We are used to paying cover to go social dancing, but for many people the concept of ‘paying for dances’ is both foreign and alarming. It is usually men who are ‘paid’ as a partner, and women who are paying. And, the practice is more frequent at large events than small socials.
Paying for dances comes in several forms:
- taxi dancers, who are paid or given complimentary entrance/discounts to an event in exchange for social dancing;
- fundraiser dances, where pro’s are ‘tipped’ for a minute of social dance time and profits are donated to charity;
- dancer ‘rentals,’ where a high-level dancer is rented by a person or group as a ‘dance escort’ for a full night, or certain number of hours;
- pay-per-dance hosts, who are ‘tipped’ for each dance;
- paid social dance time, where an organizer pays a pro to spend time on the social floor.
You might agree (or disagree) with all these practices. But, regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, it can be helpful to understand where the other side is coming from.
I used to be a ‘taxi dancer’ at a local social for a while. The idea behind a taxi dancer is relatively simple:
- Dance with all the people who normally spend a lot of time sitting down.
- Make sure everyone has fun.
- Make new people feel welcome, with the goal of having them return to the dance.
When taxi dancing functions as desired, it is rarely problematic. But, it can create problems in a few situations
When taxi dancers are working as desired, it can create an inclusive environment where everyone feels welcome. It can also help to even out an imbalance in leading/following, especially if the taxi dancers can switch roles.
This happens when taxi dancers legitimately enjoy the service they are providing, and actively seek out the people who need an uplift that evening. It is especially powerful when taxi dancers seek out beginner dancers, and give them a positive experience.
Taxi dancers can still be elitist and snobby, even if their role is the opposite. For example, they may ‘target’ partners who are desirable, rather than finding people who are sitting down. And, due to the nature of most socials and events, it can be difficult to police that behavior.
Some social dancers also don’t enjoy dances with taxi dancers because it feels like a ‘pity dance’. This can largely depend on the nature of the taxi dancer. A taxi dancer who treats it as an obligation or a job can leave people feeling demotivated, while a person who is a taxi dancer because they love everyone can motivate and uplift.
I don’t have an issue with taxi dancing – when the right people are used as taxi dancers. I don’t think you need to be an ‘advanced’ dancer to be a taxi, but you do need to be capable of having fun with all partners. If a person treats taxi dancing like a job, it’s not meeting its goal.
A fundraiser dance is when you pay a pro for a dance (typically a minute or so). Often, the format is similar to a birthday-circle type dance, and a volunteer collects the ‘tips’ in a hat.
Another format is a specific, designated time during the evening where you can ‘reserve’ a dance. Then, the funds raised are donated at the end.
The goal is twofold:
- People get a chance to ‘dance with their favourite pro’, and
- Funds are raised for a cause supported by the event or community
You’re helping to support a (hopefully) worthy cause, and you get time with someone you may not have the chance to dance with otherwise.
It can feel contrived, since dances are paid for ‘obligations’ rather than free ‘choice’.
I actually like this idea. I think it’s a fun way to raise money for great things, and balance people’s desire for time dancing with a pro. Yes, the pro is ‘working for free’, but it’s usually voluntary and can be a lot of fun.
This idea is more popular in the ballroom world. I’ve also heard of this in Argentine Tango, but I’m not entirely sure how common the practice is.
The idea of a dancer rental is that you ‘reserve’ a specific amount of time with a person in advance. It can be the whole evening, or maybe an hour or two.
Sometimes a rental can be exclusive, which means that they will only dance with you during that time. Or, it can be a way to fill times where you aren’t able to find a partner – but don’t want to sit out.
People who otherwise find it difficult to locate partners can have a safety net for the evening. This is particularly true if you’re in an unbalanced event, where many more people are dancing one role (usually following) than the other (usually leading).
It can also be a way for insecure dancers to avoid anxiety in large, unknown groups of people.
Of course, dancers who are in demand can get an extra source of income. This applies whether they’re a pro, or an in-demand amateur.
It goes against the ‘fabric’ of social dancing. If all the strong dancers were ‘reserved’ for an evening, it would ruin the ability of people to enjoy different partners.
It would also likely cost far more for followers than leaders, since leads are generally less common than follows.
I’m not a huge fan of the ‘rental dancer’ idea. I understand it, but I’m still not a fan.
But, I would encourage those who are against the idea to understand why some people feel it is necessary. The fact that there are people who are willing to pay tells me that we have members of the community who feel so ‘on the outside’ that they view this as a good option for getting dances.
Maybe we can spend time thinking about how to better include these people.
That being said, I don’t think it’s ever going to become a widespread practice. I think there will continue to be a few who practice this – but the general dislike of the concept will keep it from becoming a fixture.
This is essentially the for-profit form of the fundraiser dance – and without the designated time. Dancers who are in demand can charge a ‘fee’ for a dance with them.
It can be a good source of money for people who are sought after partners. And, people who are aiming to dance with a particular person may be better able to secure a dance.
On a purely logistical note, the cash and transaction handling would be a nightmare.
On a cultural note, this practice could ‘price out’ many people from socials. And, it can be very predatory if manipulated by in-demand dancers.
I don’t think that this concept bodes well for the idea of a strong social dance scene. While it can be a charming idea in the context of a fundraiser, it becomes borderline predatory as a for-profit enterprise. I’d rather see this never catch on.
If it did, I’d probably ban the practice from my socials or events.
Paid Social Dance Hours
This is when organizers pay a fee to artists in order to get them to stay on the social floor. It guarantees that artists will be accessible for dances, while also preventing costs from rising for participants.
Artists are accessible. Dancers get to dance with them. This can make the social atmosphere and experience much more pleasant at events. Artists are also compensated for sharing their art on the social floor.
It raises organizer costs, which raises event ticket costs. It also can cause pro’s who social dance voluntarily feel devalued, since those who choose not to dance are being compensated for the time.
There’s also no guarantee that a pro will dance with everyone. Some may spend time on the floor, but stick to specific partners – or even the bar.
As an organizer, I’d love to have the funds to pay pro’s for social dancing. But, generally speaking, it makes more economic sense to pay for more workshops instead (at least in Brazilian Zouk).
Instead, I prefer to make schedules that encourage social dancing by the pro’s, and to hire people who have a history of providing an inclusive and warm social dancing environment. This means hiring people who enjoy (or at least, seem to enjoy) social dancing regularly, and with everyone.