Monday, 7 March 2016

Devaluing Dancers And Artists

I was part way through writing a post for Task 1d when I got a notification from Facebook from a public group. It was an advertisement for an audition. I paused in my task because the post brought up a problem that I feel very deeply about and I'm sure many other people feel the same way. The post stated there was an opportunity for dancers and, if interested, to send CV's and show reels to them and then, if a successful candidate, one would be invited to participate in a workshop. 

I noticed that the poster had no mention of the wages or for how long the contract would be, only mentioning some very vague reference to future projects.

I decided to email. Below is the correspondence so far. 

On 04/03/2016 13:49, Nora Kathleen McCabe wrote:
Good afternoon,
I saw your advertisement on---------------------. I would like to know
what the pay is and what is meant by future dance projects?
Thanks in advance,
Nora Kathleen McCabe
Sent from my iPhone
On 5 Mar 2016, at 18:04, wrote:
Hi Nora,
Thank you for your email enquiry.
We are currently looking for professional contemporary dancers to join the company. Initially this will be for a 8 week research and development on an existing idea for a piece that will be performed at the end of June. There are further similar projects to follow, and company members will also be given the opportunity to deliver dance classes and workshops on behalf of ------------------ over the coming months.
Should you be interested in this post, please send a cv and showreel to us.
Artistic Director
--------- Dance Company 
On 05/03/2016 18:10, Nora Kathleen McCabe wrote:
Thanks you for your reply.
As you are requesting professional dancers, what is the pay please?
Sent from my iPhone
On 6 Mar 2016, at 19:15, wrote:


As a contemporary company that relies on Arts Council England funding, our minimum fees/pay is set by the Independent Theatre Council ( You will find that the majority of contemporary dance companies will pay these wages, although a higher level of professional experience can merit a higher wage.

Best wishes,

Yes, thanks for the link. I have read it. So what are you intending to pay your performers? 


Sent from my iPhone

As you can see, I have not yet received the information for which I was asking. This evasion leads me to believe that they are not planning to pay anything above Minimum wage. The contract is for 8 weeks but what is the case about the future works and when will they be? How can a dancer, whose whole income is coming from what work they get and maintain, possibly hope to audition when they cannot be entirely sure if the money offered, or not, will be enough to support them or for how long it will support them? 

This company has only made mention of how many weeks the first project will be but using the link I was provided with, it is impossible to calculate the wage. There is mention of travel expenses, food expenses, hotel expenses etc. The company does not provide one with an address of where one will be working/rehearsing/performing, except to say a certain area of England but the area they are speaking of is rather large. How can one possibly estimate if one will get the travel allowance or if the performance in June will require one to stay in a hotel and therefore be eligible for that "extra" money allowance?

The company also says that a higher level of experience may merit a higher wage but again, there is no mention of how much more experience is needed for this higher wage or of what that higher wage will be. Also, if we are all new to a company, is it fair to give one person a higher wage than another just because one has worked before, when we are all starting at the same place with the same company? Within companies people earn a rise due to loyalty to the company, not because they have more experience with a different company. Other times a higher wage is given if one is going to be a soloist rather than in the corps. Again, there is no mention of different positions within this particular company so how can one tell if one is going to get the opportunity for the higher wage?

I shall be keeping up my correspondence and shall post again when and if they come back with a more detailed answer. 

This correspondence got me thinking about all artists and how I have so many friends and colleagues that have at some point in their career been asked to work for free. The companies that offer EXPERIENCE and EXPOSURE generally require dancers with 3 years professional training and professional performance experience. For all of one's hard work, time, training, travel expenses, etc. is EXPERIENCE, EXPOSURE and NO MONEY really enough of an offer? Is it acceptable to offer so little when one can gain EXPERIENCE and EXPOSURE and BE PAID FOR IT?

These are the Oxford English Dictionary's definitions of the words "professional" and "amateurs":

Professional - "A person engaged in a specified activity, especially a sport or branch of the performing arts, as a main paid occupation rather than as a pastime."

Amateur - "A person who engages in a pursuit, especially a sport, on an unpaid basis."

So why ask for professional dancers if they are wanting amateurs? 

Here is a post that has been flying around social media that perfectly sum up this problem that many professional dancers face.

By exposing posts like this one to as wide an audience as possible, hopefully this kind of problem can be something we can change. Web 2.0 is a great help in getting a message out to as wide an audience as possible. 

Another Artist feels the same way. This artist gives permission for this piece of artwork (below) to be used on Blogs, Facebook, etc. with conditions to not remove their signature and the link to their website. Here is the link.   

 This artist also feels that asking artists to work for free is wrong which is why they are giving permission to use this artwork to share as much as possible to try and help others understand that what we do is our living and we need money to live just the same as everybody else does. The artists is also aware of the importance of web 2.0 in the use of communication otherwise they would not allow the use of their artwork in promoting this very important message. Web 2.0 has managed to give ALL artists a voice rather than only having a representative through a union. Also the artist has cleverly created something to look at, not just to read. Imagery seems to help to attract attention more than just printed words do. 

It is sad to realise that some of these people that are offering only experience and exposure were once, most likely, in the same position as we are now. They were being offered the same thing and complaining about it but are now treating the younger generation the same way they were treated. If the older generation continues to behave in the same way as their seniors then how can we expect anything to change, not just in the world of dancers and artists, but in everything? We are the ones that have to change things and I hope that web 2.0 can help our generation to do that.

This extract taken from The Untenable Economics Of Dancing, by  Andy Horwitz on March 27th 2014 for Culturebot Maximum Performance, shows that things have in some ways changed but not for the better.

In 1993 the NEA published a study called Dancemakers that found that “the average annual income choreographers earned from their artistic work in 1989 was $6,000, while their professional expenses totaled $13,000. Including money earned in other pursuits, a dancer’s average income reached only $22,000.”

More than twenty years later it is fair to say that not much has changed, except that in 2014 that same dancer has crushing student loan debt from an MFA, the cost of living in New York City has skyrocketed and the funding infrastructure for dance has imploded. But still, we dance.

According to The NEA’s 2012 publication How Art Works, the human impulse to create and express is “the primary motive that powers the system.” The human impulse to create and express is so strong that people will withstand significant hardship to pursue it.  As far back as 1966 Baumol and Bowen’s groundbreaking study Performing Arts: The Economic Dilemma told us that, “performers frequently are dedicated individuals who are willing to work under economic conditions which would be considered appalling in other activities,” exchanging real income for what is known as “psychic income.”

As you can see, this article states that our superiors are exploiting our need to dance to get us to work for minimum wage or less because they are fully aware that we cannot stop ourselves from performing. Is this right? Is it right to devalue artists?

Of course, we are also not helping ourselves. In some cases, dancers are guilty of devaluing themselves! By dancing for free or minimum wage we are encouraging employers to offer experience and exposure over money or as little as possible money because there are some people who will work for nothing except the "psychic income". While some people may be able to afford to do that due to having a more secure financial situation, some others do not have that comfort and must work to survive alone. I trained hard for 22 years so I would be able to turn my passion into something that would earn my living. I have worked very hard to be good enough to gain gainful employment. If dancers keep working for free and devaluing our industry then why should these companies that are willing to pay us for our talent continue to do so when they know they can get dancers, perhaps not so good, willing to work for nothing? The continuation of this practice is putting dancers hopes of earning a living at an ever greater risk because we cannot live without money. Dance teachers do not teach for nothing because they have the studio to pay for, their equipment, bills, house, family etc. Why do some employers refuse to accept that performing dancers have the same expenses? 

Here is a link to another blog discussing the same problem, although it focuses on painters it is relevant to all artists. 

Another thing I find worrying is this post I came across on Dance Auditions UK, a public Facebook group.

A quick FYI for us all.
It is ILLEGAL to charge audition fees in the UK. That means anyone insisting that you need to cough up a payment before you start working is probably breaking the law.
Since I have been doing a small study on companies that do charge audition fees I keep on exchanging emails with a certain american ballet company. A certain company that holds annual auditions (though whether they take any London based dancers is unknown) has told me in a very used-car-salesman way that their audition next year (Feb 28th) contrary to their own website notices, is in fact free. Anyone wishing to do the class will of course have to pay through the nose in order to take part in that part of the audition process. So either pay for the right to probably not get a job or turn up after most of the audition is done and try to dance whilst being only partly warmed up.
Anyone taking part in this audition in the Rambert studios please get in touch. I would be very interested in knowing how it goes.
Is it right to charge people to audition? In the comments, it is also mentioned that they are charging applicants to audition at colleges. I know for a fact that this is going on in some colleges. Does anyone know if that is legal? Is it right to make potential students pay to audition?
If anyone went to this audition above, or knows anybody that did, can they please let me know what happened? I am very interested to find out what the situation was.

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