How Much Should I Pay?

By Katie Taylor


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What does it mean to pay for the things that you value? On this topic, I’m full of questions and have no answers.

Since Danspace (where I teach and work) launched virtual zoom classes, we’ve offered a variety of payment options, always including “no one turned away for lack of funds.” The priorities of both the school’s director and owners have both been to keep paying our faculty and staff as we were before the shelter-in-place order. We don’t require any payment to access the classes. Even with the option to not pay, every single student has paid something, and many have paid more than what we’ve asked as a way to support our school and teachers. Zoom dance class doesn’t work for everyone, but of the students we continue to see in class, nearly everyone has mentioned the value and benefit they have received from class. I have been incredibly moved and grateful for all the support and engagement we’ve had during this time.

Mary Armentrout moved her Feldenkrais practice online shortly after the shelter-in-place order. Those offerings have been available at an “extreme sliding scale” with a suggested range. In her email with class information, she offers the option to pay more to cover folks who can’t pay or can’t pay as much. In participating in those classes, I’ve paid toward the upper end of the range ($20), because I can afford to pay $20 for class, I would have paid $20 (and maybe more) if attending the same offering in person, and because I so value and benefit from Mary making these available while we’re all at home. Is $20 the right amount? Should it be more? What amount reflects the value of the benefit I get from this experience?

The things that have been saving me during shelter in place have been movement practices that I wasn’t normally engaging in during the “time before” shelter in place: a 30 minute twice per week tabata class led by a friend who is also a personal trainer and a Bollywood cardio class led by a friend of my aunt’s who is just starting her dance teaching practice. Both of these started as “pay what you can, if you want” (the Bollywood class is now $11 per class). I normally pay what I consider a pretty low class rate ($15). If it’s only me at the tabata class I pay $20 since it feels like a private training. Mel (the trainer/teacher) joked that whatever money I pay goes right back to Danspace anyway.

My sister and my aunt both came to Mel’s class. Both asked “how much should I pay Mel?” I still don’t know the answer to that, so I told them what I paid and said “but you can pay whatever you can/want to. She doesn’t have a recommended price.” So how do you decide how much to pay?

On Saturday, June 27 I attended dNaga’s free showing of their dance film Mom & Me: The Warrior Heart. The audience was very engaged (the Q&A went on for a long time, with thoughtful questions and reflections about what mothers of all kinds have given to us). I was incredibly moved by several parts, and had this show gone as planned (in person, in May, at Laney College), I would have either been in attendance as front of house or I would have paid for a ticket. So when a link was dropped in the chat to donate, I paid a ticket price plus a little more ($25). Was that the “right” amount to contribute? Given the incredibly hard work, additional costs to produce a film (in place of an in-person performance), what is the amount that honors the labor, the artistic practice, and the value I got from being able to experience it?

In all of these instances, I am also in relationship with the folks I am paying. Does that inspire more thoughtfulness about how much I should pay? Does it matter that they also pay me for my work in different instances? Does it matter that we all get value from getting to share our work with one another (while we try to support ourselves financially with it)? What would it mean to always be in deep consideration about what I can afford and what it’s worth when paying for anything?

I haven’t lost any income during this time, which I think is an important context for my thinking and considerations. Dancers’ Group has been incredibly supportive of staff and my teaching practice shifted, but my overall earnings from that have stayed the same. Some summer income/pick-up teaching gigs didn’t happen, but I have savings to support that loss for this year.

None of my decisions, behaviors, or thinking is meant to be prescriptive or taken as a recommendation. This is simply my thinking and choices in this time, at this time. I assume it will continue to evolve as I learn more and think more about how to try and line up my values within a capitalist system that demands that we show how much we value something by what we’re willing to pay for it.

This article appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of In Dance.

Katie Taylor is a dancer and teacher, on faculty at Danspace in Oakland. She also manages Danspace's Adult Division, supporting brand-new, returning, and experienced adult students in their dance education. Katie is also Dancers' Group's associate director.