My current situation: I am a second year student at Northern School of Contemporary Dance, where I pay £9000 tuition with money I don’t own, plus racking up further debts with a maintenance loan each year. I do, like many other people I know, have a part time job in order to support my studies and luckily my parents are extremely generous and help me out. Yet, if this degree cost any more I definitely wouldn’t be able to afford to go to Northern.
I do, however, study in a school with people from all over the world, with different experiences and abilities prior to first year. The teachers are so helpful and caring, and the energy around the building is buzzing with supportive, encouraging creative ideas. The name of the game is to cultivate happy independent people with a wealth of ideas and skills that will help them no matter whether they want to become a performer after they graduate or not.
Naturally we study technique and we do fitness, but we also look at somatic and holistic movement, anatomy, repertoire, partner work, improvisation, dance history, theatre production, choreography, contemporary music and what’s going in the arts world. In addition to this we have to create our own solos, orchestrate individual research projects, and as a school we run networking nights, student choreography nights and the student blog. We have the opportunity to perform each year in the showcase and go and see shows, in short we have a wide ranging curriculum.
The list most definitely goes on, and as you can see technique and fitness formulates only a percentage of what goes on at Northern. Of course, we are training to be contemporary dancers, it goes without saying that technical and physical ability is a must. Yet it feels a bit two dimensional to place all this importance on just technique.
My impression of the dance world is that there is an abundance of dancers and just simply not enough jobs for everyone. Every year people graduate from hundreds of schools around the world, they’re all gonna want jobs. For some this is outside of the performance arts, some this may be teaching, education, choreography and for some performance. My opinion is that UK dance schools are pragmatists. They try to cater for everyone, and provide students with skills to be an independent freelancing dance artist with the ability to switch between teaching, creating and performing and anything else they are good at. Portfolio artists, because in a world so volatile as the performing arts you need to be adaptable, and you need to have other skills when there are a saturation of performers.
Also, I would like to point out that there is still the opportunity to seek out further training once you’ve graduated. Just because you’ve finished your degree doesn’t mean you’ve used up all of your entitled training. I was also under the impression that the three years after you graduate are the ones that count. You grow both as a performer and person- probably making some mistakes, only landing little project jobs, but this doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. Who wants thousands of identical dancers, unless it’s for the corp de ballet. Dancers, like other people have voiced, are not robots. If choreographers want robots, then they should train them to be like that- don’t just expect a bunch of identically moving people to turn up at the audition, that’s just unrealistic.
I think judging dancers immediately after they’ve graduated is a little premature. It’s easy to pick out faults with something, but something else entirely to venture solutions. The dance world is constantly evolving, how many 6month+ contracts are there going each year? Not a lot I’d wager, so surely the schools are being smart and adjusting to this? As a student it doesn’t really fill me with a whole load of confidence that choreographers are slating my school, but regardless I’m gonna do my thing, put my head down and see what happens, because who knows what’s going to happen in the future.