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The New Zealand Dance Company Launches Dancer Career Development Initiative

In 2020, The New Zealand Dance Company (NZDC) has launched a new programme supporting resilience and wellbeing, specifically for dancers, that addresses career transition and planning for life after performing.

NZDC’s Dancer Development Programme sees the Company’s fulltime dancers scoping future pathways for employment through seminars and experiential learning in areas including producing, event management, marketing, funding, body conditioning and teaching.

The demands of a career as a professional dancer are enormous. Training can begin as early as pre-school and requires rigorous dedication, discipline and tenacity. Competition in the industry is fierce and for most dancers a performance career will likely end before the age of 40, or earlier if serious injury occurs. This leaves many more years of unclear working life ahead – a reality that causes unease and can deter even the most extraordinary dancer from pursuing their dreams in lieu of avoiding such uncertainity for the future.

There is no ‘cookie cutter’ model for the development of career tansition for these exceptional performing artists and despite no current funding schemes to support, develop and transition dancers into careers beyond performance, NZDC’s Founding Chief Executive and Artistic Director, Shona McCullagh, saw the implementation of measures and processes related to this initiative of vital importance.

McCullagh said, “Programmes to nurture, retrain and maximise the potential of the skills of artists are seen as key initiatives in many industries including sport, but that mindset has not yet been transferred to the arts in a formal way in Aotearoa.

Qualities such as an unwavering work ethic, superb critical thinking and creative problem solving found in professional dancers are transferable into many other occupations, making those who transition from careers as professional dancers highly valuable employment prospects. We wanted to illuminate the vast range of skills and attributes the dancers have, and assist in a professional development programme throughout each year.

Dancers are amongst the most vulnerable and hardest working of artists, and fully deserving and entitled to the support and protection from their employers. I urge the sector as individuals and collectively to lift the mental, physical and emotional conditions for these beautiful ‘athletes of God.’ ”

On the eve of her transition from the helm of NZDC to the role of Artistic Director for the Auckland Arts (2021 – 2024 programming), McCullagh wanted the implementation of NZDC’s Dancer Development Programme to be embedded into the Company she co-founded before her departure.

NZDC Dancer Katie Rudd added, “Being the best artist I can be includes contributing input into thematic and design elements of a show, and I am personally really looking forward to being exposed to new skills that can help broaden my understanding of the full process of creating dance work. Through the Dancer Development Programme I hope to increase my knowledge of the business side of dance, to improve my ability to one day work in a position that continues to steer amazing dance on stages throughout the world.”

NZDC is the only contemporary dance company in Aotearoa currently offering fulltime employment conditions for a core of four dancers – a number they are striving to grow. In a response to Creative New Zealand’s research that revealed that dancers are the lowest paid members of the creative sector, NZDC has also implemented the living wage as the lowest entry level salary within the Company.

The NZDC Dancer Development Programme will be tailored to the needs and interests of each dance artist in the company and be made up of teaching modules led by the Company’s management team with the programme commencing early this year.

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