A Dancer in Belgium

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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Despite it's relatively small size, 11 million souls (approximately), Belgium is quite the power-house of dance, depending on your personal tastes that is. It is also the home of the EU and NATO, so if things get difficult you can almost certainly depend on neither of those two organisations helping you at all.

Although a lot of big names hail from the little country that could, which borders Holland, Germany, France and Luxembourg, it was not always the case;

"35 years ago, there were no dance companies in Belgium apart from the Royal Ballet of Flanders and the renowned Maurice Béjart Mudra School (1970-1988). Nearly all funders of Belgium contemporary dance scene studied there and started making dance in the early 80's : Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Michèle Noiret, Nicole Mossoux, Pierre Droulers, Michèle Anne de Mey, Karine Pontiès, Félicette Chazeran.
They still lead our dance scene today with many more internationally well know dance makers joining them including Alain Platel, Jan Fabre, Wim Vandekeybus, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Meg Stuart and Thomas Hauerts. Today Belgium has 118 dance companies between the Flemish and French community in which contemporary scene is very strong and young choreographers are numerous."

Belgium is a country that is basically split into two communities, the French and the Flemish with each speaking either French or Dutch (or Belgian-Dutch). This split extends into arts funding in the country.

"There are two different funding bodies In Belgium divided between the French and Flemish communities. They both support a few well known companies on a long term level but also individual projects. The process to apply for funding is rather complex for individuals because you need to create a company (this is no longer the case for Kunsten en Erfgoed in the Flemish region) and have done at least one project before you can apply for subsidies. Only €450,000 (£370,987) per year is dedicated to subsidising projects for the entire French community so it means very few artists are well funded."

In terms of financial support for dance companies and the availability of jobs things are much the same as they are in other countries.

"Subsidies dedicated to dance are one of the lowest priorities in the culture budget (after circus) and the cuts in culture funding have not helped. A few established choreographers have had their funding cut, fewer companies than ever are enjoying a long term subsidy and young choreographers struggle to get support. These levels of funding, in turn, reflect on the job market for dancers. The overall offer of jobs for performing and touring are not sufficient compared to the high demand due to the large community of dancers coming into Belgium over the last 15 years.
There are a lot of opportunities to teach in Belgium and interesting initiatives to develop new alternative dance centres are taken by professional dancers themselves. The job market for teaching is much better and more stable than for performing and touring. Despite the number of new works made in the country there are very few open auditions a year and private auditions or word of mouth and recommendations are the main ways to find work."

There are also several organisations in Belgium that actively work to protect the interests of artists.

"The R.A.C. (Author and Choreographer union) is an association founded by the French community in 1998 to support the profession and defend dancers and choreographers interests on a national level. One of their biggest achievements was to negotiate with the culture commission on the creation of long term subsidies for dance companies.
The R.A.C. is a place to discuss and reflect on the choreographic landscape, promote artists and the dance scene in general and gives updated and useful informations on the profession. During the last attempt too cut subsidies, by the government earlier this year, (up to 45% for the dance scene), the R.A.C reacted promptly, wrote a petition and organised a protest, along with actors and musicians, that resulted in the government not proceeding with their plans."

Pint of Milk

Cost of living is a very difficult thing to calculate. If you are being paid UK rates of pay but you had to, somehow, live in Norway then you would find it impossible to survive. The cost of food alone would pretty much wipe out your salary before you even got started.

Of course, Norwegians living in Norway are paid in line with their cost of living so a carton of milk to a Norwegian is normally priced.

Before you take off to a foreign land to work make sure the pay that is being offered is enough to cover your rent, buy food and get around (travel wise). If not there's not much point in going anywhere to begin with.

It's always a good plan to have an open return ticket back home so if things don't work out then you can just get to the airport and fly away. Keeping your options open is common sense, nothing to do with being brave or living on the edge.

Pay Levels

Belgium is rated lower than the UK on the Purchasing Power Parity scale which means, generally speaking, living costs in the country are slightly lower than the UK.

We were able to find an unfurnished studio apartment in Brussels for €320 (£263) per month or furnished, sort of, for about €435 (£358). If you want something a little more upmarket then about €635 (£535) should cover it. Renting in Antwerp can save you some money because a studio flat can be had for €240 (£190) per month, that's a 35-40 minute commute into Brussels by train for a cost of about €23 (£19) return.

As for pay levels for dancers;

"I wouldn't say that the pay level is good but it is standard although it depends who you work for. You could be well paid if you work for a long term subsidised company (only 6 in the French community), but otherwise pay is generally at the minimum legal level which is no less than €65 a day.
Cash in hand work is still very common as a lot of creators don't have enough support to do their work and dancers won't refuse an opportunity to work and perform especially if they are in the beginning of their careers.
You can't really live just working as a dancer/choreographer if you don't have the 'artistic statute' which is government provided, monthly financial support for artist's who have worked a lot in their field over a certain amount of time. It is quite difficult to get it as you need to do a lot of declared work but once you have it, it is a great help to sustain an artist through the unpredictable nature of our job.
This is also what makes Belgium an exception in terms of artist individual support and why it makes it so attractive for international dancers. It makes it possible to live a decent life as a dancer/choreographer."

Visas and Permits

Belgium is a part of the European Union so if you are from an EU country then you don't need a work permit to be employed in the country. Upon arrival you do have to register for a residence permit for the purposes of tax and social security. The rules are slightly different if your stay will be less than 3 months.

Those not from the EU have, as always, a slightly harder time of it. As with many other countries you must have a job offer before you can leave your home country and work and live in Belgium. Your employer is required to obtain a work permit for you. These work permits fall into three different categories with Class A being the most flexible in terms of where you can work and who you can work for.

There are also rules about jobs being filled by Belgian or EU citizens first but in a specialised profession like dance those restrictions should be slightly easier to overcome. Essentially however if you are a non-EU dancer then you need to secure employment before you come to Belgium.

Belgium also has an identity card system. All residents are required to have this card with them at all times which is probably a lot less sinister than it sounds. You apply for the card at your local town hall (council building).

Taxes

If you're looking for low taxes then Belgium probably isn't the country for you. Residents of the country have one of the highest tax liabilities in the world with as much as 65% of your income being contributed to the state according to some sources.

Personal income tax liability kicks in at €6,570 (£5,416), if you earn under that amount you don't pay income tax. From there the tax rate on your income escalates fairly rapidly all the way to a mind melting 50% on just €34,330 (£28,302) per annum income. By way of comparison the highest UK rate for income tax of 45% kicks in at pay levels over £150,000 (€181,946) per year.

In addition to income taxes you also have to pay local "municipal" taxes at a rate that varies from 0% all the way to 9.5%.

As with any other country you can claim deductions to limit your income tax liability. If you have children, for example, then you can increase your tax-free allowance by as much as €7,880 (£6,496) if you have three little ones with you. We imagine there will be very few travelling dancers with three kids however.

If you are resident in Belgium then you are taxed on worldwide income so be prepared to include money you earn in other countries to your assessment. If you are self-employed then you must file a tax return and make pre-payments every quarter based on how much tax you paid the previous year.

Penalties will apply if you don't file a tax return or make pre-payments on time. Employees of a company who are not self-employed also have to file a tax return.

Social Security

Social security in Belgium is a dual payer system. Your employer, if you have one, contributes money on top of you salary into the system (about 30%-40%) and you, in turn, pay part of your income into the social security system (your contribution amounts to about 13% of your salary).

Self employed people also pay into the system but they pay a lower amount (as there is no employer contribution) and as such they have fewer entitlements than those who are employed. Minimum period of working before you can claim is about 300 days but you may be able to claim social security from your country of origin even if you are resident in Belgium.

There are, however, some differences to the social security system if you are an artists in the country.

"The 'artistic statute' is there to support the artists in their career on a long term. It allows them to stay in their field of work and not have to work in a bar, for example, when they during a period of low or no employment.
It gives them the opportunity to develop their own work and build a portfolio and to ask for further subsidies which is really hard to get here. Unlike the French artistic statute, the amount you can get per month can reach a maximum of around €1250 (£1,030).
If you are unable to receive the "artistic" social security then you can apply, like everyone for basic government support which will vary depending on your living/family situation : €450/month if you're sharing your flat, €700/month if you live alone or €1200/month if you're a single mother.
In Belgium this is the only basic financial government support so it can seem quite high but you won't be able to combine it with any other regular support. This is usually enough only to pay rent, bills and some food but not to live decently. If you do make money on the side on some jobs, the amount of you pay will be directly deducted of your support."

Health Care

The health care system in Belgium is relatively straightforward. If you are employed and resident in the country then you will automatically enrolled into and contribute toward the state run health insurance system (about 3.5% of you salary with the remainder paid for by your employer). Belgium's health system is regarded as one of the best in the world in terms of treatment and availability.

Self employed people have to cover the full cost of their contributions on their own which can amount to about 7.35% of you earnings.

As with any insurance there is a certain amount that you have to pay towards any medical treatment that you need, even within the state run insurance programme. If you have private insurance then you pay the full amount of your treatment up front and then claim that back from your insurance company.

You can use private insurance to cover the costs not covered by the state run programme.

"If you are under contract when you get injured you will be fully insured as it is considered as a work accident and you will still be paid up to 60% of your daily salary for the time of your contract that you can't honour. If you are not under contract when you get injured, you will be reimbursed the standard percentage on your consultation and treatment cost. Physiotherapy is reimbursed by your health insurance as long as it is prescribed by a generalist.
However, in Europe most dancers go to the osteopath or chiropractor and rarely to the physiotherapist. Osteopathy is only reimbursed €10 per session for a maximum of 5 sessions a year. A session is generally between €40 and €60 so it does represent a certain cost for dancers."

Thanks to Shantala Pepe

Top Image by Bert Kaufmann

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