What Needs to Happen in 2013

by Neil Nisbet

More than five years ago we published a piece entitled “10 Things That Need To Happen in 2008”. As the dance profession, en masse, moves into another new year what better time to take a look back and see if any of the things we discussed actually happened.

“ACE needs to support DanceUK’s National Centre for Dance Health and Performance.”

Not only did Arts Council England not support the renamed National Institute for Dance Medicine at all but they completely de-funded DanceUK. Despite that set back DanceUK did manage to open a starter clinic in London last year of which we shall have more in the coming weeks.

We should note that during the last 5 years ACE has squandered huge sums of money propping up failing, large scale arts institutions, handed over millions for pointless new buildings (looking at you Rambert) and continues to pay its senior executives salaries, that evidence suggests, they are entirely undeserving of.

So if it wasn’t the lack of money, then what was it?

“Dancer’s pay needs to get real.”

Given the debacle last year with the English National Opera and the notorious £327 per week pay cheques and the fact that many dancers report not earning enough money to even qualify to pay any income tax we shall go out on a limb and suggest things have not improved a whole lot.

Equity minimums are still a complete joke and long term employment prospects and career development are pretty much just a fantasy for most professional dancers.

Over the five year period we have failed to note one single substantive position piece written by somebody in the dance profession about creating jobs for dancers.

If we missed it, then do point us in the right direction.

“A touring structure for new companies.”

The National Dance Network had a brief experiment with some touring project or other but it was so brief and so badly publicised we can’t remember what it was called. Resolution is the same as it ever was and a grander plan to get the work of new dance makers touring around the country on a regular basis is nowhere in sight.

“Dance companies need to actually embrace new technology, not just pretend they do!”

On this front there has actually been some progress. Websites, at least some of them, have improved and the overall content is better, if a little dry most of the time.

The standard and type of videos being produced is still very hit and miss however with too much emphasis being placed on marketing strategy as opposed to providing actual information or a compelling watch.

Just last week Dance4 released a video about ‘Big Dance 2012’ that was so laden with meaningless statistics you could have printed it out on paper and it would have made more sense.

“Dance bloggers need to write about stuff that’s real.”

This one is a little more difficult to measure but most of the blogs that were active in 2008 have either completely disappeared or are languishing, unloved and lacking any updates., started by former NYC Ballet dancer Kristin Sloane, had a grand total of three updates last year, a depressing fall from grace.

If you know of any other dance blogs that may be of interest then please let us know, because we sure as hell can’t find them.

“National Dance Agencies need to work together more.”

Not only is that not happening but a few them are directly responsible for undermining the profession as a whole with some pretty ludicrous projects and wasting huge sums of money. Far from being a wealth of experience and knowledge they come across as ivory towers, in a swamp, surrounded by an impenetrable forest!

“Arts Council England needs to open up.”

Stop laughing at the back. If anything they have gotten worse and the funding monoliths fake “live chats” over the internet are evidence of nothing at all.

Spare Change

So five years later and it seems not a lot has changed in the wide world of dance. If anything things might actually be getting worse.

Change is often slow to happen but some of the things we were asking for, like ACE being more open to the public about discussing their policies and admitting their failures, are pretty simple things to achieve.

Far from dance companies and agencies becoming more collaborative, at least in terms of how they talk about, debate, promote and support the art form, they look increasingly isolationist in their behaviour.

We are of course generalising but that still doesn’t excuse the lack of progress in a lot of areas. Bad policy and bad decision making still persists throughout the industry.

Here in TheLabâ„¢ we can’t make people do things differently, all we can do is keep highlighting the problems. We did ask for Phenomenal Cosmic Powersâ„¢ for Christmas but none came.

Without sounding like a commercial for Coca Cola the only thing left is for you, whomever might be reading this, to lead the charge for wider changes in the dance world on a whole range of issues.

Proactive organisations like the Female Choreographers Collective are one example of a big idea led by just two people (Holly Noble and Jane Coulston). It might work it might not work but at least they’re giving it a shot.

Carol Lee, a costume designer from Leeds, took on the Big Bad (ACE) and lost, sort of, over their less than honest funding practices. Ms Lee fought the good fight however and that’s better than nothing.

If you don’t ask then you don’t get, so start writing, start Tweeting or start calling because the ways things are going we won’t see any substantive change until at least 2346.