Cultural Dance Overcoming
April 20, 2016

“Dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire.” ― Robert Frost

Greetings readers, we hope to find you in good spirits. Thank you for your continued support which keeps World Dance Fusion going strong in its mission to share love and dance.

This week we’d like to discuss an all too familiar dilemma faced by cultural dance communities. Unfortunately, cultural dance teachers earn lower salaries than a majority of contemporary dance teachers do, and it sends hurtful ripple effects through the cultural dance community. Subpar compensation leaves teachers falling short of necessities which pushes them to other work, and begins a domino effect of weakening bonds that can lead to the dissolution of entire dance communities. This fracturing is precisely the opposite of what World Dance Fusion stands for, and what it hopes to combat with its work.

Hai Yan Jackson, longtime dance colleague and friend to WDF Artistic Director Katy Alaniz-Rous, is preparing to celebrate her Annual Chinese Dance Show at the Herbst Theater on May 22nd, one of the biggest events in her calendar each year. A Chinese classical and folk dance specialist, she exemplifies the apparent rough-and-tumble employment style that many cultural dance teachers know and live. Should a dance studio seek to offer cultural dance classes, they hire cultural dance teachers on brisk notice, notify their communities, and have at it. Unless the studio is cultural in its fundamental operation, seeing regular cultural dance instruction fall into a studio’s schedule alongside hip-hip is uncommon. Katy notes that Hai Yan has experienced the pressure that ensues with this reality.

“Teachers are paid per class, and if an hour of time costs more than the class will pay, teachers will not feel encouraged to take those hours,” says Katy. She adds, “The same applies to 30-minute classes. If a teacher is only paid $20 to teach for 30 minutes, leaving the house, paying for gas for 30 minutes—it’s not inviting. In Europe, cities like Barcelona and Ibiza, dance teachers have livable wages working three days a week.” World Dance Fusion dreams of day when America can make such a dancer-friendly shift.

Unrealistic compensation makes for a snowball effect on cultural dance communities. When teachers aren’t fairly compensated, fewer classes are taught because fewer teachers are willing to give their time when it could be damaging to their lifestyle. When fewer dance classes are taught, fewer cultural dancers have a space to practice their craft. And soon enough, when cultural dancers cannot practice and the community cannot assemble regularly, a cultural dance community dissolves.

We find that the potential space cultural dance communities have to grow into is ultimately stunted. Katy notes that a number of talented dancers who could discover cultural dance may not get their chance because of class infrequency. Another issue is that young contemporary dancers may not see their value to cultural dance; their aspirations show them that their training is all they know. In reality, ballet dancers have all the capability to become cultural dancers, and even advance to teaching duties in just one year’s time.

There is no easy solution to the quandaries laid out here. World Dance Fusion only hopes to nurture a belief in the language of dance. Those who are versed in multicultural dance like Katy are versed in this language, and as they continue to share it, the daily presence of cultural dance in studios everywhere becomes more and more a reality.