ANDA In A Spin

by Ira Schiff

The UK has been enthralled, (or is it bored stupid?), by the ongoing scuffle between the BBC and the government over “dodgy dossiers”, spin, creative writing and outright lies. If nothing else this little scuffle has highlighted how writing and the documents presented to the people can paint a very rosy picture of the state of play in any walk of life. You may think that dance would be immune to such spin and for the most part you would be correct in that assumption but a recent release from the Association of National Dance Agencies (ANDA) made me sit up and take a closer look.

The press release takes the form of an extended question and uses the “cumulative statistic ploy” to make the point. At the end of the question we are supposed to guess what country the question is talking about and be amazed and what we have available to us here in the UK. Now I ‘ve done it! I ‘ve gone and spoiled the surprise for you, yes the answer to the question is the UK or more specifically England so I will press on and look at the question.

ANDA begins the release with the following paragraph;

“In Europe, exists a country, which provides a networked support for the development of dance achieving a nation wide distribution of resources. The ‘dance hubs’ provide a critical, solid layer of maturity regarding the continued evolution of dance as a significant contemporaneous art form.”

The phrase “dance hubs” is employed a couple of times in the document. It made me think immediately of two phrases employed by Apple Computer to market their products and software. Apple first used the phrases “Digital Hub” & “Digital Lifestyle” a couple of years ago to create a sense of the system ‘s and software they sell being at the centre of creativity and organization within your hectic life. Apple ‘s products are famous for their chic design to say nothing of their seamless interoperability and their appeal to the younger generation who want to be on the cutting edge.

The Cupertino based company is also famous for promoting its wares with the phrase “it just works”. It makes sense that NDA ‘s would like to position themselves with this type of branding. They need to appear accessible, the centre of creativity for the art form they support and more importantly they have to appeal to “young people” or kids as the rest of the world calls them. Accidental or deliberate association with Apple ‘s marketing strategy will not hurt the NDA network. Let’s face it; very few people actually know what an NDA is or does so calling yourself a “Dance Hub” might help some people understand what it is that they actually do for a living. If they could indeed “just work” then that would make a lot of dancers and other people very happy indeed.

Incase you were wondering “contemporaneous” is just a posh way of saying contemporary.

The press release then descends into a frenzy of the cumulative statistics I mentioned earlier. Winston Churchill knew what he was talking about when he said “..there are lies, damn lies and statistics”. Statistical analysis when done by professionals is scientific at best and even has an outside chance of being an accurate representation of what is really going on in any given field of endeavour. There is no suggestion that the stats in the NDA release are made up but if you look a little closer you start to realize why they added all the numbers together.

“61 performances are either commissioned or co-commissioned. 182 venues are worked with. Up to 450 performances are presented. 85,000 people see the work. Over 2,600 artists are worked with in an average year.”

If you read numbers like 85,000 when connected to contemporary dance then you may well be suitably impressed. However, 85,000 divided by 450 (the number of performances given) comes out at a slightly less impressive 188 people in each show. For a small venue of 200 then that is impressive but medium to large size venues of 400-800 start to look a little empty and theatres that can hold 1,000 or more should hang their collective heads in shame. I am also very suspicious when these figures come out in such a nicely rounded fashion. It’s never 85,434, always a nice round number as if the other 434 people should not have even bothered to turn up.

I have my own way of totting up how many people are in a theatre. During a show I have a quick look around and see how many people are actually there. Subtract about 10% for the complimentary ticket holders and you have your real figure. It’s not scientific to be sure but it works for me and I personally put attendance on average for dance at about 45% of capacity and that’s on a good day. I ‘m sure we have all been in the theatres where only 10 or 20 have been seated in a space capable of holding 400.

“ Per annum, on average, 140 community residencies occur alongside 17,000 community dance activities which, combined, involve up to 300,000 people in dance.”

Again these numbers sound very impressive. I just wish they had published some results of any studies carried out into how much the participants had been affected by the activity they had taken part in. Getting people through the door is one thing, if the figures are accurate of course, take note of the nice even numbers again, but leaving a lasting impression on the kids taking part is another matter altogether. Many dancers who deliver workshops and short-term residencies struggle for the time needed to make a real impact on their charges. I would think some in depth analysis on this would perhaps be more credible in selling the achievements of an NDA, sorry Dance Hub!

Perhaps the most puzzling quote from ANDA comes at the end of the document;

“The central government investment in the hubs sees a 4,950,000 euro (£3.3 million) base subsidy achieve circa a 200% return. The network generates/levers an additional 7,950,000 euro (£5.3 million) for the industry.

It costs 15 million euro (£10 million) to build one mile of motorway. The average cost of making a 30 second commercial in the USA is just over £0.5 million pounds.”

Arts Council England currently has £335 million (USD558 Million) to spend on the arts in the UK as a whole. This translates into less than 1% of the total amount being spent on NDA infrastructure (not including lottery funding). The UK government currently spends in the region of £450 billion (USD749 Billion ) in its entire budget and the UK is the fourth richest economy in the world today. Combined with the final quote about motorways and US television commercials the figure quoted by ANDA suggests that either dance is cheap or dance can be bought cheap for the paltry sum quoted above. No wonder dancers are so badly paid if this is the all money that is around to pay them.

For the record; television commercials are expensive because they are so well made, at least a lot of them are. Article19 reported some time ago on a producer at the BBC citing television spots from Levi ‘s as being good examples of dance in main-stream media. The only problem with the statement was that the producer failed to take into account the amount of money it cost to make them (the commercials not the jeans). I don ‘t think roads are as well made as television commercials but the Department of Transport seemed somewhat unconvinced by the figure quoted for a mile of motorway when Article19 spoke to their press office.

In terms of spin I think that ANDA has some way to go to catch up with audacity of the Labour Party and I think there are many who wish they wouldn ‘t bother trying and just got on with the job of making things better for dance and the dancers who make it all work.

Statistics don ‘t pay the bills.


(Ira is a freelance artist and writer living and working in the UK and Europe)