An essay squabble over the state of dance, “the poorest art.” First, Lightsey Darst writes on the Huffington Post that if dancers didn’t sleep with rich people, the art form might not actual exist:
Absurd and degrading as this conclusion is — can you imagine the same being said of any other art form? — the dancers and dancemakers I’ve tried it out on have reacted with, at most, a laugh. Many haven’t reacted at all, as if this idea were already part of their lives. Dance’s capital is its sensual appeal; it has little other resource.
Now, I’ve often joked that gold digging as the surest way for any artist – from musicians to writers – to keep their minds clear and bellies full, but Darst says dance is in a particular bad way, in part because not only do dancers not make much money, but dancing carries high overhead (outfits, shoes, keeping that dancer’s body). So strapped dancers look for money elsewhere:
Dancers past the age of wisdom husband-shop. Sugar-mommas and sugar-daddies: if no one knows how that choreographer pays the bills, it’s a safe bet he doesn’t. Or maybe you’re desperate to have a child: look in the audience, not around the dressing room, for your sperm donor. A company director, finally divorcing her moneybags husband, is drawing her salary for the first time; everyone at her company scrambles.
But dancer and The Dance Enthusiast editor Brittany Beyer doesn’t like Darst’s hardnosed realism:
The dirty truth is that many times the musicians, costume designers, stage crew and support staff get paid more than the dancers who are the main event on stage. It has become acceptable to pay a non-unionized dancer very little or nothing. Dancers will dance for the love of it.
That is part of the reason why the system chugs on, Beyer argues. Artists tend to devalue their own craft because they will end up doing it for free (hello there unpaid summer interns). But are there solutions? Beyer thinks so.
One involves rethinking our choices of organizational structure to favor repertory dance companies instead of single choreographer companies. . . . Ticket sales have been the dance company’s standard way to generate income, yet many choreographers only have one or two short production cycles per year -which usually put a company in the red. By creating choreographic co-operatives and repertory companies, more pieces generating more performances and attracting larger audiences could produce greater income opportunities.
Beyer’s other solutions include dancers taking on more administrative roles within a company, forming co-operative organizations, and refusing to dance for less than a livable wage. Finally, Beyer issues a call to arms:
At every opportunity we artists need to tell our non-dancing friends about our work what we do, why we do it, why it is important to us and how it is relevant to them. We have been concerned about craft and perfection in the studio for a long time. We have been non-verbal. We need to speak up and tell our fellow countrymen why this art form of the body matters. Why our art form matters.
Which finally gets at what underlies many of the financial issues that have stricken a variety of arts organizations: a crisis of audience.
Image: From Carlos Saura’s Blood Wedding (1981)