FeatureThe Fifty

Published on Sunday, 10 March, 2013 | Comments

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Professional dancer Bettina Carpi. Professional dancer's need jobs, it's not rocket science.

by Michelle Lefevre

Often times, here in TheLab™, we talk about creating jobs for dancers and the fact that nobody else seems to talk about creating jobs for dancers. Just exactly how do you go about creating jobs for dancers though and who's going to pay for it and how much would it cost?

One idea, and we have floated this before, many years ago, is to make dancers employees of the state, just like civil servants. Having the dancers employed by the DCMS might not to be a good idea, in fact that would be a really bad idea, so we would make them employees of Arts Council England.

The Fifty

As a starting point we would like to see 50 jobs created for professional dancers, we shall call them "The Fifty". This would create, if you will, a small standing army of professionals across the country.

These dancers would not be attached to any dance company though, they would be freelance, freelancers with PAYE.

The advantage of having the dancers paid and employed separately from a dance company (or the restrictions of short term funding agreements) is that they are free to pursue their own creative and educational endeavours in any way they wish to do so.

Available options for these dancers and the profession as a whole would be numerous.

For example; An independent choreographer could employ an additional dancer or two from The Fifty for their GFA funded project because they would not have to pay the additional dancers salaries. Creative possibilities are immediately expanded with minimal additional cost overhead.

Given local authority cuts and spending restrictions in schools it might be easier for a dancer to get an education project off the ground in a particular area if they are already pre-employed.

A professional dancer could essentially run classes and workshops for "free" because they have the security of their ACE funded salary to fall back on. Longer term projects would have their costs significantly reduced if the lead professionals pay is removed from the equation.

It would also work the other way around with schools and colleges being able to ask a local professional to come along and explore new opportunities with their students. Dance in education benefits hugely from the involvement of professional dancers.

For full time professional companies there could also be advantages. Injury is a common problem, dancers often lose their jobs if the injury is so serious that they have to be replaced on tour by another dancer.

In the event of an injury the company could quickly call in a suitable replacement from the ranks of The Fifty until their own dancer is ready to go again. The injured dancer retains their job and the dance company does not have to find additional money to employ a new dancer.

To be perfectly clear, if you were on of The Fifty, sitting on your ass and doing nothing would not be an option.

Inefficient Funding

In many ways the current funding system is very inefficient, especially for dancers and choreographers. The whole art of choreography is somewhat stunted if you have to spend 3 months filling out funding applications, negotiating with an obstructive NDA for space to work in and then securing some dancers for the duration when all you want to do is try out some ideas.

A programme like "The Fifty" would help reduce red tape and enable dance makers to try out their ideas before they reach for the funding forms and start tying up their own time and ACE's resources going around in the inevatable circles of frustration and doom.

Dealing with NDA's and their empty dance studios, that's another challenge for another time.

Problems Problems Everywhere

To mitigate any potential problems with choreographers and dance companies turning to The Fifty for dancers because they know they would not have to pay them, simple restrictions could be put in place.

For example; Any NPO dance company could be prevented, via their funding agreement with ACE, from employing more than one member of The Fifty for an extended period of time for anything other than covering an injury.

For project funded companies the restrictions could be no more than two members of The Fifty at any one time or a specific percentage of dancers needed for the project as a whole.

Working out the details of the restrictions would be important in retaining an open and fair job market for freelance professional dancers (which is essentially what all professional dancers are since so few of them are on permanent full time contracts).

The Cost

You might think that something like this would be very expensive but you would be wrong.

All of the dancers would start at the same pay level of £27,500 per year plus a £650 health insurance bonus. So, for the first year, that would cost just over £1.4Million. If we factor in an annual pay rise of just 3% (given the current economic climate that's pretty poor but within reason) then over a ten year period the entire project will set ACE back just over £16.1Million.

In the tenth year The Fifty would be earning £36,729 per annum which sounds like a lot but you have 10 years of inflation and other cost of living rises to take into account.

Relatively speaking, the total cost over ten years is a lot of money. It's still a lot less however than the annual amount given to The Royal Opera House in a single year (£25.7Million for 2013/2014).

Where would the money come from? Well that's simple, Grants for the Arts, which in turn is funded by the National Lottery. ACE has said many times that the money available through GFA will be rising, now that the Olympics are done and dusted, so what better way to spend the money. They would need to change some rules but rules are written to be changed.

Making the Cut

To keep things fair each dancer would only be allowed to remain in the programme for a maximum of two years with the possibility of returning after 3 or 4 years.

Dancers could be chosen for the project not by ACE (the very thought is chilling) but by a collective of dance company directors, experienced professional dancers and, perhaps, some involvement from the main dance schools in the UK. This collective would also be responsible for monitoring the activities of the entire group.

A mix of dancers, dancer/choreographers, recent graduates and those with a strong interest in dance in education would keep the talent pool of The Fifty as varied as possible.

The Full Time Conundrum

In the dance world there are dancers who desperately want to be within a larger company and there are those that want the freedom to go where they want and pursue a range of different projects, sometimes all at once. A project like The Fifty is for the latter.

The programme would create a strong pool of talent that was available for a wide range of creative opportunities. It might also encourage dancers to locate themselves in parts of the country that are often without a strong dance community because there are simply no jobs available and precious few professional opportunities.

That's how you create 50 jobs for 50 professional dancers for ten years.

  • Laura

    Hi Marguerite, I checked out Briony Kimmings as this sounded like a hopeful and inspiring anomoly....i haven't seen any dancing on the (very nice) website, is this an example of a dance artist? (genuine not sarcastic question). I personally would really like to see the 100's of elite and skilled dancers I have taught over the years who are awe inspiring and beautiful to watch moving IN WORK and ON STAGE showing and celebrating what dance is about and what dance is for - actually dancing. If 50 people could develop themselves as well rounded (yes text, yes voice, yes teaching, yes everything) And technical dancers because lets face it olympic level skill with no sponsership is desperately doomed then this idea has some value. Athletes of God please on stage, not only zen theory, minimalism, irony etc. Real skill is expensive and gets wasted by a lack of jobs. There are bodies that can speak out there (and scream and sing) and they should be seen but budgets and funding strategies encourage a different brand of work.

  • I think that this post kind of misses the point a little. There are several professions in which skilled people have to actively seek their own work in order to continue doing what they do. Creating a selected group of 50 elite professionals is not the answer. There is some initiative to select choreographers in this way, with institutions selecting to support a small group of artists. Whenever there is a selection process there is always going to be a problem with personal taste, personal friendships, and the difficulty of trying to create a group that represents the different areas of interest and the diversity of the artistic community. Putting these choices into the hands of the few (no matter how enlightened) individuals is bound to restrict the profession in some way. I know that choreographers who find themselves outside of any institutional association, stand very little chance of even getting into a studio space, let alone developing their work.

    I want to take a moment to stand up for the Arts Council here, because I think they are often branded as the enemy. Actually the people who work within the Arts Council work extremely hard championing the work of artists in this country. They have to make some very diificult decisions along the way. But their intention is good. They do want to see good work being supported! Many of the dance officers are really passionate about their work!

    I think one thing that the Arts Council is absolutely right about is that funding has to be seen as an investment. Artists cannot expect their work to be supported unless they can show that the overall impact of their work is good for the profession and good for society as a whole and that they will ultimately generate more money through the work that they produce. So the way forwards is to start looking at ways of generating a legacy for each dance project you carry out. Whether that involves turning the content into workshops, securing future performances, inviting filmmakers behind the scenes, etc. It's important to start finding realistic ways in which your work can have a life beyond the studio and performance. And often these sorts of outlets can be tied up with engaging a wider public, creating a bigger platform for your work which means greater interest in your future work (ie: more tickets selling at the box office).

    I think that a pro-active approach to ensuring more long term income for your work, is a far more sustainable outcome. We can dream about having full time PAYE jobs till the cows come home, but I'm not sure how realistic or helpful this is, or, more importantly, how 'good' that will be for the profession as a whole....

    Finally: if you need inspiration go and look up the work of Briony Kimmings. She's a UK based performance artist who creates and performs her own work, tours all over the UK, manages her own promotion and secures interest in her work by actively engaging with different communities and groups of artists. Her work is far from "commercial" and yes it is challenging to watch, and yet, she fills theatres! She manages to secure investment in her future projects by forging long term relationships with different theatres and organisations. She's a super smart person and a real inspiration to anyone who's 'out there on their own'!

  • you lead from the fundamentally misguided assumption that arts and culture are just like any other industry when they are not.

    even small scale touring will struggle to be "financially viable" based on touring, teaching and ticket sales. small scale touring can run to about £2000 per performance not including the costs to the theatre. you would need to sell 300 tickets at £10 each to even stand a chance of breaking even.

    as Bill T. Jones says, "we cannot take it for granted that art can compete in a Darwinian environment".

    the aims of ACE are accessibility to "great art for all" but the aim is diametrically opposed to the way the arts are funded and the amounts of money made available.

    you also miss the point that "The Fifty" is an "investment", it is an investment in those individuals and enables them to actually work and provide a huge amount of support to the profession and their local community.

    the current funding method is hugely wasteful in terms of time and resources and this idea would help mitigate some of that waste.

  • Hang on an second, I never made any asusmption that arts and culture are like any other industry!!! There are other skilled professionals like actors, visual artists, film makers, musicians etc who also have to find different ways to generate income through their artistic practice. My point is that dancers are no alone in this.

    My experience of showing work professionally is that theatres often absorb the cost of putting on the performance and pay a set fee to the artists involved. But there are some artists who don't just sit back and take their fee and leave. Some actually do a lot of work promoting their show in order to fill the house. This means they build up good relationships with the programmers which leads to further commissions in the future. That's the way it should be!

    I don't deny that paying a bunch of dancers may be an investment in their skills, but it doesn't solve anything for those individuals in the longterm, and makes the chances of securing funding for everyone else almost impossible! So it's actually a bad idea in the short term and also a bad idea in the longterm. After two years being fully funded reality is going to hit these people pretty hard! Plus what's with the 50 only? Are you actually saying that out of the entire graduates and professionals in the industry only 50 are actually worth funding?

    And you haven't really explained why you think the current system is wasteful. What exactly is wasteful about it? And how would your selection system be any different? If the money is coming from the arts council the dancers will still be very much bound to prove that their work will benefit the profession and the wider public. So you won't actually change anything really...

    I just don't think it's helpful to waste time day dreaming about having a full time job. There are more constructive things to fight for, and as much as I'd love to go into them, I'm busy trying to raise funds and earn money myself, so maybe another time! :)

  • The dancers that are part of the Fifty are not being "funded" they are being employed to work, as professional dancers so they can do what professional dancers do. What happens when the two year period ends? Well, in a perfect world the investment and development in the arts provides additional opportunities for these dancers as a new Fifty take over. Since that is beyond the scope of this piece those "ideas" are not detailed.

    Why only 50 of them? We would think that was obvious but more dancers means it costs more money. We detailed how to do this 9 years ago for 500 dancers, would that be enough?

    If you want examples of how the current funding system is wasteful then look around here for a while, we have about 25,000 examples of money being poured down the drain by the Arts Council that you think is deserving of understanding and forgiveness.

    We fail to understand how 2 years of full time employment is worse than erratic project employment with worse pay (or no pay) and no health insurance. The funding for The Fifty would in now way inhibit the funding available for other GFA dance projects. GFA funding, according to ACE, is rising.

    Finally, we do not apologise for having ideas and expressing those ideas to our readers. That is, after all, what the arts are about, having ideas and expressing them. What would you have us do? Hold a pity party for ACE?

  • kema

    That is quite a good idea!!

    It would stop dancers and choreographers being paid multiple times say:

    being employed as a choreographer at the Royal Ballet, then being paid by Youth Dance England, then being paid to run their own dance company and being paid to do things for the olympics!!

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