Two feet, but no voice - Dancers lament lack of organisation
Just like the Jamaica Association of Composers, Authors and Publishers (JACAP) and the Jamaica Music Society (JAMMS) are set up for musical performing artistes, the local popular dance fraternity believes there needs to be an organisation established for them to help develop the industry.
They believe that as vital contributors to the country's creative industries, they have remained unrecognised and unappreciated for far too long.
Orville Hall explained that over the years, dancers' plight has gone relatively unnoticed and he believes it is the direct result of not having the backing of an established organisation. "The local dance industry is not developed enough to look out for dancers, but I don't think that is as a result of the lack of trying on our part," he said. "I think we need a sitting down with the powers that be to help us with some stuff that can develop the industry and look out for dancers more. We really do need an organisation that looks out for our best interest as dancers, because this industry also contributes a lot to the overall development of the country and the international attention that it receives."
"Dancehall dance have foot, but it don't have no voice," said Hall. "We don't have an organisation here that will stand up for us so that if a sequence of steps is used in a video, there is someone to send a letter to these people to say that the move was reproduced without permission and we have a legal issue. We need a voice because the foot alone can't work, we need legal advice and representation."
Hall explained that several attempts have been made by individual dancers to address some of the issues facing the industry, but their efforts are often in vain as one voice cannot effect the change needed to take the industry to where it ought to be. "We have tried many times as individuals, but there needs to be a coming together if things are going to change," Hall said.
Latonya Styles of Dance Jamaica said "we can only do what needs to be done if we do it as a unit and that's why an organisation needs to be set up that looks out for our interests as dancers," she said. "This industry has a lot of potential, but we cannot continue to move in disunity. We have to work together if we're going to get somewhere."
While saying the industry does not get enough support from the Government, the dancers also said a lot of work that needs to be done by their colleagues to push the industry to the next level. "I think one of the things affecting our dancers is their lack of knowledge of the business of dance," said Hall. "Our dancers need to move away from being just dancers and start learning the business of dance and what it means to be a dance professional. It's no longer about the raw street knowledge and seeing this as just a hustle, but you need to educate yourselves to take care of the business of dance."
Styles said: "This is a business and as soon as more of our dancers recognise that things will start to change. We have to recognise that this is our product and it is in high demand. The industry is very competitive and we need to look out for ourselves by educating ourselves."
Earning when their moves are used by others is a tricky process for dancers. Hall said there is very little one can do in terms of copyrighting dance moves, as any variation to that move transforms it into a new one, therefore taking away a dancer's right of claiming it as their own.
"It is more difficult to copyright a dance move because you can add variation to it and call it something else. It is easier to copyright a sequence of steps like a routine or a choreography, so if anybody repeats that routine or choreography you can claim it," Hall said.
Styles added that the issue of copyrighting is also made more complicated as dance routines have to be copyrighted in each country or region separately if one is going to lay claim to that choreography. "The copyright issue is a lot of work, because people have to understand that in order to claim rights to your choreography when persons in Australia use it, for example, that routine has to be copyrighted in their country. It has to be stated under their laws that this move/moves is owned by you before you can legally claim compensation," Styles said.
She believes that this complication is one of the main reasons why many local dancers give up in their efforts to stamp their name on their creations, thereby allowing other persons open access to their work.