Dance News Australia

Pay The Dancers

By Rebecca Martin of Dance Informa.

You’ve done it, I’ve done it, and no doubt every dancer has done it: taken a job without pay whether it is for personal experience or as a favour to someone.  Helping people out and gaining experience is all well and good but the fact that there are far more dancers than jobs in Australia means that we have allowed ourselves to accept whatever work comes our way, whether or not that work comes with a salary, and it has created a dangerous precedent.  The expectation from agents and employers now is that dancers don’t need to be paid and as a result, the number of paid jobs has become frighteningly scarce.

Following on from Dance Informa’s article Dancers Without Wages from September 2012, Paul Malek and the Dance Chat team have reignited the debate in the wake of Kylie Minogue’s representatives asking dancers to appear in Kylie’s new film clip for free.  The clip in question is for the Pharrell Williams produced track I was Gonna Cancel and it was choreographed by Sydney Dance Company Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela.  Yep, even multimillion-dollar recording artists seek to exploit the years of hard work and training that dancers have endured, without spending a penny.

Social media has been inundated with the hash tag #paythedancers, and dancers as well as non dancers have changed their Facebook profile picture to reflect their support for the #paythedancers movement.

Thankfully, after the uproar and social media flurry, Actors Equity Australia announced that Warner Music Australia has agreed to pay the correct legal rates to all dancers involved in the music video shoot, The Age reported on Thursday.

“I understand things have been resolved now so it’s great to know that people can have a voice, people can speak and mistakes can be resolved. That’s a very positive thing,” Rafael Bonachela told The Age.

I chatted with Paul Malek following his appearance on Channel Ten’s The Project to get his thoughts on the issue.

A lot of people are saying that dancers should take unpaid jobs for the experience.  It is “normal” practice for a new professional (actor, dancer, singer, etc.) to gain experience by volunteering their time.  What are your thoughts on this?

“Gaining experience is one thing, but where does this experience leave you? Personally when I was 18 – 22 years of age I received great experience working for money on film clips, corporate gigs, even podium dancing [chuckles]. Not once did I work as a commercial dancer in this age bracket and not get paid for these types of jobs. Was it just because I had a good agent managing me or that back in those days people just didn’t work for free? I am not sure. But clearly there is a great issue at hand when young dancers are not educated with the tools to know what is acceptable, what is not, and what the proper protocol is when companies try to exploit artists to work for under minimum wage.”

As there appears to be an expectation that many dancers will work for free and jobs are so scarce in Australia, do you think it is reasonable for dancers to fear that if they say no to unpaid jobs that agents will stop offering them work?

“If young performers and dancers are afraid that not accepting work from large companies for ‘exposure’ alone will jeopardise them from receiving work in the future then they need to realise that unfortunately, in the future, there might not be any work left if things continue as they are. The work coming in will always be for ‘experience’, and I’m not sure that in the end, you will be able to pay your rent or put food on the table with a consistent amount of experience. If big companies are hiring people for experience with the promise of future work or exposure, then when are those companies going to hire dancers in the future for actual payment? They won’t, not if they can get something for next to nothing. Makes us as a profession pretty worthless if you ask me…”

What can we do to ensure that dancers are paid?

“One major thing is unity. We, and when I say we I mean EVERYONE needs to work from the same handbook and be on the exact same page, from the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), to the agents, managers, teachers, performers, students, professionals, freelancers, and every single other person who is in this industry.  We need to work together to stamp out this issue once and for all and put worth back in the incredible work that we as Australians pride ourselves on. Quality, excellence, and hard work – now that’s something I think is worth paying for.”

Join the movement and show your support! #paythedancers

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