Commentary: A letter and apology to dancers about to enter the dance world

Sydney Skybetter, Dance/USA's From The Green Room blog, 5/13/13
So! You're about to graduate from your dance program and enter into the real world! Oh. You're freaking out? You feel like you don't have a clue what you're getting into? How you'll get paid / afford rent / find a place to make work / find auditions / get a job / afford insurance / pay off your historically huge student loans? Okay. First, you should know that graduating will very likely not kill you, and that you're not alone. [But] there aren't many jobs any more that come with juicy solo parts and health insurance. Oh. And you know how you're such a fierce dancer? Well there are dozens of dance departments pumping out hundreds of fierce dancers every year. And they all want the same jobs you do. But here's the good news. There have never been more people interested in dance in this country. We now have 12 nationally syndicated TV shows with dance as their organizing principle. The Bolshoi Ballet live streams its performances, reaching millions of people internationally through its (highly profitable) media division. The video game series "Just Dance" has [sold 38 million] copies. Sure, the NEA doesn't give money out like it used to. Now we have Kickstarter. Sure, we have fewer dance venues. Now we have the Internet. This all points to a dance world in flux, not a dance world that is dying. There are plenty of opportunities to be had, but only when you embrace the entrepreneurial spirit of our era, and leave the conservative grips of our past behind. So, on behalf of the dance world, permit me to apologize for the mess you're entering into. It's insane. But it's *incredibly* exciting. The world you thought you were entering into is long dead, and none of the old rules of dance need hold true for you. So go forth. The search for new ways of moving, dancing and sustaining a career is ON.


Commentary: What does freelance success look like?

Eleanor Turney, The Guardian's Culture Professionals Network blog, 5/8/13

Success. It's a slippery word, isn't it? And outside a traditional career model -- without appraisals, incremental pay rises, promotion paths -- it's even harder to get a grip on what it might mean. One answer is to compare oneself to other people, but that way madness lies. Everyone's path is different and the person who achieves early success may not sustain it. Also, from the outside, most people look successful because they tend to present the best of things. How, then, can those of us outside traditional career paths (and we are increasingly common) measure success? Actor Briony Rawle worries "that when I hit 'success' I won't know it, as there are few solid platforms to be reached in the acting industry". This is equally true in other creative careers -- is success a solo exhibition, selling a million copies of your novel, winning an Olivier? Or is it just earning enough from your art to pay the rent? When I did a quick survey of those in freelance and/or creative careers (to which 100 people responded), 64% mentioned money. Those who didn't feel successful cited not earning enough (yet) as the main reason. Director Lucy Bradley referred to her work as "labours of love" -- a phrase which cropped up more than once. For many, the financial rewards are secondary. Hannah Nicklin, theatre maker, game designer, producer and academic, said "the reason I'm freelance is that I don't really fit", which encapsulates the beauty of freelancing -- the ability to carve out one's own niche -- and the curse: that you don't have a defined path to follow. As Nicklin says: "I'm happy and busy, and have peers who I respect and who I think respect me. I make work I think affects people in a generous and accessible way. It'd be nice to earn more than minimum wage, though."


Commentary: Preparing management students for real-world negotiations

Joe Patti, Inside The Arts' blog Butts In The Seats, 5/8/13

If you look around at all the negotiations between the boards of symphony orchestras and their musicians and wonder how it can all go bad so quickly, some [2006 blog posts] in which Drew McManus recounted mock negotiation exercises he conducted might give some insight. Drew recounted his experiences running mock negotiations with graduate students at UW-Madison in two parts. [In] the first part, the students immediately identify problems with the accuracy of the financials they, as the musicians negotiating committee, were given by the orchestra management. They accused the management of incompetence in the face of what Drew notes are no-win proposals orchestra musicians are often faced with. Drew had previously run the same exercise with music students at the Eastman School of Music. What happens next may be illustrative of the difference in outlooks between music students and management students. Instead of a counteroffer,

"...they informed management they believe the organization is being mismanaged and unless they were presented with a better offer, they were going to break away and form their own musician-run ensemble. I then inquired if they put together a counter-offer that would provide the board with a better idea of what the musicians found acceptable. They informed me that they did not have such an offer and, furthermore, they refused to craft a counter-offer and reiterated that they felt confident that they could create an organization that had an annual budget equal in size, compared to what the board was currently offering them all while creating a better artistic product than is currently produced."

That pretty much brought the exercise to a close. Drew discusses the debrief in the second entry. The students were eager to learn how they, as managers of the future, could avoid the mistakes and problems they perceived in management's offer, including error-filled financial statements.

"I observed that they were beginning to understand that, as the managers of tomorrow, they need to be prepared to enter into an administrative world that is neither perfect nor cut and dry. They also learned that they can't rely exclusively on their academic management skills to get them through the woodshed experiences all organizations face at some point in their development."

Drew also wrote up a comparison between the UW-Madison and Eastman School sessions for those who are curious. As I went back to re-read these these entries in the context of all the contentious contract negotiations that have occurred in the intervening seven years, I wonder if administration and musicians both found themselves in situations as impossible, if not more, than the scenario presented to the students.


Related: Time to revive this mock negotiation session for current students

Drew McManus on his blog Adaptistration, 5/10/13

I'm honored and humbled to be at the center of Joe Patti's article. I recall that at the time the parameters for these exercises were seen as a bit melodramatic; most academics I pitched thought it didn't have any real practical application and only promoted divisiveness. But even before the economic downturn when the field was riding high on record gains, it was clear to me that winter was coming. In the case of the UW-Madison Mock Negotiations, the timing was freakishly ideal; almost two years to the date before the economic downturn would have been just enough time to adequately prepare the latest generation of arts administrators for what was coming. In hindsight, it would have been beneficial if I leveraged connections better or simply pushed professors and department heads to implement the mock negotiations in as many schools as possible. It would have been equally useful to conduct similar exercises via professional development offerings from the major service organizations. Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda. At the same time, this mock negotiation session (and variations thereof) is still an ideal endeavor, albeit from the perspective of an all-too-real world reference rather than an exaggerated academic exercise. So I hope to hear from academics and service organizations to see about scheduling one of these sessions.

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