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Workshop Hosting – what you’re really paying for

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A recent discussion on a bellydance business discussion group brought up an old tribe thread on the same subject. The discussion was surrounding the costs of hosting a workshop instructor, and what the $150-$200/hr of workshop time with an instructor really translates into. Back in 2007 I wrote a reply in this thread from my perspective as a teacher, and thought I would share the slightly modified version of it here.

If $150-$200/hr for teaching, on top of room/food/travel, seems like a high cost, consider this rundown of how a workshop teacher’s time is spent:

It’s important to note that the term “hourly rate” is a bit of a misnomer. While the instructor may be teaching for only 4 hours, they are “on” much more than that.  And many teachers have to cancel or get subs for their classes at home, turn down other performances/gigs for the time they are away, get pet sitters or kid sitters…part and parcel of a traveling performer and teacher, but it’s something that is sometimes forgotten when considering the value in a teacher’s workshop wages.  For me, it is a pleasure to get to travel to new places, and meet, hang out with, chat up, and network with other dancers–it’s an addictive, joyful experience! But at the same time, any teacher can attest that it is incredibly draining, and it is definitely “work” even outside of the classroom. That is an intangible “cost” to the teachers that is reimbursed, if you will, in the pay they receive. And even then, you won’t get rich off of it (or outside of maybe BDSS, make a living wage off of it), and you have to do it for the love of it!

When you travel to teach workshops, you don’t often have much in the way of “personal time” or “down time”. Don’t get me wrong, it is SO worth it–simply put, it is fun! Teaching workshops is one of my favorite things I get to do! But to paint a picture of where the money is going: it is really not just a translation of the hours spent in the workshop. Let’s ignore for the moment the years a good teacher spends honing their craft, improving themselves so they can be better teachers through workshops and teacher training, the hours spent developing a specific workshop over months or years, maybe even tweaking it to the needs of this specific group she will be teaching, drafting a handout for each topic, as well as her own time spent helping to promote the workshop. Let’s look at the breakdown of a simple weekend workshop:

Friday, she hauls herself and her heavy costume-laden bags to the airport, sits at the airport for a couple hours waiting for her flight. Assuming she is teaching within the US, she then hops on a 4-6 hour flight (obviously more for out of the country). Usually this includes a couple meals out of pocket, at the airport and/or on the plane.  On arrival, she meets her host(s) or driver; once she leaves the airport, she can finally settle in at the place she is staying…or sometimes immediately run to teach the first workshop!

She is up early on Saturday, having breakfast and chatting with the promoters and whoever else is out and about with them, then workshops. A lunch break is usually also spent in the company of workshop participants and entails answering a lot of questions and dispensing advice or sharing ideas answering their questions (rewarding and fun, but still “on” time). More workshops. Dinner with more participants, and more questions.   Evening show, with a lot of waiting around in costume since she is usually the last act…but it’s not like she could go home, relax, feed her dog, hang out with her family, leisurely apply my make-up and show up at the venue at intermission. She had to be driven around by the hosts (who are busy themselves and have limited time to accommodate her, so she tries to need as little as possible from them at all times), get ready in the back room, wait in a hallway for a couple hours, or maybe get to watch some of the locals dance in the show before heading backstage. Perform, bow, rock on.

Then after, drinks and more chatting…and finally sleep.  Sleeping arrangements are often in a hotel (which is lovely–quiet and privacy for your teachers is a gift you have no idea how it keeps on giving!), but sometimes it is in a private residence where she has less privacy; and as a good guest she naturally feels a little bit like she’s on eggshells not wanting to intrude on their turf, but trying to carve out some quiet time and space for herself to collect her physical and mental body together before doing it all over tomorrow…  Then rushing from the workshop to the airport to catch her connection home. In many cases, the hosts are done cleaning up a few hours after the workshop and tipping back much-deserved beers and passing about (exhausted!) congratulations on a job well done. The teacher still has hours of flight left, hauls her bags back to her car, and maybe a 30-45 minute trip home to collapse into bed…

Now of course the hosts had lots stuff to do before the workshop–print and distribute flyers, collect registrations, secure venues, decorate, etc. So I am not minimizing the work of a promoter, and they deserve their share of the spoils–I have done it myself many a time. But just putting into perspective that the teacher’s “hourly rate” is not really compensation just for those few hours in the workshop either. Similarly our performance fees as dancers is not just for the two fifteen minute sets we do at the venue. It is for the time spent developing your dance, rehearsing, the two hours before getting into full make-up and costume, the drive over, the time waiting in between sets, etc.

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Shay Moore is the director and primary instructor at Deep Roots Dance in Seattle, WA. She loves writing, movies, costuming, knitting, cooking, and bellydance to the moon and back again; and loves her amazing husband and doggies even more than that.

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