Posted on August 25, 2020
As a full-time dancer employed by a national dance company, Jamiel Laurence received most of his salary whilst furloughed during the COVID-19 lockdown period. When he reached out to other artists working in the dance industry, however, he was dismayed to discover almost all of them were struggling to get any government support, and there was a long waiting list for universal credit. “I just kept coming across the same story. Jobs had totally dried up, financial assistance was difficult to come by – it made me want to get involved and help. Artists who had demonstrated a history of high-level work throughout the country suddenly had nothing. I thought, ‘how can I help with this problem; how can I raise awareness?’”
Through the Fund Freelance Dance scheme, Laurence aims to bring together a raft of professional freelance artists and offer them the opportunity to do what they do best – move and make. Dancers, pianists, teachers, photographers and a composer will unite in a COVID-safe environment in what sounds like an excellent scheme to support artists across the UK. “These are great dancers who just don’t have anywhere at the moment to take class or create work,” Laurence explains.
As project manager at The Lanterns Studio Theatre in London, Laurence has coordinated the hire of the space, which encompasses a state-of-the-art studio theatre, changing rooms and common spaces where artists can connect and build on their existing network. The sessions will offer an opportunity for freelancers to train in a “hybrid” style daily class with guest teachers, collaborate with other freelance dancers and create work without the usual pressure of a final performance. “The whole process will be documented, and on the final day we will create a mobile dance film thanks to the support of Moondog Labs, who have provided us with the latest technology.”
The project aims to engage up to 23 freelance artists across five fields on a paid basis, and it will run over four dates throughout September and October. I asked Laurence what made him so passionate about supporting freelance dancers. “I think the pandemic has provided an opportunity to reposition dance within the wider creative conversation,” he replied. “The only way to do this properly is through collaboration and by working together artistically. This project aims to provide us with a chance to reshape the way we look at freelance artists and the opportunities available to them.”
Laurence put together a funding proposal, but instead of it being for a commissioning body, it was for the public: “I wanted to pitch to the public to get dancers back into paid work and, if it’s successful, generate a scenario that could potentially be replicated in other places.”
Using crowdfunding, Laurence is hoping to meet his fundraising target but says that, either way, he plans to top up the difference and run the project regardless – an admirable promise. “I want it to be a happening – a place where artists can come together.” Furloughed artists can get involved too, but won’t receive a fee for their engagement, instead looking at using this as a creative opportunity to help shape the freelance dance scene they want to see. If we don’t quite succeed in our idea but someone is inspired to do it better, that’s still a win in the long run for the freelance dance community as a whole.”
At a time when both spirits and income are low for dance artists across the UK, we cannot trivialise the support many freelancers need right now. With such passion at the helm, this experimental project is sure to promote creative coalescence from all involved, and there is no reason why we should not get behind such a trailblazing initiative in any way we can.
To support the scheme or to apply, visit fundfreelancedance.com. Jamiel Laurence wishes to acknowledge the support of The Lanterns Studio Theatre, MoonDog Labs, George Miller, John and Hillary Austin and all those who have donated so far.