Reflections on a Dance-Based Addendum

5.4 / Shotgun Review

Reflections on a Dance-Based Addendum

By Shotgun Reviews May 22, 2014

On April 19, 2014, the Arts Research Center (ARC) hosted Valuing Labor in the Arts: A Practicum. This daylong event included a series of artist-led workshops that developed exercises, prompts, or actions that engage questions of art, labor, and economics. The ARC invited participants to send them reflections on the key ideas, challenges, or recurring themes that came up throughout the day to feature on their blog. We are featuring several of these responses as Shotgun Reviews to offer our readers multiple perspectives on the day.


As a cross-sector dance maker and scholar who writes about dance makers and institutional dependency, I appreciate how Helena Keeffe and Lauren van Haaften-Schick's slippery “Gauging the Grey Area” quiz resists tidy “yes-no” answers. The very structure of a quiz mandates self-reflection. By hailing artists who attempt to fashion careers through the nomadic practice of “gig dependency,” the quiz should constantly be retaken. It institutes a practice of looking before we step, and stepping with a sense of what a steadier foothold feels like, when we artists contend with professional invitations of any sort. “Gig dependency” might be a crude characterization for some, but within the hyper-dependent field of dance, I uphold the term as a kind of institutional dependency, one that requires local strategies of belonging and engagement. The institutional attachment of certain dance makers to the contemporary museum or biennial circuit, is unexceptional, given the longstanding co-operation of dance artists with non-dance institutions; but the recent push to push dance into the “vis arts” begs us to consider how the institutional promiscuity of U.S. live dance performance might score within Keeffe's and van Haaften-Schick's inspiring quest for advocacy and reflexivity. To start this thread, I’ve remade the quiz from a dance perspective.


Download Sarah Wilbur's "Gauging the Grey Area: Standards for Artistic Labor [DANCE-BASED ADDENDUM]"

Helena Keeffe and Lauren van Haaften-Schick. "Gauging the Grey Area: Standards for Artistic Labor" broadsheet. Courtesy of the Arts Research Center, UC Berkeley. Photo: Joseph del Pesco.

These suggested expansions of Keeffe's and van Haaften-Schick's “Gauging the Grey Area” quiz have attempted to foreground the intermediary role of the choreographer as labor subcontractor, the secondary constituencies who are doubly vulnerable to sub-exploitation as a concern, and the co-researching required to sustain productive equilibrium as key issues worth considering when navigating the "grey matter" of artistic standards in dance. By challenging choreographers to recognize the interdependent relationships embedded in the question “What do you need in order to feel supported?,” I shift the “what” to the “who,” in part to honor the many “makers” whose support contributes to the resultant dance “work.” I imagine that an extension of these logics to the institution-side of the contract would yield dizzying numbers as well. To Helena, Lauren, ARC, and Art Practical: Thank you for the quiz and the quandaries. I depart from this exercise of quiz making as an even more robust advocate for a critical practice of reflection through interpersonal re-collection (re-collectivization?). While the temporal, spatial, material, and “human” contingencies at hand in making dance (within and beyond the Museum) remain un-standardizeable, Keeffe's and van Haaften-Schick's quiz amplifies the stakes and energizes the discourse. Sometimes the wheels do not need reinventing, but we need to notice when they stop spinning.

Let’s ask ourselves… 


Sarah Wilbur is a choreographer and PhD candidate in World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA.

Valuing Labor in the Arts: A Practicum is on view at Arts Research Center, in


, through April 19, 2014.

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