Should dancers and choreographers look elsewhere to earn a living?

Last Updated on Friday, 11 December, 2020 at 10:57 am by Andre Camilleri

Theresa Lungaro-Mifsud, Fellow and examiner ISTD Chair Dance subcommittee, MEIA

As a young dancer in the 1980s and 1990s my biggest concern was that I would never be able to dedicate myself entirely to the art of dance because I would never be able to earn a living here in Malta.

So, I did the next thing I could do and started to focus on teaching dance. I believe I became among the first Maltese dance teachers to be offered a full-time job, this thanks to Tanya Bayona. Looking back 30 years, I wonder if the situation has changed for Malta-based dance enthusiasts?

Let’s start with the most obvious possibility of getting a job – dance education. With over 50 dance schools on the island it is impossible to say that there are no dance teaching jobs out there. As a tutor for future dance teachers, I can vouch that established dance schools are desperate for dance teachers and every time I open a new course, I am delighted to be coaching six or seven young teachers to discover teaching methods, to smarten up their looks and their demonstration. Yes, tens of thousands of Maltese/Malta-based children are fortunate enough to partake in dance classes each week, with the range of classes varying from classical ballet to commercial dance and contemporary dance to ballroom or Salsa.  The maths is simple – parents pay dance fees and dance schools pay their teachers and their taxes. So, this leaves no doubt that dance education is positively affecting the local economy.

So now onto my next big question, if I was 30 years younger, would I have the option of earning a living as a dancer or would I still need to depend entirely on teaching to earn a living?  I am delighted to say YES – I could have the option to become a full/part-time dancer.  The island now boasts of several dance companies where dedicated and talented dancers can earn a living.  Among these is the state-run company, Zfin Malta. This, I believe, is the only local company where dancers practise only dance. Moveo is possibly the next company where dancers practise and rehearse on a daily basis but also need to teach dance to earn a decent monthly wage. Other companies also exist but I believe that they are project-based, which could range from a weekly performance to a government-funded project. The last group are the ones who mainly depend on another job to keep them afloat and most of these wonderful dancers are employed on a part-time basis in dance education. 

The situation has developed immensely and if I were 30 years younger and as enthusiastic and determined as I was when I was in my 20s, I would have been able to audition for a local company and I might have had a regular part-time job as a dancer or possibly fulfilled my biggest dream of becoming a full-time professional dancer.

So, we are now in a situation where Covid-19 is jeopardising all that the local dance scene has gained in the past 30 years. Should we just allow the hard work and dedication of so many artists to be thrown away, now that we have started to reach international standards that we can be proud of?  Because if these companies are not assisted, then they will have to close down as dancers and choreographers will have to look elsewhere to earn a living. 

The facts are very clear – the arts and arts education sectors are generously contributing to our economy now more than ever. Our society is evolving and more people are drawn to the arts. So as a wannabe professional artist and an established dance teacher I am appealing to everyone out there and especially to our government, to help everyone involved in the arts so that together we can continue to further develop what has already been started, so that dance in Malta can finally be established at top international standards.

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