The Dance Forum is a quarterly Think Tank, whose primary objective is to create a conducive platform where major stakeholders within the dance industry, converge to deliberate on certain issues which affects the growth of the sector, and proffer recommendations that may be a guide towards sustainable development.
The first Dance Forum was held at The QDanceCenter. Yaba, on the 12th day of February 2015, with contributions from the following stakeholders: Mr. Muyiwa Osinaike, Mr. Segun Adefila, Mr. Jahman Anikulapo, Mr. Isioma Williams, Mr. Bimbo Obafunwa, Dr. Felix Emoruwa, Sarah Bullos, Mr. Peter Badejo OBE, AMB. Adedayo Liadi, Mrs. Yeni Kuti, Mr. Uche Onah, Mr. Alozie Kevin Dede, Mrs. Ugo and Mr. Tosin Oyebisi.
The forum was moderated by Qudus Onikeku.
State of the industry/Problematic.
When one takes a candid look at the state of the dance sector within the Nigerian creative economy, no matter how much optimistic one might want to sound, the disappointing tones still manages to becloud that audacity of hope, the disappointment comes in different forms, from the lack of a strong and functional regulatory body, to practitioners having no senses of belonging, the lack of a platform, or forum, or a network which gathers and caters for the various dance practices in the country today. Most especially, there seem not to be a working code of conduct, nor a strategic road map with which the sector plans to sustain and build itself upon. In this beginning session we went into a general overview, of the present state of the industry, and few points were noted by the contributors.
i. Absence of a collective will.
It will almost be a farce to speak of an industry when we speak of dance in Nigeria. Our sense of collective is nothing to write home about; individualistic patterns, selfish motives, corrupt practices, greediness, lack of orientation and a leadership with futuristic mind-sets, are all part of the vices affecting the emergence of any such thing as an industry in the dance sector.
ii. Lack of rules, benchmark for professional wages.
The sector can't categorically say what a generally acceptable fee and what we mustn't go below is. How does the industry regularises and legislates itself, in order to properly define the practice and the practitioners. This lack of ethics and codes of conduct, leads to a lackadaisical attitude towards authority and a crises in follower-ship. There seem not to be any form of control of the numerous dance shows, programs, festivals and initiatives popping up haphazardly.
iii. Poor quality of works.
This portrays the sector as a garbage bin for mediocre, poor packaging and presentation, the sector should be able to produce works of international standards, and be able to compete internationally in all dance genres.
iv. Identity crises, Definition of practitioners and practices.
Everybody claims to be everything and specialises in every dance genre; anybody can be a dance instructor, choreographer, dance manager, and also specializes in contemporary, traditional, ballroom, Hip hop etc. We need to sort this out, in every institution there is definition. This lack of specialization, eventually doesn’t give credence to interconnectivity, but segregation, which therefore, gives rise to an unhealthy competition within the sector.
v. Training and knowledge sharing.
Lack of knowledge and the low quality of specialized training, is indeed a major problem in the sector. How is the sector improving itself and providing proper training and knowledge sharing facilities. There seem not to be various mode of training and schools of thoughts, dancers are either trained in informal setting without proper certification, or trained in the university without proper knowledge of the sector, there is a need to coordinate all school of thoughts within a collective will to improve the practice.
vi. Resources and funding availabilities in sector.
An urgent need to build the capacity of the sector in areas such as fundraising, bid writing and general management. Because the artiste can't be the artiste, the manager, the accountant, the marketer and every other thing in between, being in the field and at the same time in the office, will not help them manage their time and talents properly. Once there is a professionalized sector that caters for all, then we can begin to attract other professionals in other sectors to work with us.
vii. Policy and influences of the sector in formulation.
Who are representing the sector in high places? How are we going to influence the policy makers? When we haven't properly articulate our purpose and impact level, create our own lobby, that we may be properly represented at the top. Concretely establish the meaning, terms and definitions of the various dance practices, as they influence and affect the Nigeria creative industry.
viii. The need for a functional governing body.
Now than ever, the sector needs a governing body, that gives structure to all recommendations and propositions, which may arise from any such think tank or gathering of stake holders in the sector, presently there is a divided opinion as to, if we must continue to uphold the remaining pieces of GOND (The Guild of Nigerian Dancers), reinforce and strengthen it or scrap it all together for the emergence of a new all encompassing body.
ix. Lack of infrastructure.
There tend to be very limited spaces where practitioners can properly practice, showcase their art, review their works, and build an audience base with a regular following. Also in absence is an organisational infrastructure, such as a genuine database that helps the sector organize itself internally, and a system or a platform, which gives easy access to information.
x. Lack of access to genuine success stories.
Our level of public awareness and presence, within the professional strata in the society is relatively low, so it reduces our impact level, and affects the amount of success stories available to the general public. We need to empower dance professionals and encourage them to build on their personal brands, and be more engaging on social media and on the web. We also need newsletters to push out the activities of the industry. Hence, the need to develop a collective database where we readily spread the news and activities of the dance sector.
Propositions and Recommendations.
The Nigerian dance sector despite its problems, have come a long way to put Nigeria on the map of cultural activities internationally, and we should be proud of these achievements. However, to get to the next stage of development, where the sector and its practitioners can be recognised, supported and allowed to gainfully practice their art, it is important to collectively reassess the practice and make informed decisions that will have a lasting effect on the sector. As in any part of the world where the culture and entertainment sector thrives, the arts sector is well organised, institutionalised, mainstreamed, and both the practice and the practitioners are clearly defined, there is therefore, an urgent need for the Nigerian dance practitioners to set out a strategic road map to sustainability.
The first step to every problem solving, is to first identify the problem, then identify with the problem, and if we believe that there is no problem without a solution, we will therefore agree that these stated problems must have some sort of peculiar solutions, no matter how impossible they may seem. In this second part, we went strictly into proposing genuine recommendations which we feel most passionate about, no matter how impossible these recommendations may appear, it was however a first step towards the way forward. These recommendations are hereby segmented under four sections: Structure, The value chain, actions and activities, projects and programs.
Enforcement of any professional code of conduct, can't be possible without a functioning and generally accepted body. Any policy for the future must start with a proper foundation, and these structures will be the real enforcer of change. However, If we have to use GOND, we have to strengthen it for the emergence of a new and all encompassing body for all dance genres, that allows other subgroups to emerge, with sectionalised bodies with their peculiar heads and organograms. In so doing, the guild stands as the main political body, while leaders of the professional groups and think tanks works on the policies with which the main body operates.
GOND should be a political organisation not a professional organisation. I.e. we equally need task groups, council of elders, advisory boards, thought leaders etc. who leads in the intellectual capacities of the organization. If we can work on the Dance Forum to retain its status as a task group for example, this task group can work with the academics to further develop on the policies and propositions, and use the availability of the students and young dancers as a testing ground, and a space where those ideas can already be transmitted and put in practice.
Dancers grading, must be structured. Self-development may not be achieved if we do not create a reason and an avenue for it. We must set up professional academies that give trainings, and professional examination for certification in particular areas. So we can begin to have experts in different aspects of the dance profession. This could be done separately through different organisations that specialises on peculiar practices, we organise them in sections, which are all linked to the governing body.
ii. The value chain.
If we form an association and there is no value chain first for the practitioners, then with significant impact within the society, then it will be useless. The lack of identity has polarized the dance profession, hence, the impossibility of an industry. We may not be able to develop and open up to other non-performing professionals within the sector, if we don't have a defined sense of identity. I.e. Who we are, what do we want, how are we organised, who are our immediate audience and how do we serve them better in order to increase our impact level within the society.
We cannot depend solely on talent, which will eventually burn out in no time. Only the few who are able to move out of the box are making the waves. And this is affecting us on all levels. The sector may not be able to develop into a full blown industry without the emergence of other professionals and experts working closely with the amount of talents, contents and works being produced, hence the need for more dance producers, dance managers, dance agents, etc. who also understands the rudiments of the practice.
iii. Projects and programs.
The more programs we run the better. Programs are what brings people together, like organising dancer's showcase quarterly, meet ups, forums, seminars, workshops etc. Creating a gathering where dancers put their works on video and come together to deliberate for example. Once we create that sort of community then we can begin to make progress.
We must create access point and projects, which attracts and encourage other professionals to come partner with us, due to the charisma and professionalism with which we carry out our programs. Through our festivals, Incentives, awards ceremony and competitions. We must add glamour and style to our business, and as well put certain policies which emphasize dress codes and certain conducts in the public.
We must understand the strength of our togetherness, since we have the numbers, we must put that in good use for our own advantage, fill up our dance events with enviable crowd, occupy spaces all around Lagos, in order to be visible beyond the industry.
iv. Actions and Activities.
We must know that there is nothing we have said here that hasn't been said somewhere or in a different forum before, but what we've not done is to actualise, because we are not willing to sacrifice and let go our selfish attitude towards development, inasmuch as it's important to formulate these reflections, but the practicality of it is where the challenge lies for all, and these challenges must be factor into our actions, and we must overcome the obstacles ahead, in order to get things done properly.
The actions required could be in various forms, from seminars, conferences to workshops, where we must teach dancers on how to improve on their personal brands, where these codes and policies be properly transmitted. There should be continuity, and not reinventing the wheel through new projects that will not get to fruition. The Dance forum for example could be the platform where we come up with these concepts and hands it over to the executors, and in an ideal situation, these executors are the leadership of these various troupes, crews and companies, professional bodies, thought leaders and elder's council under the governing body.
These recommendations are amongst the numerous issues deliberated during the forum. We are however persuaded that the recipe on ground is a strong indication that we may move forward beyond a mere wish. Unlike before, there is a concrete movement of those moving beyond talent, to create a working enterprise, with this awareness gradually sweeping over the various stakeholders, we may be able to move forward faster than we could imagine.
We need to rebuild trust in and within the industry. We must motivate dancers to go out of their comfort zone more, to attend events and programs which will do them some good, encourage reading culture and let the young ones be interested in learning and researching about the practice, and encourage collaborations within and outside the sector. We must create awards and incentives, where different professionals within sector are recognized and appreciated. We need more platforms that give hope to the new kids.
And on a final note, we must actively move on to develop an updated database to know how many companies we have, how many choreographers, agents, producers, dance writers, dance venues etc. The process of having a database will also help us to properly identify who is doing what within the sector, for any policy to be properly implemented. In view of the database project, it was concluded that we build a website where this database can be collated, viewed and used by any interested. It was also concluded that we design a brochure with profile and details of all practitioners, venues, institutions and festivals, and build an annual calendar of happenings within the sector.