• Lilian Steiner; photo Gregory Lorenzutti.
    Lilian Steiner; photo Gregory Lorenzutti.
  • Olivia Carniato as understudy for 'Evita'.
    Olivia Carniato as understudy for 'Evita'.
  • Jo Lloyd; photo: Peter Rosetzky
    Jo Lloyd; photo: Peter Rosetzky

The word “independent” seems so powerful.

It suggests agency, self-sufficiency and freedom. We seek to achieve independence in so many ways — personally and financially. Yet the world of the independent dancer often strives toward these ideals without any of the securities attributed to being an independent agent in the world. Indeed, as any dancer or independent artist knows, stability, financial gain and even acclaim may not be readily forthcoming.

According to government website joboutlook.gov.au, the average weekly salary of a full- time dancer or choreographer is $1,366 gross. However, only 42% are employed full-time. And presumably these are company or commercial dancers with permanent contracts, unionisation and award wages. None of this applies to independent dancers, who essentially work from project to project and trade stability for creative freedom. At the same time, Joboutlook classifies the skill-level required to be a dancer as “very high”. The industry sector comprises 69% females who have an average age of 27 as compared with an average age of 40 for the majority of other occupations. We all know that dancing is an age-sensitive occupation but the combination of the above factors suggests that dancing is not a sustainable long-term career option — even for those employed full-time.

I spoke to three independent dancers and gained an insight into how it is possible to survive when you go it alone. They range in age from 24 to 45, and represent early to mature career phases. Lilian Steiner is a dancer and choreographer with a contemporary cross-disciplinary practice, Olivia Carniato is a young dancer in musical theatre and Jo Lloyd is an experienced dancer and choreographer with a cross-disciplinary practice. So, are the joys worth the instability?

This is an introduction to an article by Susan Bendall in the current print issue of Dance Australia (April/May/June). Don't miss your copy! Buy from your favourite dance retailer or here.

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