ARAD Works: “Dancing Inside the Institution: Examining Labor Rights Within Major Dance Companies”

(Taken from the NY Times: Constance Stamatiou, third from left, and other members of the Alvin Ailey company in “Festa Barocca.” Choreographed by Mauro Bigonzetti, it is a suite set to familiar arias by Handel.)
(Taken from the NY Times: Constance Stamatiou, third from left, and other members of the Alvin Ailey company in “Festa Barocca.” Choreographed by Mauro Bigonzetti, it is a suite set to familiar arias by Handel.)

Donald Borror, recent ARAD graduate and 2015 Management Fellow at Dunch Arts, LLC, ponders the following research questions about unionized dance companies’ impact on a dancer’s career in his masters thesis:

Many dancers believe that unionized dance companies will provide them with the most consistent work and contractual safeguards to support their pursuit of such a challenging artistic career. How do the administrative structures and procedures of these “dream companies” facilitate or frustrate the optimization of dancers’ creative capacities? How do Company Managers navigate the complex protocols of union contracts in relation to the needs of both performers and organizational leaders? How do dance professionals envision the evolution of labor relations within this sector?

Abstract: This research examines the administrative structures of large unionized dance organizations and their ability to provide support for their dancers. As the challenging professional field of dance continues to raise the barrier for new entrants, this paper assesses the protocols and processes of industry leaders to evaluate if they indeed provide an environment for dancers to thrive. In conversation with company managers from five major unionized companies, the administrative structures and internal dynamics of these organizations are analyzed to assess their ability to provide support for their dancers. Identifying the professional goals of a dancer and the deep entanglement of their professional and personal lives helps guide the organization of support structures within the dance company environment. Looking at the current state of support provided by the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), the professional dancer’s union, not all challenges faced by professional dancers are met with sufficient support. Two main types of support emerge, procedural guidelines and general employee benefits, which are both heavily dependent on the company’s ability to fund. Additionally, organizational transition, internal company culture, and personalities all have an impact on the way that needs of the dancers are met. Informal protocols, such as an acute awareness to communication, seem to provide the most constructive way for dealing with AGMA guidelines. While the question remains if these guidelines produce a higher quality of performance from the artist, AGMA establishes an environment committed to addressing the challenges faced by professional dancers.

For access to Donald’s full paper, please contact the ARAD program at aradassistant@tc.columbia.edu.

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