Striking Dancers

As I left work last night, and stood on the corner of 13th and F, I heard the sound of a brass quintet, playing in the rain. I turned down toward the Warner, and listened as they finished the end of Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming. As I listened to the final notes ring out over the white noise of the cabs and cars driving down F St in the rain, and the angry crowd at the doors of the Warner Theater became more clear, I was handed a pink sheet of paper. Reading it, the dancers at the Washington Ballet were claiming all manner of unfair treatment at the hands of the Management. Lacking, however, were specifics about their claims: they complained about the working environment, but made no reference to the problem. They made claims about injuries, but not about what caused them. Essentially, I was given the Union’s propaganda boiler plate without any specifics.

The performance was cancelled for last night, as well as for tonight’s performance. The dancers have chosen to hit the company where it hurts, as the Nutcracker is the best selling show for the company all season. Apparently the dancers want to call it a Lockout, instead of a Strike, so they can collect unemployment while striking. Between that, and the lack of depth in their claims, perhaps it’s the dancers that are to blame if you’re unable to see the show you paid for. Especially in light of this paragraph in today’s Post:

In a letter to AGMA that the ballet provided last night to The Washington Post, Palmquist stated that in the proposed interim agreement he gave to the dancers this week he had included guarantees about continued employment for the company’s dancers “that are unheard of in the ballet world.”

But, strike they will.

31 Comments so far

  1. Don (unregistered) on December 16th, 2005 @ 2:38 pm

    You’d never know it to look at the Washington Post article but in fairness to the dancers this fight is a long time coming. I remember reading articles about issues over a year ago and a little judicious googling turns up this article from January of this year. The same site has other articles about ongoing difficulties through the year.

    Certainly the WB management doesn’t look so hot. Here’s a WaPo article from earlier this year about cancelling a big-deal appearance overseas, supposedly over per diem negotiations.

    Having worked for an organization years ago that rejected unionization by a 3-1 and then three years later approved it 2-1 I am inclined to believe that a non-union shop that elects to unionize is one where management and worker relations are not good. My experience was with a large college so perhaps the dynamics are different in a small dance troup but in my experience things have to go seriously bad before workers invite in outsiders they have to pay to do their negotiation for them.

    As far as their generic flyers, there’s a lot of federal regulation about how unions and employers communiate with each other; it’s very possible the lack of specificity isn’t something they have a choice about. I know for a fact that there’s significant regulation restricting how an employer communicates things to employees considering unionizing and how they can negotiate with union workers. I’d be surprised if it didn’t flow the other way too.

  2. Yuda (unregistered) on December 17th, 2005 @ 3:25 am

    When presented with an unclear situation as to whether management or the union is in the wrong, I find the safe bet is to assume it’s management.

  3. lleb (unregistered) on December 18th, 2005 @ 4:10 pm

    Please,the main problem is the dancers perform 4-8 different roles on any given day during the performances of Nutcracker. They dont get to rest their bodies. There are not retirement packages for the older dancers who as females over 30 may not have much longer to perform. The hierarchy at the company has the same 4 dancers performing ALL the principal roles. No one else is given an opportunity regardless of their ability and/or willingness to learn. Regardless of this fact,the dancers who voted for the union AND encouraged a strike were the dancers who are chosen for the principal roles. Their influence as principals weighed heavily on the other dancers of much less rank and brought about this situation. other dancers felt that if the principals were lobbying hard, there is indeed a problem with managemment. A little more investigation by the writer who walked down the street in front of the warner theater is in order! To ask the striker to break out of the line to speak in freezing cold weather and convince someone on the spot about the strike validity is unfair and unkind.

  4. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on December 18th, 2005 @ 4:16 pm

    And yet, the rest of the Nutcracker was cancelled yesterday. Now, the strike has brought cost you your job, and may well jeopardize the company as a whole. This has done two things: made the market for ballet a smaller place, causing greater competition for jobs, and made the union itself look bad.

  5. Yuda (unregistered) on December 18th, 2005 @ 4:56 pm

    The fact that the company would rather cancel the entire run and possibly fold to break the union than negotiate is telling indeed.

    If the Washington Ballet Company folds next year, I guarantee you it will reform within 90 days as a non-union company.

  6. Elaine (unregistered) on December 18th, 2005 @ 6:37 pm

    People dancing several roles is common practice in all companies, from the large ones to the small ones. You are kidding yourself if you think any company is large enough that people don’t have to double or triple or quadruple up! And principal and soloist roles are for, well, principals and soloists – not for whoever thinks they should get it. ANd bad news, it IS the option of the choreographer and artistic director (in this case, the same individual) to select who will do the role. It is not done by committee, let alone dancer committee.

    I feel dreadfully sorry for everyone one else financial situation is now traumatized – the staff of the ballet, the production staff, stage managers, stagehands, wardrobe, etc.

    If it is a lock out, I ask where the reports of charges being files with the NLRB – being as that would surely have people screaming ‘unfair labor practice’ or not bargaining in good faith.

  7. Tiff (unregistered) on December 18th, 2005 @ 9:16 pm

    Asking a striking worker to explain why there’s a strike is “unfair and unkind?”


  8. A (unregistered) on December 18th, 2005 @ 11:23 pm

    Elaine, I don’t know where you heard that people dancing several roles or others not getting oportunities to dance principal roles was an issue. You are wrong, that is not the issue. And you are right, that would be a stupid thing to ask.
    You don’t know anything but what you have read on the papers and the management of the Washington Ballet has put there what they want you to hear.

  9. duck (unregistered) on December 19th, 2005 @ 12:28 am

    You know, I generally side with unions, but it’s hard to feel like dancers have picked the wrong enemy. At least they were getting work. I mean, 99% of the population wouldn’t notice if they vanished into thin air.

  10. Timmy O'Tool (unregistered) on December 19th, 2005 @ 12:34 am

    The only party not being hurt by this whole thing is the union. Dancers, management, and patrons all have a price to pay. Doesn’t seem like the union has the dancers’ best interests at heart this go ’round.

  11. A (unregistered) on December 19th, 2005 @ 12:47 am

    Timmy O’Tool,
    One thing is true, the dancers are the most hurt in all of this. They already don’t make much money and now they are facing the end of the year without income.
    But do you think that WB management has the dancer’s best interests at heart then? It seems the dancers didn’t think so. And it seems to me that by canceling the Nutcracker not only management is putting the dancers and many others in a horrible situation, they are also risking the future of the entire organization. It seems very careless on their part.

  12. Timmy O'Tool (unregistered) on December 19th, 2005 @ 1:01 am

    I agree with what you say – except substitute Union into where you put WB management.

  13. Timmy O'Tool (unregistered) on December 19th, 2005 @ 1:17 am

    IN retrospect my previous comment doesn’t really make sense, but I think the meaning is pretty obvious.

    Great post, Tom.

  14. A (unregistered) on December 19th, 2005 @ 2:01 pm

    Timmy O’Tool,
    The dancers of the WB are inteligent people and most of them have been there for over 5 years.
    Why is it that you don’t even give them the benefit of the doubt?
    It seems they had enough.

  15. Thomas Nephew (unregistered) on December 19th, 2005 @ 2:22 pm

    I’m with Don and Yuda on this; the dancers have a serious argument. One of the reporters of the piece you linked to, Sarah Kaufman, wrote another piece (“Going Toe-to-Toe“) this summer about a dancer who was very arguably let go for supporting unionizing, and for pointing out that injury rates could be attributed to no-rest and too-frequent rehearsals. I blogged about it here, where you can also find online ways (AGMA, ARAW) to support the dancers.

  16. rick (unregistered) on December 20th, 2005 @ 10:37 am

    There are other victims here; the 275 children who rehearsed sveral hours each day of the weekends and on some school nights for several months – FOR NO PAY!!! They were committed and strove for excellence and asked for no wages, concessions, collective bargaining agreements or arbitration clauses. Explain the intricacies of labor relations to a seven year old who had made an appearanc in The Nutcracker her main goal for four months!

  17. A (unregistered) on December 20th, 2005 @ 1:49 pm

    Rick, do you think the goal of the dancers who have dedicated their life to their career was not to be dancing? They as well rehearsed many hours in preparation for the performances. But more than that they have dedicated many years and all their efforts to the Washington Ballet. And something that doesn’t seem to be clear yet, The Nutcracker was canceled by the management of The Washington Ballet, not by the dancers.
    Also, consider that some of those kids could be the future dancers of The Washington Ballet. I think they could be thankful years from now for the efforts of the dancers of today to change the way dancers are treated.

  18. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on December 20th, 2005 @ 1:52 pm

    And yet, because the dancers were selfish and conniving and management wouldn’t negotiate, the children don’t get to experience what they’ve been working for four months.

    And dancers are out of work.

    And the Washington Ballet may have to shut their doors.

    Way to go, everybody.

  19. A (unregistered) on December 20th, 2005 @ 1:55 pm
  20. Gita (unregistered) on December 21st, 2005 @ 4:17 am

    In any labor negotiation noone actually wants to be out of work. In this case it was the Washington Ballet management that chose to cancel the run rather than pursue negotiations.

    It should be mentioned that the Washington Redskins are expected to train each week for a one hour game. For this they are well paid and receive the benefit of expert trainers and sports injury consultants. These dancers on the other hand were expected to perform 20 hours a week of performances and as much as 6 or more hours a day of full out rehearsals, no marking of moves but unnecessarily grueling sessions which were resulting in stress fractures and career ending injuries.

    These dancers should be utilized wisely and able to dance many ballets in their career, not be crippled by debilitating and unnecessary injuries for one production.

    I would imagine that any parent would expect the management to require such basic conditions for their children as well.

    I hope more people will choose to become informed about this situation, as I do believe the Nutcracker is a valuable tradition, and one which should be preserved.

  21. A (unregistered) on December 21st, 2005 @ 8:23 am

    GITA, I completely agree with you.

  22. rick (unregistered) on December 21st, 2005 @ 10:11 am

    I am not per se against the strike or the ability to have a fair, level and even playing field for any member of a professional organization. I am too, aware that my daughter may be one of the profesionals in the future. However, that being said, there was not once that any member of the dance troop, nor the union, felt it necessary to have any conatct with the parents of the kids whose lives were very much affected perversly by the decision to strike. I am not saying that their decision was selfish; we all revolve in our own universes. Our worlds do come in contact with others quite often and we do have to be aware as to how our actions may interact and conflict with others. One parent of a young dancer came home from Iraq on furlough for one weekend just to see his daughter dance – needless to say…

  23. allmydancers (unregistered) on December 28th, 2005 @ 11:00 pm

    I am a loyal subscriber and fan of TWB as well as a parent of a WSB student. The losers in this unfortunate situation are the dancers who will now have even less income than before. Think about what it costs to live in the DC metro area. How will they manage? I consider these young dancers very courageous and I support them 100% EVEN as the parent of a student who was extremely disappointed.

    Forget our kids, the students. Most come from very affluent families and yes, we had tons of people coming from near and far to see her dance — and couldn’t — too. This is life and the students will get over it — they get to go home to beautiful homes with mortgage payments that are easily being paid by their financially successful parents. Keep in mind that the students did, in fact, get to dance in 2 weeks worth of performances.

    Personally, my heart goes out to the dancers because they are losing the most no matter how you slice it. How could the company refuse to compromise? Now what will happen? I am so disappointed that the remaining shows of the 2005-06 season may be cancelled, I can barely stand to think about it. All the good work that Septime and the board have built up over the last five years will take years to get back.

    If any TWB dancers are reading this, please know that you have one supportive parent out there.

  24. Joe (unregistered) on February 7th, 2006 @ 1:13 pm

    What a mess, these dancers have shot themselves in the foot and their Union is run by complete idiots! I am now a “former” patron of the Washington Ballet and after going through the fiasco of trying to get my Nutcracker ticket money back I will never go and see them again. There are so many other dance organizations worthy to go and spend my hard earned money at in Washington D.C. I guess they just don’t get it.

  25. Collen Prangard (unregistered) on February 12th, 2006 @ 2:14 pm

    I was a professional ballet dancer for many years, now retired but I have danced throughout the USA. In looking at the situation here with Washington Ballet I do feel bad for the dancers but not because they are being mistreated. For many years I had to work the same hours and under the same conditions as they are now being asked to. So have most of my collegues and associates. What I feel bad about is the fact that they are not being led properly by the union AGMA. These are difficult times for anyone in the arts and to strike over issues such as these, not be collecting a paycheck or unenployment, and put the very livelyhood of your organization at risk is just plain stupid and it seems that all of this is being brought about by the union, AGMA. Has anyone seen their website? They are actually asking people to give donations to help support the dancers during this strike. That blows my mind, atleast have the honor and decency to be able to support your members who are now suffering due to your own idiotic actions. Begging people for money and donations is the ultimate insult. If I was one of those dancers I would be humiliated right now. It is truly a sad day for the arts when things like this come to pass.

  26. Bruce (unregistered) on February 12th, 2006 @ 2:17 pm

    Somebody in this thread above linked to an article on a website called DanceInsider. Does anyone here know if that website works for American Guild of Musical Artists? It sure seems that way after reading the article. What a load of junk, right out of a propoganda book.

  27. Jennifer (unregistered) on February 16th, 2006 @ 6:44 am

    In the longrun does anyone really care if these dancers are out of work? I will just go and see the Suzanne Farrell Ballet instead or one of the many other dance companies that come to D.C. I am sick of reading about these dancers and their plight. What plight? Get over it and go back to work or leave Washington D.C. !

  28. danceforever (unregistered) on February 17th, 2006 @ 10:57 am

    I think the dancers deserve everything they are asking for. Who wouldn’t want the kind of job security they are not currently getting. I also think they are going about it in the wrong way though. To strike and walk off the job does not achieve anything at all except hatred and bitterness, not only among their peers but among the community where the company resides. I over heard people in Starbucks just the other day talking about how they have lost respect for the artists and the company and probably won’t go to see them anymore even if the company survives. You have to know that negotiating is a much stronger and more effective solution to just being hard nosed and walking out. The only way i would condone or be sympathetic to workers walking off the job is if you are owed money for work you have done. It is really quite depressing of a story because the only people the dancers hurt in the longrun is themselves. I guess us dance fans here in the capital will just have to go see Suzann Farrell Ballet or American Ballet Theatre, both of which have no affiliation with the union representing Washington Ballet.

  29. LuisT (unregistered) on February 17th, 2006 @ 2:07 pm

    Look at everyone writing in on this Blog as if you all know something about what is going on. We the dancers know what we have done and have no problem with it because we are RIGHT!!!!!!
    Either we get what we want or you won’t have the Washington Ballet anymore!!!!
    We ARE the Washington Ballet, don’t ever forget it!!!!!

  30. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on February 17th, 2006 @ 3:16 pm

    Technically, Luis, you’re just another striking dancer. Eminently replaceable :)

  31. Jean (unregistered) on February 20th, 2006 @ 8:06 am

    I live here in the UK and have been following this situation over the last few months. It is an interesting conflict and one that I don’t quite understand. First, I don’t understand why the company would not offer the kind of safety required to make the dancers happy, that is of course if this is truly the case. Second, I don’t understand why the dancers would strike and put their company into turmoil. There are ways of getting what you want without having to refause to work. If I was running the company I would fire every last one of these dancers, regardless of what happens in the future. How can you expect loyalty from people that cared so little about an organization’s well being. Granted, I don’t know any of these dancers but they seem very selfish to me. I mean how about the many people who are not dancers that must be affected by this strike? Have the dancers stopped to think about how their actions are affecting those people? From the previous post in this blog from Luis it seems they just don’t care about anything but themselves.
    I have never seen the Washington Ballet but I do hope that the organization pulls through all of this. It would be a crime to the company have to close because of a bunch of selfish dancers.
    I just don’t understand.

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