Why We Need Rights

Image credit: Marina AbramovicImage credit: Marina Abramovic

READ THIS - Sara Wookey explains why she couldn’t accept the offer to be one of six performers to re-enact Abramović’s Nude with Skeleton (2002).

“I would rather be the face of the outspoken artist then the silenced, slowly rotating head (or, worse, “centerpiece”) at the table. I want a voice, loud and clear.”

Sara Wookey is a brave, important one; her valiant efforts have brought the issue of exploitation of dance and performance artists to the fore. Talk about change, well, now’s the time!

5 Responses to “Why We Need Rights”

  1. Billie Jean

    Yes this has been the topic over many cups of tea…Maybe at last something concete will change – beyond making the issue more high profile. We actually need legislation in place so that this cannot happen. People cannot think that dancers can place themselves in such vulnerable positions all for the sake of a job; and how dare an artist want to employ dancers under those conditions? Absolutely disgusting.

  2. Maria Naranjo

    I totally agree with you Sara and I’m glad you took the time to write this letter. I’ve been trying to make my colleagues dancers understand that it is our choice to leave things as they are now. It is a situation that needs a long and steady fight to evolve, but I’m in to work for it. I will be spreading the word and linking to your document from my website:

  3. Attie

    I agree that the ethics of our dance ecology are in our hands. But as a young dance graduate in limbo I’d rather be practicing my craft and getting experience and exposure than not. Even if that does mean not being paid. In my head I qualify that sentence with ‘at first’ – ‘not being paid at first’. Maybe I’m being optimistic; the truth is I see dancers contend with not being paid decently or at all, project by project, for a very long time. I think it’s all well and good to rail against the standards within the industry once you have some stature within it, but it’s bloody difficult to do so without. Dance is intensely competitive. Isn’t it natural to want to use every advantage you have? Is being prepared to work for free a strength or a weakness, an advantage or disadvantage? I don’t want to perpetuate the cycle but from a selfish perspective, I don’t see how I can participate in the things I want to participate in right now without making some personal and ecological sacrifices. What’s the options: compromise on what you do, go into another line of work within the field; or compromise the terms on which you participate in the things you want to do. Any other suggestions? I feel insecure about these matters and my stance; I know everyone’s actions have implications on the working climate. I also know I am impatient (and I am not the only person who is). Are my priorities are out of whack? What principles are supportable?

  4. Jamila

    The issue here is money. What is perpetuated is a system that privileges those who have it. For many people working for free is an impossibility, compromise is the only option. If the dance world shuts out people without money who can't sustain the initial working-for-free-in-the-hope-of-being-paid-later situation surely it is the dance world that is compromising itself? Yes dance is competitive but should that competition be about financial situations or artistic quality, skill and integrity?


    Being 'prepared' to work for free is one thing, being able to is another. Being prepared to do that I think shows commitment which can only be good, until working for free for so long you forget that you are an asset to the thing you are working for and if it is possible to be paid you should be paid and the people who are in a position to pay you should make efforts to prioritise doing just that.


    What then does it mean to compromise? I guess it's subjective. Do you compromise your self in working for free? Life is a compromise anyway in terms of being something for which we can't really decide the terms of our participation, yet we commit to it. Is compromise a bad thing? Or does choosing to compromise, could we think about it as giving up a certain thing in order to get another? How we attribute value? Is it not just a regular system of exchange: I give you this £2.45, you give me this soya vanilla latte. In doing this I am attesting that I think these things are of equal value, that this is a worthwhile exchange. In this case, isn't compromise good, a good measure of what we decide to give up in order to live as we would like.


    Of course I can't change the definition of compromise but if we are not thinking in terms of more = better, maybe that changes things slightly.


    Or maybe it's a thing of the workers uprising – if we, highest in numbers and on the lowest level, refuse to participate, nothing can happen, the world cannot run. Of course then everybody loses out in one way but there is the possibility that somebody is moved to make a change in this situation. Maybe we should have a dancer's strike, just one day when we all refuse to work. Of course 'innocent' people would be affected but that's the way…


    But yes, there is always the desire to practice the craft, to continue, to improve, to be doing and I guess as individuals we need to figure out how to do this with the most satisfying compromise for each of us. And this will define us and our practice, to a certain extent. 


  5. Seke Chimutengwende

    I’ve done projects that were very well paid by dance standards, in which I felt compromised and even abused. And I have also done projects where I haven’t been paid and where I have even lost money doing it and found them totally rewarding.

    I agree with Jamilla about finding the most satisfying compromise. At the moment I’m feeling this for the first time. It seems there can be a conflict in seeming to be successful, doing work that gives us joy and making money. Sometimes these things are very hard to marry and the first of these three is usually the least important.


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