We Need To Talk About Dancer's Jobs

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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Do you know how many regular, full-time jobs there are for professional dancers in the UK? The simple answer is not many. If we look at jobs in touring professional contemporary companies then the number of full time positions is probably less than 40.

Looking through the National Portfolio Organisations for dance, funded by Arts Council England and Creative Scotland (Scotland doesn’t call their regularly funded companies NPOs), then we have what amounts to approximately 195 employed positions for dancers.

When you think about the combined population of both Scotland and England you are looking at more than 50Million people. So that’s less than 1 full-time job for a professional dancer per 1Million of population. During training the dance teachers weren’t kidding when they said finding work was going to be hard.

In the NPOs that can’t offer full time work the contracts can be very limited. The companies with more financial support can, obviously, offer contracts for as long as 10 months of the year but some can only offer sporadic levels of employment over a 12 month period. Having year on year funding doesn’t mean a great deal when it comes to a dancer’s individual job security.

# Dance Company Dancers
Notes: Some numbers are based on the number of dancers featured in the most recent productions and may not reflect the number of dancers currently employed by a particular company.
1 Candoco Dance Company 7
2 Motionhouse Dance Theatre 7
3 Akram Khan Company 11
4 Shobana Jeyasingh Dance 5
5 Ballet Lorent 10
6 Ballet Boyz 9
7 Richard Alston Dance Company 8
8 Retina Dance Company 4
9 Scottish Dance Theatre 9
10 2Faced Dance Company 6
11 Company Chameleon 4
12 Random Dance [Company] 10
13 Phoenix Dance Theatre 8
14 Hofesh Shechter Company 12
15 DV8 Physical Theatre 8
16 Jasmin Vardimon Company 9
17 Vincent Dance Theatre 6
18 ACE Dance and Music 8
19 Protein Dance 7
20 Tilted Productions 4
21 Stop Gap Dance 5
22 Balbir Singh Dance 5
23 Michael Clark Company 8
24 Rambert Dance Company 21
25 Tavaziva Dance Company 5
Total 195


Of course there are other jobs for dancers available. Many project based companies can offer work for limited periods of time during the year and numerous opportunities to work on education projects come up across the country on a fairly regular basis.

Job hopping is common practice in the wide world of dance with dancers jumping from one stone to the next to keep working and keep their incomes at a slightly less than terrifying level.

Since the start of the year Article19 has published 47 auditions for various types of company work. If we exclude the overseas projects we are left with 35 job offers. Not all auditions specify how many dancers they require but it probably averages out at 2 per audition.

Article19 doesn’t publish every audition that’s available because we don’t always get the information. Also, some jobs for dancers are not advertised for audition at all.

Even taking those details into account that means approximately 70 jobs for dancers being made available over a period of 4 months for, in most cases, very limited contracts.

Inherently Incomprehensible

Some would argue that this is how it as always been and this is how it should be. Some would argue that the life of a professional dancer is inherently insecure and always has been and there’s nothing you can do about that.

Well we, here in TheLabā„¢, beg to differ and you, our dear readers, would not love us so much if we didn’t.

For the moment let’s leave aside the fact that the pay and long term employment problems faced by dancers are almost entirely economic shall we.

The very old fashioned thinking relating to the dance profession is predicated on the idea that a professional dancer turns up at a theatre, puts on a show and then retires home for the evening, their 90 minutes of work done for the day.

Now, we all know that couldn’t possibly be further from the truth but it was just that sort of thinking that came to light in the debacle of English National Opera and how much they paid professional dancers to be in one of their productions a couple of years ago.

Professional dancers are constantly training, teaching, traveling, rehearsing, recovering and so much more even when they don’t know where the next job is coming from.

If you’re doing it right then the profession can be almost relentless.

The Flip Side

We have long argued the need for policies in the arts that are short on “funding application gibberish” and long on ideas for creating jobs and job security.

One policy that should be in place is requiring companies that receive regular funding to submit budgets that allow them to employ their dancers on full time, 12 month contracts. That should be the baseline cost of operating the company and ACE, Creative Scotland and all the other funding bodies should acknowledge that in their never-ending guidelines.

The benefits of having dancers on 12 month contracts to the dance company and the profession in general are numerous. NPO companies would be in a far better position to provide classes and workshops to freelance professionals, dance students and general community work on a year round basis.

Rehearsal periods for new works could be extended to the actual amount of time needed to get a piece of work ready instead of having to get it all done in two or three weeks which is the norm right now.

It would put an end to the problem of dance companies not being able to accept tour bookings or other projects because their dancers are “off contract” and working for somebody else.

On a more personal level full time employment allows for sick leave, holiday pay and maternity leave. Normal things that are not only ethical but are required by law. To their credit, a few companies have managed to offer these benefits to their dancers.

In the freelance world we have proposed a few ideas for how to create more full time jobs for those that eschew the trappings of a formal dance company.

Time to Grow Up

If our “arts leaders” really believe the rhetoric concerning the value of dance and the arts in general to society then it’s time for this profession to grow up.

It’s time for this profession to acknowledge that their single most valuable resource deserves not only a fair wage but some job security and a tangible career path.

It’s time for the industry to start talking about job creation the same way they do in manufacturing industry or the tech sector.

Political rhetoric in the current climate is all about “hard working people”. Well, dancers work a lot harder than most and some dancers work a lot harder than that.

So let’s start talking about dancers jobs and spend a little less time talking about esoteric choreographic theories and the importance of “social media” to the arts.

As ever, we hold out very little hope for substantive change but, as you all know, we enjoy the fight more than most.

Top Image - Dancer Annie Hanauer in Candoco Dance Company’s ‘Imperfect Storm’. Photo by Hugo Glendinning

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