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Dance: Is It a Field Endangered? What Can We Do?

September 4, 2012 · 4 Comments

The conversations about dance as a field endangered have escalated in the past year, both in online forums and social media and in board rooms, rehearsal studios, dressing rooms and classrooms around the country. These conversations note that while the dance field is attracting an abundance of students to the profession, there are fewer full-time professional companies to hire these dancers once they leave academia with their freshly minted BFAs and MFAs. As a result, dancers, choreographers, company managers and presenters are facing greater competition. We have also seen a rise in pick-up companies and choreographers who work on a project-by-project basis. Thus, the question arises: have options and opportunities diminished or have they just shifted direction? Are dancers and choreographers finding more work, less or is it about the same? Has the type of work simply shifted and we’re facing a new normal composed of more shorter term opportunities and fewer full-time company positions? If so, what can we as a field do to bring stability to this new normal?

Dance/USA’s From the Green Room is opening up a moderated discussion on this topic. This is not meant to be a place to document woes and the failings of the field or the economy. Rather, here is an outlet for the discussion to implement change and share new ideas, models, methods or practices that can help us acclimate to this shift in the field. What do we want: stability, job opportunities, long-term contracts, insurance? We look forward to your fruitful and productive contributions to this conversation.

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Tags: 2011 Annual Conference · Advocacy · Artistry · Arts Administration · Engagement

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Sarah Wilbur // Sep 8, 2012 at 1:19 PM

    Thank you for initiating this line of inquiry.

    As one who dances and researches cross-sector dance production, I'll avoid the futility of attempting "answers" to this important line of inquiry, by pointing, instead, to a few questions that arose as I read this call for discussion:

    1. Is what U.S. dance makers are doing to earn a living truly changing or is how we're looking at what we're doing changing?

    2. Haven't dance makers always gathered together a "dance-able" living from multiple sources and across cultural domains?

    3. How does the historical flexiblity of U.S. dance artists get mobilized differently of across the fields of art, education, health care in the 21st century?

    (and yes, the above questions suggest that this vocational flexibility has always been there...do you agree?)

    4. How does the reduction of dance production to the strictly aesthetic domain proliferate among BFA and MFA training institutions? And, does such proliferation contribute to this myth of labor "stability" or unity?

    5. How have artists themselves internalized the notion of unidirectional employment in dance, of a "full-time" wage earned by choreographing or performing, and how does this internalization play out in the work itself?

    Despite the gross under-resourcing of dance artists (and also because of it), could it be that dance makers have been historically comfortable with this discomfort or lack of "stability"?

    As a 15-year cross-sector U.S. dance-maker-turned-academic-hopeful (and by now I hope you'll read those hyphens as purposeful and political), I'll close my comment by reinforcing my urge to take up the flexible labor patterns of U.S. dance makers as both a strength and a danger to the field.

    None of these are original ideas.

    But thanks, again, for this space to air these questions and concerns,

    Sarah Wilbur
    Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance
    UCLA
    s.wilbur@ucla.edu
  • 2 Kadidia Doumbia // Sep 13, 2012 at 3:32 PM

    What most dance makers do to make a living has not changed. What has changed is the fact that professionals are barely surviving now. What they're making does not allow them to have even a basic health insurance.

    Dancing and having side jobs to survive is a reality of our field.
  • 3 Robin Brown // Sep 23, 2012 at 8:57 PM

    To teach a dance-arts discipline is to preserve culture rather than to relegate movement to a chance cloud. The discipline matters to the teacher who looks to the student to commit to the discipline. The discipline is itself a culture and reflects a larger cultural sphere. The dedicated dance-art teacher wants dance to be available to everyone, however, other educators fail to assess the positive impact of the arts on student development and achievement. Dance is the step-sister of the arts back-seated for the ride. The term 'fine arts' by plural spelling, has upstaged the meaning of "the arts." I weep for the state of education USA 2012 and its product. Everyone deserves health care so health care is provided by European governments. The Dance Tragedy is that dance is misrepresented in media as a result of misrepresentions by dancers over-eager for media hype. Let us be honest and ethical.
  • 4 Kadidia Doumbia // Sep 28, 2012 at 12:03 PM

    I agree with you Robin.

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