FeatureThe Big Ten

Published on Monday, 12 May, 2014 | Comment

When it comes to problems the wide world of dance has its fair share. From dancers pay to subtle sexism there's a lot of nonsense to deal with. So let's break down the top ten shall we and maybe we can fix them, one day!


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unlike most dancers the profession itself is completely off balance - Sasha Waltz and Guests 'Gefaltet' - photo by Bernd Uhlig

Let's get one thing straight right away. Buzzfeed didn't invent the story based list so for this, we make no apologies! So let's break down the ten biggest problems facing the wide world of dance. Feel free to fix any or all of them at your own speed.

1. Sexism

Sexism has many faces in dance. You could focus on the hiring and commissioning practices in the profession that lean heavily towards male dance makers and directors (especially in the world of ballet).

Given the massive ratio of women to men in the wider profession it's hard to come to a conclusion other than the dance world has a massive issue with women being in charge.

There is also a more subtle forms of sexism in the guise of a funding system that does not take into account the legal requirement for maternity leave.

Some companies are able to provide paid maternity leave but they are the exception, not the rule. Much like dancers pay levels, unless the cost is built into funding applications and funding guidelines and those guidelines set the operational financial baseline for a dance company then little is going to change.

It's also truly ironic that having children and the cost of childcare are so often given as excuses for the lack of professional advancement opportunities for women in dance.

2. The Conference Industrial Complex

A lot of money and time gets spent in the arts setting up conferences, going to conferences and talking a lot about things that don't matter and then talking about setting up more conferences.

One example would be the 'No Boundaries' conference that involved, among other things, a Google executive pimping out her kids to show off Google products and trying, not at all successfully, to explain how this could help the arts.

That particular endeavour cost six figures which is preposterous because the whole thing could have been replicated with an email list and a PDF document or two.

A lot of money gets splashed around on these things and the net gain for the arts is always nothing at all that you can put your finger on. Even if you could put your finger on it you probably wouldn't want to.

3. Arts Council England is Incompetent

A funding organisation that spends ten times the amount of money on a project than is actually needed, provides millions to large scale organisations while turning down individual GFA applications due to a lack of money and hides millions in funding from prying eyes is incompetent.

The funding monolith's annual report from last year states that the ACE CEO Alan Davey received a total pay package of over £200,000 (including pension contributions). You have to wonder just exactly what he's being paid for given the massive losses to arts funding over the last few years and overseeing a demonstrable, country-wide imbalance in funding.

ACE doesn't even have a coherent plan to pay for touring across the UK. They just keep using the word "strategic" a lot.

Change needs to come by way of a complete replacement of senior staff and a completely transparent overhaul of the way funding is distributed and the way individual projects are given money.

The UK arts scene is defined, at present, by cronyism and entrenchment so we need some big shovels to start afresh.

4. Apathetic Theatres and Venues

On many occasions we have been to venues for a show only to find zero effort has been made by the venue to actually promote the show that's on in their own theatre. On occasion the bad venues don't carry out the simple task of putting posters and flyers out in their own foyer.

Many a dance maker has told us about theatre's that book them and don't even bother to say hello when they arrive, don't understand the concept of education and audience development and marketing strategies that start and end with a post to a Facebook page.

It's like booking a flight on Ryanair where the airline employees are literally pissed off that you bothered to show up to take the trip you paid for.

Other horror stories involve venues not having enough lights and rude theatre staff who can't wait to throw the audience out after the show is finished, literally locking the doors behind the last person who clears the threshold on the way out.

A night out at the theatre should actually best a prison sentence when it comes to consumer satisfaction scores.

5. Archive Me Not

The primary job of a dance company is to make work and tour that work. It's not asking a great deal for them to point a camera at the stage and make a record of what's being made.

Even a rudimentary archive available via a dance company website would be better than nothing but, all to often, you have to dig around to find any video material at all.

Dance has the particular advantage of working very well on screen so it might be a good idea to take advantage of that and put more of it online.

Or, as we have said many times before, if Article19 contacts you because we want to do a feature, say yes....

6. Paucity of Money

The most recent ruckus over dancers pay emphasised, once again, the fact that the arts is just not spending enough money to actually pay people to do their job.

It's one thing for an emerging dance maker with a £5,000 grant to offer low wages but another thing altogether when a massive opera company (The Royal Opera) can only muster £358.92 per week for a professional dancer.

A quick browse of the audition listings on publications like The Stage reveals the majority of the auditions they advertise for dancers are unpaid. Any students looking through that list would get demoralised very quickly indeed.

Being a "professional" at something means that you get paid for what you do and the more experienced you are (and the more you have to offer skills wise) means you get paid even more.

7. Social Media Noise

Social media services like Twitter and Facebook should be a fun way of interacting with your audience and folk in general. Too many in the arts however use their social media presence as little more than a never ending link lists or, in the case of Twitter, narcissistic "praise re-tweeting" bonanzas.

Irrespective of the particular feature set of any social network they are, ultimately, methods of communication and communication goes both ways.

A little bit more chatting and a lot less broadcasting would go a long way. It's also a really good idea if you come across as friendly and approachable and a bit less like you have a big stick up you butt!

The recent series of video updates provided by the dancers from Motionhouse Dance Theatre on their tour of the United States is a good example of how to do it.

The videos were chaotic and not technically accomplished but that's not the point because they were fun and accessible.

8. The London Lie

London is often painted as the centre of dance if not in the UK then the world or, you know, whatever. Out of 207 features on Article19 only 2 of them were filmed in London and that means dance happens pretty much everywhere else and it happens a lot. Dance companies based in London basically spend most of their time touring somewhere else.

It's also absurd that companies struggling for money should base themselves in one of the worlds most expensive cities. This makes it harder for them to function and harder for their dancers to actually make a decent living before they blow all their earnings on ridiculous rental costs.

Dance companies like Rambert are so obsessed with basing themselves in the capital, for no reason at all, they are willing to spend almost £20Million building new studios there.

Moving out of London cuts costs for everybody no matter what the national funding situation is like.

9. The Dance Media

Here in TheLab™ we don't expect everybody to be like us but come on, make an effort already. Dance Europe (stop laughing at the back) is still a print publication along with the Dancing Times, a publication that comes pre-coated in dust for you to blow off before reading.

Politics, technology, sports... these are subjects with hundreds of different publications all with strong online presences and some with companion print editions.

They all offer different styles, different readerships and different specialities. Variety keeps things vibrant and a hefty dose of professional rivalry is good for the soul and good for the subjects they cover.

Dance on the other hand? The dance "print media" mob barely register any presence on the internet at all and when they do show up it's the written equivalent of beige carpet.

The "dance blog" started by The Guardian newspaper promised little when it launched but still managed to deliver below expectations with the same old weak sauce we've come to expect.

It's just no fun at all.

10. Speak Up

A few brave souls in the wide world of dance speak up about the problems they face, often at considerable risk to their own career.

We need more of that, we need the dancing folk, the administrators and the choreographers and directors to open up about what ails them. If you have to do it anonymously or off the record then so be it, but you have to do it.

Talking about your problems is akin to admitting there are problems and that's the first stage of recovery and dance is a profession that is in dire need of some recovery.

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