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Brexit Is Officially Happening—3 Ways It Could Hurt Dance

Yesterday, Britain voted to exit the European Union, a historic decision that has already shaken the world. It's impossible to imagine the full impact of this exit (colloquially called "Brexit") over time. How will Britain's independence from the EU affect British dance companies? Could it have larger implications for dance throughout Europe? It's definitely possible. Prior to yesterday's decision, British dance luminaries from Akram Khan to Kevin O'Hare to Sir Matthew Bourne signed a public letter in support of staying in the EU, fearing that Brexit could hurt the arts in particular. Dance writer Ismene Brown spoke to some of Britain's biggest dance names in The Spectator earlier this week, and laid out three main consequences that Brexit could have for dance. Here's a breakdown of what dancers need to know.

Limitations on Talent

Spaniard Tamara Rojo, a longtime Royal Ballet star, now directs English National Ballet. Photo by Matthew Karas.

Up until now, citizens of European Union countries have been able to freely secure employment in Britain, without having to jump through the many bureaucratic hoops imposed on potential foreign employees. For this reason, British companies have been able to carefully curate talent from a wider pool of dancers. Nadia Stern, chief executive of Rambert Dance, puts this in real terms in Brown's article. Currently, Brits make up half of the company, Europeans make up a quarter and non-Europeans make up a quarter. If all the Europeans had to be subjected to the same tight requirements as non-Europeans, it would make recruiting foreign talent much more difficult. As Akram Khan puts it, "diminished artist mobility because of revised immigration and visa regulations means reduced access to the best international performers."

At The Royal Ballet, many of the stars who have defined the company's recent past have been non-British Europeans: Spanish Tamara Rojo, French Sylvie Guillem, Danish Johan Kobborg. Many of its current stars, like Natalia Osipova, Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae, are not European. What does this mean? Possibly that companies save the hassle of hiring foreign dancers for their brightest stars. Brexit could exacerbate this trend, meaning we could start seeing fewer Europeans and more Brits filling the lower ranks at companies like the Royal. Of course, they'll have plenty of homegrown British talents to choose from.

Financial Challenges

Traditionally, British dance companies received financial support from both the British government and the European Union. That will soon be a thing of the past, and it's unlikely that the British government will have the means to make up for all of the lost EU funds. In fact, many are predicting that the Brexit could send Britain, and possibly all of Europe, into a state of financial turmoil. Just this morning, the British pound's value fell by 8.5 percent against the dollar and 6 percent against the euro. The arts often suffer when economies suffer, so lack of funding could be a major factor for dance in Europe in the coming years.

Akram Khan, photo by Matthew Murphy

Decrease in Cultural Exchange

It's been easy for British companies to tour within Europe—both because of the close proximity to other countries and the EU rules that allow for some logistical complications to be bypassed. This could change if new costs for visas, taxes and health-care are imposed on British companies touring within Europe, since they won't be protected by those EU rules. It would be a shame to cut off the exchange of ideas that touring has always allowed within Europe.

As Stern points out in The Spectator, many of these potential consequences depend more on how leaders react to Brexit than Brexit itself. And any changes will be slow moving, as exiting the EU is a long, complicated process. We hope the arts will be on the minds of decision-makers as they grapple with the Brexit.


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Cover Story
Jayme Thornton

Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.

An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.

"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."

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This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins' birth, and a number of Robbins programs are celebrating his timeless repertoire. But it especially feels like a prime moment to experience The Cage again. Several companies are performing it: San Francisco Ballet begins performances on March 20, followed by the English National Ballet in April and New York City Ballet in May.

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Last week in a piece I wrote about the drama at English National Ballet, I pointed out that many of the accusations against artistic director Tamara Rojo—screaming at dancers, giving them the silent treatment, taking away roles without explanation—were, unfortunately, pretty standard practice in the ballet world:

If it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.

The line provoked a pretty strong response. Professional dancers, students and administrators reached out to me, making it clear that it's a conversation they want to have. Several shared their personal stories of experiencing abusive behavior.

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What I never imagined was that I would experience a time when I couldn't walk at all.

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Stephen Petronio brings a bracing season to New York City's Joyce Theater, where he has performed almost every year for 24 years . His work is exciting to the subscription audience as well as to many dance artists. He delves into movement invention at the same time as creating complex postmodern forms. The new work, Hardness 10, is his third collaboration with composer Nico Muhly. The costumes are by Patricia Field ARTFASHION, hand-painted by Iris Bonner/These Pink Lips. Petronio's work still practically defines the word contemporary.

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Completing the program is an excerpt from Petronio's Underland (2003), with music by Nick Cave. Video footage courtesy of Stephen Petronio Company, filmed by Blake Martin.

Career Advice
Photo via Unsplash

Never did I think I'd see the day when I'd outgrow dance. Sure, I knew my life would have to evolve. In fact, my dance career had already taken me through seasons of being a performer, a choreographer, a business owner and even a dance professor. Evolution was a given. Evolving past dancing for a living, however, was not.

Transitioning from a dance career involved just as much of a process as building one did. But after I overcame the initial identity crisis, I realized that my dance career had helped me develop strengths that could be put to use in other careers. For instance, my work as a dance professor allowed me to discover my knack for connecting with students and helping them with their careers, skills that ultimately opened the door for a pivot into college career services.

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"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."

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So I put out a call to readers asking for your perspective on the most pressing issues that need to be addressed first, and what positive changes we might be able to make to achieve those goals.

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How To Land An Agency

"At times with the agencies, they already have someone that looks like you or you're just not ready to work. Look has to do with a lot of it, work ethic and also just the type of person you are. Do you have personality? Do people want to work with you? Because you can be the greatest dancer, but if you're not someone that gives off this energy of wanting to get to know you, then it doesn't matter how dope you are because people want to work with who they want to be around. I learned that by later transitioning into a choreographer because now that I'm hiring people, I want to hire the people that I want to be around for 12 or 14 hours a day.

You also have to understand that class dancers are different from working commercial dancers. A lot of class dancers and what you see in these YouTube videos are people who stand out because they're doing what they want and remixing choreography. They're kind of stars in their own right, which is great for class, but when it comes to a job, you have to do the choreography how it's taught."

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