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by Article19

Article19 reported in January last year on the formation of the Department for Culture Media and Sport's (DCMS) 'Dance Forum' a group of administrators that would gather several times per year and discuss issues pertinent to dance so their conclusions could be relayed to central government for action. The Forum is administrated by DanceUK the closest thing the dance profession has to an oversight body.

At the time the headline used on Article19 was "DCMS Lame Duck Forum" which illustrated our less than stellar confidence that this particular talking shop was going to achieve anything of substance.

So here we are, one year later, and the documents received from DanceUK reveal there has been plenty of talk and all of it whispered from the mouths of church mice unwilling to risk alerting the big bad cats in the real world that they actually exist.

What talk there has been is lacking in coherence, progressive thinking or passion. According to documents from DanceUK the first meeting was pretty much about discussing what would be discussed at subsequent meetings. So far so predictable.

The Members of the Dance Forum
The last information we received detailed the members of the Forum as follows, it may have changed since that time however.

Jeanette Siddall – Arts Council England

Paul Stonebrook – Department of Health

Linda Jasper – Youth Dance England

Anthony Bowne – Laban

Alistair Spalding – Sadler’s Wells/Dance UK

Chris Thomson – The Place

Prudence Skene – Rambert

Farooq Chaudhry – Akram Khan Company

Beverley Glean – IRIE!

Funmi Adewole - ADAD

Nikki Malloy – Dance4

The second meeting, held in the autumn of last year, managed to discuss tax and benefits for dancers stating that;

"Concerns were voiced about individual tax allowances for dance companies and the apparent confusion among some dancers over benefits to which they are entitled."

Who these dancers are is not stated or why they are "confused" about which benefits they are entitled to receive. The solution to this melee of disorientation among dancers is to produce some leaflets to make it all clear. Leaflets are not specifically mentioned but when DanceUK says they are going to "look at how better we disseminate information" you know that's what they mean.

Further discussion was had about dance in education, pretty much the mantra of ACE and the DCMS for years now, so there's not much else to say about that, we all know the drill. The final meeting of last year, held in October, was focused entirely on dance in education. This meeting included a group of professional dancers who are, yet again, completely anonymous.

The dance forum will reconvene this month, January, where, after 16 months of preparation and 12 months of chatter, they will get to the sticky subject of dancers health.

Just The Fax

When the DCMS was asked to provide documentation about the groups meetings they referred us to DanceUK and DanceUK gave us four pages of fairly large text reproduced from their quarterly magazine. There is no extensive dialogue, no materials, no research, there is, to all intents and purposes, nothing at all.

If you're a regular reader of Article19 you will already know where we stand on what we feel are the fundamental problems facing dance and how they can be fixed. We don't get tired of repeating it because, to be honest, what other choice do we have?

Thus far, the language used by the Forum is so weak willed and stupid it's hard to believe any of the members actually work in dance or understand what makes the profession tick.

It is nonsensical for the Dance Forum to discuss tax allowances and dancers because that's pretty much like saying what's 23% of nothing. For a tax break to be of any use to its recipient they have to be receiving enough taxable income for the tax break to make a difference. Hands up all you professional dancers with a truck load of disposable income!

Giving companies a break on the various taxes they have to pay may help but unless they redirect the money they save into their dancers pockets it's of little use. There is very little to compel them to do that when the Equity minimum is set at a laughably low £325 per week. Most companies, with enough funding, pay their dancers more than that anyway, if only just.

Another issue mentioned by DanceUK refers to "individual dancer's employment rights". Currently, the majority of contracts are meaningless because, as we have said many times before, dance companies don't have any money so there is little reason to sue one of them if they break the terms of a contract or vice versa. Aside from the ethical and moral requirement to be a good employer or employee, contracts are just a waste of paper. Penalties enforced by ACE on companies and dance makers that violate contracts are probably the only deterrent likely to have any effect.

There is also no discussion going on about creating jobs for dancers. Full time jobs that pay a salary in keeping with their professional skills, experience and the inherent difficulties they face actually doing their job. Such a discussion may well be too specific for the Dance Forum however.

Dancer's Health care is up next for the Forum and on that they do have the only worthwhile recommendation in the whole Dancers Manifesto to fall back on. The recommendation that all funding applications for dance have health care provision built in to them is the only sign that the manifesto's authors stopped cowering behind the bullet proof cover of soporific language.

We shall have to wait and see what the great and the good bring to the table when next they meet.

Thin Substance

That nothing of substance has been discussed, as far as we know from the limited documentation, at these meetings is of little surprise. Nobody ever expects these groups to achieve anything, most dancers probably don't even know that the Dance Forum exists let alone what they are apparently trying to do, if anything.

Whatever is said at the next meeting or the next ten meetings of this forum will, in all likelihood, make little or no difference to the dance profession. The language used thus far is the same language used in the Dancer's Manifesto (also the work of DanceUK). It's all specifically non-specific and non committal.

The Dance Forum is a front for inaction. Like so many things in the arts it gives the appearance of doing something without actually doing it. That it took 16 months to set up is striking indicator of how little importance the DCMS place on this and that DanceUK would play along only re-enforces our very low opinion of them.

Were it the case that more people in dance knew about the Dance Forum then it would be a very dangerous thing because those people would be under the impression that something was being done to present the case for dance to central government (on a side note, that sounds an awful lot like Arts Council Englands job).

Article19 is calling the Dance Forum useless, prove us wrong, if you can muster the energy.

Photo by Tracy Hebden