The Open Letter

panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

watch now

by Neil Nisbet

Over the last couple of years the talk in the wide world of culture has almost incessantly been about funding cuts. Alongside that has been some fairly muted counterpoint from a few, some would say, privileged members of the arts community.

Every time we read about the case for arts funding it's usually being made by Nicholas Hytner (AD of the National Theatre) or the director of the Royal this that or the other.

Their arguments usually fall on deaf ears since they all come across as people speaking out in defence of their own substantial pay packets and even more substantial pension plans.

Disingenuous doesn't even begin to cover it.

So what of everybody else, the massed ranks of the small and mid-scale? Well, apart from a minor scuffle late last year over the failure of the government to include the arts as a mandatory requirement in the new EBacc in schools, that prompted a few dance companies to openly comment, they have all been as quiet as church mice.

Far from being a rich source of discussion, ideas and advocacy for the profession as a whole, dance companies come across, publicly at least, as being entirely disinterested in the world around them.

Last year when we published the piece on the shockingly poor pay for professional dancers at English National Opera, how many dance companies spoke out, openly, in defence of their profession's most vital resource?


'The Royal Ballet's Women', a piece that focused not only on the lack of female commissioning at the Royal Ballet but the all too obvious sexism in the dance world, elicited the same level of response. In fact, only one dance maker we contacted actually agreed to comment for the piece.

No Idea

Just to give you some idea of the level of the open discussion being conducted in dance I give you the Rural Retreats, run by Dance East in Ipswich.

During the annual get together this month David Nixon, the AD of Northern Ballet, is quoted as saying;

"Dancers often used to be thought of as children and even now they are still sometimes called girls or boys rather than men and women or just dancers. I want to get to the point where dancers don't think of themselves as girls and boys... They need to think of themselves as adults."

Given all the ballet dancers working in the world today who have forgotten that they are adults this is probably sound advice or Mr Dixon should immediately resign, take your pick.

Mark Baldiwin, the AD of Rambert, who was also in attendance, said;

"It's important to create a culture within a company so that dancers can talk to you [artistic directors] whenever they want to."

Essentially, try not to be a semi-autistic, dictatorial, jackass if you run a dance company. Thinking of the very highest level.

Do More

Many would argue that simply doing what they do should be enough to demonstrate the merits of dance companies and culture as a whole to both the public and the politicians. In a perfect world that might be true, but in the current climate it simply is not, nor has it ever been, enough.

More needs to be done, much more. Tweeting links to petitions is just weak sauce. What the dance profession really needs is active and consistent participation in the discussions about the profession and culture in general. That participation needs to come from the company directors, choreographers and the dancers.

However, leadership must come from the top. Adding the voices of company directors and choreographers to the debate and discussion surrounding all facets of dance can only be a good thing for the profession as a whole, no matter what the topic.

This participation needs to be thoughtful and visible to anybody who wants to see it or read it. You all have websites, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, email accounts, phones, computers and a tongue in your head and I strongly urge you to use all of them.

If Akram Khan wants to go to the national press and complain about the arts having "too much" money then one of his peers needs to immediately debunk his ridiculous reasoning and do it publicly.

It's not about arguing, it's about setting the record straight and creating some balance in the narrative.

Stop waiting for somebody to ask you to get into the fight, just get in here before it's too late.

This Editorial was sent in email form to dance company directors and others across the UK.

  • Julia K Gleich

    Actually, your article "The Royal Ballet's Women" along with a study done by Victoria Morgan (AD/CEO Cincinnati Ballet) and disseminated by Amy Seiwert (choreographer, Imagery), among other research, provoked me to produce and curate CounterPointe in NYC. This was a curated evening of dance with pieces by women making work for pointe. We plan to make it an annual event. I have additional plans in the works that might even happen in London (instead of NYC where it is a lot easier to get work out there and into theatres). Additionally my arts organisation, Norte Maar curated a visual arts exhibition this year, "To Be A Lady" because the same situation exists in the visual arts. So please don't say that there are no reactions. Words are not necessarily the best response. Action is.

  • Frank Landamore

    Nothing will change until dancers band together and collectively (and publicly) start fighting their corner by voicing their concerns at the highest level. AND demanding answers.

    Nobody else will do it for you. Equity doesn't respond to emails and letters, and when it comes to querying the status quo the voices of ACE, dance companies and dance training establishments are nowhere to be heard. The media appears just as complicit in not taking dance and dancers seriously – or maybe dancers don't tell them anything?

    Only appears to support dancers week in and week out. Why don't all you dancers (and dance followers, like me) get everyone you know to collectively create an Action Plan through the website? This might include petitions demanding specific actions, and containing everyone's signatures, sent to everyone mentioned above.

    Collectively asserting your right to be heard and demanding that your concerns be addressed at a national level like this would be so much more productive than moaning to one another. And something even jaded arts administrators and cynical media hacks would take notice of?

  • kema

    Hi Frank

    "containing everyone's signatures !!

    This is the big issue we have, look at all the comments on Article19 over the years. We have lots of mature artists who are scared to use their real names when they respond to article on the website.

    If someone hasn't got the balls to use their real name on a comments page on a website, do you think they will stand up and be counted when it comes addressing the Arts Council? Not a chance!!

    David Nixon got it spot on.

    "They need to think of themselves as adults."



  • Kema

    "This Editorial was sent in email form to dance company directors and others across the UK."

    and we have .................? 2 Comments !!!

    Neil how many people did you email this to?

    I think it's got to the point where dancers in a company are thanking god they've got a job and not rocking the boat and dancers and choreographers out of regular work don't want to be seen to have an opinion, so it doesn't affect future funding/job prospects!!

    Meanwhile at The Stage...................
    I await results from the "Should dancers stop being addressed as boys and girls?"

    Doesn't matter they won't say anything even if they don't like it.

  • This is a really interesting point I'm only a second year student at NSCD at the moment but thinking about all the graduates that have recently looked for work they wont be thinking about these aspects of the working life of a dancer. They just think a job is a job which means more experience.

    We always say and expect that pay as a dancer is pretty crap, It's a joke, I'm only 20 and nowhere near being a professional yet but I suppose the arts is a high sensitive topic when it comes to funding and probably always will be.

    Who knows.


  • The perhaps a good topic of discussion at NSCD should be these types of issues, perhaps raise it with your tutors.

  • With that in mind I shall :)

  • Good for you dude, good for you!

blog comments powered by Disqus

Not Going To Russia

A Letter To Equity