AS the dancing trade continues to grow locally, with several male merrymakers falling in love with hordes of dance groups that continue to emerge; the story is not a proverbial success narrative in terms of their earnings.
WINSTONE ANTONIO/SIMBARASHE MANHANGO
In the eyes of the merrymakers, dancers are just performers who provide a form of entertainment to them, yet for the dancers it is a profession from which they earn a living.
The majority are, however, living from hand-to-mouth and remain at the mercy of venue owners and promoters due to poor remuneration despite attracting huge paying numbers at their concerts.
Investigations carried out by The Standard Style show that promoters, bar owners, and managers are exploiting dancers, while dancers have also contributed a fair share of negligence, enough to demean their business.
This has since sparked a veritable wave of animosity among dancers and a willingness to fight back the system.
Certainly, these experiences vary from club to club, yet one thing the different venues have in common is that they are being controlled by a similar network of owners.
The worrisome working conditions that dancers have found themselves stuck in has seen them trying, albeit in vain, to separately run their own independent stripping and dancing operations, free from control by premises owners.
“The club can now consider your private dance a ‘work product’ and it no longer belongs to you, which could mean clubs exerting more control. On busy days, I usually earn $5 a night doing striptease yet I get paid three days only,” explained one dancer.
“It has become challenging for me to separate my trade from the contractor’s business. For me to realise a sustainable amount of earnings, I find myself caught up in circumstances where I have to secure residence at the venue, pay rent, work with targets and also deal with exhausting sexual harassment that in a way, I end up feeling compelled to tolerate in order to make a living.”
Poor remunerations have led to a series of allegations of dancers providing “backstage” romance to men they would have lured with their often sexually-suggestive dances when they gyrate on the stage.
The birth of the Dancers Association of Zimbabwe (DAZ) in 2010, tried to bring a professional edge to the dance floor, but that has been met with a lot of resistance from none-conformists who refuse to adhere to orderly practice.
While DAZ’s concerns sounded outstanding, the implementation of their resolutions remains far behind levels predicted six years ago due to the economic situation and of course, increased numbers of dance groups which has led to the supply being bigger than the demand.
It is against this background that allegations of female dancers claiming to have been exploited by club owners and promoters have increased.
The Standard Style established that on average, dance groups were being paid around $60 for a four-hour performance, a figure that is irresistible due to the prevailing economic hardships.
A leader of a popular Harare- based dance group said; “Dance groups must be recognised as of equal importance as other artistes.
Promoters and club owners should treat dancers with respect and drop the mentality of regarding dancing as less important,” she said.
Founder of another celebrated Bulawayo-based dance group said it was high time DAZ interfered as the dancers’ mother body to advocate for better remunerations for dancers.
“We are registered with and subscribe to DAZ, and it is high time the organisation, through its president Hapaz [Hapaguti Mapimhidze] come to our rescue and negotiate for better payment from promoters and club owners,” she said.
“DAZ is just a toothless bulldog, for its six-year existence, it has done nothing to justify its presence if we are to look at what we have gone through at the hands of promoters.”
Fearless Dance Group leader, Fungai Daura said promoters and club owners must pay dancers according to their performance, instead of paying them “peanuts”, taking advantage of their desperation.
“We are not happy with what some of these club proprietors are paying. They must understand that dancers also have families to feed and pay them accordingly as a way of appreciating their art talent,” Daura said.
“Not all of them [club proprietors] are paying us peanuts, some are paying us from $100-$120 for four hours while some are paying about $60, which is very little if shared among group members.”
Daura blamed some of the dancers for their own exploitation and said they failed to value their art.
Contacted for comment, Mapimhidze confirmed exploitation of dancers and said his organisation was striving to restore order in the industry.
“Yes, we have received reports of some promoters and club proprietors undermining dancers, but we are having a series of meetings with them to address the issues. What we are saying is that all our dancers and dance groups deserve professional treatment and must be respected,” Mapimhidze said.
“For a long time, we have been encouraging our dancers to have managers who negotiate their contracts, instead of club owners approaching them directly, which exposes them.”
Mapimhidze confirmed that some dancers were getting as little as $2 to $5 after sharing the money as a group.
“This is absolutely demeaning and makes dancers lose their self- esteem and value in the industry,” he said.
Pole dancer, Zoey Sifelani also conceded that dancers were facing humiliation at the hands of promoters and bar owners who were in turn making money at their expense. She said the trade was even more hard a task considering the harsh economic conditions.
“Many promoters have actually become accustomed to the habit of abusing dancers for self-gains. They think that this is part and parcel of the territory, regardless of the fact that the job doesn’t entail or permit unwanted sexual contact, just as in any other occupation,” said Zoey.
“We also have many other unorthodox dance groups that are not even registered that have actually perpetuated their abuse and victimisation because they want to make quick money yet they are ignorant.”
Beverly Sibanda, who rose to fame with pole dancing, shared the same sentiments, saying dancers were not respected at all. She took a swipe at promoters, whom she said were exploiting dancers.
“Dancers are not respected. It is hard to be financially stable sometimes when the industry is not paying. For me, dancing has been rewarding and working out pretty well. But, having spoken and networked with many dancers out there, they are wallowing in poverty,” said Beverly.