No Time to Dance

IS THIS POST-COVID?

 

Devastating.

I think that may be the best word to describe what’s happened to our industry. And my feeling right now; despair.

I want to feel more upbeat, and I know there’s a lot to be hopeful about heading into 2022 after the two challenging years we’ve all experienced, and so I appreciate those words may seem to be highly emotive and pessimistic. Yet after talking recently with dozens of studio Principals around Sydney those words most aptly seem to describe what’s happened to significant sections of our industry.

I write “sections” as some have been impacted worse than others. While obviously all have been adversely affected by the pandemic, studios with a strong vocational base, or that place a great deal of emphasis on competitions and/or exams, on the whole, appear to have fared better than those studios that would best describe themselves as “rec”.

For many of those “rec” studios, which likely make-up the majority of studios around NSW, the Governments reopening a few weeks into Term 4 proved to be challenging timing.

Had the reopening happened during the holiday break before the recommencement of Term 4 then perhaps many parents and their children would likely have signed on for a full term of classes, as a way of reintegrating back into normalcy. As such, concerts might have been planned, rehearsed and put on, and full-term fees paid.

Or, had the Government kept studios closed for the rest of Term 4 to reopen in January, then perhaps that might have been better too for these particular studios, as then JobKeeper and other Government assistance could have continued, and rents could have remained as deferred or reduced.

As it stands, reopening a couple of weeks into the last term of the year has seen a cataclysmic drop-off in students from many recreationally focused studios, with the consequent decrease in income, yet now with no Government assistance packages and no deferment or reduction in rent to provide any buffer against going out of business, or going further into debt.

How are they supposed to survive? Put simply … some haven’t.

Most of course are passionately trying to hang on to the ledge by their fingernails hoping to muddle through the Christmas/New Year break with the hope that students will flood back to knock on their doors in late January 2022. I’d already noticed a large increase in Facebook advertising posts from studios all seeking students, promoting their dance cultures, yet it was only after actually talking with so many that the depth of the challenge got very real, very quickly.

It’s another oh-so-crushingly-clear demonstration that our local, State and Federal Governments simply have little-to-no understanding how our dance industry functions; it’s culture, how difficult and at times precarious it is to run a dance studio, to serve the young people of our Nation and what a small collective voice our industry has to help us during rare, yet critically important times like this.

This was further reinforced recently by the Victorian Government’s last-minute decision not to allow unvaccinated children aged 12-15 to perform in end of year concerts. While I’m pro-vaccination for all age groups, the specific timing of this decision, which came as many studios were on the cusp of performing, sent shock waves through the State industry as studios tried to quickly re-organise choreography and planning etc.

Yet even if such reorganisation were successful, it doesn’t assist the many children who were rehearsing and excitedly looking forward to performing again after two long years, who now had that abruptly taken away due to no fault of their own; to say nothing of their parents who had already invested in new dancewear, costumes and likely paid for concert tickets. And what’s worse, it made no sense, as these same children had already been in dance classes, rehearsals and normal school with each other for weeks. Therefore, what was the point of the directive? How would it help? Frustratingly, it was yet another hip-shot decision from a Government with little appreciation for the impacts their decisions have on this particular industry.

If this isn’t a wake-up call that we desperately need State and/or a National body that can speak on behalf of the dance studio industry to our various Government entities, then I don’t know what that wake-up call needs to look like.

I appreciate some organisations like Ausdance, both National and State, and some syllabus have tried, yet frankly, it’s not been enough. “Enough” in terms of desire and passion, yes. Yet not in terms of actual influence.

And that’s not surprising, nor due to a lack of effort on their behalf.

In terms of syllabus; there are simply too many working in Australia, which means any one of them are far too diluted, even the largest, in their efforts to speak as a National voice. They’d have to find a way to amalgamate on some level for this to work, which is essentially the same as establishing a separate body, and my suspicion is that consensus would be very difficult in that context. And of course, it still begs the question; are they the right entities to do so?

And Ausdance, though they potentially could take on the role and have stepped up phenomenally during the last two years (particularly Ausdance QLD and NSW), have traditionally never had their finger on the pulse of dance studios. I don’t say that pejoratively, or to take anything away from Ausdance. With a skeleton staff and budgets to match, their remit has largely been to assist up and coming choreographers, project dance, to kick start and push the conversation about inclusivity (gender, racial, sexual), and promote safe dance practice. These are critically important and monumental tasks in themselves.

Adding to that, dance studios are privately run small businesses, which have rarely felt they required help at the State or National level previously, and have typically had a culture of being quite siloed from one another, and so there’s been little reason for Ausdance to really know, engage with and understand that part of our industry. Further, as the bulk of their funding currently comes from Government it’s hard to know how independent they could really be in lobbying to Government on behalf of the dance industry if push came to shove.

 

Yet now we’ve seen that not having an industry voice does matter. And so now is the time, and not when things get back to normal and we all forget, that we need to talk about forming State and/or a National council of dance studio owners that is backed and supported by syllabus, brands, stores, competitions, magazines and all those that benefit and make their livelihood’s from the dance studio industry.

It’s not our Governments fault that they don’t understand the particular issues and culture of the dance studio industry. It’s ours. If we can’t, don’t or won’t articulate the issues specifically affecting our industry and specify what we need as assistance to solve them, then how can they be blamed for not meeting our needs?

 

In Victoria, the hardest hit State in Australia during the pandemic, a group of Studio Owners set up an organisation in the wake of lockdowns and restrictions to lobby Government and to collectively develop an improved dance studio industry called the, Dance Arts Alliance. It’s an excellent model that other States could follow to establish their own entities and/or perhaps form the basis for a National council that could lobby the Federal Government.

And this isn’t a new concept. Both the Australian car industry and the Australian property industry long ago developed grass roots entities that are independent of Government funding; they are, the Australian Automotive Dealers Association and the Property Council of Australia respectively. And I’m quite sure many other industries do something similar.

Doing so ensures the industry has a recognised, independent voice, while simultaneously promoting a greater sense of wider community respect amongst the general public for that industry, which benefits all those making their living from that industry.

And so, the question is simply; is it time for your State, or for Australia to develop a Dance Arts Alliance or a National Council of Dance Studio Owners?

If you’re keen to get involved, then are two things you can do:

1. Share this article and talk to others.

2. Write to [email protected] and tell us you’re interested in being part of, or supporting a State or National council of dance studio owners in your area and we’ll assist in generating the required conversation and traction to get it off the ground.

 

Ignore this and it goes away, and nothing changes.

 

Or, be a small yet active player and perhaps we can develop a safer, more inclusive, more stable and well-functioning industry for all.

Article by Josef Brown

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