Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Dance Funding... Wait, You're How Old?

It would be easier if she were a hockey player; or a gymnast, a volleyball player, a skier, a handball player, ringette goalie; hell even if she were a fencer, it would be easier. If she had already graduated high school, it would be easier.

She, is Ainsley. She is a 12-year-old ballet dancer. She is - in her father's totally unbiased eyes - a talented artist. She, is racking up expenses like nobody's business. She has been accepted to The School of Alberta Ballet for three summers. She dances at two studios, five days a week. She performs in The Nutcracker (and oh, to be Clara one day, she dreams) each year. She has been accepted to The Professional Development Division at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School this summer.

This is a huge time and lifestyle commitment for a young girl chasing the dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer. This has been a huge financial undertaking for us, her parents.

We are not complaining. She loves dance, she's apparently fairly good at it, and if she wanted to quit tomorrow, we would not stand in the way. It simply makes her happy to sweat, bleed, strain, stretch, bend, and inevitably injure herself, in the pursuit of artistic perfection. She is a perfectionist.

How then to support this dream? How to pay for ballet slippers and pointe shoes (don't ask the cost)? How to pay for expensive summer schools, year-round classes, transportation to auditions and master classes? How to front the cost of physiotherapy? How to tell her that no, a residency in New York won't happen, or that even if she's accepted, year-round school in Winnipeg just isn't in the cards because let's face it, Dad works for a non-profit?

For athletes and artists the answer often lies in the myriad granting programs out there. If you have a young athlete and need assistance with the costs associated with coaching, transportation, nutrition, therapy etc... there is help for you. Locally The Sutter Fund, The Red Deer Games Foundation, the Alberta Sports Recreation Parks and Wildlife Foundation, among others, all support young people in their pursuits. We were encouraged to apply through them. Dance - despite it's newly-found competitive nature - is not listed with the Alberta Sport Connection program and thus isn't eligible for support. The representative from The Red Deer Games Foundation was very nice and very sincere when he called to deliver the bad news.

On the artistic front, there are many corporate and public foundations that support The Arts. Musicians, visual artists, singers, songwriters, and dancers can all apply to be supported by these generous companies and foundations. There is a catch however. With the exception of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, the artist must be at least 18-years-old, graduated from highschool, and/or enrolled in a post-secondary fine arts program. For every other artist this is a legitimate qualification to make; save for dancers.

At the age of 12, Ainsley knows that her performance career could be over by the age of 25. Dance is hard on a body. Hips, knees, shoulders, ankles, and spines all wear out and require therapy or surgery at a young age. Dancers are being selected for elite training programs as young as 10 years old. To a person, they know that if they want to continue a career in dance, beyond their mid-20s, it will be as an instructor, studio owner, choreographer, or artistic director. They will likely not be performing beyond their mid to late 20s.

Contrast that with every other artistic pursuit. Musicians have performance careers that last often into their golden years. Painters, sculptors, and carvers can produce works until arthritis takes their dexterity. Writers can generate stories, songs, poetry, prose until their minds are robbed by senility. Dancers perform until their bodies give out at comparatively young ages.

Ainsley is remarkable in that she "pays to play" and never complains about it. She holds multiple bottle drives each year and has raised close to $5000 over the past three summers. She received unsolicited support from a local business with a total of nearly $500. To say that we are grateful to them is an understatement. We are exceedingly grateful to everybody who shared Ainsley's RWB GoFundMe site and even more so to those who donated to it. However, it seems to me that funding our dancer's dream of making a meaningful contribution to The Arts (deliberately in capitals) in Canada, and of becoming a performing dancer with a known company, shouldn't be your problem.

The Arts make a community whole. The Arts are our expression of life. They give voice and image and movement to our passions, our dreams, our fears, our past, and our future. The Arts are not about competition or getting rich. The Arts are about us being better.

That ideal needs funding.

For a young dancer the path to making us better doesn't begin at age 18, or after highschool, or when they begin their BFA. By then, they have often studied with some of the best in the world. They have already achieved milestones that are yet to come to other artists. By the time they are eligible for the majority of funding opportunities, young dancers are already looking at the back 1/2 of their performance careers.

As I said. I am not complaining about costs here. Ainsley's instructors and their studios, artistic directors and performances have been worth every dollar that we as a family have invested. Miss Christine Slaymaker, Miss Kirsten Kowalchuck, Miss Tania Strader, and the too-many-to-mention dancers and instructors at Dance Magic in Red Deer, at The Penhold School of Dance, at Alberta Ballet, and on The Nutcracker team have all made such an incredible impact on Ainsley. They've been her teachers, and her mentors.

I am absolutely not looking for sympathy or a hand out. I'm just pointing out, that if she played hockey, or baseball... this would be easier.

At the very least, while I loathe the idea of competitive dance, having it listed with Alberta Sport Connection might open up some other funding, for other dancers in the future.

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