by Neil Nisbet

If you follow politics anywhere in the world, especially around election time, there is one subject that dominates almost all others that politicians will speak about and that subject is job creation.

Take a long hard look at the US political scene at the moment and all of the current chatter (aside from the healthcare debate) is about creating jobs or what can be done to stop jobs being lost. Creating jobs, we are told, is the key to economic recovery, economic stability and joy throughout the land.

Jobs make people happy, provide them with money so they can live their lives, they can spend that money on goods and services which is good for the economy and pay taxes which is good for the country, etc, etc.

Jobs are good, we know this because everybody keeps telling us that.

“¨So why don’t we ever hear any chatter from the funding bodies, the government or pretty much anybody else about creating real jobs for artists? Of course, here in TheLabâ„¢, what we choose to focus on is creating jobs for professional dancers.

What do we mean by “real jobs”? Well, that would mean being employed full time with holiday pay, sick pay, maternity leave (for men and women), overtime, pensions, meaningful enforceable contracts and all the usual good stuff. You get that working in a bank so why not working as a dancer?

Dirty Numbers

Some quick and dirty arithmetic throws up some interesting numbers.

If we look at the regularly funded dance companies in England and Scotland, the ones that provide the closest thing to full time employment for dancers, then we have (approximately) 145 dancers in 19 companies. Few, if any, of those are full time employees however with most on irregular contracts with extended “off contract” periods.

20 of those dancers work for Rambert and some of the 145 dancers are apprentices and get paid little or nothing to gain experience with a professional company. As you can imagine, going by the name of this website, ballet companies are not included.

Essentially however most of those dancers are part-time employees.

In England and Scotland there are nine National Dance Agencies* (all publicly funded as are the dance companies) and they employ 195 administrators including full-time and part-time employees. The number is approximate because figuring out just how many people work for The Place in London is not at all straight forward (we put their numbers at 60 regular employees).

There are of course innumerable smaller dance agencies and organisations working to “promote” dance and there are many project level dance productions going on all over the country. Trying to guestimate those numbers is something Arts Council England does in their ‘Dance Mapping Study’ so download that and revel in the fantasy.

It is safe to assume though that there are more full-time, better paid jobs working in dance administration than working as a professional dancer in England and Scotland, two countries with a combined population of 54 Million people.

Training for Unemployment

A few weeks ago the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) announced that a new dance school would be opening at their home base in Glasgow at the cost of £6 Million. When we asked them if any thought had been given to where the graduates from this school would find work they said;

“All degree programmes at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama are subject to a rigorous process of scrutiny prior to validation.  The BA Ballet programme at the Academy was no different.  Prior to validation there is a period of wide and thorough consultation within the HE and FE sector, with arts organisations and with potential employers. 

The validation panel for each degree programme includes external representation from the profession, working practitioners and leading academics.  

The Degree of Bachelor of Arts (Modern Ballet) at the Academy, in partnership with Scottish Ballet, Scotland’s award winning national dance company, combines the specialist facilities, resources and knowledge of the RSAMD with the artistic input and guidance of Scottish Ballet making the degree programme an excellent opportunity for gifted students who wish to pursue a career in professional dance.”

We don’t know what any of that means but basically it comes down to this. Once they graduate, the RSAMD has no earthly idea what their students will do about finding work because Scottish Ballet cannot possibly absorb all, if any, of their graduates.

To put it simply, too many dancers are being trained and nobody is working to create jobs for them when they graduate.

Off the Record

If you want to know where the funding bodies are on this particular issue then we have to do something that journalists are not supposed to do other than in exceptional circumstances and these are, as far as Article19 is concerned, exceptional circumstances.

We’re going to tell you something that was said to us “off the record”.

An off the record discussion is not like attorney/client privilege or doctor/patient confidentiality. There are no laws governing an off the record statement and being “off the record” does not give someone a remit to say whatever they choose secure in the knowledge that such statements will never be repeated.

We won’t tell you who said it or where that person works just that they are a high ranking arts official. During a discussion about jobs and dancers pay and what this particular organisations position was on that subject the official told us (and we’re paraphrasing because there is no recording of this);

“…if dance companies want to pay their dancers more money then they are free to hire fewer dancers, it is the dance companies own choices that dictate the amount their dancers are paid.”

What is strange about that particular comment is that it’s both completely accurate and completely ludicrous. Let’s set aside for the moment the fact that a high ranking arts official is actually suggesting that the dance sector employ fewer dancers, actually cut jobs where there are none to begin with.

Yes, if you employ fewer people you can pay those people a lot more money. Dance companies could all employ one dancer each and those dancers would be fantastically well paid, very lonely of course, but the market for creating solos would be booming.

The downside is you have fewer jobs, a massive reduction in creative potential for choreographers and it’s bloody stupid!

Ironically if regularly funded dance companies (RFO) stated they wanted fewer dancers because they wanted to pay their dancers more ACE or Creative Scotland would probably question why they needed increased levels of funding year on year because they had fewer staff.


In terms of creating more jobs for professional dancers there are a number of ways to do it. First of all you could increase funding to current RFO companies to enable those companies to extend employment contracts so they are actually full time.

Enhanced funding would also enable companies to employ more dancers than they actually need for touring and performing. Why do that? Well since dancers are not indestructible they tend to get injured so additional dancers mean rotating casts, more coverage on education and teaching projects and a general smoothing out of the workload.

You could also increase the number of RFO companies by expanding smaller project based companies with more dancers and longer employment contracts. This doesn’t necessarily mean more touring what it does mean is more time spent on creating work, it is after all the raison d’être of a dance company, and less time “getting things done in two weeks” that is the current norm in all too many cases.

What about paying for all of this?

Well this is one of the richest countries in the world and there is plenty of money to go around. At one end of the scale we could spend slightly less money on fighter planes and nuclear submarines we don’t need to protect us from terrorists too stupid to buy travel tickets for the planes they want to blow up with fictitious explosives.

At the other end of the scale ACE managed to conjure up £40 Million to prop up failing large scale arts projects that were over dependent on rich people giving them money that wasn’t really theirs to begin with. £40 Million buys a lot of jobs at the creative end of the arts sector.

If we look at the ‘Dance Mapping Study’ released by ACE some months ago they boast about spending and stimulating spending on new dance buildings to the tune of almost £500 Million over the last few years. They boast no such numbers when it comes to creating jobs for professional dancers.

ACE could also not spend £50,000 producing pointless mapping study reports full of fictitious numbers and information. There’s plenty of money, we’re just not spending it very well.

A lot of people work in arts administration, we’re sure they can come up with a plan of some kind to help create full time jobs for dancers, there’s so many of them it’s like group thinking on steroids.

A prominent dance education principal said to us recently that he couldn’t understand why ACE, the Government, et-al didn’t spend money creating jobs for dancers because, after all, it would be a lot cheaper than creating jobs in other industries.

Go figure!

[ photo by Dunechaser ]