Why you should not refuse pay in the dance world

Today on facebork, I wrote a semi-serious post listing ten opinions. One was

When you refuse to be paid for work (like teaching a class or DJing or running a workshop) you are undercutting the other workers in the market who rely on that money. Don’t voluntarily work for nothing in an industry where people are routinely underpaid.

A friend commented (and I paraphrase):
What if I have a well paid day job, but do some local teaching for money anyway, even though other people do this as a full time job and need the money. What are the ethics here?

This is what I replied.

*shrug* It’s up to you whether you do that work or not.
But if you do do it, and you don’t charge for it, you’ll end up destabilising the ‘market’ in that field. So if X knows he can get you to do the job for free, he’ll get you to do the job next time. Even if you’re rubbish at the job, or Z needs the job for the money.
Doing the work for free also suggests that the work has no value, or that doing it for free is more important than money. Or that taking money for work is somehow selfish. I see the ‘just do it for the community’ rhetoric used quite a bit in the dance world to pressure people into working for free.

As an example, a couple of years ago I wrote a nice bit of copy for a publication as part of my paid job for that publication/business. Another dance business owner saw that piece of copy and asked if they could publish that same piece in their own publication, with attribution.
[edit: I’ve just checked my emails, and there was NO offer of attribution. headdesk]
I said “I’m sorry, but no, I’d prefer it if you didn’t use that copy. I can however write a new piece for you at my usual rate.”

I had a fairly nonplussed reply from the inquirer, but my then-boss had been cc’d into the reply email (which I found highly inappropriate, but that seemed in keeping with dubious ethics at work anyway).
My then-boss actually wrote to me:

“That’s a shame you won’t let [redacted] use your copy. I’m a bit surprised. I get it, I understand, but simply take a different view. Share and share alike, community, goodwill and all those values that I strive to live by. ”

This reply made me very angry, but also made me laugh out loud.
This sort of emotional manipulation is quite common in the lindy hop world: powerful or more influential business owners often try to manipulate skilled workers (DJs, teachers, writers, illustrators, website designers, etc) into working for free using this idea of communitarian debt: that we somehow _owe_ the ‘community’ or ‘scene’ our unpaid work.

To my mind, true goodwill and communitarianism is about paying people for their work so they can then pay their bills and also feed money back into the community to pay other people to teach or DJ or play music.

So when we say “No, I will not work for free” we are also saying “Actually, I think my work is important enough to become part of the official paid economy of this community, and as a skilled worker/employee/contractor, I am worth paying with real actual money.”

I occasionally do gigs where I don’t want to be paid, and in those cases I explicitly say “Please consider my pay a donation to your event/cause.” I’ve also asked people to donate to kiva or other microloan organisations that work specifically with women, instead of paying me.

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