Topical Series: Money Makes The World Go ‘Round

Not one to shy away from a touchy issue, I’m going to dare to broach the subject of money in the context of ballroom.

Oh, there are group lessons you can find as inexpensive as $5, but if you are a competitive amateur student and ballroom junkie like me, private lessons with an experienced (and maybe even some less experienced) instructor can easily cost upwards of $75 a pop. Yes, there are some cheaper lessons out there….the lowest I’ve heard of is $60….but there is also the other end of the spectrum of $100 or even $125 per lesson. For a professional who is a champion or a pro on DWTS, they can probably charge whatever they want.

For someone who dances like me, ballroom rivals, and I think exceeds, the financial cost of a another expensive sport and hobby, golf.

No doubt about it, ballroom is an expensive pastime, but where does all that money go? Why are lessons so expensive? Why would anyone in their right mind (including me) pay upwards of $50 to dance for a mere minute-and-a-half in competition? Truly, it boggles the mind.

I want to tackle this topic in a sensitive way but I do think the questions are valid. Again, this is just my perspective, and I am sure there are many others. I am open to your commentary and feedback.

I guess I’ll start by explaining why I am willing to pay such a premium.

The most basic and personally compelling reason is because I enjoy doing it. But for someone new to dancing, or for someone just new to the ballroom world, even this valid reason may not be enough to justify the expense in some people’s minds.

I mean, all the ballet and jazz dancing I did in the past, though associated with a hefty price tag, still never approached the cost of ballroom. I attribute this to the fact that the classes were group, never private, and recitals were infrequent events. Even the costumes were less expensive, never being bedazzled with Swarvosky crystals.

But in ballroom, the way I dance, it is mostly private, one-on-one lessons. So part of the expense can be explained by this fact.

Next, I consider the extensive training and expertise and experience of my instructors. They, too, have poured literally thousands of hours and dollars into their own dance training. Their education, just like that of other professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and pharmacists, is extensive and expensive! It’s just that their process looks different and doesn’t take place in a traditional college or university most of the time.

I have to say, that at the going rate, I consider Ivan’s rate to be a steal and I am more than happy to pay the monthly fee at Imperial for the group lessons with Inna. I have garnered great value from my money and time. So for me, even though I’m like, ugh! I wish things were less expensive overall, I am grateful to get such a comparative bargain. I feel like my ballroom dollars go a long way.

Also, I will mention one caveat here – there do exist different levels of experience and expertise when it comes to instructors. Some are worth more than they charge, and some charge more than they should! Certainly an important consideration on where to spend your money will be the level and experience of your instructor. The same $75 can buy you a varying degree of value! Make sure to do your due diligence and research your options before committing to an instructor – especially if you have to purchase a package that will entail multiple lessons with that same person.

Okay. So the process of becoming a professional dancer is expensive. Just like the process of becoming another traditionally recognized professional is.

But still, what about competing? Why is that an astronomically expensive prospect?

Okay well, on some level, that makes sense too.

First off the “daily fee” for an instructor.

I’ve heard variations from $180 to $25,000 per diem cost. Why? Well, because a dance teacher’s income is dependent upon lessons. If a person is gone say, from Thursday through Sunday, as most competition schedules would have you be, then an instructor misses out on all those lessons that would normally take place on those days. Which days do you suppose have the highest volume of lessons? Well, Thursday through the weekend, of course…that is when most people have spare time, right? And as for the variation in daily fees, that has to do with how highly ranked the professional is, how many lessons they generally conduct, and how much individual lessons cost….

For instance, in practical terms, let’s do some theoretical projections.

Say a person charges $75 per lesson and they teach 6 lessons a day…that’s $450 in lost income for each day they go to a comp.

If a person charges $100 per lesson, and teaches 10 lessons daily…that’s $1000 in lost income for each day they go to a comp.

So I, in theory, agree with the daily fee idea because it makes a bit of sense. However, as a student who bears that burden of making up the difference, I do find that it makes the decision to compete a bit harder.

I mean, to be able to afford an extra $1000 per day after also paying for airfare and hotel lodgings, not to mention $45 to $50 or perhaps even more per heat, and also considering the cost differential for scholarship rounds and solos…sheesh! It is a lot to take on. And that doesn’t even take into account purchasing or renting a dress or getting your hair and make-up done, the nails, the nylons, the shoes, the eyelashes, the spray tan.

And by the way, why are individual heats so costly? $50 per 1.5 minutes? WTH?

From what I understand, the cost is made up of two fees: the fee for the competition, and the fee for the instructor. The fee for the competition is usually around $35 to $40 and then the fee from the instructor can range from $15 to $25 or maybe even more, depending on the caliber of the instructor. So this means that one dance could cost $45 to $70 or more.

I honestly don’t know the exact rationale behind these charges, but I’m sure the cost associated with the competition covers the sunk costs: hotel space being used, the DJ, the staff, the adjudicators, etc., which can’t be cheap!

But no one really breaks down all the fees, usually. I think what normally happens is that students are presented with a lump sum. Some instructors may split the costs of housing and lodging and transportation between students if more than one goes, but I think it is possible that they could still charge separate daily fees, or also divide that cost up and share it among multiple students. But even so, it is pretty rare to know the details of the total bill.

And of course then there are the packages at the comp. Packages cover nights in the hotel, some meals, and tickets into the ballroom sessions. So even before you dance, there is a basic fee just to be present. Then it gets more expensive the more you dance.

By looking at the bill, as a student, you may then wonder at the cost and ponder why, if you are paying so much, your instructor isn’t a millionaire, already? I mean, most professionals can’t demand $75 or more for less than an hour! That is significantly more than I make as a pharmacist!

I certainly don’t have all the answers here….but here are my thoughts and guesses. First, maybe the instructor is making a good living. They have what we students want and are willing to pay for. But the volume of lessons can vary considerably. People move, or get injured, or only take lessons to prepare for their wedding. People switch instructors. The turnover in students can be very high. An instructor’s schedule may not be completely booked solid. Even at $100 per lesson, if a pro only teaches a few lessons a week, it could be hard to make ends meet.

Next, most pros are going to want to continue to hone their craft. This means they have to pay to be a student! Whether through videos or workshops or coachings, they must pay, often at an even higher premiums for high-level coaches than students pay, to participate. For especially well known coaches, this may also include hosting the coach locally – paying all traveling and lodging expenses plus showing the coach a good time.

Then, if the pro competes professionally, they have to pay the entry fees at the comp. I have no idea the pricing on that, but just like we amateurs, they have to have the clothes, and hair, etc. plus, they generally compete more frequently than students. They have to hoof it week in and week out. They have to pay all the costs associated with competing and if no students participate, they bear all that financial burden alone. Also, they must continually change their image. It may be okay to wear a dress a few times but no more than that. The pros have to maintain the illusion of effortless glamour and grandeur and this means new dresses, different hair styling, and a different “look” to keep things exciting.

I personally own just one dress and it cost more than my wedding gown. To imagine having to obtain a new dress every few months, with all it’s fringe and crystals and sequins, is a daunting prospect.

It makes me wonder if there is still a hidden agenda to keep ballroom “exclusive” meaning that only those in the upper classes can participate in it. I’m just sayin’ that ballroom dancing is not very accessible to the general public, the hoi paloi if you will. And that, I personally believe, is a shame.

I wish ballroom were more available and accessible to anyone who had an interest regardless of their socio-economic standing.

I suppose that if a person were truly and deeply motivated, they’d find a way to participate in this sport – however, the price of playing, even at a novice level, makes the chances of someone casually engaging in this particular craft pretty darn slim. And that is too bad. I’d like to see people have more options and access, at least at the beginning levels so they could discover if this was something they’d want to pursue. (For the purposes of this discussion we are only considering competitive ballroom. Yes, there are less expensive ways to dance such as doing Amateur only events or social dancing or taking classes at the local community college. For many people this works great. But for others we want that competitive experience.)

So anyways, competitive pro/am ballroom isn’t for the person without some expendable income. I personally just accept that this is the price to play as a participant in the ballroom game. Whether I agree with the fees, or not, to do this particular activity, I must pay in dollars what I must pay. I mean, every moment is a choice and every choice has prices and benefits. I guess, for me, the benefits outweigh the prices, even at $75 or more per 45 minutes. If you’ve read my blog you’ll probably be able to see the value I’ve garnered from my interactions and many times there is no dollar amount that could possibly be assigned to what I have gained.

So what is your take on the sensitive issue of money in ballroom? How does it affect your decisions to participate in various activities? Do you think it is worth the cost?

You Want Me To Do What?

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2011

Allegre Dance Studio

Private lesson with Ivan

I arrive a few minutes early today and the place is already hopping.  A couple I met at the Galaxy competition are here to work with their instructor and have a coaching with Ivan’s mother-in-law.  They are from out of town but when they come here they continue their dance lessons.  Talk about committment.  Also, the husband is a huge inspiration.  He is a below-the-knee amputee and dances with a metal leg.  I swear, there are just some amazing people and dancers out there.

So Ivan pulls up a moment later on his little Vespa.  A big hug to say good morning, and we’re off.   Got to work on that Latin Rumba.  Ivan is starting to get the routine together.  We count out some sets of eight in the beginning where he will move, then I will come and join him.  Then we find the place where we will begin moving together.  I still only have chunks, but it seems to be coming together, and it is so fun, I must say, to be working on this.

We do basic Rumba step, fan, spiral turn, and then he starts adding sliding doors, a spin with my leg in attitude, and this move where I bend forward then stand up and lean against him with my leg in a parallel posse position and my back to his chest, him framing me.  I think it looks funny with me being so big and all in the moment, but it looks different in my head, I swear!  lol.

So here I am, dancing my little heart out, and Ivan is being a butt.  While I’m in the aforementioned and awkward position, my shirt begins to shimmy upwards.  I take a moment to pull it downward.  I know, it is a silly thing we overweight people do, constantly tugging at our clothes, as if it will change anything.  But at least we are covered, or so we think.  Anyways, it is an unconscious habit sometimes, and the instant my clothing begins to creep up while dancing, I am immediately aware I don’t want it to go there and I will interrupt my dancing to fix it.   Ivan sees me doing this and grabs my shirt and pulls it upward to completely reveal my blubbery, white, stretch-marked belly.  Yes, I have pants on and yes I have both a bra and sports bra to cover all the important things, but it is unexpected, vulnerable, uncomfortable.

“Stop that Ivan!”

I pull my shirt down.

We do the move again.

He pulls my shirt up again.

“Ivan, no!  You are being such a dork!  Stop it!”

“Okay, okay.  Not again.”  And he keeps his word.

But I’m laughing.  I am genuinely surprised at this turn of events and, stranger still, is that I’m not angry.  Anyone else on this earth tried to do that, including my husband, and I’d probably explode in anger, give him or her a talking-to, and ask for an apology for revealing me in that way.  I certainly don’t want to show my belly, but in some weird way, it is okay that Ivan’s did this.  Miraculously, I’m feeling comfortable in my body, even with it being exposed in such a manner as I would never choose to show at this time.  What a gift that is – to be comfortable in one’s own skin.  I haven’t ever experienced it until now.  Even when I was thinner and more fit, I was still so ashamed of it.  How ironic that now at such a horrifying size I am finally able to begin to love myself and even my body, even if it is not where I want it to be.  Ivan, I can never thank you enough.

We continue dancing and Ivan’s actually getting a little excited with the moves.  He shows me this turn into a backward step that I’ve seen on DWTS and always loved.  I used to wonder when I would get to learn this particular step.  Well, today was the day.  It felt so good!

Then he has another crazy idea.

“You gonna step up on your tippy toes and put your knee like this (posse) and reach upwards.  Then you gonna lean back.”

“You want me to do what?”

He calls over his wife and partner, Marieta, and she demonstrates the move.

I’m like, uh huh.  Right.

I feel like I’m probably flexible enough, but I’m at least two Marietas.  How will Ivan hold me up?  He wants me not only to go backward in a bend, but to release both my arms toward the floor, and also to extend one leg up in the air.  This is not possible.   Maybe later, Ivan.

“You down 9 pounds by now.  It easy.  You can do it.”

“Yeah, with 264 left!”

“No, it easy.  Come on.”

So we try it.

The first time, I bend back with both feet on the floor and holding onto him with both arms.

On the second go, I release one arm.

Then two arms.

Then, well, you can see it here:

I had this moment, an out-of-body-experience, where I couldn’t believe I was doing this.  I wanted Marieta to video it as proof.  At the end of the video, Ivan is advising me that I have to let my fingers touch the floor next time and push my hips forward to create bend.

Sheesh!  Red shoes, being dipped by my ballroom instructor even while I’m still big, and a new haircut and outfit to come….my life, and my self, is changing right before my very eyes.

Again, it looks different in my head (ha ha), but not bad for my first time trying this.

And also again, I don’t know what my limitations are, even if I think I do.  Here is video proof!  What an amazing way to start the day.

I am so grateful, I can’t even tell you.  I used to wake up and cry going to work.  I used to wish for a better life and feel so unhappy.  I know what it feels like to be stuck, stagnant, dying.  Now, I am excited to start my day.  I remember when I began doing these personal growth and mastery workshops and the facilitators would talk about being so excited to start the day, they didn’t even need an alarm clock to get up in the morning.  What a crock, I thought.  It’s a myth.  These people are crazy.  I thought such a life wasn’t possible, at least for me.  I had to work hard.  My life was stressful.  I never felt fulfilled, energized, rejuvenated.

But now, after lots of inner work, and taking proactive steps to change a few things, I am starting to be excited about the journey of life once again.  Dancing is my practice, my walking meditation, and it is breathing new life into me at every step.

This is what I know:  If it can happen for me, it can happen for anyone who is willing to do the work.

Of course, there are no “free lunches” meaning that every choice has prices and benefits.  I was paying some pretty high prices in peace of mind, and health, and balance in my old life.  I chose differently and I got different results.  Simple, right?  But I can tell you it was pretty scary at times to choose differently, even though the current choice was miserable, because it was also the choice in my comfort zone.  I realized that if I kept doing what I was doing, I’d keep getting what I was getting.  Thank Goodness I did something, anything different, and that I was supported by friends and my husband!

After all, it led me to a path in which I got dipped in the ballroom today.  I never could have predicted that when I took the risk to quit a job and embrace a different life not-so-long ago.  I am in awe of the miracles, and the expansiveness of possibilities, in this life.  The world really is our oyster.