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Professional dancer Bettina Carpi. Professional dancer's need jobs, it's not rocket science.

by Michelle Lefevre

Often times, here in TheLab™, we talk about creating jobs for dancers and the fact that nobody else seems to talk about creating jobs for dancers. Just exactly how do you go about creating jobs for dancers though and who's going to pay for it and how much would it cost?

One idea, and we have floated this before, many years ago, is to make dancers employees of the state, just like civil servants. Having the dancers employed by the DCMS might not to be a good idea, in fact that would be a really bad idea, so we would make them employees of Arts Council England.

The Fifty

As a starting point we would like to see 50 jobs created for professional dancers, we shall call them "The Fifty". This would create, if you will, a small standing army of professionals across the country.

These dancers would not be attached to any dance company though, they would be freelance, freelancers with PAYE.

The advantage of having the dancers paid and employed separately from a dance company (or the restrictions of short term funding agreements) is that they are free to pursue their own creative and educational endeavours in any way they wish to do so.

Available options for these dancers and the profession as a whole would be numerous.

For example; An independent choreographer could employ an additional dancer or two from The Fifty for their GFA funded project because they would not have to pay the additional dancers salaries. Creative possibilities are immediately expanded with minimal additional cost overhead.

Given local authority cuts and spending restrictions in schools it might be easier for a dancer to get an education project off the ground in a particular area if they are already pre-employed.

A professional dancer could essentially run classes and workshops for "free" because they have the security of their ACE funded salary to fall back on. Longer term projects would have their costs significantly reduced if the lead professionals pay is removed from the equation.

It would also work the other way around with schools and colleges being able to ask a local professional to come along and explore new opportunities with their students. Dance in education benefits hugely from the involvement of professional dancers.

For full time professional companies there could also be advantages. Injury is a common problem, dancers often lose their jobs if the injury is so serious that they have to be replaced on tour by another dancer.

In the event of an injury the company could quickly call in a suitable replacement from the ranks of The Fifty until their own dancer is ready to go again. The injured dancer retains their job and the dance company does not have to find additional money to employ a new dancer.

To be perfectly clear, if you were on of The Fifty, sitting on your ass and doing nothing would not be an option.

Inefficient Funding

In many ways the current funding system is very inefficient, especially for dancers and choreographers. The whole art of choreography is somewhat stunted if you have to spend 3 months filling out funding applications, negotiating with an obstructive NDA for space to work in and then securing some dancers for the duration when all you want to do is try out some ideas.

A programme like "The Fifty" would help reduce red tape and enable dance makers to try out their ideas before they reach for the funding forms and start tying up their own time and ACE's resources going around in the inevatable circles of frustration and doom.

Dealing with NDA's and their empty dance studios, that's another challenge for another time.

Problems Problems Everywhere

To mitigate any potential problems with choreographers and dance companies turning to The Fifty for dancers because they know they would not have to pay them, simple restrictions could be put in place.

For example; Any NPO dance company could be prevented, via their funding agreement with ACE, from employing more than one member of The Fifty for an extended period of time for anything other than covering an injury.

For project funded companies the restrictions could be no more than two members of The Fifty at any one time or a specific percentage of dancers needed for the project as a whole.

Working out the details of the restrictions would be important in retaining an open and fair job market for freelance professional dancers (which is essentially what all professional dancers are since so few of them are on permanent full time contracts).

The Cost

You might think that something like this would be very expensive but you would be wrong.

All of the dancers would start at the same pay level of £27,500 per year plus a £650 health insurance bonus. So, for the first year, that would cost just over £1.4Million. If we factor in an annual pay rise of just 3% (given the current economic climate that's pretty poor but within reason) then over a ten year period the entire project will set ACE back just over £16.1Million.

In the tenth year The Fifty would be earning £36,729 per annum which sounds like a lot but you have 10 years of inflation and other cost of living rises to take into account.

Relatively speaking, the total cost over ten years is a lot of money. It's still a lot less however than the annual amount given to The Royal Opera House in a single year (£25.7Million for 2013/2014).

Where would the money come from? Well that's simple, Grants for the Arts, which in turn is funded by the National Lottery. ACE has said many times that the money available through GFA will be rising, now that the Olympics are done and dusted, so what better way to spend the money. They would need to change some rules but rules are written to be changed.

Making the Cut

To keep things fair each dancer would only be allowed to remain in the programme for a maximum of two years with the possibility of returning after 3 or 4 years.

Dancers could be chosen for the project not by ACE (the very thought is chilling) but by a collective of dance company directors, experienced professional dancers and, perhaps, some involvement from the main dance schools in the UK. This collective would also be responsible for monitoring the activities of the entire group.

A mix of dancers, dancer/choreographers, recent graduates and those with a strong interest in dance in education would keep the talent pool of The Fifty as varied as possible.

The Full Time Conundrum

In the dance world there are dancers who desperately want to be within a larger company and there are those that want the freedom to go where they want and pursue a range of different projects, sometimes all at once. A project like The Fifty is for the latter.

The programme would create a strong pool of talent that was available for a wide range of creative opportunities. It might also encourage dancers to locate themselves in parts of the country that are often without a strong dance community because there are simply no jobs available and precious few professional opportunities.

That's how you create 50 jobs for 50 professional dancers for ten years.