Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dancing in the marketplace

From a book I recently read*:
"It is easier to find employment as a data processor than as a dancer, even though being a dancer offers more venues for self-awareness and self-expression."
I won't dispute either assertion of this sentence, because I think they're both true. However, the author attributes this fact to a failing of society, or possibly a conspiracy to deprive mankind of its innate rights of self-expression. This I refuse to believe.

Instead, this is probably a result of immutable market forces (i.e., supply and demand).

First of all, demand for dancers is not exceptionally high. Even if everyone in the world craved dancing performances—and I have reasonable evidence that this is not the case—one dancer can entertain a whole bunch of people. Because of the ease of scaling here, one ballet theater goes a long way in a community.

Next, the supply of dancers is a bit larger. Why? Because of the very attributes of dancing cited above, viz., that it "offers more venues for self-awareness and self-expression." Honestly, if you could choose data processing for a living, or dancing for the same salary, which would you choose? I think for most folks, the added benefits of dancing would tip the balance.

Market forces have only one way to make up for this imbalance: money. By lowering the employment opportunities and money-making potential of dancers, the market reaches an equilibrium, in which just enough people leave dancing for data-processing jobs because the math doesn't add up.

The people who are left in dancing are generally, therefore, of two kinds:

1. Top-flight professional dancers who can make enough money to make it worth their while. This group is highly competitive, and so members sacrifice their entire lives to maintain their positions. There's just not much room at the top—after all, how many professional dancers does it take to entertain the world? (No, that's not a joke.)

2. Amateur dancers who "follow their hearts" and dance despite the lack of substantial remunerative emoluments. These people also sacrifice, but instead of sacrificing time and energy, they sacrifice money and material comforts.

Unfortunately, many performing arts have this imbalance. To be in the high-earning group, you need to be exceptional. To be in the amateur group, you need a day job.

The internet is disrupting this uneasy balance a little by providing the opportunity to perform to a smaller group and still be heard, but we're still a long way off from an "everyone dancing" utopia.

(* The Art of Effortless Living, by Ingrid Bacci, if you must know; but it wasn't really that great a book. )

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Bankrolled by Costco.
Potential fiasco.
A mí me da asco.