Bad Science

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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There's an old adage, "numbers don't lie". The only problem with that adage is most of the time it's not true because numbers can be bent to say pretty much anything you want them to say. Statistics are especially problematic for the simple reason that if somebody claims they have 50% of something an inquisitive person is probably going to ask; "50% of what?"

With that we bring you the numbers used by Lloyd Newson, Akram Khan and Hofesh Shechter to claim that dance training in the UK is failing dance students for reasons that they have thus far failed to make clear.

Pressed For Release

The press release the three dance makers sent out, which they claim is backed by numerous, unnamed "choreographers, dance companies and dancers" used some numbers to prove their point. Dance training at Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Trinity Laban and London School of Contemporary Dance was no good because their graduates were, statistically, less likely to get jobs.

Newson and Co. cited numbers from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) for the academic year 2012/2013 as proof that graduates from those three schools were less likely to obtain work in the profession.

In a news story on DV8's website they claim that, on average, 32% of students have found work as either dancers or choreographers after graduating from those schools. The trio claim that graduates from the Juilliard School in New York have an employment rate of 90%, according to numbers they received from Juilliard. If dancers came from the Arts Education Schools in London then the employability rate jumps to 96% on average for a period covering two academic years.

HESA numbers are derived from a survey form that graduates fill out and cover the first 6 months of graduation. If a graduate doesn't fill out the form there is no way to determine what they are actually doing once they leave their training institution.

The numbers provided to Article19 by HESA, that are a combined numbers from all three schools cited by Newson and Co., cover responses from 170 students.

We asked each of the schools for the actual number of graduates for the year 2012/2013 (the academic year cited by "The Three"). NSCD had 56, LCDS had 60 and Trinity Laban had 125 for a combined number of 241 graduates. It's important to note that all three schools train dancers for a number of different avenues within the dance profession. Not all graduates are interested in performing careers as working dancers or dance makers.

The HESA stats say, in full, that 37% of the graduates were working as dancers or choreographers, 19% were doing some form of study, 17% were teaching, 13% were classified as "other SOC", 4% were unemployed, 4% were in administrative occupations, 3% were classified as "other", 2% were actors, entertainers or presenters and the final 2% were waiters or waitresses.

As mentioned, HESA's numbers were derived from the responses of approximately 170 graduates.

Tumbling Down

Perhaps the most striking issue with any form of statistical information is how quickly it goes out of date. HESA's numbers, irrespective of their accuracy, are old news the moment the graduate fills in the form. They only cover the point in time 6 months after graduation. As a method for gauging employability in a wholly unpredictable profession like dance (where professional jobs can last for a single day) HESA's numbers are, at best, unreliable insofar as they only show a very limited snapshot of employment at the time the graduates filled in the form.

What happened to the other 71 graduates for that year remains a mystery.

The other schools mentioned in the Newson and Co. press release and news story also require some scrutiny. Juilliard, a multi-disciplinary arts school in New York, is cited by "The Three" as having an employment rate of 90%. When asked multiple times to provide detailed numbers with regards to graduates and their methodology for calculating the 90% figure, the school failed to respond.

A page on their website however does reveal some interesting information. For the academic year 2013/2014 the school says;

"Fewer than 10 students completed this program in 2013-14. The number who finished within the normal time has been withheld to preserve the confidentiality of the students."

So, "fewer than 10" could mean anything from 1 to 9. If we guesstimate that 6 dancers graduated (and we take that as a constant for previous years) then that means 5 of them found work.

Newson and Co. also failed to point out that the Juilliard School will cost a student over £150,000 to attend for four years.

As for the Arts Educational Schools. We tried numerous times to contact the school to get information about graduates and the methodology for gathering their employment statistics. At the time of writing we had been unable to speak with anyone from that institution.

Arts Ed. trains their students for a career in musical theatre, so-called "triple threat" training. Although it would be difficult to claim the employment prospects for any part of the dance profession were healthy, the musical theatre world certainly has far more jobs available than the world of contemporary dance so employment prospects in that particular field will always be much brighter.

Speaking Of Jobs

As we pointed out in our piece "We Need To Talk About Dancers Jobs" from April last year the NPO dance companies in England employ less than 200 dancers between them. Jobs become available in those companies sporadically, if at all, throughout the year. For example; Richard Alston Dance Company has held four auditions, that we know of, since 2006. We haven't published an audition from Vincent Dance Theatre since 2006 and the last audition from Motionhouse Dance Theatre was 18 months ago.

You can read through a detailed breakdown of jobs that become available in the UK for professional dancers in our piece "Hard Data"

"The Three" employ less than 30 dancers at any given time and Akram Khan spends a lot of his time making and touring solos and duets.

In short, jobs for professional dancers, especially recent graduates, are in very short supply and that is a piece of information that is not going to come as a galloping shock to anyone working in the dance profession. However, the onus for creating jobs for dancers lies with dance companies and dance makers and we have no outspoken rhetoric from the wide world of dance about creating more jobs or providing employment stability for dancers that do find work.

It is not at all surprising to learn that 6 months or less after leaving dance school a number of graduates have yet to secure work but the problem is not, nor will it ever be, purely a training issue. Job supply is a huge problem that is not being addressed.

Of the three companies decrying dance training and citing misleading employment stats only Hofesh Shechter Company has an apprentice company (with two dancers from LCDS and NSCD), providing valuable touring and performance experience. The dancers are paid less than £300 per week.

We, here in TheLab™, still don't know who the other companies are that Newson and Co. are referring to about backing up their spurious claims about dance training, although we have some pretty good ideas. Training and subsequently finding employment in dance, a process that is highly subjective, is about a lot more than just the dance schools training those dancers.

There is a lot of blame to go around about the current state of the arts in the UK and we could say plenty about the creative work and the programming practices that favour the few over the many in this country but that is for another day.

Finally, DV8 mention a document called "ways forward" in their news piece that apparently contains within a magic list that, if enacted, will solve all of the problems they claim exist within dance training. They refused to provide a copy of this document stating that LCDS had asked them not to.... LCDS said they asked them to do no such thing.

Make of that what you will.

Top Photo : Dancers from JV2, the post graduate company of Jasmin Vardimon Company, undergo rehearsals, for up and coming performances, at the company's studio space in Ashford, Kent - Photo by Article19

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