Becoming Room, Becoming Mac

2. "Brussels Dance Community?"

Only one out of fifty interviewees said that he moved to Brussels because he loved the city itself, (though he also already had a job secured before moving). So dance professionals are attracted to Brussels primarily for professional and artistic reasons. Interviewees’ particular reasons within the professional/artistic scope are very much based on the times that they came. Ten years ago the contemporary dance community was hardly more than the contemporary dance companies themselves, and was still an emerging sub-sector of the Brussels theater scene which outnumbered but gave place for its dance-appendage. The cases of those moving to Brussels for a job with a dance company are much rarer now, while the cases of those coming without a plan and living on a prayer has increased exponentially. Perhaps there is something of a do-it-yourself energy and mind-frame of possibility that lingers in the smoggy Brussels air after the self-made successes of the older, more known companies of Rosas and Ultima Vez. In addition to the hype created by these companies, we have P.A.R.T.S., which acts as a magnet not only for those who are accepted, but often those who are not -- moving to Brussels anyway, taking workshops with the same teachers at the various studios in Brussels which have also increased in number and size. Contemporary dance in Brussels grew quickly from nothing and gained a place on the map quite rapidly, and as we all know, fast successes leave a wake of vulnerability, a period of adjustment, wherein questions of sustainability arise. The money and space in Brussels have never been here before the artists, it has been a history of demand and supply - where the artists' demands are met by requests to the powers that be and by the presence of the artists applying pressure upon the ministries and funding bodies. But it seems the demands cannot be met as fast as the "dance community" grows. And this is when the community becomes a competitive one, and issues of who should get the space and money come to the foreground.

If the space and money are not pulling the artists, but the artists are pulling the space and money, what is pulling the artists? There is another kind of currency -- discursive, artistic, social, educational, inter-relational activity that produces a cultural climate of productivity, but also of competition, and support, and... and... and... Is this the activity that creates the image of what we are calling the "Brussels dance community"? And is it that image, that activity, that "community" that attracts the monthly influx of foreign newcomers increasing steadily for the last ten years? What kind of a community exists now, as a result of such a history? Do people still come to Brussels because they know about Rosas and Ultima Vez and think that those companies generate as much opportunity as they symbolize? Is the "community" merely the after-effect of other more pragmatic concerns? In relationship to current mobilities, what is the nature of this fluctuating conglomeration of 500 plus (that's an unofficial estimate) dancers moving through and within Brussels each day?

To begin to answer these questions, the first problem we encounter of course is limits: with every fifty people you would include, there are fifty more attached to them that you ought also to consider. In order to set limits to the interviewee group, we defined the "Brussels dance community" first as anyone living in Brussels who works on the creation and presentation of dance performances. This includes choreographers, performers, technicians, dramaturges, presenters, critics and administrators, but there is also a huge population that supports and surrounds these working strata of the community, and those are the hundreds of dancers who don't appear onstage, can't afford to fill the theaters but do anyway, fill workshops, classes, and auditions, may or may not be here legally, may or may not stay, may or may not find work performing, but are in Brussels for one reason: to dance. We can call this a less visible stratum, but visibility is not objective, for the question becomes, visible to whom? They are visible to each other, visible in auditions, and can be overall more visible than many programmers or managers. It is not unlikely that the "unemployed community" and the "programmer's community" within the "dance community" are completely invisible to each other. Many frames of comparison and lines of division pop up quickly that tell us loud and clear: just because we all share an interest in dance and live in the same city does not make us a community.

One interviewee said to me that the interest in the Brussels dance community is an outsider's fascination, an image of togetherness and like-mindedness that from the inside disintegrates completely. Other interviewees said that there is no such thing - that community does not exist in the Brussels dance field. Again others describe it as a multiplicity of subjective spheres in which each is the center of their own community. Others see it as a network of interconnected milieus, joined by specific points of interest ranging from personal to practical to artistic, and might consider the initial delineation of "Brussels dance community" as "those living in Brussels and working in dance," -- or working at a bar and living here for dance as it may be -- as purely demographic, and to call that a community means no more than to say "the immigrant community" or "the bio-shopping community" or "the science community". Though each of these mentioned communities might find occasional solidarity behind a given issue, once you include discipline or profession, as in the case of "the science community," or in our case, of "the dance community", you cite a binding condition, a strong common interest that overlaps several spheres and can host sub-communities driven by sub-categories of other common interests. Within the Brussels dance community, one can name sub-communities brought together by theoretical discourse, communities brought together by practical information (keeping one another informed about opportunities, auditions, and classes), communities brought together by social ties, and miniature and temporary or lasting communities formed around projects, to name a few. What is consistent in all of these communities is an exchange of something that keeps it together: information, thoughts, collaboration, material and ideological support. It is in currencies and communication that networks are tied together and communities are formed. In this sense community is not a static thing that exists as such, but a performative entity, a thing that requires a set of actions to come into being.

One major form of currency in this map is recognition -- I will borrow form Rudi Laermans now in saying that "recognition is the symbolic capital of the art world". After all, we don't do it for the money, right? And as performers engaged in an interactive medium of collaboration and presenting ourselves in front of others, we don't just do it for the personal and private satisfaction either. In addition to the necessary recognition of our audiences, the recognition of our peers is a currency generated specifically within the "dance community" that creates motivation to continue working, influences how the work is made, and determines in a very socially oriented way who makes it and who doesn't. Whether we like it or not, we need to be recognized to survive in doing what we do.

The interesting twist is in the value placed on recognition within the body of interviewees. Though some cited their own recognition as the most important and others did cite a good review or positive reception from an unknown public as valuable forms of recognition, when asked what form of recognition they most value, a majority of interviewees answered: the recognition of their immediate peers and collaborators. Which means more than just the recognition of your name or your face (though that level of recognition is also an important symbolic capital at times in one's career). Recognition from your closest peers is about being recognized accurately, or fully, to be seen in the way you intended to present yourself, to recognize your intention in their reception. People like to feel understood. So what do we actually need from a wider community? If we say recognition is the main currency of an artistic community, and the most valued type of recognition does not breach outside of the project participants, does this not challenge the existence of a wider "community"? If so, much to the pleasure of those who are agitated to discuss such a thing. Some artists are specifically turned-off by a discussion of the "dance community" because it connotes everything besides the work itself: the competition, the who-knows-who, the vying for recognition. And those who see community as a distraction from the work are often those with a distaste for "networking" because it implies a philistine and opportunistic approach to one's contemporaries. Let's entertain this perspective and erase for a moment the wider community, and rather call it a cohabitation and interrelation of sub-communities.

What is consistent in these sub-communities is instability - the immediately close are the most important (it makes sense, like a family within a village, right?), but who comprises the immediately close is usually shifting all the time. Within the frame of dance, hardly anybody, including the most seemingly stable and supported companies and institutions, know what projects they will do more than two years ahead, as based on funding intervals. If a large company receives four year subsidies, they will know at least a financial part of their reality and the scale and quantity of productions that will be expected of them for four years, but the personnel of course can change, and they do. Most choreographers rank in around two years maximum of planning ahead, and freelance performers can hardly plan one year ahead, as they are the last to know if/when/where the pay, the rehearsals, the residency, or the performances will take place. So if we say that a sub-community forms around a project, and a project is cancelled because it did not receive funding, or the personnel changes for each project within the same company, that is a very fragile notion of community. Not to mention the non-working stratum: though marked by a general effort to help each other stay informed, the tie that binds members of the "unemployed community" is their mutual interest in not belonging to that stratum any longer, and members of this stratum literally disappear from it: when employed, they no longer appear in classes, workshops, and auditions, and when fed up, they quit or move to another city. So what kind of community or communities are there at all?

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