Dancer’s Bill Of Rights

by Neil Nisbet

One of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, written documents in the world was drafted over two hundred years ago and it is, almost, insurmountable in its ability to safeguard the rights of the people covered by its umbrella of protection.

In recent years many have lamented the erosion of this documents standing in the society it represents and its force and effect but despite these concerns the Constitution of the United States of America remains a shining example of just how strong the written word can be when applied to protecting the rights of individuals.

Considering its power the Constitution is a relatively short document with only 7 Articles with 24 sections in total within those Articles and 27 Amendments. The first 10 Amendments make up the Bill of Rights which lay down some of the most fundamental freedoms that American citizens can expect to be protected under the law.

Setting aside the contentious 2nd amendment (the right to bear arms…….) what is written within the Bill of Rights are guarantees that any individual would welcome in their portfolio of legal protections. Freedom of speech, the right to peaceful protest, fair trial, freedom from ‘cruel and unusual ‘ punishments and so on are all enshrined within those first ten amendments.

Of course just how the Constitution is interpreted is in itself a contentious issue and many many thousands of legal arguments and cases have been brought before almost every court imaginable to argue whether or not a particular law is, in fact, constitutional.

The point is however the Constitution acts as a fulcrum from which to lever new laws, argue the validity of those laws and provide recourse for every man, woman and child in the United States to say “these are my rights”.

First Grade Lessons

You may be wondering why we, here in the Lab, are giving you all a first grade social studies lesson in the US Constitution? The answer is that it occurred to us there should be an Artist’s Bill of Rights, or for our purposes, a Dancer ‘s Bill of Rights that would protect, with the full force of law, the rights of dancers in this country.

There is no doubt that the first argument against such a move would be there are more important subjects that require the attention of legal scholars, human rights we imagine being amongst those at the very top of the list. Such things are of course very important and we know for sure there are many lawyers, advocacy groups and individuals fighting those positions.

All In The Words

The U.S. Constitution styles itself the "supreme law of the land." Courts have interpreted this phrase to mean that when laws (including state constitutions) that have been passed by state legislatures, or by the (national) U.S. Congress, are found to conflict with the federal constitution, these laws are ultra vires and have no effect.

Decisions by the Supreme Court over the course of two centuries have repeatedly confirmed and strengthened the doctrine of Constitutional supremacy, or the supremacy clause.

The Constitution guarantees the legitimacy of the American state by invoking the American electorate.

The people exercise authority through state actors both elected and appointed; some of these positions are provided for in the Constitution. State actors can change the fundamental law, if they wish, by amending the Constitution or, in the extreme, by drafting a new one.

Different kinds of public officials have varying levels of limitations on their power. Elected officials can only continue in office if they are reelected at periodic intervals; appointed officials serve, in general, at the pleasure of the person or authority that appointed them, and may be removed at any time.

The exception to this practice is the lifetime appointment by the President of Justices of the Supreme Court and other federal judges; the justification for this exception is that once appointed for life, these judges are presumed capable of acting free of political obligations or influence.

web link[ Courtesy WIKIPEDIA ]

However, we would also argue that protecting the rights of dancers and artists in general is also of fundamental importance to any society. We have argued in these pages over and over again just how much the arts and the artists themselves brings to society in terms of inspiration, education, entertainment, social commentary, political commentary, participation and so on.

At present artists working in this country have little or no legal protection from anything. In dance most short term contracts are not worth the paper they are written on because if something goes wrong the penalties for breaching those contracts would be irrelevant since the party in breach almost certainly has no money to pay compensation even if the dancer could afford to sue them.

You could argue that if the first clause of the Dancer ‘s Bill of Rights states they are entitled to a certain level of pay for the work they are carrying out it would be unnecessary because pay levels are already protected by the National Minimum Wage.

First of all, it is the opinion of this publication that not one single person is protected by the National Minimum Wage for the simple reason that it is set so low you have to work a fifty hour week just to earn enough to keep yourself above the poverty line. Upon close scrutiny the working hours that many dancers put in and their subsequent take home pay may well put some dance companies on the wrong side of the law but we don ‘t see anybody being dragged through the courts.

Secondly, legal protections regarding income make no provision for the skills required to actually carry out a particular job and anybody that says dancers are not highly skilled, professional people is an idiot and a second class idiot at that. Equating what a professional dancer does to the less than interested counter staff at McDonald ‘s or a shelf stacker in Tesco is a perfect example of just how little regard there is for the work that artists do in this country.

As stated before regarding the Constitution of the United States, a Dancer ‘s Bill of Rights would give dancers in the UK something to point to and say “these are my rights”.

But what would it say on the actual document? Well here in the Lab we cannot promise to be as eloquent as those that framed the Constitution in 1787 or the amendments in subsequent years but we can do our best to lay out the fundamental protections we feel dancers deserve (if not all artists and all people for that matter) in their working lives.

The Dancer’s Bill of Rights

1. Any dancer having graduated a professional training programme and subsequently engaged by a professional dance company for a period of more than five days of consecutive employment shall be entitled to a pay level of not less than £425 after taxes, national insurance and other central government levied deductions have been taken into account. This amount shall be adjusted for inflation (index linked).

2. No dancer engaged for a period of employment of less than five days shall be paid less than £35 per one hour of employment (or part hour) and every subsequent hour or part hour shall be paid at the same level if engaged on an hourly basis or £225 per day (of not more than seven hours in duration) if engaged on a daily basis. These amounts shall be adjusted for inflation (index linked).

3. Dancers employed by companies on a year by year basis on contracts of not less than one hundred and forty days in duration shall be entitled to a pay structure whereby they will receive either a minimum of 5% or the current rate of inflation, whichever is higher, in additional salary for each year they are a member of that company. Such entitlements will be transferable.

4. Any dancer engaged for a period of five days or more of consecutive employment within an organisation or company shall be provided with a written and legally binding contract.

(ii) Dancers engaged for a period of employment of less than one hundred and forty days shall be entitled to full remuneration of that contract up-to and including a maximum of one months full salary or a minimum of one weeks full salary, whichever is greater if that contract is halted prematurely for reasons related to injury, illness or any other reason beyond the dancers personal control.

(iii) Dancers engaged for a period of employment of more than one hundred and forty days shall be entitled to not less than two months full salary upon premature cessation of their contract for reasons related to injury, illness or any other reason beyond the dancers personal control irrespective of how much time remains on the dancers contract.

The absence of such a contract will not deny the dancer the protections laid out herein.

5. All dancers engaged for a period of fourteen days or greater of consecutive employment shall be entitled to full health insurance coverage provided by the company at no cost to the dancer. Health coverage should reflect, at least, the absolute minimum standard required to ensure the proper protection of the dancers health and fitness and their subsequent full recovery, should they incur injury or fall ill during their time of employment.

Dancers that sustain no injury or do not fall ill during their period of employment shall continue to receive full health care and injury protection for a period of at least twenty eight days after the cessation of that employment if their contractual period of engagement was one hundred and forty days or greater.

6. No organisation, whether national or regional, dance company, arts body or government agency in receipt of central or local government funding shall be permitted to request the engagement of a professional dancer for a period of employment for any period of time, no matter how short in duration, without suitable financial reward and protections in accordance with sections (1), (2), (4) & (5) outlined above.

7. The rights laid out herein cannot deny dancers access to protections not set out within these Articles or deny the right of an individual to seek satisfaction beyond the scope of the protections herein.

It’s Just Wrong

To many a document, prescribing absolute legal protections for dancers, would seem absurd. How such a Bill of Rights would be paid for is almost certainly at the top of most administrators list of objections and a fair few politicians, we find it hard to believe any dancer would object to such protections. Paying for it is another discussion however, one we have already covered elsewhere in Article19, visit the links on the right for more information on that.

Within this art form we should all seek the absolute protection of the very people that make the entire thing work, the dancers. New facilities, new projects, new programme’s are all well and good but time and time again the dancers come away from these things feeling short changed and unprotected.

No one working in this profession, including the writers of this very publication, should forget that without the dancers doing what they do the rest of it would simply not exist. Every administrator, artistic director, and choreographer owes their job and their livelihood to what should be the most valued member of the profession but is all too often the most overlooked and undervalued. Whatever way you look at the current situation dancers face when working in this profession, it is just plain wrong.

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