, can do for the organization) and how it solves the problem or meets the need. Do not go into excruciating detail but do explain why it works. Indicate what real benefits you provide.

3. The market: Briefly indicate to whom you are selling your product or service (remember in a dance scenario this could mean requesting an audition, offering to teach a master class, write a press release, etc). Help the investor (decision maker) understand the customer in a concrete way. Address the industry and describe your target market. Adding customer testimonials or customer feedback is good to do here.

4. The competition: Mention the competition (and there is always some form of competition). Competitors help investors understand the problem, existing solutions and the potential size of the market. Acknowledge how others solve the problem, and then explain why your solution is better.

5. Competitive advantage: What do you have that is sustainable and hard for others to duplicate? Explain why your company is different and why you have an advantage over competitors. How is your product or service unique? Do you provide some special customer service, have a better distribution approach, boast partners that add credibility or have access to proprietary technology? (Dancers, this is a really important thing to think about. It’s ok to be your own advocate. In fact, it’s crucial!)

6. The revenue model: How will you make money? What are your revenue drivers and what kinds of margins can you anticipate? (key!! You may not be paid much, but you should be paid!)

7. Operations: Talk about how you will produce your product or deliver your service. What sort of system or process will you use?

8. The team: Why should anyone bet on you? Build the credibility of our company by talking about your team’s background, experience and achievements. Mention key advisors, financial backers or contacts that you’ve developed. (This is where your lineage in dance comes in. Don’t burn your bridges! Remember the dance world is very small and we rely on each other. The person in the elevator may have danced with one of your teachers.)

9. The finances: Mention any financing that you’ve raised. Say what you need to executive your business plan effectively and achieve the long-term vision of your company. (Translate this into any kind of business/production model that applies to your idea.)

10. The close: Close strongly by reiterating that you are solving a problem in a specific market with a model that works and a team that can execute. (Clear, concise, specific!)

(Developed by Mike Morris at Oklahoma State University. With some modifications.)

Six Keys to Making Your Pitch Stick

· Keep it simple: Strip your business down to its core. What is really the essence of your business? Don’t get lost in a maze of details. Less is more here. What is it that you really do that is important for your customer? To communicate the core purpose of your business, speak in plain terms. Avoid industry or technical jargon. Speak so that “the man and woman in the street” will understand.

· Say the unexpected: Surprise gets attention. So generate interest and curiosity by posing an unusual question, presenting a single stunning statistic, stating an analogy between you and another company, or making a bisociative connection.

· Be concrete: We make ideas clear by explaining them in terms of human actions and sensory information. Avoid mumbo-jumbo, nice-sounding clichés that are so abstract and general that they mean nothing. Speak concretely in terms of what you do and how you do it.

· Demonstrate credibility: Investors bet on people. Discuss why you and your team can pull this off. What is it in your background, credentials, experience, and contacts that indicates you have the ability, confidence and know-how to succeed?

· Show emotion: You don’t have to jump up and down. But you do need to let your interest, enthusiasm and passion show through. So be genuine and authentic when you talk about your business. After all, this business reflects your own values. Being true to yourself and excited about what you are doing shows investors that you really believe in what you are selling.

· Tell a story: Stories convey something about the human condition and are memorable. Research and data are important. But a good story that explains how you got into this business, or why your product or service is important to you, or how you know what you do will benefit others can be magical in getting others to act on your concept.

Every time you have to speak, you are auditioning for leadership.

James Humes

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.

Mark Twain

Elevator Pitch – YouTube Videos

1.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAvErchnM_w&feature=related
This is one of the better ones, He is quick to get to what he needs but may not have created enough of a relationship at first. He does not talk about  some key elements though.

2.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmNks09GZ3s&feature=related
He does a really good job explaining what his product is.

3.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SPVtJKMDOo&feature=related
This one mentions that he has a patent, and a license which is something that always needs to be mentioned on new technology.

4.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQuRw6YKmqc&feature=related
Does a great job outlining how they make their money and what new projects they have in the works. What he lacks is saying how big his market is.

5.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N23cNTlUGPU&feature=related
Names how big his market is, how he makes money, what they offer now and what they will offer and how to contact him.