"The Power of Foundation: Restructing the Economy of Dance in Society". By Ellie Sanna

 One commonality between movement artists is being told, at one point or another, “It’s all about your foundation.” Whether the focus is on strength, flexibility, versatility, or refinement every dancer with aspirations to pursue a career has been advised to train their foundations. The dance industry has expanded those opportunities for training, making it more and more accessible to expand one's knowledge and opportunities. That’s all well and good... if you want to be a performance artist. 

The same cannot be said for the foundation of the dance industry as a whole. I am talking about the administrative side, the “other side” of the dance world. If we look at the economic structure of the dance industry, we see that it has developed its own world to survive. Artists have always created jobs for very specific markets, following specific pathways of work, such as teaching, competitions, residencies, commercial work, music videos, broadway, and so on. There are a few who have emerged, surpassing the cyclical routine of dancers who pay dancers, who pay dancers. 

How do these few emerge? 

Ellie Sanna holds a coffee cup in a dark green outfit while leaning on a door frame and listening intently.

With Management and Administrative Support.

Organizations have developed over the past 20 years that are creating roles not traditionally offered to dancers. Some of these include Managers, Agents, and Production Companies. The companies are small, yet they have made drastic waves within the dance industry, creating a new necessity for movement in both commercial and concert worlds. 

One major issue in our community is that the artists are not aware of opportunities beyond being a creative, a teacher, a performer, or an agent. Dance and Art Administrative practices have been marginalized within greater education structures. These outlets for work do not differ so drastically from what an artist might seek in a “side gig”, yet there is a gap in understanding that these opportunities do exist and more can exist, with the right knowledge and networking to connect those who are curious about alternative ways to work within their passion. You could be a Booking/Touring Agent, Stage Manager, Producer, Independent Artist Manager, Company Manager, Venue Manager, Programmer, nonprofit employee, Creative Director, Casting Agent, not to mention each of those people need an assistant! This is the foundation the dance industry is missing. A growing point, an offering of education to be shared, applied and evolved. 

Speaking from my own experience, I have been fortunate to work with some leading artists in our community thanks to Box Artist Management [founded by Ben Totty] and Sharing Spaces Productions [founded by Barbara Frum]. Both organizations allowed me to work for artists such as Sonya Tayeh, Emma Portner, Holly Blakey, Teresa “Toogie” Barcelo, Coral Dolphin, Kiani Del Valle, and Benjamin Milan in New York, Los Angeles, London, Berlin and France. We worked on jobs casting, directing, producing, negotiating, and managing in both concert and commercial worlds with Burberry, Valentino, Gap, Banana Republic, New York City Center, The Tate, Tove Lo, Celeste, Years & Years, Miguel, Billboard Music Awards, and so many more. 

The unfortunate reality for organizations like BOX and SSP is that our team, for each client, each job consisted of two; the founder and myself.
The workload to expand the opportunities and  possibilities is based solely on the foundation that organizations can develop. Just us, two humans, were fighting like I’ve never seen for artists' rights and fair pay. I believe that the only way the arts can grow is to create and focus on foundational support systems. There are more companies than ever popping up to aid our dance artists. They are shifting perspectives, reality, fiscal intake, and opportunities, but they cannot continue this expansion and change without more administrative support. 

Coral Dolphin holds her phone in a yellow head scarf with her back to the camera while working with a group of dancers.

Coral Dolphin at work in the studio.

The dance world has thrived off of creative integration and development into areas that seemed on the surface impenetrable. It has thrived from humans shifting the perspective of their training and understanding that their education offers them creative thinking skills. What I am saying is, a background in dance educates you in a way that prepares you to step outside of your comfort zone. A background in dance provides you the tools for creative thinking, open perspectives, emotional intelligence and connection. This pandemic has brought me into connection with so many people interested in developing what has been pushed aside within the dance industry. Partnering with Sarah Horne in London, we have been developing an educational, and networking program to bridge the gap between artists and art administrative roles. We are offering the knowledge and tools necessary to jump into these administrative roles alongside directly connecting artists with organizations in NYC which are looking to fill a position or three. 

We already have the mapping, the people, and the passion. It is time to refocus our energy on our community and build that foundation already put in motion by these smaller companies. The lack of engagement with these roles stunts our industry’s capacities to expand. With more minds, ideas, and people, these “benchmarks” and “standards” we dream about will become the normality for our industry. If we can give time to our administrative foundations and support what has already begun to take action, then we will be able to redevelop the formulas that have been accepted without evolution.