by Neil Nisbet

A comment we, here in TheLabâ„¢ and you, our dear readers, probably hear or read quite often is “we encourage healthy debate on (insert you’re own topic here)”. The comment is usually made by the individual/group/organisation that is being debated but more often than not they would, if it’s all right with you, rather you actually did the exact opposite and didn’t debate them at all, healthily or otherwise.

Also, the end of the “healthy debate” comment is almost always followed by the mightiest tool in the PR handbook, the word “but”.

Our recent piece on the integration of dancer’s with disabilities, ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, provoked, somewhat unexpectedly, a lot of comments some of which were quite angry about the fact that we had even dared to raise the issue to begin with.

One commenter, not published on Article19 but on a protest group on Facebook (and that’s not a joke), even suggested that Article19 was behaving in a “fascist” like manner and how dare we “interrogate” dance companies with our impertinent questions?

Article19 has also been criticised for not doing enough “real” dance writing or covering “what’s right” in the dance profession instead of what’s wrong in the dance profession. All conveniently unquantifiable.

For the record, Article19 considers its “positive” material to be the video featuring. The actual illustration of the wok being created and performed by companies large and small across the UK and beyond.

Some may disagree and there are certainly many more positive aspects to the dance profession than creation and performance but that’s one aspect we choose to focus on and one aspect that we can successfully highlight.


Upon reflection and looking around the rest of the dance/arts media it’s not hard to understand why some readers get a bit ruffled with some of the things this publication chooses to write about.

Cheerleading is standard operating procedure for pretty much every website/print publication or blog that covers the wide world of dance. No matter what particular element of the art form they cover the tone is almost always relentlessly upbeat. The mainstream press follows the same mantra. The end of year or the coming year reviews/previews from the broadsheets read like press releases from the Dance Profession is Holier than Though Coalition.

There’s nothing wrong with being upbeat or positive but there is danger in choosing to blinker yourself to the multitude of problems faced by this profession.

It’s asking for trouble if you choose to ignore the fact that dance, especially in the, so-called, higher echelons of the profession, is run by people, people with egos, agendas and personal issues that may cloud their judgement and steer their decision making process in somewhat puzzling directions.

We all do it but personal decisions rarely affect large numbers of people in a professional context. Simply because someone wears a suit or has the title “Artistic Director” or “CEO” doesn’t make them immune to the human condition.

It is for those reasons that Article19 is required to get on the phone and ask questions, often times over and over again. Nobody is being “interrogated” however, they are being asked straightforward questions and the answers we get (or not) are the things that will save them or sink them.


There was a hefty dose of irony from one particular comment on ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ citing Janet Smith’s response to that piece asking why we couldn’t write something like that instead? Completely overlooking the fact that without Article19’s piece and without us contacting Scottish Dance Theatre seeking answers to our questions Ms Smith’s response simply would not exist.

Healthy debate can only exist if all those taking part in that debate speak openly and honestly about the issues that affect them. It’s only healthy if organisations or individuals respond openly and honestly when questions are put to them not only by us but by anybody with an enquiring mind looking for answers.

As is so often the case somebody will be on the receiving end of bit of harsh commentary. But if you really believe what you’re doing is right then it should be fairly easy for you to defend yourself. Article19 isn’t coming at you with swords and shields, just some pointed words.

If you have screwed up, own up, say sorry and try to do better the next time. Don’t try and play the political communications game because the world and its’ dog got wise to that a long time ago, we all know spin when we hear it and read it.

Just in case you haven’t noticed there is no debate, discussion or much of anything going on in dance right now. Discussion is happening, it has to be going on somewhere surely, but it must be happening behind closed doors because we can’t find it.

The British Dance Edition in Birmingham, coming up in February, has no real debates or alternative presentations to counter the cheerleading culture when that type of gathering would be the ideal place for some honest back and forth.

There are no discussions about pay for dancers, healthcare, job creation, contracts, funding, touring, integration or anything of any real importance. Just John Ashford and meaningless chit chat about the previous nights shows. Nothing for anybody to get upset or feel uncomfortable about, because why would we want that?

Article19 is going to continue doing what it does for as long as possible, nothing lasts forever after all, so for 2010 why not tell us what questions you would like to ask and of whom you would like to ask those questions. Maybe you can even ask them yourself!

[ Ad Photo by Jason Whittaker ]