Some industries are worse than others when it comes to dishonesty, insincerity, and general shittiness towards others. In the entertainment business, one of the suckier offenders, the sleaze gravitates towards things like backstabbing, undercutting, greed, producer-scooping and spread-raping. All of these things have happened to me, and they can be infuriating, but I seem to be able to get past it faster than I used to. I credit it mainly to the good things that are happening and non-biz things like family – they serve as a distraction and a mechanism for keeping perspective.
Put another way, as I told some colleagues at a meeting once, “I’d LIKE to spend the day getting pissed off about [insert evil act done to the fire folk], but my kid just spilled his food and peed his diaper so I’m a little too busy to dwell.”
I’m not going to go into great detail about all of these things. What I am going to do is relate to you very real, very true stories of things that have happened to me in the business of firedancing and try to explain how I coped. These aren’t “success” stories and there is no magic formula for getting past the things that really, REALLY piss you off or degrade your passion, but I tell you that to tell you this: I am still standing, still performing, and at the time of this publishing, my career is stronger than ever.
- One of my best friends and neighbors is a henna artist and party vendor for things like glitter tattoos and other body art pieces. With years in the event entertainment industry under her belt before I even started, she spent many of the first two years of my struggle to get traction trying to mentor me. Advice like “You need to offer more, you can’t get it done with just firedancing, nobody wants firedancing men, lower your rates, you need a second job, your competitors are doing better than you…” It was like having my own personal naysayer right outside my front door. For the record: she didn’t do it because she was being a bitch, she was doing it because she saw how hard I was crashing and burning and she wanted to help me, but what I really needed was a cheerleader rooting for me without any rational reason for doing so.
COPE: I had to constantly remind myself that firedancing is fucking AWESOME. I’m not awesome, IT is. And it’s awesome to watch, and people will get into it if they just see it done in its modern forms. Also, her insistence that I diversify my product offerings helped me develop my glow show so I had something to offer if the party got moved indoors.
- A circus performer came to town and started a circus. In the middle of that, I got this call from him: “Hi Julian, I want to get all the numbers for your dancers so I can put together a fire show. You know, like yours, but with costumes and choreography and stuff.” I got so mad at this that I had to put the phone down while he was still on it.
COPE: I actually heard my mom’s voice in my head on this one. “HE’S GOING TO DO IT ANYWAY!” So I swallowed my pride and did the show. It became a great show, one of my favorite performance memories, I learned a ton and the next year, after his circus relocated to Canada, Fire By The Palm was called to do the show… and we KILLED IT!
- Another circus producer has said the following things to me over the last few years. As I disprove a statement, a new one surfaces:
I wonder what he’ll say in 2014? Firedancers are great as long as they’re not Italian?
COPE: Using a long-term strategy, just prove him wrong. I am proof that people want firedancers and that dudes can get gigs, with or without beautiful women dancing with them. I’ve also proven that it’s worth a lot more than he tells me it’s worth.
- One entertainment producer, perhaps the only true enemy I have, tried to tell me that firedancing talent was only worth and only ever will be worth $200. A paltry sum but it wasn’t overall cheapness: she charged high dollar amounts to the client and kept the difference (aka “spread-raping”). I may do another blog entry someday just about my run-ins with this evil, evil woman.
COPE: Avoid at all costs, we still have to work together sometimes but I otherwise stay far, far away from her. Also, I make it my mission to get the talent I hire as much money as I can just so I can show her how wrong she is. She’s a sociopath, so she’ll never feel any shame for her badness, but at least I can make sure that when she gets her hooks in my friends that they have proof that she’s full of shit (i.e. “Fire By The Palm pays more than that, this woman is screwing me, and not in a good way”).
- Once I was offered a 3-hour firedancing job – no breaks (this is epically long – a typical show is 15 minutes, and even ambient shows don’t last more than 60-90 minutes, tops). The producer said, “I charged $600, I’ll split it with you 50-50.” I didn’t take the job. I actually like this guy personally, but like many, many people in the world, when it comes to money, he just gets a little fucked up about it. Bro, you want half?
COPE: I stepped aside while one of my friends took the gig. They both have yet to shake off the fear that money can instill in a person, so in connecting them to each other, I no longer have to talk shop with either, and I get to remain friends with both. Gentle reader, in business as in love, there’s somebody for everybody.
- ALL my community friends that take the occasional gig undercut the market value of what I do. They will do free shows, which is fine, but when they do $50 shows, it’s irritating as fuck. Next time, my friends, just gift the fucking thing, okay?
COPE: I remind myself that my friends aren’t surviving on firedancing money – they’re still 99% in it for the art. I also remind myself that I like to perform at places without commercializing it so why should I get on them about it? Dudes, I love you all, dance as you will, for what you will. My phone is still ringing.
- One friend started an entertainment company so I mentored her quite a bit. Once the company launched, she offered me a gig and asked for my rates. I gave her my lowest rate. She still didn’t like the answer, so she called my best friend to offer him much less. And he accepted the gig (facepalm!). Without me saying a thing to anyone, she is now known as “the undercutter,” which in this business is tantamount to a scarlet letter hanging from your neck.
COPE: I stopped mentoring her, but maintained the friendship. If I’m right, she’ll either implode or evolve.
- Once I had a Halloween gig at some fat mansion. It paid well, there were lots of other kinds of entertainment, the shows and the party were all great. The next year, my agent was told, “Do everything you did last year for this year’s party, but no men this time.” I was, um, the only dude in the roster.
COPE: This one stung a bit, mostly because it reinforced the stereotype that men can’t be successful as “dancers.” I went home, looked at my schedule, and saw what other gigs I had in the next two weeks, and the forward momentum helped put this embarrassing moment in my more distant past.
- Recently I was on a weekly TV show as a background firedancer. Twice. Yesterday, I was contacted by the show. They wanted to know if they could borrow or rent my gear to another, less expensive firedancer so that they could save money on talent.
COPE: I reminded myself that to place oneself in a premium pricing channel is to alienate yourself to the 99%. As a result, most high-end entertainers will be unable to perform for most callers, which is why agents exist to help filter out the can’t-buys. Cheap people will always try to end-around the middleman when they want something they can’t or don’t want to pay for. I should accept that as a mere variation on the same determination that drives me to get my goals.
Sometimes I play out these scenes in my head even though they already happened. After giving it careful thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason I got/get mad at these situations is because I wanted these people to see things my way and follow the path that I have followed to success. So, basically, it’s about ego. I built up this sense of self-worth and clung to it so fiercely that anyone who comes along and questions it or challenges it has attacked my very essence. And what does one do when attacked? Get pissed off and counter-attack, that’s what.
Put that way, it seems kind of ridiculous, doesn’t it? Like I’m so fucking special that I can make the entire world and everyone in it do my bidding if they all just act and speak like me? You can go for that if you like, but trust me – having tried to manifest that, it never, ever works.
So how do you deal with it? How do you cope with this bullshit and demoralizing progress, assuming you don’t have something else to keep you from dwelling on it?
1. Practice saying “no.” No, really. Practice it in a mirror; confidence through preparation makes dealing with annoyances much less painful (and, if you’re a bit of a sadist, much more interesting). “I’m sorry, I charge way more for that kind of gig. I’m sorry, I’m not feeling it. I’m sorry, they’re not paying enough. I’m sorry, I’m booked that night. I’m sorry, like most people you call, I don’t work for free. Would you ask a plumber to do that, or would you walk into a restaurant and ask for a menu with lower prices on it?”
2. Remind yourself that your career is more than what is going on right now. My 2012 was the most successful year I ever had, but my 2013 is limping along like it sustained a gunshot wound to the thigh. But I’m still in it and I just did a halftime show in Sun Life Stadium in front of 71,124 people. Life evens out.
3. Remember that you don’t need the offer in front of you. If you’re early in your career, you really WANT the gig, but don’t confuse want with need. If you’re in the game, and this offer is missed or refused, another WILL come.
4. Remind yourself that karma takes care of everything, in time. If someone is being super-douchy, they’ll get theirs.
5. Remind yourself why you charge what you do in the first place – whether you’re expensive or cheap, reinforce your self-identity.
6. Instead of focusing on who won’t work with you (or won’t get their head out of their ass), take a measure of who does, would, and will work with you. This one is my own personal lifesaver; it’s hard to focus on what I don’t have when I have mentors like Mambo Nita (www.dancesouthflorida.com) and business colleagues like Kevin Daniels (www.spinballspoi.com).
7. Get your head out of work – go exercise or hang out with your friends or family. Tell them about your angry situation, or don’t, but simply letting time pass helps too and when combined with the company of friends, can erase a bad day.
8. Practice anger management – because this industry can make you very, very angry. Breathing techniques, communication techniques, whatever. In life, like business, the ability to project a cool head is tantamount to being respected, which leads to better career opportunities.
9. Do free shows and do some shows that don’t pay a lot. Just don’t do the ones people ask you to do; YOU pick them out of your events calendar and make first contact. Help a charity or crash a party. In the wealthy circles, crashing the party is called “sponsorship” which means I’m “sponsoring” your fundraiser by bringing firedancers to your $150-a-ticket fundraiser without charging you a thing. In return, you plaster my logo everywhere and feed my team.
All in all, stay calm, pity the person trying to cheapen you, and keep busy. Don’t try to not get angry at all, that’s a path to failure, and it’s unhealthy. Instead, try embracing your anger like a familiar cloak for a few minutes. Once you let it sweep through you and wash over you like some really bad acid, it moves on much more quickly. As a bonus: as your career grows and your reputation becomes more solidified, people who would try to take advantage of you will learn – before they call – that you’re much too above the fray to be scammed or cheapened.
Good luck :).