“I think this is part of our problem. Nobody laughs. How often do we laugh? What is wrong with us? Dance seems to be too serious … Dance can also be about joy. Dance can be about entertainment. The weight of that seriousness that we all have to have, and the evidence of deep process, is also a burden and may not do us very well at all.”
For our second network meeting in September 2015 we had the honour to have choreographer, scholar and teacher Julia Gleich speak to us about what it’s like to “make it” as a choreographer and to discuss with us notions of success as well as ways to develop our careers.
She is on faculty at Trinity Laban and the Head of Choreography at London Studio Centre among many other roles. She works between NYC and London. Find out more about her and her work on her website http://gleichdances.org/
We have found that when discussing any issues and ideas – gender issues, female choreographers, artistic development, “emerging” and so on – we were always speaking to people who had a very similar level of experience to ourselves and we decided that we needed to hear from someone who had a wealth of experience and who had in fact made it beyond the “emerging” label. Julia kindly agreed to speak to us and so we met at Siobhan Davies Dance studios.
First Julia introduced herself and her career giving us a very realistic and candid account of how her career developed. It allowed us to get an insight into an actual trajectory, not the one written up for a programme, and showed that in reality a career isn’t clearly structured, plannable or predictable and that it involves success, setbacks and times of questioning your career and your artistry and times when you have to make choices about what work to do and what to reject.
“There may come tipping points, where you start to negotiate this and I sometimes wonder if those are the moments that really define you.”
Zero Sum Game
Julia gave us a broad idea of how the dance world works in the US and thus enabled us to see our own London/UK dance scene from a different perspective. Many of the attending choreographers were from countries other than the UK, but had worked in London for some time and it was good to be reminded that London and how things are done here are not the be all and end all. We compared different perceptions and Julia made us think about our dance world, how we behave towards one another and as an industry and we discussed the idea of the zero-sum game and how our funding culture can get us to feel that way.
“I think we’re all perceiving that it’s a Zero Sum Game. If someone else wins, I loose. The Zero Sum Game is probably the most damaging idea that you can carry. I’m not saying I’m immune to this. I do it and it’s terrible and I check myself and I say ‘No, the rising water raises all ships.’ It’s a cornucopia. There’s more. You can do what you do and they can do what they do.”
The Zero Sum Game can also lead to a lack of support amongst choreographers or amongst women. It’s something that many of us have experienced in some way and something we try to address with Kaleidoscopic Arts by sharing information and experience and by developing this network to nurture and support each other.
Notions of Success
“This word success is really problematic I think. Maybe we just get rid of the idea of success altogether. There’s doing or not doing in my mind. You’re making or you’re not making. And that’s ok. Not making doesn’t mean that you failed and it doesn’t mean that you’ve stopped making. It just means that in this moment you’re not making.”
Google tells us that success is “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose”. Often success is measured and perceived in monetary terms and possessions or in the quantitative reach of someone’s influence. If we as artists in the independent dance sector solely measure our success in such terms, we are likely to be disappointed. Rethinking what it means to be successful and truly applying such thinking to our existence can help our sense of self-worth and better validate our work, both the process and its products.
“ ‘If I had that, that would be great’. And I don’t know, maybe it wouldn’t be so great. Maybe that’s not what you want. Maybe having this place here where you’re doing what you want to do and in the way you want to do it, […] maybe that’s the place to be. Maybe that is your success. Maybe that’s the best success. Maybe that’s the success that filters out into the world better than the stuff right at the top, the stuff that we all think has succeeded.”
“What’s the same about us? Maybe nothing. Maybe there’s nothing the same about any of us, except that we happen to be female.”
Julia asked if we might be doing ourselves a disservice by singling ourselves out and if we might be potentially ghettoising ourselves when we profile ourselves with reference to our being female. It’s a complex issue that often applies to “minority” or secondary groups in their struggle for equality with the primary group. Women’s voices contribute to the diversity in dance and should be valued as much as any other voices if we want to keep our art form vital.
“We’re female. Does that define how we make work or what we make? No, it doesn’t define any of these things at all. But somehow it does define somebody’s perception somewhere. Maybe even our own.”
Our discussion lasted well over two hours and a lot of ideas were exchanged, amongst them:
- The importance of seeking mentorship, companionship and togetherness
- Not feeling like you have to do it all alone, remembering we’re not alone
- Having peers to give feedback and to bounce ideas off
- Creating a “perfect” work, being precious and deeply emotional with our work and how these aspects might work against us or in our favour
- Creating dance and expressing it in writing, be it for funding applications, to speak about it or in programmes
- The financial aspects of our careers, ACE funding, other funding sourcing, working outside the dance sector
- Working with physicality, identifying through physicality and what happens when we’re not “being physical”
- Balancing work we love with work we need and with life
- Are there actually differences between men and women and their works? If so, then there should be equality of opportunity. If not, then there should be equality of opportunity.
Thank you very much to Julia Gleich for sharing her knowledge and engaging is in this fruitful discussion. We hope everyone who attended took with them a wealth of insight and food for thought to continue developing their work and their careers.
Our next network meeting takes place on Friday, March 11: Residency exchange – where can we learn, develop and present work?
We are organising an exchange of knowledge and experiences about residencies, festivals and professional development opportunities.
We invite you to come along and to share your experiences as well as learn about others’.
Every year we see a large number of opportunities and often it is difficult to know how good or how suitable each opportunity is.
We invite all attendants to think back at the opportunities they’ve taken part in and to take some notes on the following questions (more welcome, less not a problem!):
Is it worth the money?
What are the organisers like?
Did I benefit? How?
Was I left to my own devices or is it a close-knit group effort?
What kind of experience was it?
We think it will be useful for everyone attending to share in each others’ knowledge and to learn from each other.
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to take part or if you have any questions.
With love and good wishes and hopes for everyone’s New Year’s resolutions,
This post was written by Lucia Schweigert.