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Brexit and career prospects for British dancers: an urgent call for UK practitioners to give evidence to the government before 14th January


Goldenlily17
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In 2016 I started a thread which raised concerns about employment prospects for British dancers post-Brexit. At the time at least one member cited an article which claimed that Arts Professionals had nothing to fear from leaving the EU. I am now opening up a related thread which urges dancers, parents and teachers of dance students and all those concerned with the career prospects of British dancers to take action and give evidence to the government, which is forming policy over the coming months which will affect the career prospects of the current generation of British dancers for many years to come.

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/shortage-occupation-list-2018-call-for-evidence

 

The government has stated a firm commitment to ending freedom of movement when the UK leaves the European Union in March. For ballet dancers this could prove a calamity because most dancers who graduate from UK vocational schools are reliant on finding work in companies within EU countries  outside the UK in order to develop their careers. Every year graduating students and professional dancers travel to auditions all around Europe, often invited at only a few days notice, and the right to work and live in Europe without lack of visa restrictions, provides them with a plethora of possible opportunities which are unavailable in the UK, where there are so few openings in ballet companies.  Contracts and apprenticeships exist in the UK, of course, but in recent years the level of global competition for British jobs has reached fever-pitch as barriers to entry are lower than in almost any other country in the world. This makes the establishment of a career in the UK virtually impossible for British graduates with little experience. Competition for jobs in all countries is tough, but in recent years many ballet companies around the world have resolved to prioritise and nurture their own talent, giving preference to students from their own schools who are nationals,  stipulating that job applicants must be resident in the country in which the company is based, that they must apply in the language of that country, or simply stating that they cannot offer jobs to non-nationals at all. Only in the UK now, it seems, is it acceptable for dancers of all nationalities to enjoy contracts in British companies, whilst British ballet dancers who were identified as exceptional talents as children and have completed their training alongside international students in our vocational schools, are either working abroad, unemployed, or struggling to fund their ongoing training by doing part-time work between short freelance contracts. We frequently read of concerns about the problem of eating disorders, anxiety, depression and social isolation in the dance profession, but the question that should be asked is whether there is a link between these problems and the systemic disappointments and lack of opportunities that dancers feel as a result of thwarted hopes and ambitions after so many years of dedicated training.

 

Supporters of Brexit might imagine that life will get rosier for British dancers when the UK has a more controlled immigration scheme. But unfortunately British dancers will become some of the most disadvantaged in the world, and it is quite possible that ballet will cease to be a viable profession for the following reason:

Classical and Contemporary dancers are included in the UK Labour Shortage List  (Shortage Occupation List) under the pretext that we do not have enough highly skilled dancers in the UK. This enables ballet companies to employ international dancers with far greater ease than British dancers can be employed in non-European companies. There is no reciprocity.  Following Brexit the government intends to create a  simplified single global immigration system for high-skilled workers. European workers will be included in the category which currently covers non-EU citizens.  Therefore, whilst British dancers lose the right to live and work freely in Europe (at best they will have to obtain short-term working visas or complex dance passports, which will exclude them from permanent jobs under the government's current plans) European dancers will still be able to work in the UK enjoying the special status and lack of visa restrictions currently awarded to dancers from non-EU countries. 

 

In June 2018 the government commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to carry out a full review of the composition of the Shortage Occupation List, and MAC has published a call for evidence to be supplied which will influence which professions are included in the new post-Brexit list. It has been evident for a long time that we certainly have no shortage of dancers in the UK at entry point, or corps de ballet level. Surely if we had a shortage, British dancers would be considered an asset? The truth is that we have an over-supply of female dancers who have been trained to perform in our corps de ballets and have proved themselves by performing with our leading companies as students, but who are not able to begin their careers in these companies - and more are graduating with every passing year.  Christopher Wheeldon received almost 1,000 applications from dancers when he advertised for corps members to join his forthcoming production of Cinderella in the Albert Hall this summer. To conclude, a distinction must be made between the need to import soloists and guest artists who can perform repertoire at short notice which might not be able to be performed by resident dancers, and new entrants into the job market. If we don't make this distinction the problem of employment among British dancers will become acute, especially for women. We will see even more wasted talent, vocational schools will close and careers in ballet may cease to exist altogether

 

If you have any concern for the future careers of British dancers post Brexit,  I plead with members of this forum to give evidence to the Migration Advisory Council and make clear that the UK Shortage Occupation List should not include entry-level ballet dancers as we do not have a national shortage. Submissions must be made by the closing date of 14th JANUARY

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/shortage-occupation-list-2018-call-for-evidence

 

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The government has not made any such commitment, surely? Freedom of Movement will only end at the end of the transition period provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement, though what happens if no withdrawal agreement is in place (the No Deal scenario) is unknown, and even that depends on the details of the final agreements made with the EU, which depends a lot on who is actually running things after March. In the short run altering the Shortage Occupation List is just an attack on non-EU dancers. 

 

[What are the guidelines for this sort of discussion here?] 

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I am afraid the government has indeed made this commitment. I received confirmation of it in a letter from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport confirming this on 11th December. If there is no Withdrawal Agreement it will simply happen more abruptly. I would suggest that you take a look at the numbers of British dancers who are working in non-EU ballet companies and you will see that UK dancers are subjected to the protectionism commonly practised in many countries which routinely favour nationals.  It is far more difficult for British dancers to work in the USA and in Asia, for example, than it is for American and Asian dancers to work in the UK. 

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Speaking as a resident of the Channel Islands where we only have freedom of movement IN and its not reciprocal. I haven’t heard of any difficulties from local dancers searching positions within the EU. 

 

Looking at Brexit from a slightly different angle. If the UK Gov offer DaDa’s to UK and EU residents (we are exempt) does that mean less competition for UK pupils when seeking those desperately needed funds (DaDa). As they will be the only applicants  Just a thought. 

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Yes, absolutely. It isn't a survey though it is an invitation for individuals to give evidence online in an open consultation which will contribute to a government review.  You just click on the link I have provided. The Shortage list isn't reviewed very often so it is an extremely important opportunity for  stakeholders, which just means someone with an interest or concern.

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I have pointed out to MAC that the format of their online form is unsuitable for stakeholders who wish to give evidence that a particular group should be removed from the list as there are sufficient applicants to fill vacancies.   They will return to me with a more suitable means of conveying this and I will post details.

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