A special report on the effects of the pandemic on the dance industry
When Covid-19 swept the globe in early 2020, businesses and organizations across the board were left scrambling. The performing arts sector—heavily reliant upon live, in-person events for revenue—was left with a void, both artistically and financially. This resulted in a rapid shift to digital content in an effort to remain viable. Now, after over a year of modified and predominantly virtual programming, Fjord Review takes a look back to analyze how dance companies pivoted to adjust to a new reality.
We surveyed a dozen organizations worldwide to assemble a comprehensive picture of the strategies that were employed by dance companies over the course of the pandemic.
75% of surveyed companies either cancelled or modified their seasons beginning in March 2020.
The most common approach to dance performance during Covid-19 was—of course—to go fully virtual. Of the suddenly bountiful digital dance offerings, the most common were new commissions, dance films, and streams of previously recorded performances. Other available content ranged from podcasts to watch parties to free online dance classes.
Developing a New System
The majority of surveyed companies chose to stream their content on multiple platforms, with YouTube, Vimeo, and individual company websites becoming the most popular choices. As for structuring digital seasons, most surveyed organizations chose to utilize either a seasonal membership model or pay-per-view performances, some opting for a combination of both.
Over 80% of dance companies charged for online content, largely basing prices on the cost of traditional season tickets and analyses of the past buying patterns of their patrons. However — even for the companies that did charge — most organizations noted that income from their respective digital offerings amounted to less than 20% of total revenue for the season as a whole.
An unexpected silver lining came when organizations across the board noticed that the pandemic allowed them to broaden their reach. Each company reported their digital performances garnered viewership from multiple states, territories, provinces, and countries outside their respective homes. Along with the expanded audiences, companies also reported an uptick in donations, new patrons, and new social media followers during Covid lockdowns.
Over half of surveyed companies offered in-person events with social distancing in place.
Of the companies that did choose to offer socially-distant in-person events, four companies opted for outdoor performances, and three utilized indoor venues. A variety of approaches were used to ensure the safety of dancers and audience members alike. In addition to social distancing and masks worn by all participants, companies also employed strategies such as:
staggering seating times
shortening performances to eliminate the need for an intermission
reduced audience capacity
performances of only pas de deux and solos (limiting pas de deux to cohabiting couples)
and the utilization of a health screening for dancers and staff
Approaches to Pricing
In order to determine pricing for socially-distant performances, dance organizations used a variety of strategies. Several companies included these performances as free bonuses with previously purchased virtual season tickets. Others determined prices based on previous rates prior to the pandemic.
Although, according to survey responses, these performances accrued nominal revenue, all companies had positive audience responses following the events.
Outdoor dance festivals and performances certainly existed prior to Covid-19, but they might become less of a novelty in post-pandemic seasons. While it’s not viable for all companies to perform outside year-round (due to location, weather, and venue availability), organizations might place more focus on non-traditional venues moving forward. Not only does this approach allow for flexibility as the pandemic continues to evolve, it also has potential to expand viewership and cut down on rental costs associated with indoor venues.
Across the board, Covid-19 altered the landscape of dance performance, changing the way companies will look to the future.
Three of the surveyed companies were developing a digitally-focused sustainability strategy pre-pandemic, but in a post-COVID world, all 12 of the organizations plan to continue producing digital content in addition to traditional, in-person performances.
100% of the organizations that responded to the survey have plans for in-person performances in the later part of 2021. Over 80% have developed contingency plans based on how the pandemic continues to evolve.
2020 was—unsurprisingly—a low revenue year for all companies. Many of these organizations were funded almost entirely by donations during the pandemic. Most companies expect 2021 to also be a less lucrative year, but some organizations hope to return to normal revenue by 2022.
As a first step, companies plan to pursue hybrid, in-person/virtual seasons, building up revenue to meet pre-pandemic numbers within the next few years.
In terms of digital innovation, Covid-19 forced performing arts organizations to cram immense progress into a relatively short time frame. The dance world is now fully futuristic; we can experience dance through virtual reality, watch a live performance from halfway across the globe, and everything in between. Although we’re all eager to get back to in-person performances, a new element of excitement comes from anticipating where virtual performances will bring us, too.
Despite the plethora of new virtual options, companies largely struggled to monetize their content. The value of this digital work, therefore, largely came from building audience awareness and engagement. Going forward, digital innovation will remain a priority, but now that a wider audience reach has been established, the focus will be on ways to generate a profit.
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