Change is an unavoidable part of a dancer?s life [?] It?s essential that you are not alone in this process but find an organisation that can lead you through it. With these words, the president of the International Organisation for the Transition of Professional Dancers ? Paul Bronkhost opened the seminar Transition Program for Dancers ? perspectives, which took place on June 7 in SPATiF Club in Warsaw. The seminar was hosted by the Institute of Music and Dance within the annual IOTPD gathering.
It is a harsh reality check when the dancer realises that his/her body is not so fit and that much younger dancers start entering his/her dance company; that?s the moment one becomes very uncertain and asks the question ? What do I do now? One of the basic forms of support provided by organisations and institutions that are members of IOTPD is free career counselling available to anyone interested in their respective countries. The second basic form of support provided for the dancers in the process of career transition is covering the costs of education; in order to apply for the financial support, the dancer has to fulfil certain criteria (for example ? a completed internship). In a word, if the dancer is brave enough to take the step towards change, there are no obstacles for him or her to start a new career.
Once, we met a dancer who wanted to make his career transition into IT. After a while, however, he realised that IT is actually not his cup of tea. Good for him, at least he knows what repels him and that?s already something. Mistakes can be very helpful ? said Ellen Chambers who also presented the UK Transition Program for Dancers that annually provides over 200 dancers with individual career counselling. We encourage the dancers to be open-minded and think outside the box ? underlined Ellen Chambers.
The end of a stage career brings a huge load of stress for the dancer. A very clear proof and example of this was presented in the seminar by Parise Mongrain, who spoke about the beginnings of the Canadian Transition Program for Dancers. The Canadian Program operates since 1985 and was developed by Joysanne Sidimus. In her analysis of the dance community and the dancers? career transition process Sidimus focussed on the stress that she went through as a dancer forced to make her transition into a new profession. Most of the Canadian dancers begin considering a career change when they are circa 35 years old. The dancers? meetings with counsellors, lawyers or psychologists, which provide the starting point of the transition process, focus mainly on determining the needs of a particular individual. These meetings are supposed to provide the dancer with the necessary time and space to ponder on what he/she would like to and could do next. An important step in this process ? stressed Parise Morgain ? is the environmental analysis ? the dancer should ask himself/herself who can be his/her ally outside the field of dance. The second important step in the process is to see in the transition process as an investment, not as a depressing necessity.
Transition Programs for Dancers also aim at analysing the needs of a given dance community. In Germany, for example, such an analysis led to a change in law provisions. Namely, the dancers? work contracts were complemented with a provision that each dancer can have 3 days off for extra education. The implementation of this provision has led to the employer also feeling responsible for the dancers? career transition ? emphasised Sabrina Sadowski while presenting the specificity of the German Transition Program. The German Transition Program offers also one more noteworthy practice ? financial support for childcare for dancers-parents who want to undergo the transition process.
It is true, that the offices of the organisations, where the dancer can seek help are important, but we should not forget about the crucial role played by actual examples of dancers who managed to start a new career path ? the so called ?program ambassadors?. For example, the British Career Transition Program provides the dancers with an opportunity to meet the ?program ambassadors? and receive their advice and guidance. It also provides the dancers with an opportunity to rent professional equipment such as photo cameras ? in the case of dancers who decided to undertake photography as their new profession.
Jakub Jóźwiak is an example of such transition process in the Polish dance community. He is an independent dancer, who, having participated in the Career Transition Program for Dancers carried out by the Institute of Music and Dance, has taken up photography. Working in different cities, on many projects he did not have the opportunity to take up additional studies or training. But by participating in the Career Transition Program he gained new experience and moved into a new profession. His experience in the area of career transition can be particularly valuable for many other freelance dancers who do not work full-time in theatres and usually find it difficult to present complete documentation of their professional dance career, which is obligatory to qualify for the program. It is worth noting that the Polish program creates an opportunity to fill in the gaps in the documentation of the dancer?s professional career in a different way ? the dancer can, for example, submit recommendations from theatres, if he/she did not collect the contracts. However, not collecting contracts is a huge mistake. As Jóźwiak highlighted, many of his friends said that if they had known about the program, they would have collected contracts instead of throwing them into the dust-bin.
Financing mechanisms play an important role in the way each career transition program functions: the programs are mainly supported by external sources of financing (for example ? the ministry), but some of them are supported by the dance community itself. As Paul Bronkhost explained, in the Netherlands the dancers who have a permanent job contract pay an annual contribution (3% of the yearly income; the Netherlands career transition system also enables the freelance dancers to pay the contribution).
What is the situation like in Poland?
The situation of professional dancers in Poland has become very unstable due to the deprivation of acquired rights in the form of early retirement (for women at the age of 40, for men at the age of 45) that entered into force in 2008. The Career Transition Program carried out by the Institute of Music and Dance has been created as a remedy for this unstable situation of Polish professional dancers. Our main goal is to reach out to each and every professional dancer in Poland, no matter what form or style of dance he/she is practising ? highlighted Aleksandra Dziurosz, the Vice-director of the Institute of Music and Dance, in her opening speech at the panel discussion moderated by Grzegorz Chełmecki.
Undoubtedly there is still a need to inform the dancers about the program. The promotion, however, is not enough ? pointed out Vladimir Seleznev, a former ballet dancer working now as an IT and multimedia specialist. Dancers are simply afraid to leave the dance world. But they could use a little bit of self-confidence. When I was taking classes at the ballet school I was pretty sure that I would be able to dance until my retirement, which was not true. You have to count on yourself ? said Seleznev. Another important element of the process is ? accepting the situation. This was pointed out during the panel discussion especially by Paulina Wycichowska ? a former dancer of the Polish Dance Theatre, who is currently finishing her career transition process within the Institute?s program. Thanks to Art Therapy studies at the Medical University of Poznań, Wycichowska not only moved into a new career path, where she can use her abilities and predispositions, but, more importantly, she finally accepted the fact that her career as a dancer is over. Change is part of this profession. One of the tasks undertaken within the framework of the program is to make dancers aware of this fact as early as possible (already in ballet school). Cooperation with theatre directors is equally important ? the more aware and involved they are, the greater the chances of finding new work for dancers when they finish their dance career. A theatre director aware of the dancer?s needs in terms of his/her career transition process might hire him/her in the same theatre but on a different post ? For example as a sound designer or an instructor in the education department ? noted Michail Zubkow (speaking on behalf of Polish National Song and Dance Ensemble ?Śląsk?) and Wojciech Warszawski (ballet director of the Baltic Opera House).
The program does not aim at finding a new passion for the dancers but it focusses on helping them discover the potential they have within. Passion is the key characteristic of this professional group, therefore, former dancers are very likely to take up a new profession with an equal commitment to the one they had for dancing ? said Dobrosława Choryńska-Chudy, a career counsellor in the Institute?s program. At times, the career transition is a long process that can take even 4 years. In this process, we very often reach back to a dancer?s childhood in order to tap into his/her hidden potentials and dreams. It is also important to make the initial idea about the new career realistic. Let?s say that a person comes to us and says that he or she loves computer games and wants to work in IT. But that does not mean that we can immediately offer him/her an IT training. First of all, we need to find out how they tackle maths, then we can go further with the process.
The Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage has taken steps to issue an amendment to the act that regulates artistic activity in Poland (the currently applicable act was issued in 1991, shortly after the political shift in Poland, and at that time no one could have foreseen the future development of the Polish artistic field). A serious problem faced by the authorities and artists lies, however, in defining the professional status of an artist and assessing the number of professional artists in Poland. In accordance with the recent survey, circa 65.000 individuals have defined themselves as professional artists and 2.500 of them defined themselves as professional dancers. Unfortunately, the survey has proven also that almost 1/3 of the 65.000 artists claim to have income below national minimum wage, which means that they live below the breadline. Therefore the authorities came up with an idea that the Polish government would finance the social insurance contributions (ZUS contributions). Currently, the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage is seeking means to finance this idea. Polish authorities also proposed to create a new organisation ? Polish Chamber of Artists ? responsible for providing artists with the proof of status and for coordinating the payment of ZUS contributions. We do not mean to create a prerogative for dancers but to execute their legal rights ? it is a legal duty of the Polish authorities to acknowledge dancers hard work, said Katarzyna Saks, Director of the Department of National Culture Institutions in the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.
Horse-riding instructor, professional pilot or landscape designer ? these are only a few examples of professions chosen by former dancers who participated in the Career Transition Program for Dancers that is being carried out by the Institute of Music and Dance since 2015. The eldest dancer that took part in the program is 52 years old. In the years 2015-2019 already 219 dancers have benefited from individual career counselling sessions, 23 workshop sessions and 22 information meetings with different dance companies were carried out in 13 cities all over Poland. These are just some of the facts presented during the seminar by Monika Kaszewska, who coordinates the Institute?s Career Transition Program together with Anna Čemeljić.
Information about the Career Transition Program for Dancers carried out by the Institute of Music and Dance can be found here: www.ideedlatanca.pl
The outline of the Career Transition Program for Dancers ? perspectives seminar that took place on June 7 in the Warsaw SPATiF Club with the accompanying list of all invited guests: here