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Animated Edition - Spring 2003
Reflections of a dance manager
Deborah Baddoo gives her personal reflections on the issues faced by black dance managers, and the context in which they and other black artists operate in the UK
As a dance manager, I feel that I come from a very particular standpoint from which to offer my interpretation and experience of the dance management scene. I have reached this point in my career as a development of my earlier experiences as a practitioner, lecturer and dance development worker.

These experiences have combined to furnish me with the skills necessary to undertake my current role as a freelance arts manager and producer.

Through a self-designed apprenticeship as an arts manager, I am able to develop my own portfolio of dance management and production work. Through fundraising I have been able to focus upon projects in which I have a passionate interest and are challenging.

This not to say that this opportunity has come lightly. I set up my company State of Emergency in 1986 and it has been a complex journey to this point, and I hope it will go on developing creatively. I am currently project director for The Mission, a national showcase tour of new work by black choreographers and an accompanying national roadshow programme.

As a black dance manager, with a particular interest in black dance forms, I find that my skills are in demand, as too few black dance managers appear to be active in the 'recognised' sector. Whether this is because their work is not acknowledged through mainstream channels or whether there is a genuine shortage of black dance managers is open to further research and debate. There should be specific initiatives to 'widen the pool', to make access into training, placements and opportunities for apprenticeships to target this sector.

There is a 'double-edged sword'; on the one hand, my perspective is that although I work mainly with a black product, I also know that my skills are 100 per-cent transferable and that I could work with any dance product, indeed any art product, as long as I believed in it. However, I do not want to be 'ghettoised' in working only with black clients or with a black product. On the other hand, some black clients only like to work with a black dance manager as they feel that only they would fully understand their work, and some black dance managers prefer to only work with a black dance product. Ideally, I would like to see a free market into which dance managers and clients are free to access whoever is right for the job.

In programming The Mission Performance and Roadshow tour, in 2001 and now again in 2003, I am aware that there is still a lack of understanding about the nature and diversity of black dance forms, which underlines a need for a manager who really understands the culturally integrated nature of black dance forms, who can really sell the product and engage in an intelligent and informative way with potential partnership organisations and venues. I also feel that black dancers need advocates who can translate from their bodies into the language of funders, promoters, marketing personnel and project partners.

Currently very few training opportunities exist for dance managers wishing to develop knowledge, understanding and skills in black dance. Those that do exist do not appear to be part of any coherent strategy to address the skill gaps of black dance managers to any significant degree. IRIE!, ADAD and Badejo Arts are offering some 'one-off' initiatives and I have recently become aware of the Arts Council of England's latest Apprenticeship Scheme for Black Arts Managers. This scheme offers considerable investment in those selected and has been successfully run in previous years, with a lot of positive benefits to those I know who were selected.

However, this is small currency in relation to the number of black dance managers that are in existence across the country. Most of the existing initiatives and forums that take place are London based, and we need to ensure that dialogues, debates, schemes and support networks reach beyond the Capital, in order for any real change to take place.

I would argue that the chasm in employment opportunities for black dance managers is self perpetuating and has its roots in the general lack of presence or acknowledgement of black dance forms in mainstream dance education provision in schools, colleges and universities. Until black dance forms are integrated into mainstream curriculum and into mainstream programming of all dance-receiving venues, this will not properly be addressed.

The creation of The Mission tour was driven by my desire to address this lack of opportunity. The showcase aspect offers something for every palate, with five short works enabling audiences to see a wide range of what is available from black choreographers. The fusion of the styles provides a fresh new dynamic perspective on the current dance scene.

The Mission is also a way of investing in black choreographers in terms of artistic development, support and marketing in order to both raise awareness and to continue an ongoing process to both develop the artform, and highlight black choreographic talent. This process is a way of nurturing and developing talent, so that there is a continuous process of feeding, developing and exposing black choreographic work.

The roadshow aspect of the tour attempts to bring creative participation in and appreciation of a variety of black dance forms, into schools, colleges and communities and works in partnership with a range of organisations.

All participants are encouraged and invited to see The Mission performance in their region and links are directly made with the workshop leaders, who may also be the choreographers and dancers featured in the performance.

This has proved a successful model in developing audiences and 'de-mystifying' black dance forms to a range of participants and audiences who may have a very limited experience of them.

The lack of visibility of black dance, although obviously beginning to be addressed with a number of positive initiatives in certain regions of the country (notably the West Midlands, with their Black Theatre and Dance Awards Scheme; in the North West with the placement of two new African Peoples' Dance posts; and with the Arts Council's Decibel initiative), was highlighted by responses within a conference that was organised by State of Emergency at The New Art Gallery Walsall, last October. This was part of a West Midland Arts funded programme of a site specific choreographed work commissioned by State of Emergency and a conference focusing on the promotion of black dance forms in the region.

The key points articulated at the conference of particular relevance to the dance manager's role, particularly black dance managers; were that the sector should engage in new ways of mentoring for individuals that have carved career pathways and opportunities either through their own endeavours or through training or apprenticeship schemes and they in turn should support others to do the same. Wanjiku Nyachae, one of they keynote speakers at the conference, explained that she had three mentors to support different aspects of her work.

It was also highlighted that the dance sector has allowed itself to be whittled down to such an extent that there are very few rep companies, dancers or choreographers who can offer any kind of apprenticeship to a potential dance manager.

Indeed, if we look at the training opportunities for dance managers per se, without even addressing issues of cultural identity, very few training opportunities present themselves outside London. The strong initiative set up by London Arts with the development of the Dance Managers Network, has not spread to other regions. However, I understand that there are plans for using the London initiative as a blueprint for other regions which will be a very precious resource to those dance managers, like myself, working in isolation across the country and we would welcome a similar initiative in each region. Opportunities to support each other, share skills, problem solve and set our own agenda would be extremely valuable.

Finally, to put these issues into context we need more black role models with high visibility in the mainstream media diet. Thank goodness for Goldie on Celebrity Big Brother, Lenny Henry, for the series BabyFather and other primetime TV that highlights life from a black cultural perspective, and which does this in an accessible manner, without 'talking down' or over simplifying things to audiences. Just 'being' creates a valuable insight about the normality of other cultural perspectives within Britain and so makes them less threatening.

It is only with the regular programming of key individuals and programmes like these in primetime slots, highlighting the cultural issues that relate to the Black British experience and being understood by the whole population, that the programming and management of Black dance within large and small scale venues nationwide will happen, and the skills of existing and potential black dance managers will be supported, recognised and valued.

Deborah Baddoo is project director of The Mission, and runs her own company State of Emergency. For more information email soe@waitrose.com

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Animated: Spring 2003