edition Mai-Juni 2023

How do you start a project?

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Cover der Broschüre "Tanz(en in Berlin. Eine Toolbox für eine bessere Arbeitskultur in der Freien Tanzszene." Grafik: Maximilian Mauracher, David Rindlisbacher

What does a good start to a project in the Berlin Independent Dance Scene look like? An attempt to provide answers is provided in the recently published booklet How to (Make) Dance in Berlin – A Toolbox for a Better Work Culture in the Independent Dance Scene by AG Work Culture and guests – a working group and bottom-up initiative of ZTB – Zeitgenössischer Tanz Berlin e.V. The booklet testifies to the urgent need and willingness to change approaches to the ways of working and producing contemporary dance.

Kasia Wolińska
Dancer, Choreographer, Writer, Board member ZTB e.V. 2019-2023

In the field of freelance dancing, the term ‘beginning’ may be somewhat ambiguous – quite often, there is a sense of excitement and hopefulness at the outset of every newly funded (or otherwise realized) project, yet there is also a level of fatigue in the face of continuously emerging, re-starting and re-imagining ourselves anew.

The culture whereby those working in the field of dance are required to forget about stability, work-life balance or a sense of safety – approaching work as a source of income, meaning and status – was the primary subject for the work conducted by the AG Work Culture group, organized under the auspices of the ZTB e.V. The working group collaborated to publish the guidelines How to (Make) Dance in Berlin and this publication not only reflects our concerns and suggestions, but also, first and foremost, the experiences shared by the group members who are all active in the Berlin free dance scene. We kicked off by asking ourselves about our relationship to the work we do, and the challenges that come therefrom. Together, we created a space where each of us could begin changing their own relationship to work itself and from that point, additionally address the questions surrounding the well-being of the scene and its communities.

This leads to another vital starting point: the community. Relationships of solidarity are often torpedoed by the realities and mechanisms of the so-called market, where the exhaustion of human resources and competition tend to be the rules rather than the exception. Yet, the insistence on solidarity is essential when it comes to fighting for our rights and transforming the way we go about our work. With this publication, we are striving to establish the groundwork for the conversation about the present and the possibilities for the future in the Berlin dance scene, as we all, in fact, bear a degree of responsibility when it comes to shaping the scene and its work culture.

So, how can we start a project in a way that does more than just merely feeding the status quo? Each project probably inherently has a number of beginnings – from the development of the initial concept, to the writing of applications, to the happy moment of receiving funding. Our booklet provides a few strategies for the initial phases of collaboration, and those are often very personalized methods of managing communication and group dynamics; yet the very fact of leading the process, e.g. as a choreographer, requires one to enter into negotiations between the personal needs/preferences and the agencies and needs of the other people involved. From the very beginning, transparent communication is crucial. No one wants to be put in a position where they have to insist on having a talk about money in the middle of the rehearsal process. Financial terms, along with the basic organization of work itself, should be discussed in advance, so that potential collaborators can decide whether they want to get involved or not.

Transparent communication should also be practiced when it comes to content-related conversations. Let’s take a dancer’s position as an example – when working on a project, they have a right to know what’s being offered and expected of them. Although the field of the arts often prides itself about its transgressive character, most transgressions happen in the rehearsal spaces and in the course of communication on projects, and less so while on stage. In this process, AG Work Culture felt it was crucial to define the limits of a healthy collaboration and to develop an ability to protect one’s boundaries (and set them for others) whenever necessary.

Finally, another beginning feels worth mentioning – namely, the aspirations and goals of work itself. Our publication rejects any suggestion that an artistic vision can justify violating others and putting them at risk, be it on a psychological, physical or socio-economic level. The well-being of those individuals working on dance pieces is more important than the product itself and this point of view should prove a guide. We sincerely hope that these guidelines will support people in finding their own ways of coping with the challenges at work and that eventually, there will be more joyful beginnings that end up leading to an even more joyful working environment in the future.


AG Working Culture Members

Angela Alves, Olympia Bukkakis, Rike Flämig, Beatrix Joyce, Enrico L’Abbate, Matthias Mohr, Ania Nowak, Benjamin Pohlig, Anna Romeo, Mateusz Szymanówka, Simone Willeit, Kasia Wolińska


How to (Make) Dance in Berlin – A Toolbox for a Better Work Culture in the Independent Dance Scene



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