News: Paying for the Privilege?

Monday 29 October 2001

Paying for the Privilege?
On Monday 15 October Dance UK alongside Dance Umbrella hosted a debate entitled Paying for the Privilege?. Chaired by Deborah Bull and with contributions from Evan Davies, BBC Economics Editor, Gerard Lemos, partner Lemos&Crane and Emma Gladstone, Associate Producer, The Place Theatre, Paying for the Privilege? aimed to shed light on the financial situation and pressures currently affecting dance artists.

“Dance UK works with and on behalf of dance. We recognise the need for better income levels in order to support longer-lasting careers for dancers, and to encourage dancers to remain in the wider dance profession once they cease performing. This seminal debate will increase understanding and contribute to the realisation of this goal.”
Jeanette Siddall, Director of Dance UK

Dancing seems a glamorous career, dancers are exhilarating in performance and stylish off-stage. Yet the reality for many dancers is a portfolio career of short-term contracts, the costs of continual training and fitness regimes and low income levels. Increasingly dancers are setting out with student debt, heading for a profession that rarely pays a living wage and a pension that will not be fully provided by the state.

The debate aimed to put this situation in a wider economic and cultural context. What are the causes and the implications of low pay? Are dancers alone in paying for the privilege of pursuing their talent? Why do they do it? Is the situation sustainable? What are the ways forward?

Some shocking statistics were presented at the debate as to what an artist might be able to expect in financial terms from a contract. The national minimum weekly wage is only £4.10 an hour (£3.50 for those aged 21 and under) which amounts to £164 (£140) a week, or £8,528 (£7,280) a year for a 40 hour week. The Equity / ITC agreed minimum weekly rate for performers, stage managers and administrators (April 2001 to March 2002) is £275 which is equivalent to £14,300 a year and the ITC minimum rate for artistic / resident directors, is £334 a week, or £17,368 a year.

What They Said

“Paying for the Privilege? I think so, and undoubtedly, the longer you stay the more you pay.”
Emma Gladstone

“We live a kind of Peter Pan existence, where we never quite move into the world of grown-ups.”

Deborah Bull

“You have to love dancing, to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and read, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.”
Merce Cunningham

“Then there are the minor benefits, such as the fact that, unlike chartered surveyors, people don’t often walk away at parties when they ask you what you do. The job allows you to travel – you get to see the inside of lots of different black box theatres all over the country. You earn so little that you don’t have to worry about savings accounts or ISAs, or petrol shortages and the cost of getting the car serviced, as you cannot afford a car. You don’t have to worry about mortgage rates, or getting the dishwasher fixed, or all those difficult decisions about where to go abroad on holiday. In fact, you earn so little that younger dancers can feel contented in the knowledge that they may never have to pay off that student loan. What a relief!”
Emma Gladstone

_“The fact that you want to do the job can be a real disadvantage in the labour market. … You are willing to do it, so employers don’t need to pay very much, but even if they wanted to pay more there is not enough money in the profession. _
Answer number one would be to say that if half of us left the profession the rest could be paid more. The truth is that low salaries will arrange that – basically people will leave the profession, just as people have left nursing. … The industry needs to think about diversifying its outputs and maximising its revenues.” Evan Davies

“Businesses that rely on the public sector have a different relationship with ‘funders’ – they don’t fill out application forms, they send in an invoice. … The arts need to change their interaction with the funding system, local authorities and employers.”
Gerard Lemos

Where Do We Go From Here?
Several ideas were put forward by the contributors as to possible ways forward. Importance should be put on working together to achieve two main objectives: to raise the minimum acceptable level of pay and to bring more money into the profession.

To do this it was suggested that we specifically:

? Cost the ‘dance deficit’, which is probably not as great as funders fear. Quantifying the extent of the problem, and considering the relative priority we should give to salaries over, say, the number of new productions, could offer a way forward.

? Lobby funders, boards and managers to stop using minimum rates as maximums, to reward experience and excellence, to encourage holiday pay and pension contributions.

? Develop guidance on rates for freelance people, based on those established by the Year of the Artist. Raise pay rates in a planned and managed way over time.

? Change attitudes that allow and promote exploitation. Break the cycle that perpetuates low expectation. Encourage dancers to be more assertive, and change our interaction with funders and employers.

? Work to promote artist-friendly changes to the social security system. These would be beneficial to all freelance workers. Examples would include flexibility to encourage part-time and occasional employment without loss of disproportionate benefits, and possibly special artist status as in Belgium.

? Tap into different dance outputs to maximise revenues. Increase the possibility of choice for all those working in dance – to compromise a little or remain pure and poor.

? Find ways of translating the essential attributes of dance for a wider range of customers. Examples might include taking dance to where people are rather than expecting them to come to us.

? Develop resources to encourage greater use of other government funding and commercial sources.

? Consider issues of distribution and the sharing of resources. Better funded organisations may be able to diversify their income sources, but don’t feel the need to do so.

? Encourage increased political awareness among students and dancers.

? Increase enthusiasm for dance across society generally.

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