Economics of Baltimore Dance Classes

Eventually, looking through the data from dance students in the Baltimore region, we get to what is probably the most uncomfortable set of questions – money. Several questions in the BRDS were about money spent on dance training in some form. First, an exploration of how much money gets spent on class. For this, a free-form numerical response was requested in each of the four survey-established class levels (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, Masterclass). As a refresher, here’s what we learned about these categories already. Of BRDS respondents, this many took classes at each level during 2016:

2017 BRDS Respondents with any class time at each level

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Travel for Dance Classes

Having spent some time on the classes available in Baltimore, another question asked of dance students in the Baltimore Regional Dance Survey was about travel for classes. Respondents were asked, “How far did you travel in 2016 to take a class?” and given 7 choices:

Less than 10 miles (Baltimore metro)
11-50 miles (Washington D.C., Frederick)
51-100 miles (Philadelphia, Harrisburg)
101-250 miles (New York City, Pittsburgh, Richmond)
251-1000 miles (Upstate New York, Massachusetts, Carolinas, Ohio)
1001-2500 miles (United States)

Respondents could select as many as appropriate. Some bias is introduced by providing sample destinations, but I figured that was less troublesome than asking each person to decide if New York City fit in the 101-250 mile range or in the 251-1000 mile range (because it depends on which part of Baltimore Metro and which part of New York City metro you connect…). 55 Respondents made it through this question.

2017 BRDS Travel Distance for Dance Classes

No surprise, given the opinion that there are quality dance instructors in the Baltimore Region, the majority of respondents took classes in the less-than-10-mile range. Economically, the next (11-50 mile range) is also quite understandable, and the common trip to New York shows up in the 101-250 mile option.

As a check within the survey, recall a previously-discussed question –

2017 BRDS Respondents with any class time at each level

34 Respondents spent some time in Masterclasses during 2016, and we have 21 respondents traveling 101 miles or more for classes. That seems reasonable.

Characteristics of Baltimore Dance Classes

In the section for students, respondents were presented with a 6-part degree-of-agreement matrix. For each of these statements, they were asked to rank their agreement from “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree” (in 7 increments). The six statements:

Dance classes are readily available in Baltimore
Dance classes are affordable in Baltimore
Dance classes are in suitable space in Baltimore
There is a need for more dance classes in Baltimore
There are quality instructors in the Baltimore area
The class sizes are suitable for my needs

49 respondents made it through this question. Rather than try to cram this all into one monster chart, here’s the breakdown for each question (average marked by the red bar):

2017 BRDS - Dance classes are readily available in Baltimore

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Baltimore Dance Classes

Next subject for the Baltimore Regional Dance Survey – what types of classes do Baltimore dancers take? Again, up-front, I have to acknowledge the age-and-teaching bias in the respondent pool – very few new or young dancers participated, and there are a lot more of those around. The survey didn’t even try to approach the elementary-school-age dancers (or their parents). Before even glancing at numbers, this question will lean heavily toward the more advanced classes. How much lean? Let’s find out. Two questions addressed class-levels. Here’s how the first question was phrased:

What type of classes did you primarily take in 2016?

Masterclass – taught for a limited time or on an irregular basis by a visiting or unique instructor.
Advanced – taught on a regular basis by local instructors, generally requiring specific dance competency prerequisites, instructor placement, or audition.
Intermediate – taught on a regular basis by local instructors, and open to students with general dance background.
Beginner – open to all students of any background or experience.

These definitions get a little awkward, because I could find no meaningful and universally-accepted definition of “class levels” that applied across dance forms, so these definitions are made up entirely for the purpose of the survey. The intent was to capture a meaningful difference at each level – if you have thoughts on how these definitions failed or succeeded, please get in touch.

The second question on this subject was a bit challenging to complete, so there is some failure in the data – “Approximately, how many hours did you spend taking any of the listed class levels in 2016?” Since this asked the respondents to think about a whole year of experience, and do some math (3 45-minute classes each week, except summer and a couple weeks in the spring and winter is….), I didn’t expect high precision in the answers. I also had to toss one number that could be a user-error or computer-glitch, but I know nobody managed 100 quadrillion hours of training during 2016.

Now, data. 55 of the validated respondents made it through the first question, but only 49 made it through the multiple-answer question. Of those 55, here’s how it broke down for the primary class level:

2017 BRDS Primary Class Level in 2016

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Baltimore Dance Forms in Three Dimensions

In the last installment, I did a broad overview of what sorts of dance happens in Baltimore, in three dimensions (Learning, Performing, and Teaching). This time, I’ll focus a bit on the level of engagement for the three dimensions (Learning, Performing, and Teaching) within each dance form.

In general, I would expect that people learn a dance form first, then maybe start performing, then maybe start teaching. In some forms (Ballet), progression to the stage and to teaching may be highly dependent on the blessings of one or more teachers, while in others (Belly dance, Liturgical), it’s more likely that the decision to perform is entirely personal. In some forms (Folkloric, Indian), local advanced learning opportunities may be extremely limited – if a dancer is committed to a form, and there isn’t a “next-level” instructor around Baltimore, they will have to go elsewhere to take those next steps. In some forms, where there only a limited number of instructors teach in the region, training may simply stop after a short period of time.

For many reasons, it’s difficult to plot a common trajectory for a dancer from student to performer to teacher, but we do have some data that might illuminate this a bit. It’s important to note that these questions cover an entire career, and so provide no insight into the temporal relation between being a student, being a performer, and being a teacher – it’s impossible to determine if someone started teaching hip hop before they took a hip hop class, only that they’ve been teaching more or less total time than they’ve been studying. Total number of years looks like this:

2017BRDS Form Years by Dimension, All Forms

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Exploring Baltimore Dance Forms

This is going to be a long one, so make yourself comfortable.

To reveal something about the kinds of dance happening in Baltimore, three separate sections of the BRDS included lists of Dance Forms. Vocabulary for these sections was derived from descriptions on websites of performers and studios in the region and combined into a set of 19 similar “forms” to keep the survey tolerable. Dance forms that had specific functional requirements were separated where practical (e.g., Aerialists need rigging, Acro needs padded surfaces, Flamenco needs hard floors). Even so, these were tough questions to address. Dance forms were presented in descending order of popularity by available classes, and a final “Other” option allowed respondents to include forms they felt were unrecognized in the available descriptions. Having said all that, dance is a fluid discipline, and the boundaries between dance forms are often not well-defined (an exception, of course, is a rigorous ballet syllabus…).

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Dancemakers (NEA-28) 2017 Digital Edition

In 1993, Dick Netzer and Ellen Parker prepared a very specific report for the National Endowment for the Arts based on a survey conducted by Alyce Dissette and Richard J. Orend [pdf]. The original survey, conducted in 1990, was circulated to about 2000 choreographers in four cities in the United States (Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.). About a quarter of those responded.

The original report (NEA Research Report 28 [pdf]) has been scanned and reproduced digitally at least a few times by various institutions. Unfortunately, when the document was originally published, many of the figures provided were printed in something that very nearly approximated non-repo blue, and so the scanned documents reproduce these figures poorly, if at all. The one linked above is the best I could find.

Behold, the power of the library. I managed to track down a real, paper version of this document, complete with it’s binding glue disintegrating, and with a little patience (including some unfortunate issues of “that’s available online, you don’t need the paper version, so you can’t have it”)… I present to you, for your dance economics reading pleasure (not sure ‘pleasure’ is the right word…), the 2017 digital edition of NEA Research Report 28 [pdf]. There are probably some errors and omissions in this version. If you find any, please let me know.

From the report itself:

This report summarizes the results of the National Endowment for the Arts study of the general working conditions, financial status, performance opportunities, funding, and work practices of choreographers in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. The study provides benchmark statistics on a sample of the national choreographer population and documents the difficult circumstances in which these artists work. Completed mail questionnaires from more than 500 choreographers and telephone interviews with over 200 more provided the primary data. Study findings important to the dance field, to the philanthropic community and to policymakers are arranged under the following headings: demographics, professional experience, productivity and use of time, performance opportunities, professional issues, financial conditions, funding, choreographers’ companies.

Important in this report is the distinction between dancer and choreographer – the work habits, support requirements, and income opportunities are dramatically different than those of dance performers. In most studies (and most government statistics), “dancer” and “choreographer” are combined, if “choreographer” is available as a separate profession at all. This report provides some insight into those difference, and why they are important from a policy and economic perspective.

I can’t commit to it now, but a follow-on study of choreographers in the Baltimore Metro region might be the next step after the Baltimore Regional Dance Study. That is a very intense level of participation (the NEA study was almost 80 questions), so dramatically improving participation rates is critical to making this level of research possible (and meaningful).

How Do Baltimore Dancers Spend Their Time?

The first question in the Baltimore Regional Dance Survey was… complicated. There were several iterations about how to capture three dimensions (Performing, Teaching, and Learning) of a dance career with one question, and I’m still not entirely satisfied with the structure of the question. That said, the BRDS did attempt to measure the relative engagement for these three dimensions. Respondents were asked “On average, how did you divide your time as a dancer in 2016?” in each of Performing, Teaching, and Learning. Available responses for each were “None at all,” “A little,” “A moderate amount,” “A lot,” and “A great deal.”

I’m sure there is a large sampling bias favoring older individuals and teachers represented here (some discussion of the known bias here). So, with biases firmly in mind….

All 80 valid responses (see this for validation criteria) made it through this question (along with another 40 incomplete and invalidated responses – which is why we may come back to those later). Focusing for a moment on only the most-engaged (“A great deal”) responses, only 8 respondents (10%) said they performed “A great deal” in 2016. Twice as many (16) spent a great deal of 2016 learning, and more than 4.5 times that many (37) claimed they spent a great deal of 2016 teaching. Bias confirmed…? At the opposite end of the spectrum (“None at all”), we find 16 respondents did no performance, 11 respondents did no teaching, and 4 respondents did no learning during 2016.

For math, these responses are assigned values from 0 (“None at all”) to 4 (“A great deal”). Aggregating all responses to this question, performing scores 1.6 (between “a little” and “moderate”, teaching scores 2.6 (between “moderate” and “a lot”, and learning scores 2.2 (also between “moderate” and “a lot” but more moderate…).

2017 Baltimore Regional Dance Survey Aggregate Individual Time Allocation

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BRDS2017 – Gender and Age

Continuing to explore the demographic bits of the Baltimore Regional Dance Survey (we’ll get to dancing eventually, I promise…), we come to gender and age. 51 of 80 valid respondents made it far enough to answer these questions, and everyone that made it this far answered both.

When asked about age, respondents were given 6 ranges (<17, 18-25, 26-33, 34-41, 42-49, and 50+) plus the option not to answer. So we get:

2017 Baltimore Regional Dance Survey - Age Groups

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