Being poor, but sexy – is this long since water under the bridge, or is it still the status quo in the independent dance scene? At this year’s Tanztage Berlin from January 5 to 20, in addition to the stage program, there will be a future workshop on the topic of money and a panel covering emerging artists, aesthetics and concerns. On this occasion and based on the history of Tanztage Berlin, Tanztage curator Mateusz Szymanówka expounds on his thinking regarding self-exploitation among artists, sustainable funding systems and crossgenerational responsibility.

Text: Mateusz Szymanówka
Dance Dramaturg, Artistic Direction Tanztage Berlin


In 2009, Tanztage Berlin’s team, led by Peter Pleyer, asked artists participating in the festival to complete a questionnaire concerning their working conditions. The experiment revealed that most projects were developed over the course of a few weeks to several months with a budget of between 0 to 800 euros, usually with a very modest co-production grant provided by the festival. The information about the fi nances of performances and the dedicated rehearsal time were featured in the festival booklet, alongside the texts describing the shows, much to the dissatisfaction of the Kulturverwaltung at the time, or so the story goes. The tactic was intended not only to highlight the precarious economic situation of emerging artists, but also to shed light on Tanztage’s own predicament: As much of the world was dealing with the consequences of the global fi nancial crisis, its basic funding was cut – raising concerns about its future – not the fi rst and not the last time that this issue had arisen in its history. With its upcoming edition, the festival will off er production budgets in the range of the 15.000 euros comparable to Einstiegsförderung, thanks to one-off additional funding from Capital Cultural Fund (HKF). The numbers may have changed since 2009, but certain things have remained the same: Despite being a success story and an audience favorite, Tanztage still lacks a secure fi nancial footing, and is partly possible due to the self-exploitation of its participants. The almost three decades of its existence – from its DIY roots at Pfeff erberg to its gradual institutionalization at Sophiensæle – are a testament to the scene’s precarity and resilience. In a way, Tanztage is still what many emerging artists are doomed to be: sexy, but poor. But who wants to be that in their late 20s?

Even today, it is still distressingly common for dance and performance makers at the beginning of their careers to produce work with barely any fi nancial means. Particularly in the visual arts, various galleries commission new work by performing artists on the basis of grants that fall far short of what the dance scene has vigorously been fi ghting for. At the same time, the public funding system is opaque and demands a specialized education to navigate its complexities. Moreover, for international artists, the requirement of translation into German contributes an extra layer of expenses. Many performances presented in the city happen due to alternative resources like family support, friends’ contributions, or having access to someone else’s rehearsal space, which is oftentimes nothing more than a living room. The toll all this takes is signifi cant: the irregular income, balancing multiple jobs, the scarcity of opportunities and competition, all while facing immense pressure to succeed, often impacts the health and well-being of emerging artists. In times when Inter- University Centre for Dance Berlin (HZT) students and graduates are voicing their fears about the future in the fi eld, it is becoming imperative to heed their concerns and take them as seriously as those established artists who’ve fallen out of the funding system. In short, this is a plea for intergenerational responsibility within the community, urging support from those who have been compensated in terms of visibility and opportunities enough to be heard by politicians and the media. This plea requires tireless conversations about money in a society in which, as the German saying goes, one doesn’t speak about money, one has it. Another, absolutely crucial aspect to this problem is the examination of how dance operates within the larger framework of capitalism itself and how our challenges intersect with broader societal struggles. This introspection is central to constructing a sustainable funding system that doesn’t chew artists up and spit them out. Without understanding the tension between the artistic autonomy and economic and political realities, we won’t be able to address the undeniable truth that, at their core, cuts in cultural funding are always ideological.

At a gathering held at Uferstudios, Heizhaus before the opening of last year’s Tanznacht, a young choreographer, Pamela Moraga, posed a thought-provoking question: What would a dance scene look like if there was enough for everyone? To me, this echoed what contemporary de-growth theory describes as the “good life” – a lifestyle focused on well-being, environmental sustainability, social equity, and meaningful prosperity, stressing the importance of social connections, community and leisure. This is a question I carried into the New Year, and I hope it will in turn also spark discussions during Tanztage Berlin 2024, where we will traditionally, and relentlessly, talk shop with our friends.


Forever Young? On emerging artists, aesthetics and concerns
in cooperation with Performing Arts Program

January 15, 2024, 7 p.m.

Future Workshop #4 MONEY in cooperation with ZTB e.V.

January 16, 2024, 7 p.m.

January 5 – 20, 2024



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