The Evil Imp

The Apprentice

Verve13 from Northern School of Contemporary Dance

A few weeks ago we wrote about the comically misguided and completely unjustifiable situation Arts Council England had gotten itself into with the £400,000* annual funding for (Sadler’s Wells Theatre) the National Youth Dance Company.

Ostensibly, the purpose of NYDC is to provide a pathway into professional training for teenagers interested in dance whilst completely ignoring the lack of jobs for graduates after that three to four year professional training is over.

This got us thinking, here in TheLab™, that if ACE, along with their partners in crime in central government, are so concerned about the future of dance and the profession’s most important resource then perhaps they should consider another idea.

Several companies and independent dance makers take on apprentices, some of them even get paid for the privilege, so they can learn the ropes and make the transition from student to fully fledged professional dancer. More often than not these apprentices are recent graduates from the UK and other schools around the world.

Post graduate positions within companies are, for many dancers, an important first step in their dance careers. Post graduate companies like Verve and Edge play a vital role but places are limited and the dancers don’t get paid. In fact, post graduate positions have to be paid for by the dancers as the role is effectively an additional year of training.

To expand the opportunities for post-graduate we would like to welcome you, our dear readers, to what we are calling The National Graduate Dancer Programme, funded to the tune of £400,000 a year (or as much money as it takes, whichever is larger) by ACE and the Education Department because they care so much about the dance profession (allegedly).

The Apprentice

In not keeping with Arts Council England general policy this scheme would be very simple. All of the National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) dance companies would be required (as part of their funding agreement) to take on at least one post graduate dancer per year. Alongside that programme experienced dance makers, (4 years or more creating and touring in the field), funded through Grants for the Arts (GFA) would also be required to take on one post-graduate apprentice.

The beauty of it all is that the apprentice is already paid for, automagically, through ACE. Dance makers just fill out their GFA application, match the experience criteria and a preset amount is added to their successful funding application to cover the pay and other costs associated with the dancer (travel expenses, etc).

Costs will of course vary from company to company and dancer to dancer so any money not used for the apprentice is returned to ACE but £10,000 should just about cover it.

Remember, GFA supported companies don’t run 52 weeks of the year so you don’t need to fund an annual salary, mores the pity, but we can’t have everything all at once.

NPO companies might need a bit more funding as they tend to operate for longer throughout the year, hardly any of them employ their dancers on full time, 12 month contracts though.

Several companies already do take on apprentices and we feel sure they would welcome the additional funding so they can re-direct existing funds to other parts of their operation or take on a further apprentice with the additional money.

What About That Money

Where is the money going to come from to pay for this? Well, that’s easy because ACE’s dirty little secret is that they are completely loaded with cash. They must be, how else could they fork out £40Million for the “Exceptional Projects” programme, Rambert’s new fridge shaped building in London and whatever the Royal Opera House is getting more money for this week.

The funding monolith has lots of money, they’re just not very good at using it in productive ways.

The Dancers

As for the post-graduates who might benefit from his programme? Well, they get the most valuable experience possible, working in the field they have been training for over several years.

Interacting with and working alongside experienced professionals and, perhaps, touring and performing professional work will give each of those dancers valuable practical experience as well as a massive psychological boost to take the edge off the mind-numbing fear that grips many a graduate when they walk out of the front door of their dance school for the very last time.

Generating support for such a wide reaching programme would require the NPO’s to get onboard. If they can all stop tweeting about how exited they are about something or other and do a bit of lobbying then a national apprentice programme for post-graduates could actually happen.

It’s asking a lot, but if you don’t ask you don’t get and half the fun of this art form is making the powers that be sweat through their expensive cotton shirts.

*50% of the money comes from the Education Department.

[ The National Youth Dance Company ]