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The Management of African/Black Dance

Dance Africa Kickoff - Lecture by June Gamble

by U. Akalawu

December 2, 2004 -- London

In light of the current circumstances with African dance, some may say what kind of management are we talking about? Thankfully, June Gamble shed some light upon this area with regards to managing a company and managing one’s own dance career, through sharing some of her professional history as an administrator and manager over the past 14 years. The talk was effectively based on Gamble’s vast and particular experience both within the subsidized and the commercial dance sectors. The directions she has taken within her career seem to have been anything but planned, being more a case of seizing and creating opportunities along the way.

The main points of discussion were (1) her history of working with Black dancers and dance companies, (2) her theory that managing a Black dance company is no different from managing a white dance company, (3) the recent impact of the Arts Council's new funding system and how this may affect dance in the future and (4) suggestions for artists and managers.

Other dance management issues such as budgets, marketing and tour booking were on the agenda, but there was not the time to explore them in any depth. Subsequently, Gamble was keen to do a Part II in the near future. All comments, thoughts and observations are Gamble’s personal comments and how she perceives the situation.

Working with Black dancers and dance companies

Gamble initially trained as a dancer and upon completing her degree at Roehampton, and was introduced to the world of arts administration whilst volunteering at Sadler’s Wells. She was also fortunate to pick up valuable negotiation skills whilst working as an estate agent.  Upon gaining her diploma in Arts Administration, she worked within the management and education departments of Adzido Pan African Dance Ensemble and Adzido Twelve from 1989 – 1990; Les Ballets Africains, Femi Kuti and the Pan African Orchestra between 1990 – 1998.

Gamble spoke about the training regime at Adzido, and pointed out that one of its strengths was the research done into various dance forms. Dancers were brought to the UK from the source in Africa, and, thus, London based dancers effectively learnt traditional dance from the horse’s mouth, and then interpreted/shaped it accordingly. But the fact is, they had that valuable initial training base which acted as a powerful point of departure.

There is yet to be a school of training for African dance forms as there is for other dance forms, nor have the various techniques been systematised for the purpose of adoption into the UK dance curricula. In contrast, a traditional dance form such as Bharata Natyam fairs better because it has essentially been codified, easing its integration into education systems, such as the new BA (Hons) offered by London Contemporary Dance School.

Within three months of being at Adzido, Gamble suddenly found herself at the helm of the company when the then director decided to leave. This was essentially baptism by fire, but fortunately Gamble had the firm support of management consultants Judi MacCartney and Anthony Peppiatt as well as the trust and confidence of the company members. Eventually, Hilary Carty joined Adzido as General Manager and Gamble returned to the post of education manager. Contrary to popular myth, Gamble was not ‘poached’ from Adzido by Les Ballet Africains; it was more a case of serendipity as within a week of Gamble leaving Adzido, Les Ballet Africains came to town, and subsequently approached her.

Les Ballet Africains are Guinea’s equivalent to the Royal Ballet in the sense that they are fully supported by the government, command great respect nationally and internationally, acting as Ambassadors of Guinea; e.g., any film footage of the company taken whilst touring, is whizzed back to Guinea to be televised on countrywide news bulletins over the ensuing 48 hours. Tours were self financed in contrast to the subsidized nature of Adzido, meaning that fundraising was a constant activity. The company didn’t always break even, but for Gamble, it served as a valuable lesson in managing dance as a commercial enterprise without losing the integrity of the company.

She also worked with Double Edge Theatre Company just after the successful "Ragamuffin". Gamble pointed out that in her time with Adzido, Les Ballet Africains and Double Edge, on many occasions she was one of only two White people working within the organisations, and that, frequently, external people forgot that there were White people within the company. Thus she was ‘lucky’ to receive whatever was directed at the company and observed the resultant impact.

Gamble also worked for a number of yearswith the jazz dance company, Bullies Ballerinas, which unfortunately stopped touring due to lack of funding and support. She also worked for some time with Union Dance Company.

In 1997, Gamble was approached by Marie McCluskey and Sheryl Aitcheson of the Association of Dance of the African Diaspora (ADAD) to become its coordinator. She accepted but resisted going down the well trodden route of having never-ending debates about ‘What is ..?’  Gambe gives the common sense opinion that the best way to affect politics is through action and delivering the artistic product rather than getting ensnared in circular arguments, which seem to be a curious talent of the African and Black dance sectors.

Under Gamble’s aegis, ADAD’s first choreographic platform for Black dance took place in the early 1990s. It was realised that Black choreographers needed to be given an opportunity to show work, as other platforms existent at the time were not encouraging their involvement. The stipulations for making the ADAD platform a success were that dancers were to be paid, offered administrative services, rehearsal space, a video of the performance and useful contacts. The ADAD platform was such a success was there were several more in London and a tour of the UK. The Mission and The Big Mission, headed by Debbie Badoo are direct descendents of the first ADAD Black dance platform. Initially Badoo wanted the platform to be for promoters to come and view the best of Black dance on show in the UK. Mystifyingly, the Arts Council would only support the initiative if the platform was for artists by artists.

In the last four/five years, Gamble has been working with a range of individual artists, such as Robert Hylton, Menelva Harry and Maria Ryan.

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Edited by Jeff.

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