A Dancer in Holland

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

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Strictly speaking you're not actually supposed to call Holland Holland at all but rather The Netherlands. Holland refers to two provinces of the country, North Holland and South Holland.

However, Holland or The Netherlands it's all Dutch to us (....really? Ed!) Home to some 16.8Millions souls (approximately) the country is well know for being very liberal, very flat and the home of a lot of old fashioned windmills, cycling en-masse and great cheese.

The inhabitants mainly speak Dutch which is a language that is not at all easy to learn but English is relatively widespread so you should be able to get along just fine but if you're going to live there try and learn the basics.

When you discuss dance in The Netherlands you generally here folks talking about Nederlands Dans Theater a company that has existed for some 50 years and became very popular under the artistic direction of Jiří Kylián thanks, in part, to a lot of hyper-athletic dance theatre. Based in The Hague that particular company has been on the receiving end of some rather brutal funding cuts along with a lot of Dutch culture.

However, there is a large amount of dance activity in the country and it is more diverse than NDT on its own would, perhaps, suggest. The availability of jobs for professional dancers is pretty much the same as it is anywhere in Europe.

"In general, there is a broad spectrum of dance within The Netherlands with all genres I can think of. Perhaps one difference is that in The Netherlands there is the addition of a variety of collaborative arts, namely: acting, singing, live music and visual arts (drawing/painting/projection and film) incorporated into a contemporary dance performance which I think has widened the audiences. 
As a result, there are a lot of performing opportunities though this has been reducing since the culture budget cuts started. I personally don't tend to teach within the Netherlands but I know that a lot of the institutions here are appreciative of a range of disciplines and as a result usually incorporate a variety of teaching styles to their curriculum."

Funding for the performing arts is handled, for the most part, by the Performing Arts Fund. They distribute approximately €43Million (£35.9Million) annually to theatre music and dance productions by organisations and individuals. You can apply for the funding if you are a resident of The Netherlands, you can even do it online.

Overall the central government of the country provides €700Million (£585.5Million) of funding for the arts and culture through the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sciences. As mentioned above this amount takes into account some drastic reductions over the last couple of years.

This amount far exceeds, on a per person basis, the amount of money spent on the arts in the UK.

Build the CV

One of the greatest things about dance is the fact that the only thing you need to work in other countries is yourself. You can pack some clothes and a decent smartphone and off you go, all you need to dance is you.

This is especially true if you are lucky enough to be a citizen of an EU country because then a couple of dozen countries are yours to explore as you see fit.

Working overseas can often expose you to a huge variety of different works and creative processes you have never imagined.

Not only is this great for your own professional development as a dancer and possible dance maker it also looks great on your CV.

That particular piece of paper is mostly useless for dancers but it can show future employers that you've taken the initiative and broadened your creative and performing experience.

Non-EU folks do have a slightly harder time of it in Europe because of immigration and working rules but don't despair. There are plenty of dancers from outside of the European Union working and travelling around the wide world of dance here so it can be done, it just takes a bit more patience.

Pay Levels

If we use the PPI scale for cost of living then The Netherlands ranks 4 places below the UK meaning their cost of living is lower.

This means your basic consumables (like food) are going to be a little cheaper and eating out in regular restaurants doesn't require maxing out your credit card as it will in Norway and Switzerland.

Renting accommodation in a city like Amsterdam can be very tricky because there is not a lot to choose from and the best prices we could find started at €700 (£585) per month and this was pretty much the level wherever we looked.

The Netherlands has very strict rules about rent costs based on a point scoring system but that system does not apply if monthly rental is over €699 per month. So what you find is a lot of rent starting above that level.

Your best bet, even for longer stays, is to rent a room in a private house as this will save you a little bit of money. We were able to find a good size room in Rotterdam for £421 per month.

Train travel via the state owned Nederlandse Spoorwegen is very inexpensive when compared to the UK. A 45 minute journey from Rotterdam to Amsterdam costs just €14.50 (£12.00) each way. A two hour journey from Groningen to Amsterdam costs just €24.70 (£20.50) and there appears to be little in the way of penalties for booking at short notice. Savings can be made with travel passes and monthly travel cards.

So, is it possible for a dancer to live on dance alone in The Netherlands?

"In short, yes. I think this is made possible though because in the Netherlands there are much more tax considerations for a freelancer. We are allowed a certain tax free quota each year, however, for the first 3 years of your 'business' you have an additional allowance amount, provided that you work over a certain amount of hours each year."
"There is a governing body for Artists in The Netherlands and as with Equity you need to subscribe to this agency in order to benefit from their protection. However, even without being a member yourself you may indirectly benefit as in general most dance productions houses will use the governing body's guidelines when drawing up contracts, in particular, with regards to pay scales."

Visas and Permits

The Netherlands is part of the European Union so if you are an EU national then you can live and work in the country without any type of visa or work permit.

If you are working in the country you need to register with the local municipality so you can obtains a BSN number (burgerservicenummer) previously called a "Sofi" number. This is essentially a social security number (or National Insurance number for UK folks) and you need one for tax and social security reasons. You should register as soon as possible and can do so with some form of official documentation like a passport.

If you are a non-EU national then you must get both a residence permit and a work permit before you can live and work in the country.

There are a lot of rules for non-EU nationals with regards to obtaining a work permit. Dutch companies generally have to show that the position could not be filled by either a Dutch or EU national. Dance is probably considered to be a "highly skilled" profession however so this might make the process a little bit easier for you, not much easier though.

Larger companies will almost certainly be more likely to jump through the legal hoops required to obtain work permits for non-EU dancers than small or project based ones. A number of the dancers with NDT are non-EU nationals.


Hold on to your hats folks because the Dutch tax system is just a little bit complex. The Netherlands uses a system described as "the box system" and there are three boxes in total. The chances are you will only ever fall into box number 1 but make sure you are aware of boxes 2 and 3 and don't get confused about which box you are in.

In box 1 the tax system is progressive to an upper limit of 52%. On the first €19,645 you will be deducted 37% (of which the majority is social security with just over 5.8% being actual income tax). Any money you earned over the €19.6K limit is then taxed at 42% until you reach an income of €55,991 when you will be taxed at 52% for any income above that amount. Again, the majority of what you pay in taxes is to cover social security and there is no single fixed tax rate for each income bracket as there is in the UK.

The actual amount you are taxed is subject to alteration for deductions. As noted above, if you are self-employed then you have a tax free allowance that in 2012 was €7,280 but you must work a certain number of hours in order to qualify for this (1225 per year).

Social Security

The benefit of paying all of the taxes highlighted above (which also apply to self employed people) is the country's social security system. The large percentage of your tax payments that cover social security are split between various funds such as pensions, exceptional medical expenses, unemployment benefits and so on.

If you are either sick or unemployed you should receive about 70% of what you were earning before you either became sick or lost your job. The length of time you are able to claim benefits depends on how long you were employed before becoming unemployed. The maximum you can receive is just over €31,000 per year for just over three years.

If, for whatever reason, you don't pay your taxes and social security contributions then you will be unable to claim any unemployment benefits.


"There is also a fund available to artists who are out of work but you will need to have lived in The Netherlands for a certain number of years, have payed into it via your taxes and fulfil other criteria in order to qualify."

Health Care

Health care costs in The Netherlands are covered by a heavily regulated private insurance market. Insurance companies are not allowed to refuse cover or to make any distinction on insurance costs based on age, health assessments or pre-existing conditions. Health insurance is required, it is not optional.

The costs of the health coverage is met, in part, by your employer, your own insurance contributions and the government. Insurance covers the costs of medical care and all drug prescriptions as well as visits to a GP. Insurance companies can offer additional services on top of what they are required to provide for things like dental care. Absent insurance for dental work means you will have to pay for that type of treatment as and when you receive it.

Dutch health care is regarded as one of the best in the European Union.

"In The Netherlands all residents are obliged to pay for their own health insurance. This is subsidised by the government but most people will pay around €100 a month. The basic level of health insurance does not include any physiotherapy element but if you chose to pay a little extra then you can have a certain number of physiotherapy sessions a year without any addition costs.
I would recommend this. As in the UK, a freelancer is responsible for their own injury prevention or treatment. Dancers within a dance company may or may not benefit from a provided scheme."

with thanks to Erin Harty

Top Photo "Winter Wonderland of The Netherlands" by Dr Bob 97

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