"If I could tell you what it meant, there would be no point in dancing it"
I remember when I was 16 years old and I went for work experience in the Pathology department in a hospital for 2 weeks. It was truly incredible and I learnt some very interesting and valuable information.
At the end of my second week one of the women I was working around asked me what subjects I wanted to take for my A-levels and I looked at her and said.
"I love science, I find it so interesting, but I want to be a dancer." She looked at me and laughed then she said, "Dance? What kind of a job is that? In medicine we save lives."
Hang on a minute... can I just ask what it is that you think we do?
I started dancing at 3 years old. Some of us start older and some of us start younger. My choice of dance school just happened to offer a degree as well, and my application didn't just comprise of my list of grades and a personal statement, I had to audition against people from all over the world.
My first class would start at 8:45 and sometimes I did not leave the building until 10pm then on top of that I also worked 30 hours a week in a bar. One could say I had been in training for 20 years, some might say it was only 3 but it was definitely specialised, definitely skilled, and extremely hard both physically and mentally.
Do you remember that pantomime you saw when you were little? Did you forget that musical that had you tapping your feet or singing all the way home. Do you forget that your grandma used to love and take you to see 'The Nutcracker' every year, 'The Nutcracker' that you still go and see every year, even though she has passed?
Where do you think Zumba, Psycle and Strictly Come Dancing get their ideas from?
Do you ever hear about the work we do for those who have disabilities or for the kids who are playing truant at school? How about the rehabilitation of offenders or for those who have injuries. What about those who want to be able to dance without 2 left feet on their wedding day or those who want to improve, their posture, their flexibility, or simply their quality of life..?
I'm sorry shall I repeat. What is it exactly that you think we do?
...Cause we save lives too.
"People have asked me why I chose to be a dancer. I did not choose. I was chosen to be a dancer, and with that, you live all your life."
"There was still no likelihood that we could make a living from dance. We were doing it because we loved it... We realized how full we felt; we were surrounded by music and dancing and joy."
I have recently been reading a lot in regards to the pay scale that dancers are on and how little they are receiving for the work that they put into their jobs or the art that they specialise in and it's true, it's exploitation.
We don't dance because we want to, we dance because we have to, its in our blood it's in our basic instinct, its a part of our soul. And after all of these years of specialising, you can still be incredible but get a job or not get a job because your height, hair colour, skin colour or gender, then if you get the job, no matter your experience in the industry there is no negotiation of salary. Wait, salary? I meant wage!
You won't see that in the medical industry.
But where is the exploitation coming from? Is it the company, the council or the government? Who is to blame? I received a contract from a job offer once who wanted to pay me €300 per week for 8 hours a day and a 6 day week. Is this OK?
No people, the answer is no.
Do you politely decline the offer out of pride or do you take the job because you enjoyed the audition and you have to dance and dance is a part of who you are and if you don't do it you'll go crazy! But then where does it stop? Or where does it start? Do you measure your worth on the wage or the company name? Will the size or reputation of the company effect the amount you get paid? And should your pay also be based on where you live, because the cost of living in London is a joke.
Move to Germany and you have clean air, nice people, brilliant classes, (an incredible standard in professional class), good food, cheaper house prices and if you are struggling to get a dance job you have a lake to swim in and a great quality of life.
But wait London is where its at right? Right?
There is a rawness in contemporary dance that we don't want to lose. It doesn't have that ego or arrogance that comes with some other dance styles. It's loose, it's real, it's open-minded and it's unbiased and we don't want to lose that, if it were that easy everyone would be doing it right?
So when it's a skill that has to be specialised and practised as much as medicine or law and with the odds of being successful in the regions of being a footballer there should be some financial recognition, there needs to be less exploitation and more appreciation.
We know that to be a dancer you really have to love what you do and we know that by going into dance we are not going to be millionaires, but come on... what we do IS a specialised skill and it is important, not just to us but to the world. Whether you are in the smallest company or the largest, it doesn't matter...
We make people smile, we give people hope, we make people feel good, we make people better... we save lives.
...and that's only part of the service we provide.
"You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive." Merce Cunningham
*please note that I am heavily leaning toward the wages of a contemporary dancer, I understand the struggle across all of the arts but that's not what I'm writing about... my concern here is contemporary dance.