I'm Alice. I'm in Naarm/Melbourne, on the lands of the Wurundjeri and Bunurong people of the Kulin Nation. I pay my respects to their Elders, past and present, as well as to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
There is a group of dancers that's formed here called the ‘Think Tank Dance Assembly’ that began late last year in response to some dramatic funding cuts to the sector. This year, in the pandemic, there was an opportunity to re-organize, regroup and collectively address our issues, needs and desires with whoever wants to be part of the dance field here. A lot of it is about trying to create a bridge between us and the organizations that make the decisions that affect us. We’re working towards finding a seat at the table where these decisions are made, as well as organising our overall project into micro groups within our macro group.
It's amazing that there are different movements happening in different cities/countries that pre-date the formation of our group here, so we can learn together about our situations and actions. Thank you so much for joining this chat.
I’m Antuan Byers and I'm on the Steering Committee of DANC with Megan, Alex and Cat. I'm a dancer based here in New York City, Munsee Lenape and Wappinger land. He/Him/His pronouns. I'm a performer, administrator, arts activist and really excited for these conversations, so thank you for having us this morning.
Hi, I'm Megan. She/her. I'm in Brooklyn, on Munsee Lenape and Canarsie lands. I’m also on the Steering Committee with the DANC. I've been involved since February, January... I can never remember because I feel like all of 2020 has both been one week long and seven years long. I'm really excited to be doing this kind of inter-organizational, ‘getting to know each other’ work. I think it's really important, so thank you guys for taking the time, in whatever time it is for you.
Just to explain what the DANC is, it's ‘Dance Artists’ National Collective’ which began in New York. We started out as some focus groups to figure out how freelance dance artists could unionize in the United States, and that's what we're working towards. Either a real union or a de facto union, something that everybody works together to enforce collective goals. Right now, we're working on a letter of agreement; a contract template that freelancers can take with them to different jobs and then hopefully we can start setting some standards. Right now it's a blank template just to get people talking about all the different things that need to be addressed in a contract. We're having weekly meetings, and we have five focus groups. Wages, Benefits, Working conditions, Equity, and Negotiating. So that's all going towards a first draft, to figure out where we are after that.
Hi, I'm Cat Kirk, I am a performing artist and arts administrator. I just joined the DANC steering committee this July. I'm currently in my hometown on Kickapoo and Wichita land (Dallas, Texas). But I live in Lenapehoking (Brooklyn, NY). I'm happy to be here.
And I'm Kasia. I’m Polish and I live in Berlin. I'm mostly a dancer, choreographer, and since a year, I’ve been on the board of ZTB, which is ‘Contemporary Dance Berlin’. It's an association that has actually operated already for 20 years. Its main goal is to represent the interests of the free scene of dance in Berlin. It's not really on a national level. We collaborate with national level institutions and organizations, but mostly operate in Berlin. What we do, in general, is be a direct link between the political class politicians, the Berlin Parliament (‘Abgeordnetenhaus’, ‘House of Deputies’) and the dance field. And maybe what’s important to mention is—I'm not sure how it works in Australia and in the US—in Germany there’s a clear division between ‘a freelance artist’ and a ‘state employed artist’, i.e, freelancers and those with fixed positions, like in ballet companies, though this may differ in terms of who is financing those fixed workplaces (as you have ‘Land’ and ‘Bund’ levels in Germany1 ). The analogical comparison could be made between any Stattstheater (fixed) and HAU (working on a project basis with freelance artists). We are on the side of the freelance dancers and other people working in the freelance field (as our work would also concern freelance producers, dance teachers, etc).
Thanks! It's great to be many, tuning in from many places.
I think it's interesting that DANC’s mission is—correct me if I'm wrong—really to become a union for freelancers. Or not just freelancers, but all dancers, also those employed by companies that still might exist inside problematic structures. So dancers can turn to you, as a sort of newly formed institution, right? Is it important that it's artist-run? In the sense that it's made up of people in the same...
Yeah. We've had a lot of internal conversations about what we on the Steering Committee are, and what we can do without asking the membership first, and then trying to understand how to not make important decisions without taking a vote. Of course, we do have to make decisions about making decisions, so… it's hard to do that.
But the goal is for DANC to really represent and make decisions and do things as a collective, so that people who join feel like they are DANC, rather than it being a service board or something. So when people come to us, and they're like, “What are you guys doing about this?” or, “This is a serious problem. We need help. What are your ideas about…?” We can ask, “Do you want to join the Steering Committee? Do you want to join one of the focus groups to work on those things?” I think it's been more about us coming together in the dark and trying to figure it out. It's like an escape room of capitalism.
It works a little differently with ZTB no, Kasia? I remember seeking help from ZTB once when a curator asked me to choreograph and perform something in a gallery, and I was trying to negotiate my fees and really needed advice about standards. I could turn to ZTB as a body on its own without necessarily being one of the artists on the board.
If you're a dance artist based in Berlin, you can be a member by paying 30 euros per year. In the free field, there are also companies, and it’s 60 euros per company. We work for the sake of the entire community. We have 200 members now in Berlin.
We have a new board, and I've been part of it for a year. Historically, we are now very successful. We've got the most numbers now in the 20 year history of the organization because we've changed the direction of how we work and how we communicate.
We really cover a lot of different things. In the pandemic, it’s been a lot of administrative bureaucratic research, sharing knowledge and helping dancers to apply for aid or programs, looking for different options for dancers and then sharing information. I think most of what is visible in what we do is on Facebook and our website. We communicate by posting a lot of stuff that is otherwise difficult to know about. Germany is super bureaucratic. The level of organization of bureaucracy is crazy. As an organization, we have to come to an agreement to vote on everything. We have protocols, we have monthly meetings, and once a year we have member meetings with all the members who can come.
Once, the Government factions in the Culture Committee of the Chamber of Deputies actually did not follow up on funding, and our initiative was to organize protests. This led to us getting 2 million euros2 for new programs. This year, we're still waiting for the funding results. Together with different associations, we’ve developed a project called ‘Tanz Praxis’. It's based on the Norwegian model of basic income for dancers; based on practice. There’s a pilot program for 18 months with three categories. We can support 40 people in the pilot phase from three different generations. They will be getting monthly payments just to maintain their practice.
Now in the pandemic it makes sense to expand this program, beyond 40 people. Ideally to the whole community, but that’s estimated to be around 2,400 people in Berlin only, which is a lot, to cover and respond to their needs. We also attend Parliament through their sittings and we communicate with the politicians. We are not professional lobbyists. There is no professional lobbying system here for freelance dance.
I'm responsible for social media. If people have problems they can write to us. In the pandemic, we developed a program which is called ‘peer to peer support’ through a little donation and a bit of money in our account. If somebody has a problem, we find a person within the dance field with sufficient skills to help them, and then we pay for their advice. We only pay 50 euros, so I suppose there are limits, but we get offers, so we have a lawyer in the pool of experts, and producers, dramaturgs, people are helping with legal stuff and with administration, applications for grants in development of artistic projects. We are trying to cover as many fields as possible.
We work pro bono. There are six of us on the board. This is a nonprofit organization. We cannot get paid.
In Berlin, it's so bureaucratic. There are so many developed associations3 , historically, that deal with fine art and visual arts, theatre, music, and we collaborate with all of them. We have gatherings and we exchange information with all the possible organizations that represent artists and freelancers. So there's an exchange of information, and by joining forces, especially now, we have a bit more power to push for more aid, because this is a big problem now. Berlin was very much in the international press in the pandemic: “Germany gave so much money to art”, but it’s much more complicated than that. Actually, there's not much money for freelancers4 . And the situation is not very good, although they got very good rap. From our side, it looks different.
Kasia, how does the board work? Is there a rotating structure for who's on it and for how long?
There is. You serve for two years. And you can be reelected. The elections take place in a Member Assembly and there is a vote. In order to be on the board, you have to be recommended, which is not a very complicated procedure. You do a very simple introduction in front of all the people, introduce what you can do and contribute. On the board, we have choreographers, producers and people more on the institutional side. It's varied. The amount of people on the board is not determined by the status of the organization. From the experience of the last 20 years, it's usually not more than seven people (or so I was told), because then it becomes difficult to actually communicate and organize within this working structure. Amongst ourselves, because there is a lot of work that we do on a regular basis, we divide tasks. So we have, for example, “Website and social media”. And because we are present in different organizations that have meetings twice a year, some once a month, we also divide those responsibilities. People go as representatives of ZTB, and then brief the rest of the board. There’s lots of extra stuff that we organize, like protests (dance4millions), parties, some educational stuff (like FUM, or this year's Incite!Dance! at Tanztage).
And our tasks are coming up. Apart from the lack of financial support and recognition, there's also a big problem with mobilisation of members and the community. It's not only bound to working conditions, but also connected to raising political consciousness: what there is to be done in terms of how dancers themselves recognize the situation, and how they engage in order to change, because with just this group of six people, we cannot do much. And this is a big problem5 . With the protests, it was already a problem. When I heard that you also started sub-groups, I was curious to hear more, because we are now trying to encourage our members to actually come up with certain issues that we could then facilitate in the long term, and work on them with the members, but so far, there's really nothing coming up. Although there’re plenty of problems, starting from sexual harassment, working conditions, and many more. This is a big problem, it's very complex. I think precarity is very particular here. Most people who are based in Berlin are actually not working in Berlin. So this is a big problem for the community, in numbers. A lot of people apply for money here, but actually, when it comes to regular work, there's not too much to be done about it, so far. We don't really have a strong group here invested in some sort of grassroots movement. But it's a bit of a vicious circle, because people travel because there’s no work in Berlin. There’s an impossibility to mobilize and we are trying to solve that issue.
I just have a quick question about the board, to clarify. We have our Steering Committee, which I think is the equivalent to your board, but we've been entertaining different ideas, like having a Steering Committee which is more of a staff position. And I guess leadership, which would be more like your traditional president, or vice president, treasurer, etc., but just to make sure I'm understanding, those all happen under the board, all in one thing?
Yeah, same power, six of us.
Gotcha. I was wondering, because we're trying to figure out how that's gonna work for us down the line. One thing we're hitting, which might be different or similar to you, is money, and being compensated for our time and our work. And I know you mentioned that you guys are a nonprofit, and we're not anywhere near that yet. We’re trying to navigate, figure it out... Do we need leadership, and staff so that stuff doesn't get mixed up? I’d love to hear about your experience with that. Like running the staff side—email, social media—all of that messaging, but then also being in that leadership position. How do you balance those two things? It seems like it all is the same thing for you guys, so maybe that's something too. I'd love to hear more about it.
We get the most money in our budget from members fees. There was also an initiative in 2018 called ‘round table’, which was a one year initiative, and we were assisted by it. I say ‘we’, as the dance field. It was an initiative from the Government factions in the Culture Committee of the Chamber of Deputies to create a working space for a year, for different groups to tackle different issues concerning free dance and to develop solutions. 100,000 euros were given to facilitate that process and as a result, there were solutions proposed, and there was also a survey made, so we got data. We got to know the situation, and it’s very bad, economically. We found out that more than 60% of freelancers in Berlin live on the poverty line.
There’s 20 years of our organization and I’ve only been there a year now. In the ‘round table’, there was first a “Yes, let's do it” (funding for the pilot phase of the ‘Tanz Praxis’ stipend)6 , and then they said, “No, we can't give you the money”. So, then we had to respond with protests for six months, really putting pressure on them. And then there was a pandemic. So, in my first year, there’s been a lot of stuff happening. And there’s more and more discussion that we should actually get professionalized as a board. It’s not about power, but the amount of work, and you can see in the parliament that having a professional lobbyist in the sitting actually makes things easier. You can get money because there is money. So this is a question. We don't even have an office. We collaborate with TanzBüro, a different organization for dance, and we get our post delivered there. So now there is a bit of talking about how we can join an atelier of different organizations, and maybe have two paid positions, or part time positions, because it's actually a lot of unpaid work for people who have to work just to sustain themselves, as we all have to.7
There is another side to it. As an artist, there is a conflict of interest at times because we are a part of groups that develop programs, and there's always the question of whether we should apply to them or not. There is no agreement between us on that. It's more of an ethical question. And of course, it's also the question of like, as an artist, are you there for your personal benefit? Which I think is the case sometimes. Or, you know, for what sake are you—are we—working? But of course, if we would be getting paid, it would change the character of the organization and then our legal status would need to change, and we would need to also go through a different kind of professional office, or a professional, political organization. The status of the organization would change.8
What is interesting in the format we have is learning about very complicated structures, kind of from ‘backstage’.
We were successful in running the protests and getting people into the organization. What is a bit easier in our case is that we really operate on a Berlin level. And if I understood correctly, Think Tank Dance Assembly and DANC are national, which for me, is impossible to imagine in Germany. There are different legislations and different political bodies for each land. So it would be difficult to communicate with so many people, and the question of representation. Who do we represent as a board of people? In terms of race, gender... We’re six white people...
We make decisions, and we vote on behalf of the community. How do we make decisions so we really come to represent all? We have ‘Dance on Ice’ companies. And experimental contemporary dance. We have so many people that are members of our organization, and people from different generations, with different needs. So, this is also a big problem. Like, who do we support? While trying to cover as many as possible in our actions.
Thank you for that. We come up against the same stuff, and like you said, we're trying to build on a national level which is a huge challenge. Because minimum wage is different in every state, and how dance works and operates in different types of dance. Each state has its own issues so that's definitely something we're facing. One thing we're also trying to do is get dancers paid, period. I don't know if it's similar where you guys are from, but a lot of dancers here don't get paid to dance, like at all. A lot of the time. I wonder what percentage of dancers are living in poverty. I'm sure it's maybe similar, especially if we're basing it off of just dance work, so I know that's something we're trying to do; analyze what we consider a minimum wage for dancers. Is that a thing? Do we need that? As well as other stuff that comes up, like working conditions and all the stuff we mentioned before.
We do have unions in the United States. There's AGMA, SAG-AFTRA and all these other unions. I'm actually part of AGMA and we have a... I don't think I paid for it, my company paid for it, but to join, I think it was more than $1,000 or maybe $2,000, I'm not sure. And then we have $100 dues each year.
It's like a joining fee? Right. A joining fee of like $1000, and then a yearly fee of $100?
$100, something like that, $110. That's something that all the members pay. So, just throwing that out there to figure out, because it's funding to make sure we get paid, but also funding to make sure that we can have things like lawyers and producers on call. So it's really interesting to hear about your structure. I'm just trying to find the balance between dues or, how we can get funding, and funding from our community. While not exhausting our community of resources that they don't really have. A lot of those dancers who don't work for money don't get paid to dance. Trying to find that middle ground... and we're also trying to look at things like public funding and government funding, if that exists for us... Really intrigued that you guys have found a way to make it work in that way.
Just to add more details, if you pay and become a member, you also get a card which gives you a deduction for tickets for shows. So, there are also certain benefits. And of course it's not much, but we’re also trying this ‘peer to peer’ structure, which we put a limit on. We were trying to figure out how to find a compromise between helping everybody in need and actually giving space to people who pay and are engaged in one way or another. So, for example, in the ‘peer to peer’ structure, one person from the two who exchange has to be a member. So we sometimes introduce small regulations, trying not to exclude anybody. And because I navigate the ‘peer to peer’ program, I was also bending that to help people. But we try to keep it to the minimum somehow. If you're a member, which we try to present as a benefit, you have the right to speak, to engage, bring up your issues and what is important to you, and we will try to facilitate work on all those issues, so this is also kind of ‘joining’. We don't have unions so this is as much as you get in that regard.
I'm really interested in how the dancers in Berlin and in Australia are navigating your governments, because right now we don't really have a connection with the local city government or the state government. As far as I know. And I'm wondering, what were the tactics and protesting that you used? Because the messaging in the United States is very much like, ‘Why should artists get paid? They're lazy’, so it'd be great to know what things seem to be convincing or like, what's the hashtag?
We’re really only a couple of months old, beginning late last year, getting momentum this year. Think Tank Dance Assembly is Melbourne-based, although every now and then maybe someone from New Zealand comes in on a Zoom meeting. It's born through this pandemic space. It is similar to ZTB in that it's city-based. In terms of accessing government and politicians, the subgroup that is doing that, or what would be our rotating ‘Steering Committee’ (the people who are putting themselves forward for that position), it's really happened through... There's a funding body called the Australia Council and an organization called AusDance, that maybe hasn't really been doing what it thinks it's doing, or could be doing... Maybe AusDance wants to be what Think Tank needs, and what we are now doing on our own because that support is not there...
We’ve been having conversations and inviting the heads of these organisations, the people who make decisions about funding, to join our conversations on Zoom. In this time, where everything stopped, and there've been billions of ridiculous funding rounds open, tiny amounts pushing for internet art, we’ve been like, “Hey, listen to us, will you join our meeting, or not?” So we’ve made some maybe pushy invitations for organisations to attend our meetings, to talk. And as yet, it hasn't led to any concrete changes, but it's really opened up discussions with the people who make decisions. And that led to Think Tank being invited to be part of a panel conversation, invited by the other side (the organisations). So it's happening on this level, reaching the government through arts administrators. There's no direct route to government, but we have contact with the people who make decisions. They are who we can access, who are closest to us.
We mostly collaborate with the local government which is called the ‘Senate’ here in Berlin, which has its own cultural budgets. Most of the funding for the scene comes from there. Not really on the national level. And in our case, it's a matter of direct contact with some politicians e.g. from the Green Party and Die Linke9 , so the left. Then it’s their responsibility, in regards to our cause, to push it further because there are different political parties in the parliament that will vote on specific things. As I said, it's a result of, on their side, work, but also the scene. It's not only ZTB, but also TanzBüro. They have probably two part-time positions, paid from the public funds. And if I'm not mistaken, two people are full-time employees.
I'm not sure of the exact history, but in Germany there is, what was called the ‘5 year plan’ for dance, which invested in many different infrastructures, as well as the development of HZT, which is the dance university in Berlin.
In the pandemic situation, there was a development of hygiene protocols, which was led by Dachverband Tanz that works on the national level. If I am not mistaken, Dachverband Tanz is a direct consequence of that 5 year plan. And together with the Ministry of Health, in different industries, this plan was responsible for proposing hygiene measures for the dance field on a national level, because we don't have power, we don't have competence, and we don't really have practical possibilities.
There is contact and information exchange with different parts of Germany, and different organizations. It’s really vast. It's a very thick network in Germany, which is sometimes very complicated to navigate through and understand.
When the decision was announced that our funding was cut, we went to the biggest Dance Festival in Berlin, Tanz Im August, and we said “Hey, you were part of the roundtable process. We want to protest, and we're gonna do it on the opening day of the festival in front of your biggest stage”10 , and they said “Yes’, although they also said, “You cannot do it inside because Deborah Hay is performing, and it's gonna disturb Deborah Hay”. So we did it outside the theatre.11
Also, maybe a very simple thing, there’s the matter of what is our ‘visual’? Image? Presentation? What is the notion of ‘coolness’? I think that fortunately or unfortunately, it matters, and influences whether people want to engage or not. And I think this is a big problem with our organization, that we are not cool enough for many people, and therefore many people—artists—feel they don’t want to support our cause, even though it’s also their problem that we're fighting for.
We asked people to send us their reasons for dance, and flooded our Facebook with it. We know they follow our Facebook. So whatever we post, in the back of our minds, we also address them. And the more we can show that there is strength, and there's a big group in need, the more we can actually get from them, because it's as simple as that really. Lobbying power. I think it's also important to know how it should sound and look for the politicians. I think this is a very different thing (than for ourselves).
They (politicians) love data. So, we were able to produce data and show that this is an argument they can’t fight against.
We try to support freelancers in the field, but also everyone. I have no idea how it works in your countries, but in Berlin, people in the juries, so journalists, theoreticians and academics, are part of the community. They were responsible for writing letters and signing letters in the pandemic. It was a big thing for many organizations to address a political class like this. The entire freelance community, just a few thousand people, with all the institutions and all the productions. There’s a huge imbalance there. We are really underground.
We can't expect our work to sell the same way that my phone is gonna sell. You know it can't be based off of, “I made 100 phones, so you need to buy 100 phones”.
In Berlin, a big part of the Parliament is the Green Party, and the left, but a big force is also the Christian Democrats, and the right. Universal basic income, as an idea, was advocated for even more in the pandemic. There was a petition on a national level that went into voting. I'm not sure what’s happening with it now. So, our strategy was to frame it as ‘the dance practice scholarship’, because we were considering the French model, where they have a system of wages, where, once you're in the system, you put in some money, but if you don’t have any, you're gonna get paid from that pool. And we decided to go more in the Norwegian direction, which is that the scholarship goes into practice. The formula is as unbureaucratic as possible. You have to first of all have a practice, which can mean different things. You describe it and then you have to argue a bit for its relevance to the Berlin scene, specifically. And then you also have to write about your presence in the Berlin scene. And in the community. It’s still not decided or published, even to us, who is in the jury, but we were arguing that out of five people, at least two or three have to be artists for that particular program. And then it’s divided into three categories, so you have emerging artists, which is from one year to five years of work in Berlin, which is also a bit controversial but I think it makes sense and is a necessary limit. Of course people come to Berlin and they have many more years of experience, but for this we count your presence within the Berlin scene. Then you have a second category which is from five to ten years. And then, from ten years up. And then respectively, you have 500 euros per month, 1000 and 1500 per month. So we count three generations of artists. And for now it's forty people. If it works. It would be a huge blow if it doesn’t, if they decide to cut it. But I don't think it's probable. It’s not sure how many people will be supported later. After 18 months, there will be some sort of evaluation. We would need to prove that it helps people significantly and it's worth maintaining. And then we will try to keep it as a program on a regular basis. In the ‘round table’ that I mentioned, there wasn’t consensus on almost anything, but the biggest consensus from the side of the practitioners and artists was that we don't want to produce so much. That currently, the only way to earn a basic living wage and sustain yourself, is to apply for production grants, which are very limited. And they're given to very few people. In Berlin, the money that Dance gets comes from the pool of Performing Arts, so we are sharing money with Theatre, Circus and different fields, so for Dance, there’s actually not so much money. So this was also the argument. We want to divest from production oriented work, and support practice development. And it can mean many different things, from therapy like Feldenkrais and Klein Technique™, to one’s own choreographic practice, to working with different groups. So there are a variety of possibilities there. I'm very curious who is gonna get it, because from what I heard, everybody in the field applied. Everybody wants it. This is great. This is what there should be, forever and for everybody, actually. Of course it’s not ideal with just 40, but we will be able to see how it develops and push for more money. With the two million we got, we introduced two different programs. One was the residency fund, which institutions apply to. For this money, they propose a residency program for local artists, and each institution is responsible for their own program, and their own rules. Some institutions already decided on the pool of artists they want to support. Some residencies are already starting.
Does that cover everything? Or does the artist also have to chip in money for it?
No, no. The artist doesn't pay anything, but it really depends on the institution. What it should cover is access to space on a regular basis, so let's say, for half a year or a year. And then possibly a little fee. This is also a huge problem: accessibility to spaces. So, let’s give money to those places that have room, and can distribute it. And again, not for production purposes, but more for research and practice development. There is another one that is called ‘The Strengthening of the Non Central Institutions’ which is infrastructural grants for small venues. So, distributing money to allow smaller institutions to develop their own stuff in a more extensive way. We’ll see what they decide to do. Many institutions that you know Alice, like Lake Studios. They came up from private initiatives, and were applying for some local subsidies. Sometimes they get it, but only for one or two years. So this is an attempt to give a bit more money, and secure some stuff that will be developed in the long term. All of these programs are running in the pilot phase. So we cannot be sure if they are going to be maintained or not. And the last thing that the ‘round table’ proposed—maybe the most controversial thing, and I myself am not 100% sure if this is a good idea, but I think it's better than not doing it—is that they want to establish a choreographic center in Berlin, which we currently don't have.
Like the French model?
Kind of, yes. The problem is that the project that was proposed is kind of old school, and I'm not in favor of thinking in those terms12 . Because in Berlin, although there’s such a big community, there isn’t any big institution that is dedicated to presenting dance. So, this is also an attempt to build an infrastructure that will have working space, space for a youth company, archives, a library and many other things. And of course, people argue already, ‘Who's gonna have access to that?’
In the pilot program, and/or ZTB, what are the strategies for treating dancers and choreographers not as one-and-the-same, not assuming that all dancers are choreographers. Are dancers who maybe aren't choreographers up for this kind of support?
I think it depends largely on who's evaluating applications, there is no real limit. I think, what is particular here, is that there’s HZT, so the university that's largely shaped the scene in the last 10 years, which is very much oriented toward producing your own work. Be that performance, or practice or research. So, we were educated by writing about our work. Being strong in discourse, which I think had a huge influence on the scene. There’s difficulty for dancers who do not have a discourse to even apply. I mean, this is all about competition; how you can talk about your work, and this is a worldwide issue. Why do we have to sell ourselves? And prove our usefulness? Theoretically with ‘Tanz Praxis’, if you're a dancer and you've been doing Contact Improvisation for the last 20 years and you never get funded for it, this could be an option for you.
Oh, I love that distinction because our main focus is dancers. We feel like we're always at the bottom of the barrel. We have to pick up the slack for everybody above us, if there's like a pyramid. If the choreographer doesn't get funding, who has to pay for it? The dancers. If the institution doesn't get funding, who ends up having to pay for it? The dancers. It always comes down to us.
This is true for cruise ships. The dancers always get this smallest cabin at the bottom with no window.
Entertainment is a lot of what's happening on those cruise ships, so that's a good point, Alex. I just wanted to say, kinda to Alex but with everyone, I think this is really interesting to think about: that the universal basic income is not going into the artists’ pockets, but it's going into studio reservations, or potentially costumes, or stuff like that. I'm trying to think about where that fits into what we're doing, and if we can somehow come across some large amounts of funding, how can we use it to support as many people as possible? I think the idea of studio subsidies for studio space, and stuff like that, is really helpful because it takes that need out of the choreographer, so hopefully more money can be funneled into the dancers’ pockets. It's cyclical and all supports each other. The choreographer has more money to pay the dancers, it all goes back into the economy, the dance economy. I love the idea of discounted tickets for numbers. I’m trying to think of our future, of DANC. Because now it looks a little different after hearing what I’m hearing, and it's great. In a way, more realistic and more manageable. But still so far off. So I’m just communicating that with Alex out loud, that maybe that's something we can start thinking about. Like, what does that funding do? Well, it can cover class for dancers. Or maybe with that membership card we can have relationships with different studios. These overpriced classes... Because in New York, classes are like $22. I don't know if it’s like that for you guys. It's the people with the least; how are dancers supposed to pay for that? It just doesn't make sense. And continues this model of only the good dance, only the white dance, can pay for that. When I go take class at STEPS, it's New York City Ballet people, ABT, and people that come from money. And tourists. It's never the people that are actually in this thing. because that's only a small percentage. I loved what you brought up about numbers. It's just crazy that there's so many people that make up this thing, but then the people that are actually getting the performance opportunities, getting stuff out of it, it's just such a small pool.
How does DANC try to make itself available to dance in so many of its possible and real forms? How does it try to work with outreach, only representing who it's representing, but also trying to expand that? Because if I also heard Kasia correctly, there's a 20 year history of ZTB and you guys were thinking about how to also take care of Dance on Ice, while not knowing, or not being of that, being from a contemporary dance, HZT-ish field. So how do you guys, each in your groups, deal with outreach and representation?
I think we're definitely at the beginning of that journey. We have our Anti-racism session today which will help with diversifying some stuff, even if it's ideas. But that's something we're facing. Because as we make our LOA and figure out this negotiating toolkit, we're like, ‘Who is this for?’ What we're fighting for. Marley floors, blah blah blah. Like, this doesn't affect the commercial dance community as much. Or, if there's tap dancers. So we're constantly trying to figure out who this is for, but I think an angle that we think about is kind of that ‘base need’, or a baseline. And my biggest thing is requiring all dance spaces to have a baseline. So before you get dancers in the space, you have the budget to compensate them. You have the budget to make sure that all training has happened in regards to anti-racism training, anti-harassment training. We're talking about intimacy training because that's something we never get. You talked about Contact Improv... Like, consent. All these new ideas. So to answer your question, we're trying to cover as much as possible, but we're really basing it a lot off of who's in the room. So it's like continuing to make sure that these people are in the room, different types of dancers from different backgrounds, because like you said, it's really hard to cover those bases without those people in the room. So right now we have contemporary, we have ballet, we have modern, we have all those dancers, but we also have ballroom dancers enter our space, and dancers with disabilities, which is something that is really at the forefront of our mind. Making sure all dancers are safe and protected in these spaces. So, we're still figuring it out.
The DANC started with two white men and one white woman. Two of us are queer, but anyway. It started from a place of whiteness, and so now we're trying to dismantle that, just as much as we're trying to dismantle it in the field at large. And a way to think about outreach is also like, if we can give people the opportunity to talk about sexual harassment, that might bring in people who are not so interested in wages. If we talk about disability access that might bring in people who aren't interested in... So if we can really start tapping into these things that are really meaningful for people then they realize, ‘Oh this is for me, it's not just for not me’.
There's this thing called ‘Creating New Futures’, which is more geared towards choreographers in conversation with producers. It came up because a bunch of choreographers lost their contracts to force majeure, so they didn't get the fees and whatnot that they would have if the show had gone on. And so there was a debate about institutions not paying the artists their money. And even in that group, I was sort of hesitant to join the conversation because I was like, well is this for me? Is this important? Is this a waste of my time? So like all of that is going to come up too. And it's taken time to build trust and a sense of membership. And the thing that always brings me back is being able to talk about my own experiences and feeling like it contributes to something.
Alex, I love that point. It's something we're facing and there's so much learning required within our spaces. And we're constantly getting checked as more people come into the space, which is always great, but we see how much this field in this industry in this country hasn't worked for so many people for so long. So it's all happening at the same time and we're trying to figure it out, all at the same time. We're all late to it but the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time is right now.
It's a lot of work though and it's really important that when we write the LOA, we do it with these people at the table, not sprinkling peoples’ needs on top later, because that happens all the time already. So we're trying to do that as much as possible.
We're also dealing with a rise in white nationalism in this country, and globally. And I think that's about one group of people wanting their rights and protections, while excluding others. So, if we are not diverse in our tactics and in our goals, that's what we're essentially forming.
I like ‘tactics’ Alex, because that's something we're even addressing right now. The structure of our meetings. A lot of this stuff is rooted in white supremacy. How we do things is Westernized. You know, meetings with agendas. Things that I'm still learning about and being opened up to. Meetings with agendas can be exclusive to some people. The way we structure and talk and communicate, the words we use, the way we write our emails, the way we send out our messaging on social media, all of it matters, and all of that can either be inviting or exclusive to people. So that's something that we're trying to tackle right now, even today in our Anti-racism session. We send out an email every week. White supremacy is steeped in so much of what we do. So separating it is all part of that.
Right, totally. We're dealing with many of the same issues. Like how do we keep decolonizing and questioning ourselves, and working out this ‘group about the group’, at the same time as communicating externally with an attempt to fucking do something and be heard, be seen? Undoing ourselves at the same time. It's very in and out. How to be many in these points of realization, at the same time. It is really hard, good, ongoing work.
For us it’s also a challenge. Hearing you speak, I can relate. How do you balance between a particular interest and a very understandable experience of precarity? A feeling of rejection, and dispossession that people experience on many different levels. How to not go into what my friend calls ‘Oppression Olympics’, that prevents us from talking. How to acknowledge that, and then at the same time, present people with this experience of possible collective building and a kind of ‘collective consciousness’, because on the individual level, we can't do much. People come to us with their problems and often we can say, “Here, this is an experience of half of the community” and, then “This is what is missing”. How can we come together with different experiences but, join? And this is a huge challenge. The field is so oriented on individual expression and it favors individuals, in such an extreme manner. And when it comes to livability and production and being an artist, it's a huge problem, because this socialist or semi-communist agenda does not apply, it can only be commodified as a theme, but not really as a procedure for work. From my end, this is my personal obsession, so I bring it up. What I found important and took on myself and to the board of ZTB, is education. All the activities of popularization of dance. With the pandemic, we have less opportunities, but I think this is very important, to educate people. Not only audiences but really people in the field. What rights do they have? Also, what kind of problems do they have? And with what kind of fields can they be in solidarity? I think our precarity is connected to the much larger scale of working class economics. Recognizing that we cannot aspire to a bourgeois standard. And at the same time, the exploitation... It's complicated, but I see a lot of power in knowledge and information and it really benefits the community. If we can come together and discuss and give people language to talk. And get people interested. When we were organizing a panel at the dance festival, I invited people from different fields, and this brings more people from different fields. Then we can reach out and raise consciousness. This is important. We need allies outside of dance. Very much. Within dance, I'm sorry to say, but I find people very ignorant. They make a lot of claims, but they... How do we educate people so they know what it takes to make change? And if they want to change, what is necessary? And this is not necessarily building enclosed groups of shared identities or oppression, but developing procedures together. And this is very difficult. There is a lot of fear. This is nothing to judge, people experience a lot of precarity, everywhere. So, how to really work with that? I'm responsible for communication and parties and occasional events. Often my role is just to send people links and say, “Hey, I'm sorry to hear that. And we are here to help. And we're going to do everything we can to help”. This is a lot already, that you can have somebody to reach out to and get any sort of information. In Berlin, there are all these big names. And they're based in Berlin and get funding from Berlin. And then there are all these circles of people who never have had access to anything. And of course, people say “Oh, it’s because they don’t speak German”, but to speak German is also sometimes a privilege. Some people are privileged enough not to speak German and be funded. So it's very complicated and I think it’s good to make all of those divisions within divisions visible. And of course, the privilege to speak English... It requires a lot of sensitivity and intelligence to really organize people. But I think that as choreographers and dancers, we have so much knowledge in that regard. In organization. And I think this is where we should apply it actually.
My experience of being in Berlin was... I almost felt like I could feel the power dynamics between the people who were attempting to get into the field and the people who were doing really well. It just feels like the inequality is creating this extreme survivor-esque game, where people have to be cool and know the right people and show up at the right things, and do the right drugs in the right bathroom stall with the right person at the right time. Truly a nightmare. But that was just what I was seeing...
A lot of the things here that are supposed to support a lot of people of color and minority groups don't always make their way down there. That happens in our artists communities, with ‘diverse’ repertory programs, where only white women make it on those programs, never any choreographers of color. We have things like ‘affirmative action’, which I know is supposed to be really helpful for communities of color, but again, have only really helped white women. All the things you're saying, it's like, yeah, these programs, they're myths, they don't exist, they're just ‘tactics’. I like this word we're using. There’re so many laws and legislations, at least in the United States—what I'm familiar with—but I'm sure it's everywhere because all people have the same problem. There's so many things that appear to be helpful, but that aren't actually helpful. So that’s really interesting because we experience that too. And it's just really sad.
At the ‘round table’, I was like a ‘nobody’ there. You know, a young dancer with a sort of socialist agenda. Many people didn't take me seriously. Also Polish. I’m like the communist package.
Just mentioning, “Hey, why do we talk only about Berlin? Don't we all travel around the European Union? Shouldn't we aspire to have regulations on a European level?” To bring some equality but assure certain standards. Because you go outside Berlin and nothing applies anymore. So what I like about this meeting, and also what I would find important or interesting or maybe revolutionary is if we could organize internationally with all of our organizations. We share so many problems, and can share procedures. I would need to talk with my colleagues from the board, but I'm sure we can also share our documents with you, just to give you access to what we’ve developed. Because I think it’s not enough to do it on a local level because we don't work on a local level. Like so many of us. I think this kind of international organization is what could actually make a change for the community.
Yeah, I love that. We just all have so much information to share and different experiences. So I think that would be great to work together for this global international community. I think that there's obviously going to be some differences based on our governments and everything like that. But I think that it's also important because we don't just work in the United States or in Berlin or in Melbourne. Alex was just talking about his experience in Berlin. That happens often, and I think it's something we should address as well. Hundred percent. I do have to leave. I'm sorry. So thank you guys so much.
Thank you for coming! It's been so great to have everyone join. I would definitely love to follow through with DAIC (Dance Artists’ International Collective’)!.
Can we have like, a summit?
Let's do a summit!
Alice Heyward is a dancer, choreographer, editor and teacher. She works internationally and feels home in Melbourne and Berlin.
Alex Rodabaugh is a choreographer, dancer and performer based in NYC. Alex recently performed in Simone Forti’s work in The Work Is Never Done at MoMA. Alex has worked with artists such as Miguel Gutierrez, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Derek Smith and Bailey Williams among others. Alex performed in Tess Dworman’s A Child Retires at the Chocolate Factory last December in the before times. Alex's work has been shown at Movement Research at Judson Church, Draftworks, Double Plus at Gibney, PRELUDE, American Realness and Alex is currently participating in a postponed Dance and Process at the Kitchen. See more at www.alexrodabaugh.work.
Kasia Wolińska is a choreographer, dancer, writer, born in Gdańsk, living in Berlin. She has worked with Agata Siniarska, Anna Nowicka, Rosalind Crisp, Anton Vidokle, Rafał Dominik, among others. From 2013 to 2018 she led the performance project Hi Mary. Since 2018, she has been running a blog about dance and politics, danceisaweapon.com. Together with Faerieda Sandstrom, she founded The Future Body At Work. Since 2019, she has been a member of the board of ZTB e.V., an organisation representing the interests of the free dance scene in Berlin.
Antuan Byers is a professional dancer, creative entrepreneur, and dance arts activist based in Lenapehoking (Manhattan, NY). He is the founder of Black Dance Change Makers, a platform designed to unite and uplift Black identifying dancers. He has cultivated artistic partnerships with brands such as Acura, Barney’s NY, Brooklinen, Nike, and Jaguar, and international campaigns including ASICS and Capezio. After touring internationally with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s second company, Ailey II, he is currently dancing with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet at Lincoln Center performing in a diverse repertory with works choreographed by Kim Brandstrup, Philippe Giraudeau, Lorin Latarro, Sue Lefton, Mark Morris, Alexei Ratmansky, Susan Stroman, and Christopher Wheeldon, among others. Antuan is steering committee member of the Dance Artists’ National Collective.
Catherine(Cat)Kirk is a performing artist, teacher, social media manager, and marketing associate living in Lenapehoking (Brooklyn, NY). She dances with A.I.M, a NYC based touring company, where she continues to perform and work as an Education and Marketing Associate. Catherine also works as a freelance artist and sustains a teaching yoga practice. She lives in her artistic practice through her ancestry, faith, curiosity, and a desire for radical healing. Catherine joined D.A.N.C this spring, and became a Steering Committee Member in the summer.
Megan Wright is a freelance dancer based in New York with over a decade of experience in advocacy, education, creation, and performance both domestically and abroad.
She currently serves as social media and marketing coordinator for the National Center for Choreography at The University of Akron (Akron, OH), and as a board member and artistic advisor for Hope Mohr Dance (San Francisco, CA). She is also on the steering committee of Dance Artists' National Collective, an advocacy and organizing group for freelance dancers. She studies labor relations at the City University of New York's School of Labor and Urban Studies.
She was a member of the Stephen Petronio Company from 2016-2019, performing the work of Mr. Petronio and noted Western postmodern choreographers (Trisha Brown, Merce Cunningham, Steve Paxton, and Yvonne Rainer) nationally and internationally, most notably on a 2017 U.S. State Department tour of Southeast Asia. Her work received critical acclaim, including a “Best Performance of 2018” by critic Wendy Perron. She also served as the company's Director of Education.
Wright was a member of the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company in San Francisco from 2013-2016, a founding member of Maurya Kerr’s tinypistol, and a frequent collaborator with Katharine Hawthorne. Her own choreography and short dance films have been seen worldwide. She began her dance training in Portland, Maine and graduated cum laude from the Walnut Hill School for the Arts in 2009.
1 THE GERMAN FEDERAL GOVERNMENT’S CULTURAL AND MEDIA POLICY: https://www.bundesregierung.de/resource/blob/973862/777028/d4bad0a503d12108b416af13a4d9df40/2016-12-10-english-summary-data.pdf?download=1
2 Official numbers: For the first stage of the dance development program 2019-2025, the state of Berlin is providing a total of € 1,100,000 (2020) and € 1,295,000 (2021) to implement results from the recommendations of the dance round table.
3 BBK, LAFT, or Koalition der Freie Szene (there are many more organizations, just mentioning these to give a picture of what the making of cultural politics looks like here, and I myself am certainly not very proficient in navigating through it, yet. So please take my words as sharing what I know, this is not exhaustive).
4 Since this conversation, there’s a new wave of aid announced: 20 million euros are dedicated directly to dance field (on the national level), more info here: https://www.tanzraumberlin.de/kulturpolitik/aktuelles-national/
5 Here, I just would like to stress that this is not an official ZTB position, but my personal opinion based on my work in ZTB and my presence within the field in general.
6 That's a very simple way to put it, of course. The situation was much more complex, as in the response to the final report was less than a million, while the report was asking for around 6 million. That's when the protest was needed.
7 This is unofficial information.
8 Again, this is my personal view :)
9 Klaus Lederer is Berlin's Kulturesentaor is from Die Linke.
10 Again, very simplistic, of course the whole process was a negotiation :)
11 ‘backstage information’, so please keep in mind that here is also not an exact record of what happened :)
12 my personal opinion