A Chicago Belly Dancer Discusses Undercutters in Belly Dance: It's all in your head...
Yes, it's all in your head says this Chicago Belly dancer! I know, I know, many of you may be thinking that I'm a Loony Toon right about now, but follow me for a minute. When was the last time you heard Nordstrom look at Macy's and say, "OMG, can you believe Walmart is selling their stuff for half-price!" In a more realistic setting, have you even seen Nordstrom or Macy's run a smear campaign against Walmart? No, of course not, and you never will. Neither Nordstrom or Macy's care about what Walmart is selling or the price they're selling it at. Because you see, Nordstrom and Macy's have completely different clientele than that of Walmart. They don't target the same crowd nor do they provide the same quality of products. In essence. you get what you pay for.
So what does all this retail talk have to do with bellydance? Actually, a lot more than you would think. Very often, we hear things like "Can you believe it? So and so did a gig (class, workshop, etc.) for way less than what the rest of us charge. That's just not right." Let's admit it, we have all thought this at one point or another, myself included, and, though frustrating, it is not a very positive or healthy way to approach the topic. Now don't get me wrong, I am not promoting charging less than your area's going rate. I personally feel that if you're going to call yourself a professional dancer you should charge professional rates. That said, it is often very difficult to truly find out what those rates are. Many dancers won't tell you what they charge even if you are simply asking so that you can price your services appropriately for your area. Then there are others who will tell you what they charge but neglect the fact that they will often negotiate that price based on distance, season or holiday, their availability, and many many other factors.
At any rate, I digress, so let's get back to that retail talk. Think of the 'professional dancer' as Nordstrom or Macy's and the 'undercutting dancer' as Walmart. Is it really realistic for Nordstrom to charge Walmart prices? Conversely is it realistic for Walmart to charge Nordstrom prices? Of course, neither would work and for obvious reasons. So why would you ask a Walmart dancer to charge Nordstrom prices? You wouldn't. Yet both Nordstrom and Walmart are both very successful businesses because they market themselves to the appropriate clientele for their specific product.
If you're a Nordstrom dancer and your business is not doing as well as you would like, you really can't blame the Walmart dancer. Let's face it, that clientele would not have paid your rate even if there were no Walmart dancer. It really comes down to this, if you're not getting the amount of work you would like to see you have two options improve your product or lower your prices.
You may be asking, what if the Macy's dancer goes to Nordstrom's location and starts handing out sale flyers. Isn't that undercutting? No, that is poaching. It is aggressive, distasteful, nonprofessional, and unacceptable, but it is not undercutting. In the end, each dancer charges what they feel they are worth. If you feel that they are worth more, then it is fair to let them know, in a kind way. Perhaps they are just unaware. If they continue to charge Walmart prices then that is their choice, and neither their choice nor yours is wrong.
Webster defines undercutting (undercut) as, "to offer to sell at lower prices than or to work for lower wages than (a competitor)". In the bellydance world we have created this terrible image of a dancer (the undercutter) that is maliciously out to steal all our jobs and is doing so by charging crazy low prices, therefore eating away at the very profession that is bellydance, and creating problems for the rest of us in the process. Yet Webster has no definition for undercutter as it relates to business or dance (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/undercutter). So as you can see, there is no such thing as a belly dance undercutter, it's all in your head. Though there are some dancers out there that do go after jobs with the intention of poaching them from another dancer, this is the exception not the rule. Most of the time dancers are just trying to get work the best way they know how, with the limited knowledge available on how best to get work as a professional bellydancer.
The best way to combat declining market rates is to freely share your pricing with others, don't assume everyone is out to steal your job, and educate those newer dancers who show interest in becoming a professional dancer. Just remember to have confidence in your product, always continue to improve it, charge what you're worth, market yourself to the appropriate clientele and you will reach your goals in no time.
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