120 dancers and musicians came together to perform in front of Parliament House in London to highlight the impact of the covid crisis on the dance and arts industry.
Renowned choreographer and TV personality, Arlene Phillips CBE, and founder of London’s famous Pineapple Dance Studios, Debbie Moore OBE, choreographer and ballerina Ruth Brill, showed their support to the dancers and musicians who performed a short piece inspired by the Dying Swan.
The socially distanced dance created by freelance choreographer Ruth Mair Howard-Jones, gave a message of Save Our Swans and featured professional freelance dancers, students and young dancers from all dance genres, ranging from ballet, modern, contemporary, commercial and urban.
With theatres closed and socially distanced performances only just starting to return to the stage across the UK and around the world, the dance industry faces a crisis. A crisis affecting everyone who makes up the dance and arts industry from dance teachers, studio owners, dance shoe makers, costume designers, lighting technicians, bar staff, ushers, musicians, producers, choreographers and more.
And in light of the recent ‘Fatima’ advert (above), the dancers wore t-shirts emblazoned with “I AM FATIMA” to show the government that dance is not just a job, it is a craft, an art form, a career which takes 10-15 years to train for and a lifetime career to perfect and maintain. The dancers call upon the government for more support for the dance and arts professionals who do not have access to furlough, government loans or grants. It is essential that these vital professions remain viable.
Arlene Phillips CBE, Laurence Olivier award-winner and former Strictly Come Dancing judge, comments: “Everyone in the performing arts is suffering from a loss of income, loss of respect, loss of performing, and most of all, the loss of the understanding that dance is a passion turned into a career only by years of punishing study harder than most athletes. Members from the industry are now being advised to change careers. Dance is my life, and it’s hard to watch as sharp, intelligent dancers are being rejected for a number of retail or support jobs as they are not considered to have the right skills. Dancers are everything.”
Debbie Moore OBE, founder of Pineapple Dance Studios and renowned business woman, comments: “Over 40 years ago I opened Pineapple to provide a home in Covent Garden for dancers both amateur and professional from all over the world-providing dancers for the global dance industry & musical theatre which is a huge contributor to our economy yet without support the dancers cannot continue to train & therefore in turn contribute to the economy.”
Ruth Mair Howard-Jones, a freelance choreographer, comments: “The dance industry is the metaphorical dying swan of the wider UK economy,” she says. “Freelancers – whether they are dancers, choreographers or production engineers – are the lifeblood of a once vibrant cultural sector for our nation. Dance and theatre attract tourism, generate revenue and uplift the spirits of the public in today’s uncertain and sombre times. Government has thus far failed to give the dance and arts industry the requisite support to keep this sector alive. As the government continues to turn its back on an industry in plight, so too does the Drift of swans at the end of the ballet our talented dancers will perform on Monday. This symbolic gesture is a plea to government to help revive the jobs and opportunities lost during COVID-19.”
Casey Nokomis Pereira, a freelance dancer, comments: “This pandemic has meant not only losing my job but also watching as my entire industry suffers. This is not the end of the arts, but instead this is the time to recognise the value of the arts sector. We need artists and the public to stand strong and stand together to keep our industry thriving, no matter what.”
The Wonderful World of Dance is proud to have helped organise this event together with Ruth Mair Howard-Jones, Roxane Romero, Claudia Derieux, Jack Pallister (Assistant choreographer), Anna Woodside & We Make Events – to highlight the impact of the covid crisis on the dance industry. We want to thank all the dancers, musicians and supporters who made the event a success!
Here are some of the stories from the protest:
Emily Cozens, dancers, comments: “I participated in the event because dance and the arts are so important to both myself and to society as a whole. Its vital role in society is often overlooked, especially at a time like this and I feel very passionately that it should not be forgotten or allowed to dwindle away as the closure of theatres has so dramatically impacted the arts and in order for the arts to recover, like any other industry, it needs full government support to recover, and currently it appears that this is just not happening. On a personal level the pandemic has impacted me deeply, with many of my dance performances, including my school dance show and dancing with the English Youth Ballet having to be cancelled or postponed. I love to perform and having not performed in many months, nor been able to watch other performances or dance in classes in person, I feel a great sense of loss without the dance industry able to operate. I feel that the government should realise the profound impact dance and the arts have on people’s lives, both individually and as a society.”
Joe Garcia (Joe Motion), Dancer and Aerialist, comments: “I’m a dancer/circus performer of over 20 years, and I’ve also worked in theatres (FOH and BOH as Usher/barstaff, technician, stage door keeper) as well as event construction and scenic art crews alongside my performance work. So I’ve been involved with and working in all aspects of creative events for most of my life (I’m 40 now). My last job before the UK lockdown was as a circus artist working with Guildhall MA students on their final project, in France, and it got cancelled after three days (was due to be a whole month) and we all got sent home and then UK locked down and every single gig I had for the rest of the year was cancelled almost overnight. I didn’t qualify for the Government Self Employed help, and so had to apply for Universal Credit. Currently living with my mother who’s in her 70’s and disabled, so I’ve been caring for her and self isolating to help shield her. I’ve barely seen my friends, many of whom I see through work, and as an intensely physical person, the lack of contact and ability to expend all the energy I have has been pretty devastating. My lifelong passion is seemingly on hold for the foreseeable future, and the support available isn’t really enough to make ends meet. I’m starting a job with Royal Mail at a sorting centre next week to try to earn some more money, although by doing so I am increasing the risk of coming into contact with the virus, putting myself and my ill mother at greater risk. It’s staggering that the government sees fit to use a loophole in European law in order to siphon off taxpayer’s money to their donors, friends, colleagues and family, and waste billions more on outsourcing for ineffective track and trace systems. Those of us who have dedicated our lives to various creative professions that are already financially precarious, yet help to bring a huge amount of money into the UK economy, are literally hung out to dry and told we are not viable and that we should retrain in other professions. It’s more than just insulting; it’s cruel, and totally unnecessary. So I’m dancing as a swan (my first time dancing in public since March) to show solidarity with my industry’s extended family, in this historic time of protest to be recognised as an essential part of any thriving society, namely the arts, and specifically dancers.”
Serina Faull, Professional Dancer, comments: “I was privileged to be born and raised in London, where I had access to British culture right on my doorstep. I started dancing around five years old Debra Bradnum Ballet Train, and then I was accepted into The Royal Ballet School Associates, Central School of Ballet Associates and then Elmhurst Ballet School in association with Birmingham Royal Ballet, where I graduated in 2018. Upon graduation, I joined Vienna Festival Ballet. I was very lucky to have a contract, directly post graduation, in my home country. Due to all theatres closing down, my spring season of Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty was cancelled. We rehearsed both classically demanding ballets in just four weeks at Dance Attic Studios, managed to perform three shows and then, unfortunately, our industry came to a halt. Vienna Festival Ballet is proudly a self-funded company that tours classical repertoire around the UK (February to June and September to December). We reached audiences that would otherwise have never had the magical experience of watching live theatre, let alone live ballet. We would perform from small local stages to grand opera houses. My test of adaptability certainly came as a shock from leaving vocational training!
Sadly, my directors decided to cancel all performances for 2020, including the winter tour of The Nutcracker. There is also very little chance that my company will financially recover from such a loss in ticket sales, and may never tour again. This is a huge loss to the UK. I may be biased, but my company was dearly loved by fans all across the country. We brought ballet to their front door. I believe we also toured to the most venues out of all of the classical ballet companies in the UK.
The early stages of Coronavirus in March left me feeling lost. Surprisingly, I did not dwell on the negatives and jumped straight into being very productive and self-motivated. After months of kitchen barre classes, workouts in the living room, local cycle routes, all with conviction, drive and determination, the novelty wore off. There were many thoughts going through my mind: What is my purpose? What is my goal? Where am I going? Is this sustainable? I started teaching at my old local ballet school, tutoring violin to children, signed up to a teaching agency to work at primary schools. My side hustles are maxed out, and now I have far less time to craft my art because I am trying to save money for audition season 2021, which might not even happen. I have proudly adapted, utilised my transferable skills as a dancer to work and continue to contribute to society during this pandemic.
The arts and creative industry has adapted and found ways to keep afloat and relatively stable. We moved vocational schooling online, kept producing free live streams to watch, had artists offering free online classes for all to follow, continued swiftly to film and shoot, in a covid-safe manner, to entertain us all in these rather miserable times. All artists have of course been financially affected, as have many citizens of the UK, where we have applied for all sorts of grants and credits. We cannot ponder over our losses, expecting all of the money we lost to be reimbursed. The worries of paying bills, rent, travel, insurances is a burden for many of us. I think the government’s mistake was assuming that we perhaps are not contributing enough to society already, not very qualified, not being productive, acting stubborn and just demanding pay and sitting at home, occasionally stretching. That is my general vibe from when I watch and read the news. I could be wrong.
I cannot speak for everyone, but I know that I am a pretty positive and proactive person. Especially being a dancer, I always want to be doing something. Dancers are far from lazy, and I believe we are one of the most hard-working type of people out there. I am not angry at the government, as they have never dealt with such an impactful pandemic before. They just haven’t done their best to really understand how it has affected the arts industry and its individuals, short and long term. We need the government to work alongside organisations such as WeMakeEvents and Equity, to support positive and realistic goals for the industry. For example:
- Subsidise artistic teacher training courses such as with RAD, as that is relevant re-training, unlike cyber security
- Allow theatres to open at 50% capacity and increase ticket prices, which also provides employment for front of house, bar and cleaning staff- Offer lectures through GOV.UK on how to self-promote yourself: making your own website, editing your own dance videos, making your social media presence professional etc
- Allow BBC to host an event such as live stand-up comedy night for freelance comedians to perform in a covid-safe way- Sign a contract for circuses to be able to perform in outdoor theatres March 2021
- Increase the self-employment grant ever so slightly so that we can actually practice our craft, which can help pay for musicians’ studio hire, open dance classes, acting workshops and so much more
For now, I will try to retain optimism and do my best to live my life a professional ballet dancer and as a human being.”
This dancers and musicians protest is part of the #wemakeevents week of events across the performing arts and events industries.