Instructor turns to silent auction and website to raise money to pay dancers
Taryn Javier looks back to a time when she once felt like quitting dance a few years ago and says, "Part of the reason I quit was because I was so tired of putting everything into it — like physical being, my emotional investment, my intellectual investment — and I'm receiving nothing in return?"
Javier felt like she was not being compensated for her art and now, as a choreographer, she sees the same thing with the dancers she's teaching.
"What am I going to do? Pay my dancers $8 an hour? It's worth more than that. It's exhausting."
Through the Artist in Residence Program at Dancer's Studio West, Javier has had the opportunity to train and rehearse with her five contemporary dancers — Saxon Fraser, John Nguyen, Tony Tran, Winnie Ho and Jennifer DeWolf — for seven weeks with the end product of three shows on Oct. 27-29 at the dance studio.
To pursue her hopes of providing the ideal payment, Javier used a global fundraising site to showcase her dancers and the situation they face. Appealing to online viewers, she posted a video of the cast doing a contemporary dance piece on the rocks along the Elbow River.
Javier's goal was to reach $5,000, but according to the website IndieGoGo, more than $5,840 was raised throughout the 60-day fundraiser. With the help of Javier's friends, a silent auction was organized in early September as well, including DJs, vocalists and dancers, resulting in a collection of $2,400 from the event.
Numerous supporters wrote encouraging comments on the website, including dancers from Belgium, whom Javier has previously collaborated with. With all the thoughtful messages from the contributors, she and her cast have decided to return the goodwill by sending signed photo cards, print magnets, posters, artist cards from The Grand Theatre and a DVD of the show to those who contributed towards this fundraiser.
Despite the success of her first fundraiser, the ambitious choreographer realizes that this is just the beginning and she needs to push even further — she needs to raise $10,000 if she wants to pay her dancers just $10 an hour.
"The Canada Alliance of Dance Artists (CADA) says you should pay dancers $22 an hour, which I whole-heartedly agree, but I would prefer to pay them $25 an hour. But imagine how much more money I need to raise."
The artistic director at Dancer's Studio West, Davida Monk, works with Javier and her dancers to give guidance and mentoring. Within the seven weeks of rehearsal, the residence program donates a free space at the studio to rehearse, where Javier and her five dancers train for about five days a week, approximately four hours each day.
"People don't take us seriously and the impact we have in the community. We are more than just a form of entertainment. We are an actual career. We are a profession."
Pamela Tzeng, a fellow choreographer whom Javier will be sharing the production with, recalls the times she has performed and choreographed for free, explaining that it is a common gesture for artists. Not being compensated for a seven-week project isn't a part of Tzeng's plan this time.
With the support of the Alberta Foundation for Arts and Canada Council for the Arts, Tzeng was granted her own artist fees for the project. Unfortunately, this only covers 55 per cent of the cost so Tzeng, like Javier, moved on to other options to pay her own dancers.
Tzeng says that it's rare to get paid with the standard CADA rate. She explains the exhaustion of dancers trying to balance multiple jobs to survive economically.
"How are you supposed to evolve as an artist if you can't commit the time?"
Even though Tzeng may only be able to pay her dancers half of the ideal hourly rate, she continues to count her blessings and is thankful to be able to at least have something to pay them with since she has witnessed fellow dancers, including herself and Javier, who have worked with no pay in return.
"Even the most famous dancers we have in Canada — the most beautiful dancers we have in Canada — are probably getting just $20,000 a year if you calculate it," Tzeng adds.
Admitting that her decision to dance was a difficult choice, Tzeng says that while she may never live a life of wealth, she knows she will be enriched as a person — always growing and continuing to find happiness through her dancing career.
Tony Tran, one of Javier's dancers, is very grateful of his choreographer's passion about what she does and how she values the work of her dancers.
"People don't take us seriously and the impact we have in the community. We are more than just a form of entertainment. We are an actual career. We are a profession," Tran says, recognizing that Javier makes sure dancers and artists are considered as a profession.
Artists can take nothing and make something, Javier adds, so dancers shouldn't be taken advantage of and be paid for what they do.
"Javier has great direction and understanding of her dancers' bodies," says Tran. Regardless of the physical exhaustion, he believes it's all about the process and not the end result.
The learning process that Tran values is shared by Javier as she says, "I don't really care about the end product, I don't."
"That for me is my gift to the dancers. The dancers create that moment. They're the creators for that performance. They make that moment."
- By Kian Sumalpong