When growing up in Uganda, a person who chose a career in Music, Dance and Drama(MDD) was often ridiculed by being called “Musilu Dala Dala!” [very very stupid].
Now imagine it is the future:
Saturday night on WBS TV. The hottest dance show; “Strictly come dancing: Uganda Chapter” is on. Ugandan musician Jose Chameleon is dancing the flamenco with Monela, an agile companion from “G-force” dance group.
The judges are Stephen Rwangyezi o cryptowatchdaily f Ndere Troupe, Roger Masaba, formerly of Footsteps dance company and Sharon O Nalukenge of The Obsessions and Big Brother Africa: Amplified fame. Jose gets 6-6-7 from the judges. Fellow musician Bobi Wine together with Natasha of Kombat dancers win, BUT only because 86 year old ballroom maestro Christopher Kato had declined to participate in this year’s show.
In case you are wondering what I am talking about, Strictly come dancing is a popular BBC show in the UK in which various celebrities get to dance with a professional dancer partner over the season of the show. Judges and the TV audience get to vote who stays until the ultimate winning couple is declared.
And what does Strictly come dancing have to do with investing in the dance and entertainment sector in Uganda, the aim of this article?
Well, I am interested in the future and I can tell you that as long as music(and therefore dance) continues to be the dominant form of entertainment in Uganda then I will not be surprised if this is where the trend is going, you are probably thinking; “not so “Musilu Dala Dala” then hmm?”
Which means that it is a sector worth looking at, however, a person seeking to invest in a dance group should know as a start without me going into further details that for a dance group to survive, they will have to diversify their sources of income or in Ugandan speak, find “side deals” just like say America’s best dance crew champions, the Jabbawockeez who now feature in videos and on TV shows.
First the CONS (of course):
1. Finding a good Choreographer
This is the driving force and inspiration of the group. The choreographer thus needs to be at his/best for the company to compete favorably. The difference after all between a good and poor group lies with the choreographer’s skills.
Sadly there are not many good dance choreographers and trainers in Uganda. There is a huge gap in to be filled in this sector. The likes of 86 year old ball room maestro Christopher Kato are in the evening of their careers, yet there seems to be no ready replacements.
Once you find a good choreographer there is of course a risk that he will be “poached” by a rival, I would therefore recommend that you consider “locking” him/her in through offering equity shares in the company, say 10%. This will hopefully ensure stability for the company.
2. Good corporate governance and investment in soft skills.
A dance group like any regular company should seriously consider aspects of corporate governance like a board of directors/trustees with regular reporting including financial reporting. Other aspects should include well developed policies and human resources skills development. Unfortunately this costs additional money which a dance group often lacks. Boards of directors need allowances and training companies like say Peak Performance are not necessarily cheap.
How many dance groups for example get basic soft skills training like conflict management, motivation, handling stress et al?
In neighbouring Kenya for example, one of the most prominent groups; Sarakasi is set up as a trust with a board of trustees steering it. I would recommend a similar concept for the Ugandan dance sector investor. Whilst you may not start the size of Sarakasi, the concept of subjecting your decisions to independent persons who provide strategic direction is most likely going to result in success.
If you of course cannot afford a board, how about a mentor? Stephen Rwangyezi the man behind Ndere Troupe which is most likely the most prominent dance group in Uganda has been in the sector for over 20 years and will most likely be happy to mentor a dance group. Regardless of whether you are performing contemporary or traditional dance, you could benefit from this experience.
3. Professional ethics and conduct
It is difficult enough for a typical company to prevent work place romance considering most people spend the better part of their lives at work, it is even more difficult maintaining professional ethics in a dance company, considering that a lot of dance movements are pretty intimate by nature and so this is a difficult. I nevertheless expect that with good corporate governance highlighted in point 2 above, there may for example be a policy on personal relationships (wife, lover or illicit affair at work (In Ugandan speak; a lover/illicit affair is a “side dish” while a wife/girlfriend would be referred to as the “main dish”). Judging by Ugandan press reports (or indeed international news) it is not uncommon for dancers to be involved say with principals, choreographers and the like which has lead to the demise of what would otherwise be a successful group.
Whilst romance in itself is not necessarily a bad thing(who am I to act for Cupid?) there should be policies. In many corporate companies for example there are restrictions on work place romances or say spouses working in the same department. Princeton University for example has policies limiting conflict of interest arising from work place relationships(for example you cannot appraise your wife/girlfriend/lover). A dance company should be no different, it is a work place. An alternative for the dance group which is small in size (Usually 5-8 members) could be that there is a strict ban on the choreographer who is strictly speaking a teacher from having a personal relationship with the dancers, who are strictly speaking students. There would after all be a breach of fiduciary trust and it disadvantages the other dancers who may feel favouritism in respect of the Choreographer’s wife/girlfriend/lover.
4. Recruitment of quality dancers and performers
It is difficult enough dealing with the social stigma in Uganda surrounding becoming a dancer (remember the alternative MDD phrase?), how does the investor and/or choreographer recruit the quality all round team that will deliver and keep the group chemistry at a high?
There are many options to find dancers. Luckily Uganda is endowed with many people who love dancing. Auditions can be held say once a month (depending on turnover and the nature of the next project). Other options may include use of social media like Facebook or “guerrilla” scouting (Luring a dancer from another group to join the company).
One alternative option for many Ugandan dance groups is to incorporate corporate social responsibility with “talent spotting”. It is not uncommon for dancers to be say orphans and/or poor. This is a concept that has been embraced by Crane Performers
5. Start up capital, profitability and return on capital
So what do the numbers of this sector look like?
In my model, I advocate that the dance group has two different “departments/units” the “traditional” and the “contemporary” one. The reason for this is quite important.
This is a “weekend” based business meaning most activities will take place over weekends and the key risk is therefore that revenue is not regular. The problem is however more acute for the dance group because to keep being good, the dancers need to rehearse regularly and therefore the company needs to provide meals and transport allowances. The company therefore may have to incur venue hire and labour costs regardless of whether there are performances or not. Having two units ensures more regular performances owing to the demand for both traditional and contemporary types of dance in Uganda.
a) Traditional. This unit does traditional Ugandan dances.
Why? To the outside world(in case you have forgotten it) we are African and any visitor (say that Mzungu) is interested in knowing about Ugandan culture. They are not so keen to know that you can dance as well as Sean Paul or that you got street dance moves that put UK Street Dance Group Diversity to shame. Embassies in Uganda may provide a grant for the dance group to perform traditional dance or may even sponsor an educational project that is steeped in promoting African culture compared to that focusing on contemporary dance. There are of course exceptions like say Tabu flow, a hip hop group or say Tofo Tofo A Mozambique group whose Southern African dance moves (predominantly Kwaito and Pantsula) were featured in Beyonce’s video for “Run the world(girls)”. The grant income may not be limited to embassies. The ministry of Culture or even National Theatre most likely has a budget for promotion of culture and so do several international organizations like UNESCO et al.
b) Contemporary. This unit does contemporary dances for example; Hip Hop, Dance Hall, Ballroom, Salsa et al.
Why? Ugandans are not necessarily that keen on “traditional” dances and Hip Hop is for example considered to be “hip” especially among the younger Ugandans. Ugandans likewise love Dance hall and with the continued growth of the music industry, a contemporary unit to say provide back up dancers is critical [say for music videos which I expect to be the trend in the future].
The full financial analysis is located on my website (Link at the bottom of this page) but from that analysis this type of company has a loss of over Shs 10m! It is therefore imperative to consider the importance of the other income.
The total other income from my analysis(on the website) is Shs 12,960,000 per year. This will therefore reduce the projected loss of Shs 10m and therefore the company would then have a profit of Shs. 2,151,000
Return on capital
On the basis of the profitability analysis above, the return on capital therefore is 6.257 years being:
Total start up capital: 13,457,910/ Net profit = Shs 2,151,000
AND NOW THE PROS
1. Opportunity to command significant fees from diverse activities.
Dance companies are not your conventional business venture thus incomes and profitability are not fixed per say. But the key pointer is the ability for the company to be able to perform in diverse roles of the industry like acting, drama and video appearances. A dance group like anything in the entertainment sector (or generally) follows that principle that if you are good, you can command fees way in excess of the market rate.
2. Grant income/sponsorship and international festivals
I have mentioned previously the opportunity that lies in having a “traditional” unit which is often viewed as a means of enhancing Ugandan culture. Assuming say you recruited talented dancers from disadvantaged backgrounds, then there is a high chance you can apply for a grant from embassies or other bodies that support the arts and culture.
There is therefore an opportunity if not for grant income/donations, then for exposure to the international stage which can result in income in excess of the local market rates. African dance troupes are not uncommon in many international festivals.
SUMMARISING AND THE FINAL WORD
The basics you must get right before investing.
Group cohesion. It is important to start off with good start up capital to give you that initial push but what’s more important to note is that the key resource is not money but the individuals who consist of the group. Thus how you motivate them and keep team chemistry is important.
Performances/Marketing. In this business, performances (“gigs”) sell the company brand. What people see and like is what they demand! Thus good stage performances, outstanding costumes and designs are important to make a mark to the people who need these services. Marketing is likewise critical and so having say a Face book page with contacts, latest events, pictures and information should help.
Other opportunities. The other opportunities for dance groups are as diverse as members can capitalize on individual talents to break even and expand their list of clientèle. Like I said, the “side deals” are endless. If you get these right, then there is a good possibility the return on capital will improve and of course getting on “Strictly come dancing” will cement your other income.
I do hope the numbers or projected losses have not necessarily put you off investing. They should give you a goal and target to work towards. You should note that with very little capital start a dance group say together with friends, not getting paid and practising in a garage/friend’s house. As long as you have the passion to dance, you will succeed and go on to Run the world(girls)! so come on;
Go out and break a leg (not literally I hope).
For over 8 years I have worked with several clients providing audit, accounts, tax and advisory in sectors ranging from agriculture, mining, entertainment, financial services and technology. My client portfolio in Uganda, The Bahamas and The Channel Islands, United Kingdom has equally been diverse and this experience has given me a “well rounded” view of business.
In addition I have been involved in advisory projects as well as general management. I am able to therefore take a commercial view of business and not just sound like an “academic who doesn’t understand business”.
You can read more about me and my writing experiences on investing/doing business in Uganda