Dance in the time of pandemic. Will it survive the subsequent recession?
Dancers and dance artists are not used to publicly voicing their complaints. Maybe that is why they are not heard so often and are among the few who do not lament over the present crisis. They are used to low salaries and periods of no income. To pain, stress and part-time jobs outside their field. They can be struck by a crisis anytime. They know their careers are short, injuries are lurking behind the corner and the future is uncertain. They try to maintain balance in their lives like a ballerina on a pointe shoe. The corona crisis has made individual cases a norm and more than anything else it has unveiled some alarming and chronic system errors. The Dance Career Endowment Fund (DCEF) draws attention to the aspects specific of the dance profession and is now mapping the effects of the emergency state on the field of dance and movement art. Dancers might not be able to recover from the upcoming recession.
The declaration of a state of emergency and the related restrictions (impacting hugely the private and public life of the society) hit the cultural sector. It froze overnight, including the field of dance and movement arts which has been actively supported by the Dance Career Endowment Fund for many years. Since mid-March, the organisation has been mapping the effects of the corona crisis on the field of dance and movement arts and it has released interviews with some of its key figures. The field is diverse and the intensity of the emergency state aftermath varies in individual sub-disciplines. Jana Návratová, the chair of the DCEF management board, explains: “Many ballet dancers have long-term contracts in theaters, usually state or city-run, so they are like other regular employees – even though there are exceptions, such as Laterna magika or the opera ballet of the National Theatre.
Dancers in ballet companies did not lose their salaries completely. On the other hand, there is the substantial psychological effect of the crisis – dancers are used to spending hours a day in the studio, performing in the evening, and being in daily physical contact with their colleagues. And now they are alone. The situation is very different in the independent sphere where most dancers are freelance or they conclude short-term contracts. They were out of work almost overnight. For many, the possibility to make savings is individual and often difficult (because of the very principles of the non-profit sector operation). In so called black theatres, which are private and collaborate with dancers and artists, the situation in even more complicated. They depend on tourism and it is very likely many of them will not recover from the crisis, as they will stay under the state of emergency of some kind for much longer.”
And dancers confirm it. Lucie Drábková, who has worked on numerous dance projects, musical roles and has toured America with Kanye West, describes the current situation: “Fortunately, I had a busy January and February, so I can weather the storm. As for my fellow dancers, not all of them have financial reserves and some have been forced to seek a job outside of the industry, or register with the employment agency and claim state benefits.“ Václav Kuneš, the artistic director of the 420PEOPLE company and last year’s StarDance jury member, also shares his experience: “Our dancers are very active, so hopefully they have a financial cushion, but not for a long time. It depends on family support, too, if they have someone to back them up. It is extremely important to know when we will be able to start working again. If they keep postponing the removal of restrictions, it will be very hard for many artists, myself included.”
The impact of the corona crisis on the field of dance and movement arts (as the Dance Career Endowment Fund pinpoints) rather uncovers its fragility and the system errors. Movement arts (ballet, contemporary dance, contemporary circus, physical theatre, pantomime) are high-risk professions. A fatal injury can come anytime, and it can complicate or end a career. A dance career s also limited by age and physical condition, for example ballet dancers usually retire before the age of 35. Low salaries are the reason why many dancers and circus artists cannot make a sufficient financial cushion that would help them overcome the period of recovery and start a second career. So, for them, a crisis might occur anytime, regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, in case of injury or end of a career, a dancer may be without income for months of years, spend their time at the employment agency, or do some underpaid jobs.
DCEF proposes a system solution in the form of a specific saving system based on participation and solidarity inside the field. Dancers, physical theatre actors and acrobats must often juggle a couple of projects at a time, plus they teach classes and take jobs in the commercial sphere or outside the industry to make their ends meet. Despite all that, they are not used to publicly voicing their complaints. And that is the reason why this topis does not receive so much attention, even though the situation is alarming,“ adds Návratová.
Shortly before the outbreak of the pandemic, DCEF representatives met the Minister of Culture Lubomír Zaorálek, to outline the situation that had been lasting for decades. The aim of the meeting was to include dancers and performers into the category of difficult professions, which might have a positive effect on their retirement benefits. Lubomír Zaorálek can be the first Minister of Culture who finishes the proposed system of participative saving and brings it to life.
Therefore, the current situation could be a fresh start for the field. As the coach, journalist and member of the DCEF management board Jana Bohutínská explains: “It is obvious that in the future it will be necessary to deal with the financial stability of people working in the cultural sphere. The diversity of incomes and a portfolio career can’t be a functional solution for everyone. The aim is not to bring back the time before the pandemic. The current situation is an opportunity to build solid foundations. In the independent (non-governmental) sector a freelance career is not always a matter of personal choice. The financial situation in the field does not allow to hire staff, even to those subjects who would prefer permanent employees. Because of this system, the majority of dancers and movement artists have lost their income and it is very likely many of them will not be able to claim the state compensation, such as individual artists who rely on joining smaller projects. Regarding the length of restrictions in the cultural sphere, the situation cannot be fixed by a 25-thousand bonus. The question remains: how can the state and the private sector support unique talents in these hard times and how can they help artists remain in the creative profession?” asks Bohutínská.
DCEF provides year-long professional assistance to dance artists and it collaborates with experts in PR, psychology, finance and other disciplines. Its door is open and dancers can contact the Fund members via email@example.com. For more information about DCEF services, go to tanecnikariera.cz. Now more than ever, we are calling on potential donors to contribute to creating adequate conditions for Czech dancers and creators. We can guarantee the money will go directly to the talented people who deserve and need our support,” says Jana Návratová.