The EvilImp™ 'Self Interest'

If you're new to the wacky world of dance then there is a pretty good chance you will turn to the internet looking for information about this most beleaguered of professions. What is it? Why is it? Where is it? Are probably just a few of the questions you, as a newbie, will want to ask and you may just want to watch something using the magic we call "video".

As you would expect this is where the train runs off the rails and falls down a very large canyon where it inexplicably explodes into a huge fireball despite being powered by electricity.

The problem is this. Dance is a world that doesn't really like to share. As a whole the profession has heartily embraced social media, with emphasis on the word "social", but when it comes to talking about dance and dance companies in more general terms the powers that be revert to "bubble" mode and pretend the other guys don't exist.

Were you to browse the website for DanceXchange, located in Birmingham and one of the UK's National Dance Agencies*, you will find barely a mention of Motionhouse Dance Theatre, one of this country's most enduring dance companies, based just 30 minutes away in Leamington Spa.

They don't seem too interested in telling you about ACE Dance and Music either and that company lives in the same city.

Dance East were very proud to tell us all about the "world premiere" of Arthur Pita's new work 'God's Garden' despite the fact the show was on several days beforehand in Birmingham at the British Dance Edition and that was the third "preview" performance of that piece. The Ipswich based NDA* seemed unconcerned about sharing that information with anyone.

Since the performance has taken place, not a word on the company and where they are now.

Exploring their site you can find local listings for up and coming shows but apart from press release blurb there is not one single bit of background information on the companies themselves. Not even rudimentary links to websites, or videos, or photos. Nothing but silence in unwritten form.

Dance City, our own hamstrung nemesis in the bitter north, is still stumbling about in the dark and can't muster the energy to tell you about Ballet Lorent, a dance company based in their own building or the numerous other small companies they play host to. Never mind spreading the word on any other dance company in the UK or beyond because sharing that type of information couldn't possibly be useful, could it?

The other dance agencies, large and small, follow a similar pattern. If something isn't directly related to them as an organisation they won't tell you about it. No national listings, no background information on the profession overall, no sharing of information in any way shape or form.

We can probably give a pass to the smaller ones mind you, since having two or three part-time staff doesn't give you a lot of time to get with the sharing. We have no sympathy for the bigger fish though.

Venues are just as culpable in all of this. Find a listing for a dance company on their website and you get the usual press blurb, a pointless quote from some newspaper hack and nothing else. One notable exception is Warwick Arts Centre that does actually take the time to embed some video along with the listing but that's one out of hundreds.

Herding Cats

Something as straightforward as a national listings database might sound grandiose and complex but the online tools exist to set that up in a week. The dance infrastructure and their employees just need to sort it out. You get the feeling however that organising a bag of cats to walk in a parade would be an easier task.

Several weeks ago Article19 contacted each of the NDAs* to offer more than 30 high quality videos to them, via our channel on the video sharing site Vimeo, so they could build their own video sections and perhaps better inform their users about dance companies and the kind of work they are making and touring.

It was free, it was easy, there was no advertising to speak of. All they had to do was make an effort, we did all the heavy lifting creating the material in the first place.

Apart from one reply from the smallest NDA* of the lot (who declined our offer for technical reasons!), once again, all we heard was nothing at all.

On The Same Side

We, here in TheLab™, would argue that education and awareness are the cornerstones of building interest in a particular subject. The more information people have and the easier that information is to get at the more likely the uninformed are to develop a lasting interest in something.

Throughout the dance world there are many who may disagree with us and how we do things here. Different agencies and venues may disagree on the best way to move this profession forward but we can all at least agree on one thing. We all like dance! We're all the same side, it's not a fight to the death for audience share, this isn't NBC vs Fox!

The powers that be need to start thinking outside the box and get over their apparently ego driven protectionist attitude and start telling their website users, and the visitors to their physical buildings, about the profession as a whole. It may come as a surprise to some but the internet, that thing you're on right now, is quite a big deal.

Sharing information online and through other means is only a small part of their overall job but it's an important part of their job and they're not doing it very well, if at all. So get a tighter grip on your horses and open up a little, would you please!

[ Photo by Jason Kuffer ]

*we know they're not called NDAs anymore but we'll stick with that for the moment absent a better description.

  • Dear Article 19

    A challenge in return: might we persuade you to interview one or two Directors of NDA*s, face to face, about what we DO do, and how we spend the taxpayers' money channelled to us through ACE and other organisations?

    Maybe we could clear up some people's concerns?

    Antony Dunn
    Head of Communications
    Yorkshire Dance

  • Bring three if you like but it must be on-camera and all on the record.

  • It's not a matter of promotion it's a matter of providing and sharing information. If an NDA is a first point of contact (via the web or otherwise) you should be providing them with and educating them about the art form you are supporting.

    Absent that information what is anyone to learn about dance from a "dance agency"? You may be willing to speak to all who ask but surely it would be easier for all of you with the millions in subsidy that all of you receive (the National Dance Network as a whole) to provide a centrally managed point of information for newcomers and established practitioners alike.

    Here's a challenge. The National Dance Network vs Article19. Let's see who can build a comprehensive online resource of core information for dance first?

  • Interesting article.
    I've seen a lot of sites that attempt to promote all the organisations working in a particular artform in a particular area (geographical or otherwise) and my feeling is that, in general, they seem to just have more out of date or innacurate information than you'd get by going to that company's website. It's hard to be completely inclusive and also, who's going to do the job of actually managing and maintaining this information? Well the agencies I guess, but that's not what they're funded to do.
    I don't know if, when you were on the DanceXchange website, you looked at the BDE website, but this has collected quite a lot of information on the companies which took part (both as performers and in the trade fair) including contact details, embedded video, downloadable documents etc. However, whilst that is undoubtedly useful as a starting point, even that is just really going to signpost people to the main company website, cos why would you want to talk to us when you could talk to them directly?
    I agree - we should share info with each other - but I don't think we're not. I'll talk about dance, the companies in our region, the companies in the rest of the UK and the rest of the world for hours if you let me and I think I speak for all my colleagues when I say I don't think I've ever refused to meet anyone who has asked to come into our agency for advice, contacts or information or refused to respond to email requests for the same. But I'm not sure the regional agency's websites are the right place to be doing this. The web is, as you so rightly point out, a big deal. But it's also a global deal so perhaps making lots of resources based on what's happening in a particular geographical region would just make things more confusing.
    I guess that, especially in the light of Nicky's comments, it all depends what you think a dance agency is for. Personally I think that the amount of employment, promotion and development that a lot of the agencies give to the sector is worth the particular amount of RFO subsidy, especially given the relative breadth of that support. I'd like to see more subsidy to us all, but I'm not sure I'd spend it on web resources.

    Paul Burns
    Programme Manager
    DanceXchange (though mine, rather than dx's opinions expressed...)

  • Are we the smallest NDA* of the lot?

    Antony Dunn
    Head of Communications
    Yorkshire Dance

  • well, in funding terms yes based on the RFO funding list, but it's hard to say anymore since you're not called NDA's and there are about 50 dance agencies all over the shop.

  • Absolutely, 100%, without a doubt agree with this article
    Although I think it should go one step further...
    GIVE MORE SUBSIDY TO SUCCESFUL, HARDWORKING COMPANIES LIKE ACE AND MOTIONHOUSE AND LESS TO AGENCIES. Dance companies could do a much better job of marketing themselves if they had more budget to do so.

  • grotto

    I think we have a slight celebrity culture in Dance, as with all arts. Celebs are not always the most talented/useful people as we all know, but to be a celebrity and an artist? A celeb who has the excuse of being an artist to excuse the fact that most celebrities are pointless, surely that is the perfect scenario?

    I think people/organizations like to be known for the "good" they do, not the talents of others. We're an Island, our dance scene is completely cut off from the rest of Europe, and us from them. This is no excuse for us to be cut off from each other, its like each institution is a mini UK. If people were not forced to apply to facilitate art like they were applying to do their taxes maybe it would be useful! Institutions think of what they do as business and business has competitors, art on the other hand I would argue does not.

    Viva la revolution etc etc

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