November 9, 2021

By Rachel Lau and Brooke Krause

Audience members are willing to spend more time watching modern dance, and pay more for tickets, when they consider the dancers more attractive.

Imagine you were a dancer auditioning for a dance piece. All those hours of tireless training accumulating in an audition sequence to impress the casting director. You pulled off the most difficult movement in the sequence, and you knew you were well-positioned to succeed. At least you thought you were. You hear the words “We regret to inform you…” and you don’t want to hear the rest. You might have done well, but you might not have been the best. It’s not the end of the world. But what if your candidacy hinged not on your talent but your attractiveness? This happened to a dancer who was rejected at an audition because the casting director “wouldn’t want to see [her] in hot pants on stage” (Karakashyan 2017). Casting directors make decisions that partially reflect the preferences of audience members. To a great extent, first impressions of people depend on visible characteristics. Irrespective of people’s conscious or subconscious intentions, people can place value judgements on others’ physical attractiveness. These judgements of attractiveness, positive or negative, can affect people’s consumption decisions. If audience members prefer to watch performances by more attractive dancers, then casting directors may make selections based partially on dancers’ attractiveness. To understand this dynamic, we investigated whether audience member’s decisions are affected by preferences related to dancers’ attractiveness.

A person’s demand for dance performances is largely determined by their income and preferences. These preferences include the style of the dance, size and reputation of the dance company, technique and appearance of dancers, intrigue of choreography, and other components of the performance experience. If individuals have different preferences, then their willingness to pay for a dance performance may differ. In this study, we examine whether the audience member’s perception of the dancer’s attractiveness affects how much they are willing to spend on the performance as well as whether they are willing to watch the performance again or watch more of it. We specifically dive into one style of dance: modern dance.

Fig. 1 Consumer’s decisions concerning resources and time


As part of the data collection process, we choreographed two 30-second-long solo dance pieces and recorded two dancers performing each piece. The two dancers were selected based on their similar technical skill and their build. They were trained to carry out movements in the dance pieces as similarly as possible. The dance performances were recorded in the same location with the same lighting, and the dancers wore the same outfits and had the same hairstyles. The only difference was in their facial appearance. By ensuring that many factors of the dance performance were similar, except the dancers’ faces, we can isolate the impact of facial attractiveness of dancers on audience members’ willingness to pay. With the four dance videos, two videos from each dancer, we embedded these videos in a survey. Immediately after watching each dance, survey respondents rated the dancer’s physical attractiveness on a scale of one to five and answered a series of questions regarding their willingness to pay for tickets and their interest in watching the dance again or viewing more of the dance.

A total of 1,989 surveys were used in our analysis. We find that a person’s perceived attractiveness of the dancer is associated with willing to pay more for the performance. In other words, the data reveal that people are willing to pay more for a performance by a dancer they perceive as more attractive than one they perceive as less attractive. Interestingly, since every survey respondent viewed two dancers perform, we observe that it is not only the performing dancer’s attractiveness that affects willingness to pay but also the relative attractiveness of the two dancers. We find that a person is willing to pay less to watch a dancer perform if they think the other dancer is more attractive. In contrast, willingness to pay is higher if they view the performing dancer is the more attractive than the other dancer. We also see a positive relationship between perceived attractiveness and the likelihood that an audience member is interested in spending more time watching a dance.To give a sense of the magnitude of these results, audience members are 43 percent more likely to watch a dance performance again and 49 percent more likely to watch more of a performance when they find the dancer attractive.

Table 1: Summary of Results Estimating the relationship of the Attractiveness of a Dancer on Audience Willingness to Pay, Watch Again, and Watch More of a Performance from Dance B


Our study expands economic knowledge about the role of attractiveness into the realm of the arts, specifically modern dance. There are two main conclusions we can draw. First, given that audience members can see the dancers’ faces during the performance, their perceptions of the dancers’ attractiveness demonstrate some positive influence over their willingness to pay for modern dance performances. A second conclusion of this study is that audience members’ perceived attractiveness of dancers is more robustly correlated to their willingness to re-watch or watch more of the modern dance performances. We can think about these two findings as investments by audience members with respect to time and money. The findings show that audience members want to spend more time watching performances of dancers they find attractive, and that this relationship is stronger than when it comes to monetary investments. While an audience member who finds the dancer attractive is willing to spend more to watch the performance, they are even more likely to decide to attend the performance again, and a consequence of this may be that casting directors are implicitly integrating this into their audition call-backs.


About the article

Lau, R., Krause, B. Preferences for perceived attractiveness in modern dance. J Cult Econ (2021).

About the authors

Rachel Lau is Analyst at FALCON.

Brooke Krause is Assistant Professor of Economics at the College of Wooster.

About the image

Jessica Kantak Bailey, from Unsplash

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