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