Chaired by Hilary Hadley (Equity) with Nicholas Keegan, Flora Wellesley Wesley; Shanelle Fergus, Dancers United
#DUKfuture, Laban Saturday 11 April 2015
Dancers’ pay has been identified as a challenge for both the subsidised and the commercial dance sectors recently, with social media campaigns such as #paythedancers highlighting the prevelance of low-paid and unpaid work across the industry. This well-attended panel debate explored some of the background to pay issues for dancers, and outlined actions dancers can take to ensure they are paid properly to work.
Independent dance artist Nicholas Keegan introduced the work of the recently-formed Equity Freelance Dance Network, a group founded to improve standards and empower the varied community of freelance dance artists working in the subsidised dance sector. One of the aims of the movement is to instigate a change in dancers’ mentality, explains Keegan: “Dancers are both workers and artists, and we need to move away from the image of an artist working for the love of what they do.”
At present, Arts Council-funded companies and projects are required to pay dance artists at least Equity minimum wage – which does not mean that this always happens in practice; and even National Portfolio Organisations that pay union rates rarely have Equity contracts with their dancers, meaning there is little protection for the dancer in cases of cancellation or injury. According to recent data, only 20% of professional dancers last year were able to live on money earned solely through dance work, and only 15% warned a full living wage. “The responsibility for implementing change is not solely Equity’s,” says Keegan, “it is all our responsibility.”
Why do dancers take on unpaid work? Commercial dancer and co-founder of Dancers United UK Shanelle Fergus explains that few dancers enter the industry in the hope of sitting around on the sofa at home. “Everyone wants to be busy and dancing and improving their CV. If the choice is working for nothing or doing nothing, most will work for nothing.” Unfortunately, this enthusiasm to work leaves dancers open to exploitation, with commercial video shoots and TV spots regulary enticing dancers to come and work for free in the hope of improving their profiles.
“Dance is a profession where you are continually paying – for class, for physio and the gym, to eat well – and the least we should be offered is pay for work,” says Shanelle. “If you go on a shoot, even the runner is being paid – dancers should not be asked to dance for free.” Working with Equity, Dancers United UK have already succeded in improving the pay and contracts on shows including the X Factor, as well as persuading producers to pay dancers on music video shoots.
Independent dance artist Flora Wellesley Wesley acknowledges that it’s not uncommon to take on a certain quantity of unpaid work at the very start of a career, especially when working with friends on unfunded projects, but believes a bigger problem arises when funded projects still expect dancers to come and work for little or no money. “When I see callouts for dancers where the pay isn’t right I’ve starting sending it to Emmanuel at Equity who is in charge of low and no pay work. Because of the scarcity of work and the keenness of dancers – big production houses can get away with these callouts but I think it’s unacceptable.”
Wellesley Wesley also called on funders and commissioners to take part of the responsibility for dancers’s pay – commissions going out to artists for small sums of money mean that there is little funding available for makers to pay their dancers with. “Commissioners and funders and industry bodies need to be clear-sighted about the issue,” she says. “A £1,000 commission will pay two dancers for a week – so commissioners need to understand that and deal with the numbers properly.”
The message of the panel was that change needs to happen at all levels of the industry – dancers need to take responsibility for the work they take on, funders need to work with artists to make sure dancers are properly paid, and producers need to ensure they’re not expecting dancers to work for less money than other professionals engaged on a project.
More info: http://equitydance.org
Report & photos: Lise Smith “Twitter: @lisekit“https://twitter.com/Lisekit
Originally published at www.londondance.com