Dirty dancing – it’s not what you think

This time last year it was a dancer from Milan who contacted me – today I’ve just finished reading seven pages of evidence from a dancer who has endured long-term bullying at the hands of the Artistic Director and Chief Executive Officer of a UK dance organisation.  I know this is not new in the world of dance because I canvassed opinion from dance professionals in the book Bullying in the Arts however the scale of the bullying in this current case plus the scope of this bully’s power and influence, including within funding bodies, is staggering.

Making a complaint about bullying is exceedingly difficult to do – many managers or board members remain in denial, even when confronted with the evidence, and often targets have been made to suffer even more as a result. Many, many people are afraid of this person who is dominating and damaging the prospects for freelance dancers throughout a whole region.

I’m just beginning to get to grips with this new-but-old situation, and considering the best way to help the beleaguered dancer to move forward. I’m also trying to get some advice from museum professionals for an employee who contacted me a couple of months ago because she is struggling to cope with a bullying manager.

In May this year, thanks to the sterling work undertaken by the Chair of the North & East London branch, I was delighted to hear that Equity unanimously decided to hold a symposium on workplace bullying in the performing arts. Given the excitement, joy, national pride, camaraderie and community spirit fostered by the Olympics, and the knowledge and evidence that culture makes such an important contribution to society, I believe we should be respecting the efforts and achievements of arts workers, as much as we honour our sportswomen and men.

Those who govern the cultural sector actively promote diversity and equal opportunities; I feel sure the time is right for them to acknowledge their responsibility to openly advocate the importance of dignity in the arts workplace and to take steps to root bullies out – especially when they are operating in publicly-funded organisations.


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6 Responses to Dirty dancing – it’s not what you think

  1. I have a feeling an anonymous revelation of a person’s name on a Facebook/Twitter page might do the trick. Unprofessional, unethical ways of working should be dealt with in a similar way………

  2. jacksonquigg says:

    Hi Jeremy. Thanks for your comment. I know what you mean, and given the damage being done it’s very tempting, however in one sense that’s stooping to the bully’s level – accusations, particularly anonymous ones, usually result in denial and then counter-accusations rendering the disclosure meaningless. I would like the funding bodies and the professional institutions to stand up and be counted, as the unions have done, by stating their position on workplace bullying and proposing overt policies that encourage arts managers to implement dignity at work policies. There are potentially explosive situations out there and something is going to give – and it may not be too long before that happens.

    • Hi Anne-Marie, Equity still has an anti-bullying hot-line for people to report instances of bullying (I’m the Devon and Cornwall Branch secretary for Equity by the way). Equity has also made representations to the Arts Council concerning paying appropriately when arts organisations have access to public funding. Both causes very necessary.

      As a teacher (which I now am) we have a continuous problem with bullying, (I teach in Performing Arts) though again it is often not thought of as bullying, when does banter and “piss-taking” become bullying? Last year we had a technical theatre student who had Aspergers syndrome and he would rather be “shown-up” in public rather than not be part of the “in crowd”. It gets very difficult at times. Sadly in teaching we have a huge amount of paperwork to undertake to report any abuses such as bullying which puts a lot of us off. Hopefully the Equity hot-line can create an immediate response, which in my experience, is by far the best approach. A quick, firm word that leaves no doubt as to the effect of the behaviour. If only it was always that easy!

      • jacksonquigg says:

        Thanks again, Jeremy. I know about Equity’s anti-bullying hotline and mentioned it in my book. In an attempt to answer your question, I will say that “banter” etc becomes bullying when it is persistent, unwanted/resisted and targets someone over a period of time. I do understand your difficulties re paperwork.

        I have to say I am very impressed with the attention that Equity continues to pay to the issue. From what you describe, I keep thinking “there just has to be a better way”! I’ve seen some interesting videos of intervention techniques that are used with young people in Scandinavian educational establishments and would love to find out more, if I could afford the time!

        Fingers crossed the proposed Equity symposium on workplace bullying in the performing arts will happen before too long. I also hope that the Arts Council will be proactive in dealing with this.

  3. Pingback: Behind the scenes at the museum 2 | jacksonquigg

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