Securing the Future of Dance in Ireland Together

Todhchaí an Damhsa in Éirinn a bhúnú le chéile

14 Jul 2020

It is not things of material value that necessarily hold a society together. It is the arts and the art of communication that draw us close. Dancing transcends so many of the obstacles that language based communication can present. Dancing quite simply can make you feel connected and our society needs this, now more than ever.

Dancers are extraordinary people. It’s their love of what they do that carries them. They are not wrapped up in the politics of the appearances of success.  In general they are people of action and truth. In Ireland today, there are just too many excellent people working in dance that we can be ignored any longer.

Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up in a country where you never had to hear anyone say again; ‘I know nothing about dance.’

the wider cultural fabric

The number and quality of the signatories and additional supporters of the letter that the Let’s Talk About Dance Group delivered to the Arts Council asking for this meeting was highly significant. It demonstrated the place that dance holds in the minds of a diverse and remarkable group of people that all recognise the importance of what we do in the wider cultural fabric of this Island.

When choreographers, dance makers or dancers are asked to imagine what they need to make their work, you would be amazed at the selflessness, functionality and brilliance of their answers.

Arts and culture are the bedrock of our nation, dance is an elemental part of that fabric and should be evaluated as such.

The potential of the Dance Sector in Ireland is limitless. The scene as it stands is like the seventh wonder of the world, and I often ask myself, how can so many gifted dancers, choreographers and producers continue to live and work in a country where they are so consistently underfunded and peripheralized?

The demands put upon us in order to survive have quite accidentally I think, created a remarkable, diverse and intelligent working community. It’s diversity, just like in the natural world is the reason why we have managed to survive a history of the most draconian funding cuts imaginable.

Arts and culture are the bedrock of our nation and dance is an elemental part of that fabric and should be evaluated as such. It is time now to develop a holistic model to determine value and it’s time to put dance at the centre of our arts policy.

A policy:

That fully supports artists to work the way they need to work with funding mechanisms that allow this to happen.

That enables choreographers to fully realise their vision and be able to offer their dancers considerably longer working contracts, further develop their voice and cultivate a lively and functioning ensemble.

That means that everyone working in the sector from choreographer to assistant stage manager is paid properly.

That allows women working in dance to know that if they decide to become a mother that they will be supported and can return to work when they are ready.

That means owning a home, working into old age and retiring gracefully is a potential reality and not some pipe dream.

That offers supports to injured dancers.

That makes dancing available to everyone

We need much more stability, for mid-career artists’ and a system where funding and programming cycles align, where three or five year funding options are available.

THE lack of commitment to dance

When I was eighteen I had to leave Ireland to train as a dancer. If I was eighteen again, I would STILL have to leave Ireland  – a poor indication of our systemic lack of commitment to dance. But at least in 1988 I could access an arts council bursary to subsidise the cost of my training, today I could not.

We need to work much more closely with the department of education, starting tomorrow, bringing dance into  primary and secondary schools, in its own right and then boldly investing in that policy. A policy that must include full time conservatoire style training for those who wish to pursue a career in dance.

In New Zealand, a country of a similar population to Ireland, with a post-colonial past like Ireland, an indigenous language and a peripheral location in relation to the western, industrialised world, like Ireland, there are several full time dance companies: The New Zealand Dance Company, The New Zealand Ballet, Footnote Dance Company. And The New Zealand School of Dance is one of the finest dance schools in the world. We could have all of this in Ireland.

The Irish word for confidence is muinín. In Irish, the word muinín also means trust.

Where there is trust there is confidence.

It is the play between the established and the newly formed, between organisations and independents, between conservatives and radicals that make for a really exciting cultural dynamic.

The potential for this play in this beautiful country of ours is unlimited and there are so many possibilities in the international dance ecology to form meaningful partnerships and long term co-supportive relationships.

We need open and bold conversations. We need to be able to agree to disagree where necessary and still come together and talk and celebrate who we are and what we are trying to do.

And finally we need a policy document that has been generated and written by practitioners of the art in consultation with the arts council and it needs to be a living and breathing document.

The Irish word for confidence is muinín. In Irish, the word muinín also means trust. Where there is trust there is confidence.

Creativity thrives in an atmosphere of trust and confidence. I imagine a dance sector in Ireland teeming with confidence and trust.

Michael Keegan Dolan, 2020

Other Work

The Bull