Hi dancers! I've started a blog... the aim is to share insights into areas that are not often discussed, where we make decisions that affect our artistic directions. I'll post a new article each month.
Events and connections make our local and international dance world go round, right? Bellydance sub-culture has grown phenomenally in the recent decade, with more inter-relationships, live and online, than ever before. But how do we discern which associations are the right ones for us and our fellow artists? Collaboration, cross-promotion and sponsorship are three very different relationships that exist in the co-operative dance world. They can be beneficial and uplifting for everyone involved, including the wider community, or conversely, they can become energetically draining and create disharmony. Artistic relationships need to be initiated with clarity and approached with integrity for ideas to flourish within successful associations; either as a short-term projects or long standing future endeavours. These primary connections between established or emerging artists and ideas require clear conversations. What type of artistic connection is being created, how does it develop, and where is its place in the dance world?
Most dancers who’ve invested their energy in teaching, or have supported students, worked with other teachers, and built a substantial community over the years, will at some point, have others approach them for some form of artistic exchange or merging of ideas. I believe that it is necessary to understand, from the initial conversation, what type of connection this will establish - is it collaboration, cross-promotion or sponsorship that is being discussed? It's a good skill to be able to recognise the difference between those seeking collaboration and those who are actually seeking a sponsor or someone to promote their work or own artistic vision, because your role is very different in each situation.
Firstly, it is essential to get clear on the nature of the connection:
Most people will open the discussion by asking to 'collaborate' with you, when they really may be asking for sponsorship, promotion or cross-promotion. Asking directly for sponsorship can be confronting, and many artists feel uncomfortable saying “Hey, I have a great idea, and could do with some promotion to widen my scope…can you help me?” There is nothing wrong with this, in fact if it is an upfront request for sponsorship, rather than collaboration, the true nature of the artistic connection can be presented clearly.
A collaboration generates a new idea. If a fellow artist initiates a discussion, expressing a desire to team up with you, and believes that both of your strengths can combine to create something new and exciting for you and your respective communities, you are speaking about collaboration. This normally produces new ideas or merges your interests into a mutually supportive direction. It takes both artistic visions into account and often generates what’s known as a ‘creative third solution’ or an idea that was born from the merging of two visions, rather than one. Those who arrive with questions and interest in their fellow artist, are ready and willing to collaborate; this includes a chat about what they’re doing, where they’re at and what their vision is – plus they ask the very same questions and listen to your answers. This shows the level of receptivity needed for real collaboration, because they are interested to see if your combined visions align. They want to know if it's a good match before investing energy, and because they honour their own vision, they will only team up with someone who’s vision resonates with their own. When this initial conversation opens a collaborative merger, there is potential for a true, solid collaboration with longevity and creative bonds.
Collaborators listen, pay attention, give and receive feedback and ask questions, to see where cross-pollination of ideas can exist. If you are speaking with a collaborator, reciprocal discussion is evident from the very beginning. They listen as well as ask questions, and creative new solutions present themselves. Collaborations often have lasting value, even when undergoing transformational change over the years. Both parties value the importance of listening, communicating, feedback and teamwork - the core qualities of true collaboration that manifest from shared vision. Ultimately, this is true collaborative energy.
If someone is seeking a sponsor, or promotional relationship, they will approach you and ask you to invest time into creating an environment that supports and promotes their ideas and projects. Their aim is to expand their vision or project into new territory, in exchange for remuneration and building a professional relationship. They are prepared to give the best of their work to the community you are promoting them to, as satisfied participants boost their sponsor’s reputation. I have seen this be very a successful liaison, yet at other times it has created drama, disappointment and disparity for those involved. I believe a lack of clarity is the underlying issue. In sponsorship agreements, everything relating to the association needs to be laid on the table and discussed as early as possible. It saves unnecessary difficulty down the line.
Collaboration, sponsorship or cross-promotion? It sounds simple enough, yet many people approaching an artistic relationship may have not clarified what type of association they are requesting, before partaking in an initial discussion. I have observed how this lack of clarity–-usually not intended–-has created a lack of coherence in collaborative efforts, with sponsors (or occasionally, the sponsored guest), investing much more than they were comfortable with, as projects developed and unforeseen events unfolded. Because of the energetic investment any project requires, it is important to process things clearly, right from the beginning, before making a final decision.
Understanding exactly where you feature in this connected artistic equation is necessary for clarity. If you have taken the role of being a sponsor initiating a discussion, asking a guest to work with you is usually quite straight forward, and almost always elicits an enthusiastic reaction… although this association also needs a good deal of clarity before proceeding. If someone approaches you as their potential sponsor, or an artist seeks out your skills to promote their work or project, ideally they would clearly communicate exactly what it is they need, and include how you would benefit as a sponsor. These requests are essential early in the conversation.
Tell-Tale Clues - Is it Collaboration or Something Else?:
1. Artist is Seeking Sponsorship
Usually, when a conversation is more or less one-sided, and the initiating artist is talking primarily about their vision without engaging with yours, it reveals that they are looking for sponsors or promoters, rather than collaboration. If someone approaches you with ideas for ‘collaboration’, with a lengthy spiel about what they’re doing, where they’re at and what their vision is… without addressing your work, they are actually requesting a promotional artistic relationship or sponsorship.
2. Artist is Seeking Cross-Promotion (or Partnership)
If they reference both your vision and theirs in conversation, and support your ideas without expressing the need to create a new merged concept, they are probably looking at some kind of cross-promotion. Cross-promotion often gets confused for collaboration, when it is really about two artists promoting each others work without changing either project. Perhaps the most important factor here is that each artist respects and is familiar with the other’s work – not superficially, but understands the artist they are promoting. If cross-promoting, it is equally important to make sure your vision is understood. This can also become a working collective, such as a studio, where dancers promote each other's classes, whist maintaining artistic independence.
3. Artist is Seeking Collaboration For discussions that are focused on collaboration both parties look at how they can create together, with an equal investment of time, energy, resources and ideas. The discussion centres on co-creative ideas that expand on both artist's talents and visions, with the emergence of a new idea.
What is Your Best Response?
Over many years of community and collaborative endeavours, I've learnt that the initial discussion usually reveals your fellow artist’s intention, even if it is not spoken or delivered with absolute clarity. Actually, we are trained to 'create convincing conversation' so mis-communication can inadvertently give the wrong message. Your best response is your authentic one. Once you've understood the situation, you can respond clearly. If you need more information, ask questions, or ask for more time to avoid a reactive response, e.g.: being over zealous or dismissive. It could be wise to hesitate forming an alliance with someone who tries to convince you that they are interested in collaboration, when you know that they are actually seeking a sponsor. But if you are asked and are willing to be a sponsor, give the discussion all the clarity it needs before proceeding. Listen, evaluate and discern from the initial conversation. Be wary of replying too quickly with an answer such as ‘Sure, lets give it a go', and then invest energy into promoting an endeavour that is neither reciprocal nor aligned with your own vision. If you have to say "no", a response that is swift and polite is best for everyone, an example could be, “Thanks for telling me about yourself and your work, I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to chat, however it seems a sponsor might be a better fit for you at this stage, so I don't feel a collaboration is right for us. Good luck with finding the right person”. You can still encourage them to follow their vision, and perhaps even introduce them to a potential sponsor.
Artistic relationships are necessary, however they need to be right for you. When you understand the nature and requirements of the artistic relationship being proposed, your decisions will be clear. This clarity gives your own projects healthy boundaries, maintains the integrity of your artistic vision and supports your personal time investment. In all our artistic relationships, we owe it to both ourselves and to others, to proceed with clarity and dignity, and articulate our intention. When we listen carefully, with awareness, we can evaluate what the heart of the request is really about. Truth, clarity and real discussion are the best entry point--or exit point--for future endeavours, and provide an opportunity to honour your own artistic integrity, as well as that of the other artist. Sometimes the answer presents itself as and intuitive sense of ‘knowing’, yet it will almost always also reveal itself clearly in the initial discussion, when we listen.
As usual, listening is the key.
As usual, listening is the key.