All about the money?
Dancehall is in a time of change. More and more non-Jamaicans are getting into dancehall dancing, and are teaching it in their countries. This has raised questions from Jamaican dancers, like “Who is making the money?”. With this text, we are addressing some claims/concerns, trying to share our point of view as European and Finnish dancehall practitioners who have been around for some time to see the changes in both Jamaican and European dancehall scene. Or just to give food for thought generally. Note! The claims are presented here in a very simplified form – we do believe that nobody really thinks exactly as these claims are written here. Yet, the ideas for these claims are found in discussions in social media/media lately.
Europeans are making money from Jamaican culture
Europeans go to Kingston to take classes from Jamaican dancers paying a small fee, go back home and teach classes getting paid way more.
We would like to meet a European dancer who makes big bucks with dancehall! Or an entrepreneur who makes big money with dancehall. There might be exceptions but we know pretty much all the Europeans in this scene, and they are normal working people who are working their asses off for dancehall. It means work!
Teaching dancehall as well as other dance styles is not a well paid job, even in Europe. Even though the dance moves come from Jamaican dancers, it’s the teacher who breaks them down to the students in their language, builds up a dance class concept around it, explains the style and essence, and does the pedagogical work of teaching. So isn’t it only fair to be paid for that work?
The dance teacher has to remember some things, though. When teaching other people’s dance moves, you have to make sure you credit the originators. You have to strive to direct some of the money back to the Jamaican dancers, pushing your students to take their classes and workshops whenever possible. To make the thing work, complete the cycle.
Meri-Tuuli is one of the few working full time with dancehall (or used to be, that we know of?), running a dance school in Helsinki, Finland. She has been able to get a living for herself with very hard work and taking risks. (Though in the past 1.5 years she has made an amount that equals the Finnish unemployment benefit, but being an entrepreneur is what it is sometimes). Marketing, keeping enough customers is a lot of work.
Most of the Europeans who we know that visit Jamaica regularly, are either students or working low-paid jobs. For example the income for a person working as an assistant could be 216.345 JMD monthly, and the rent of an tiny apartment 87.890 JMD. Without going into detail, the cost of living in Finland is at least double to Jamaica. It’s not so easy to round up the money to travel (sure, for the average Jamaican dancer this is a faraway dream, we acknowledge that, too).
If you train in Kingston for two weeks for example, taking one class every day, that costs around 35.000 JMD. The flights from Europe (example: Finland) to Kingston cost approximately 121.694 JMD. Plus the rent of an apartment (not cheap!), cost of transport (taxi everywhere to be safe), partying (you gotta be there to see the real thing, right?) etc. We have calculated over the years that one spends roughly 270.100 JMD on a 2 week trip. One might need 10 months to save it, putting aside 27.000 JMD (200€) every month, meaning no shopping and hardly no partying.
Jamaican dancers are getting peanuts and Europeans are the ones making the big bucks from the tours and workshops.
The dancer is teaching with relatively small fee in Europe and often come back with hardly any money from the tour.
The manager/promoter/organizer is the person taking the risk: paying the dancer their fee – whether the customers show up or not. If there isn’t enough people, the payments come from her own pocket. The local promoter/workshop organizer also covers the cost of flights, accommodation and food for the dancer. Many events don’t produce any extra earnings. At least not in the countries where approximately 20-35 people attend the workshops, and they are the same people every time. For many, organizing workshops is really done mostly out of love for the culture.
Organizing events is a job, including lots of work: planning, emailing, sending bills, promoting, finding flights, communicating with other promoters, booking studios, bringing food, washing clothes, filming classes, sending pictures and videos around, making posters etc. etc. When the artist is here it’s a 24/7 job. If you would calculate how much you got paid by the hour, for the amount of work mentioned, it would not exceed a few euros, if even that.
The workshop organizer pays the dancer around 34.000 – 48.000 JMD per workshop. The tour manager takes their share, but we don’t know what kind of deals there are. That deal and the amount of bookings determines how much the dancer makes per tour.
Dancehall to the world! – But dancehall should not be taught by anyone other than a native Jamaican dancer.
Who would you take it to?
Even though dancehall as a music style has been known fairly long in Europe, the dancers are not commonly known to people. Even these days the average dancehall music enthusiast may not really care about the dancing side of the culture, let alone recognize dancer’s names or faces. Dancehall is an underground culture in Europe, when in Jamaica it’s somewhat a mainstream culture where its stars (dancers, artists) are more known.
There is no high demand for Jamaican dancehall dancers or performers in Europe, unless some people first put in the ground work, meaning building up the audience for the Jamaicans to come teach/perform here. The work is done by teaching Europeans the dance moves, telling stories behind the moves, naming the creators, even showing their pictures in the class and attracting dance students to engage in the dancehall scene.
If we want the dancehall culture to grow, we need all the willing parties to be included and working together.
Jamaican dancers should not teach any dance moves to foreign dancers.
Foreign dancers should book Jamaican dancers for shows, we perform, get paid, and come a we yard.
Who would come see the shows if not the dance students of local European teachers?
If Jamaicans wouldn’t ever teach their moves, foreigners continue to practice them from the videos and keep on warping the dancehall style and culture. In that case, definitely no money comes to Jamaica. In the last, say, 6 years (Bubblin’ Crew’s existence) this situation in Europe has changed a lot for the better. The people advocating real dancehall are “winning”: more and more people are waking up and finding the real thing, giving credit where it’s due, going to Jamaica, taking others with them, booking Jamaicans, etc. Does somebody want to reverse this development?
There is demand for teaching, so dancers are surely smart to take advantage of that. They are making quite good money with it. The average price of a dance class, 2000 JMD per person, is the same price we charge here in Finland for a class (the business owners pay taxes out of it after) and the average dance teacher here gets paid around 3.900 JMD (before tax) no matter if she has 5 or 30 people in the class. The Europeans coming to Kingston to learn dancehall bring money not only to the dancers directly, but the communities as well. They go to parties, pay for hotels, private apartments, transport, food, hair/nails, etc.
If a dancer doesn’t want to teach, but still earn money from their craft, they need to find or create other ways. It’s not an easy task. Even teaching requires other skills than just being a great dancer. Dancing skill and creativity won’t automatically grant anyone a living, sadly. It takes business smarts, marketing, finding the clientele and keeping it.
We understand it feels shitty, if some of the people training in Jamaica for a short period of time, go back home and teach for ages with those few moves they picked up. Without giving much credit, or really trying to understand the culture. That’s not the way it should be. You need to invest time and effort to really understand the dance style and culture. It’s a never ending process.
No European or other non-Jamaican will ever be a real dancehall dancer.
Hear hear! But, do you want dancehall to grow or keep it to yourselves?
We agree that dancehall is so tied to the place (Jamaica), it’s a complete culture and lifestyle so you can’t claim to live and be dancehall anywhere else than in Jamaica (except for some Jamaican communities in England, USA, Canada?). But; In order to let it grow and bring work opportunities to Jamaican dancers, this point of view is not very productive in the long term. We know the question is tricky, and the dancehall culture is in a certain change right now.
It’s just impossible to both eat the cake and save the cake! Either it grows and gives opportunities to more people, or it should be kept confined in Jamaica.
We certainly hope that the people, around the world, involved with dancehall, in this time of change, would respect the original dancehall culture and the dancers who are there creating the culture. Not everybody should be judged based on a few unfortunate cases (like the Bieber “Sorry” video, where not enough credit was given where it belongs).
We give respect to the originals, the stars, the legends of dancehall, and we dare to expect a level of respect towards us too. We have put a lot of time and money into this over the years, so it hurts to be accused of exploitation just because we are Europeans. Yet, at the same time we recognize there is the issue of cultural appropriation, privileged white people getting into black culture. That is a big topic, deserving a whole article of its own.
Writers: Meri-Tuuli “Bubblin’ Breezes” Hirvonen (Bubblin’ Moves, Bubblin’ Crew) and Susanna “Zuzan” Kajander (Bubblin’ Crew), Helsinki, Finland.