Free-Lance Contemporary Dance in the pandemic: A Precarious Balance

Published: 9 July 2021

Dr. Lito Tsitsou explores the plight of free-lance dancers during the ravages of the CoVid-19-pandemic.


The pandemic has overturned every certainty we had in relation to work and life in ways we did not imagine. There is ongoing discussion and debate about the impact of Covid-19 and the way it was managed on all fields of social life, as we witness the unfolding of this unprecedented crisis across the world. Cultural life and arts, particularly, have been affected in multiple ways, yet have been central to our experience of the pandemic, as we seek access to various artforms online. However, the impact of the pandemic on cultural production does not feature centrally in the social and political debate.


I am interested here in the consequences of the health crisis on the field of culture, and specifically in that of contemporary dance. We often tend to think of art and artists as a homogeneous field of production founded on privilege. Indeed, Sociology has documented how artistic success is tied to particular class origin, economic and cultural capitals and of course social capital and networks (e.g Silva, 2008).  While this is true to a certain extent, it very often conceals those experiences of art making that are shaped within precarious and, often, dangerous conditions of work.  In the present post, I would like to highlight some of my findings on free lancers’ experiences of precarity in the field of contemporary dance across the UK in the period of the COVID_19 crisis. The post aims to foreground an imminent publication that draws on 6 online interviews with dance artists about their experience of the pandemic.


Key issues raised by dance artists concerned work and economic uncertainty and the physical consequences of the reduction or complete pause of physical engagement and dancing.


Free-lance artists (Menger, 2006: 4) are by default situated in unstable professional conditions, which have been further exacerbated by the pandemic and the consecutive lockdowns since 2020.  The abruptness with which the new realities of no work and no income entered artists lives reminds us that a great proportion of cultural practitioners/ labourers belong to economically vulnerable social groups, despite their cultural capital and sometimes class origin.


Free-lance work in arts and culture is often associated with a level of instability that entails being part of precariat, much in the same way as precarious academics, and especially more so for migrant artists and artists of colour. Even though governmental support has been a possibility for a proportion of dance performers and choreographers, others were forced to stop and reorient to very different types of work to respond to the challenges of the pandemic. Moreover, the return to their artistic professions remains uncertain. As a result, this regenerated discussions around the need for basic income in arts to provide work security and creative space for artists, and most importantly those who use their body as a creative means (See Standing, 2017 ; Nicola Naismith). 


The pandemic has had further consequences for creativity and embodiment, as dance sits at the intersection of physical engagement and creative process. Confinement and reduction of practice have complicated creative possibilities; they have made dancing bodies vulnerable, artistically and physically, and have challenged them spatially. Injury, slow recovery and response to movement, anxiety about performance levels, are only indicative of an embodied crisis. Concurrently, the forced digitalisation of practice entailed different physical responses to dance than usual. All this at a time when arts (have) become a central mechanism of support against confinement and mental health challenges across the globe.


As early as the outbreak of the COVID_19 health crisis, a collective of  arts organizations including dance companies of Black, Asian and  ethnically diverse composition co-signed a letter to the culture secretary  on the consequences of the pandemic on representation. While dance unions, including equity (supporting performing artists more widely)  issued statements and negotiated governmental backing for the creative industries. Unions also mobilised financial support for their members. They, however, are now faced with the danger of the proposed cuts in dance and performing arts education. The proposals have been met with resistance across both the academic and performing fields.  


The pandemic has had serious consequences for the physical and creative aspects of dance performance, generating questions about the future of the form as well as that of its performers. The health crisis highlighted that the practitioners of the body remain vulnerable, yet quite resistant and resilient, as they strive to maintain their practice and aspirations to perform.  Even though artists predict a decline in the number of performers in the field, they remain optimistic as to the opportunities to dance again.


Contemporary Dance, Freelance, COVID-19, Precarity, Vulnerability, Dancing body



Menger, P-M. (2006). "Artistic Labor Markets: Contingent Work, Excess Supply and Occupational Risk Management." In Handbook of the Economics of Art and Culture Vol. 1, eds. Victor A. Ginsburgh and David Throsby, 765-811. Amsterdam: North-Holland/Elsevier Science.

Silva, E. (2008) Cultural capital and visual art in the contemporary UK, Cultural Trends, 17:4, 267-287, DOI: 10.1080/09548960802615414

Standing G. (2017). Basic Income and How We can Make It Happen. London: Penguin


Nicola Naismith, The cost of Failure: Creativity, the Precariat and Universal Basic Income. (Accessed June 2021)





Dr. Lito Tsitsou

Research Associate Beyond the Multiplex

University of Glasgow

First published: 9 July 2021