What’s your hourly rate?
What’s your day rate?
Are you able to cover your basic cost of living with performance work?
Does this cover the cost of your training?
Your student loans?
Keeping up regular classes?
Or do you need another job/s?
When was the last time you worked unpaid?
Could they have paid you?
Some people reading this will be covering their whole cost of living from performance work. But the majority won’t. Dancer’s pay has been the subject of a lot of discussion recently, and I’m sure you’ve all read plenty about it. I don’t need to write any more about festivals whose artists fees don’t even cover the cost of travel and accommodation, high profile makers expecting people to work in exchange for “exposure”, well funded companies paying Equity minimum, and secure contracts disappearing.
It’s always been the case that dancers might have to work other jobs to pay the bills. What has changed is cost of living; turning a choice as to whether to take one day off work to go to that audition into a choice as to whether you can pay your rent this month. Dancers have always worked for free (I’ve seen enough 40s/50s musicals to know about putting together a show on a shoe-string), and collaborating with friends can be fertile ground for creativity. But the commercial work was supposed to pay.
If we make enough fuss we can affect the high profile cases. But what about the things we deal with day to day? I saw a friend on the verge of tears recently, as she confessed that, she knew that every time she went after an low/no pay job she helped to ensure that the culture of low/no pay work would continue. But it was so important to her to be a “dancer” that she went after every opportunity.
We know the problem. We do it for love. You can’t stop us, even when we’re injured. We know that for most of us our performing lives will be short. There are so many dancers and so few jobs- we are replaceable. The thousands of pounds you paid to train, the money you have to keep paying, attending class, keeping yourself fit, engaging with new ideas, aren’t then reflected in what you will be paid, because there’s always someone else.
So we need to start finding new strategies to support each other. Economic pressures mean that the nature of work may change; cost of space might lead to more site specific work, and more cross discipline performance. But it remains important to maintain your skill base. The history of Chisenhale Dance Space is obviously closely associated with trying to find alternative approaches. When X6 were based at Butler’s Warf they were able to pass on the cheapness of their space to the wider artistic community by running cheap classes and performances. Chisenhale still tries to find ways to make their space as affordable as possible for artists. Antonio de la Fe runs OPENLAB, weekly workshops exploring the nature of performance on a pay what you can basis. Gillie Kleiman founded the coffee morning, which provides a free space to discuss and address a range of issues.
I’m setting up Technique Exchange as a way for the wider artistic community to support each other as professional dancers and performers. The focus will be on maintaining the dancing body, which is essential for the versatility of performers, whether you are making an energy intensive music video or a static live art piece. Our first class is being lead by lively and experienced teacher, Katherine Hollinson. Katherine will be leading a ballet based class, and we will have a range of styles on offer over the following weeks.
There is a wider discussion on how we can better support the members of our artistic community that has to happen. Funding seems likely to remain short, and the basic costs of living are high. So let’s look at the resources we do have, and see how else we can do things.