Finding a Niche Practice Area: Ballet Law
Cielomar Puccio | January 04, 2022
In this article, Cielomar answers questions about the legal issues ballet dancers face and how to start and develop a niche practice area.
Describe your background as a dancer and how you decided to pursue a career in IP law specializing in ballet.
At the age of 12, I started what would become my lifelong journey of ballet. I had the opportunity to train under wonderful dancers and teachers. I expanded my knowledge by taking classes in other dance genres like contemporary, jazz, ballroom, and tap. But I always kept my true passion, classical ballet. As I got older and became more knowledgeable about dance, I had the opportunity to judge dance competitions, teach ballet, choreograph pieces, and collaborate with other dancers on their projects.
I decided to pursue a career in law, studying at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus where law became my second passion. While I greatly enjoyed my studies, my way of relaxing and staying active was to continue taking ballet classes.
After graduating and becoming a licensed attorney in Puerto Rico, I started working in different legal fields including family law, estate law, probate, civil law, medical malpractice, and immigration law. I continually tried to find the passion that I felt for ballet in my work. I realized I liked law, but I always felt happiest when I finished my workday and attended ballet class. That’s where I felt liberated and completely content.
After I had been practicing law for a few years, one of my ballet classmates mentioned that she was searching for an immigration lawyer to help her with some legal issues. I offered my help and all of a sudden, I had a light bulb moment. I decided to start my own law firm in which I would use my legal knowledge to advocate for my beloved dance peers/community with their legal issues pertaining to trademark, copyright, and immigration.
What sorts of issues (IP and otherwise) are your clients encountering?
Like any other entrepreneur, ballet and other dancers differentiate themselves by creating a brand. When creating a brand, it is essential to obtain trademark protection. Over the course of the pandemic, brand protection became even more important for ballet dancers. Due to pandemic restrictions, many dancers were without jobs and needed to come up with creative solutions to generate income. With their talents, passion for dance, and innate creativity, many dancers started their own dance-related businesses. Examples include a monthly subscription box with dance-related items and a mobile pointe shoe and fitting store. These dancer-entrepreneurs need trademark protection for their new business ventures.
Another common issue that my clients face is licensing their choreographic creations and needing a copyright attorney to help them through this. It is important to note that not all choreography is entitled to copyright protection. The U.S. Copyright Office specifically states that:
Choreography is the composition and arrangement of a related series of dance movements and patterns organized into a coherent whole. Some common elements included in a choreography are:
- Rhythmic movements of one or more dancers’ bodies in a defined sequence and a defined spatial environment, such as a stage;
- A series of dance movements or patterns organized into an integrated, coherent, and expressive compositional whole;
- A story, theme, or abstract composition conveyed through movement;
- A presentation before an audience;
- A performance by skilled individuals; and
- Musical or textual accompaniment.
Not all categories of dance fall within the subject matter protected under the Act even though they may be unique. The Copyright Act states:
Some movements or dances that are not copyrightable are:
- Individual movements or dance steps by themselves;
- short dance routines consisting of only a few movements or steps with minor linear or spatial variations;
- social dance steps and simple routines; and
- dances, routines, or other organized forms of movement intended to be performed by animals, machines, or other animate or inanimate objects, among others.
The difference between choreography that is protectable and choreography that is not protectable is particularly important for copyright attorneys working with TikTok dancers. TikTok dance creations have to fulfill all of the choreography requirements to be eligible for copyright protection.
How are NFTs impacting the world of dance?
In November 2021, renowned auction house Bonhams announced a new auction called “Encore! Modern Art on Stage”, offering the world’s first ballet NFTs. The NFTs consisted of world-famous ballerina Natalia Osipova, the principal dancer at The Royal Ballet in London, performing three pieces, two from the classic ballet Giselle and one from the contemporary duet Left behind, which she dances alongside Jason Kittelberger. The details of the performances placed for auction were:
- Giselle, The entrance of Act II – Video from November 2021 exclusive for NFT (Estimate: £8,000 – £12,000)
- Giselle, Solo of Act II – Video from November 2021 exclusive for NFT (Estimate: £8,000 – £12,000)
- Left behind – Video of live show in Mexico 2019; choreographed by Jason Kittelberger (Estimate: £30,000 – £50,000)
Natalia Osipova commented on the upcoming sale: “NFTs are a ground-breaking way of connecting both established and young visual artists with their audiences, including tech-savvy art collectors. It is an honour to perform the world’s first ballet NFTs, and I hope that this will pave the way for the next generation of dancers to connect with their supporters on this digital stage.”
The auction closed on December 10, 2021 and the performances were sold for the following amounts:
- NATALIA OSIPOVA, Giselle, The entrance of Act II NFT, Sold for £10,837.50
- NATALIA OSIPOVA, Giselle, Solo of Act II NFT, Sold for £10,837.50
- NATALIA OSIPOVA & JASON KITTELBERGER, Left behind NFT, Sold for £37,750
What are some tips you can provide to other practitioners looking to develop a niche practice area?
While it is difficult to create a niche, it can be incredibly rewarding. In order to develop a niche practice area, I recommend starting by creating three lists: (1) list your passions, (2) list your skills and abilities, (3) list the legal needs in the areas that you are passionate about. To discover the legal needs related to areas you are passionate about, search online and communicate with other professionals who already work in these areas. Next, consider ways in which your skills and abilities as an attorney in list #2 can help solve the legal needs of your ideal clients in list #3 in the areas you are passionate about in list #1. This is your niche!
Can you provide some tips for marketing a niche practice and how to reach the best audience?
Now that you have discovered your niche you need to connect with your ideal client. When creating a niche, it is important to target all of your advertising for this ideal client. The more specific you get the better. To do this start by getting to know this person – understanding their likes, dislikes, shopping habits, reading habits, hobbies, age range, gender identity, educational level, etc. This will help you understand what you need to know to communicate with them in an effective way. Consider whether your communication should be more relaxed or more formal? Should you use simple or more complex vocabulary? Should you advertise on social media or through more traditional channels? All of this information will come from your study of your ideal client.