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Dancers, Are You Making Any of These 8 Common Money Mistakes?

There's an image that the Institute of Financial Wellness for the Arts likes to use during group presentations: a picture of someone with their head in the sand. The financial services company—launched by TheaterMania and OvationTix co-founder Darren Sussman and his brother Erik, a veteran of the financial services industry—finds that too many artists simply ignore their finances.

The Sussmans started IFWA to try to change that. Today, they offer free online resources and give group workshops catered specifically to artists—including one held tomorrow at The Washington Ballet that's open to any and all professional dancers.

The Sussmans told Dance Magazine that when they meet with dancers throughout the country, they often encounter the same eight financial mistakes: Are you guilty of any of these?

A group stands and smiles for the camera in a ballet studio.

The Washington Ballet hosted an IFWA session in August for their company members. It was so helpful that TWB brought the team back for a session open to the entire DC dance community.

Troy Powell, Courtesy IFWA

Mistake: Not starting to save early on.

Dancers make a lot of sacrifices at a very young age, sometimes skipping the final years of their education to jump-start their careers. But all too often, they don't take capitalize on their early entry into the workforce.

"One of great advantages many dancers have is that they're earning money at a young age," says Erik. "One of the key components to financial planning is the earlier you start saving, the earlier the magic of compound interest starts."

Mistake: Not knowing your budget.

Too many of us don't take the time to write down our expenses, and compare the total number to our actual income. "If you see that you're $200 short, it's a fact that you're going to go into debt," says Darren. This simple exercise is something you should repeat whenever your financial circumstances change.

Mistake: Not knowing what you want your future to look like.

Many dancers live in the moment—but they also might eventually want things like houses and kids. Erik suggests writing down when you want to buy your first house, when you might want to have kids, when you think you will retire from dance and when you want to retire from working altogether. "If you don't know where you want to be, how can you plan for that?" he asks.

Mistake: Not saving for that "rainy day."

Working in the dance field is rarely a stable profession. IFWA suggests all artists have at least three to six months' worth of personal expenses saved in an emergency account.

Mistake: Spending whatever's in your checking account.

The biggest challenge for freelancers or artists with seasonal gigs can be figuring out how to pay the same expenses every month when their paycheck constantly seesaws. To prepare for both the highs and the lows, IFWA suggests funneling your income into what it calls a "wealth orchestration account," which feeds your checking account with the same amount each month. You're effectively paying yourself a regular salary that you can depend on. "It provides consistency in an inconsistent world," says Darren.

Mistake: Following your colleagues' lead. 

Even if two choreographers receive the same unrestricted grant, the best possible way to use that money might look completely different for each person. "Financial planning is unique to everyone's situation," says Darren. Maybe paying off loans might need to be your priority, or maybe it's better to invest the money for the future. Don't base your decisions off of what someone else does with their money.

Mistake: Assuming that art and money are incompatible.

When you're in the throes of the creative process, spending too much time considering how much something might earn versus how much it will cost could affect your work in ways you might not want. But that doesn't mean you should never think about finances.

"There's this false belief that if you're thinking about money, you won't be as creative," says Darren. "We dismantle that by sharing stories of highly creative geniuses who were able to compartmentalize and do both." While rehearsal may not be the time to itemize your expenses, don't let your identity as an artist hold you back from planning prudently.

Mistake: Not reaching out for help. 

Many artists have never been taught about finances, so they figure it's just not part of who they are. Or they fear what they might find if they dig too deeply.

"Traditional financial service companies don't target arts organizations because they don't understand what we do, and they don't realize that there are so many people who make their livings as career artists," says Darren. It's up to you to get the advice you need. If you don't know where to begin, check out IFWA's free one-on-one coaching online.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021