The Uselessness of a Dance CV and the Essential Politics we do not teach our kids

There is a reason that I don’t look at CVs anymore. There is method behind my madness (and I do say “madness" with both the best and the worst of intentions).

Aside from the fact that in dance we tend to lie on our CVs or at the very least embellish them with style, I fail to see the utility in reading them: since there is no uniformity in dance education, since productions and dance companies use so many untrained extras in their productions, and since anyone can work a gig with any big name once…the CV, although useful in other domains (like information technology or medical science) has, in my experience with the dance world, become meaningless.

There are three other significant reasons that CVs have become meaningless as a hiring tool for me:

  1. Friends
  2. Lovers
  3. Family

Three very influential elements that tend to cloud people's judgement because they give us a sense of security. Or in some instances, a security substitute that is, for all practical purposes, close enough.

Now there are defendable reasons for some nepotistic choices—the reduction of risk, working with as few unknowns as possible, wanting to insure that the chosen team is fun, or simply wanting to be sure that everyone on the team likes you—all other things being equal. The ethical question comes in when those "other things" are very not equal. Such as technique. Performance quality. Wrong skill set. General competence. Unfortunately, in this industry that ethical line is crossed on a regular basis.

I do not have a complete answer as to why this happens, but it would make sense to extrapolate that it probably stems from a hard-wired survival instinct, where unknowns mean danger, where survival could be a simple question of knowing what to expect. Where protecting certain people increases the probability that they will in turn protect you too: you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

The truth is that often, when people in the commercial world look at CVs, they are looking to see if you have worked with their friends.

Why it would seem that the politics and nepotism in the arts is more prevalent than in other professions (or maybe it’s not, I don’t know for sure), is perhaps because although it is not difficult to prevent the hiring of say, a doctor whose past has demonstrated that he tends to kill most of his patients— no one can really argue against a director or choreographer whose reason for hiring is simply “I like this dancer better."

A certain amount of political choice is natural and to be expected. We cannot discount it, and although we can criticize it, we cannot criticize it totally, because politics is built into what we are. We are humans. And humans need to feel secure.

What is not okay, however, is to have our children, our students— grow up believing that the politics of the job market don't exist. To constantly tell them that all one needs in order to attain their dreams is hard work, perseverance, and belief in oneself—when we adults all know very well that most of the time this is not true.

Whether or not the political situations we find ourselves in at any given moment are ethically defendable or not, we do need the tools to be able to navigate within the confines of politics gracefully and without having a nervous breakdown. We need to learn to move on when things don’t work. We allow our children to drive at 15 or 16, to get married at 18 or before (depending on the country), to drink at 18 to 21 —but we wait to let them discover just how unfair the world really is…until whenever. Eighteen. Twenty-five. Thirty-five. With no tools in their emotional toolbox to deal with it. Resulting emotional insecurity.

All because everyone was too afraid to tell them how things work when they were young. Afraid to tell them that this profession is not fair, and to not expect it to be.

It is ironic that, as a talent scout (casting director in industry terms), I have for so long occupied a position where a principal part of my mandate is to be as fair as possible, but in a world that is inherently not. And although over the years I’ve built personal techniques to take emotion out of decisions (to the point of sometimes being perceived as being cold), I myself am not immune. Regardless of the effort to be impartial, it does happen that, after the fact, I realize that a decision I made was not 100% objective. It happens. Decades of experience does not make me any less human.

And as I said, we humans need to be surrounded by people who make us feel secure. Across time, across technology, even now, in a society where technology and social code has made us all much more self-sufficient, we still need other people to be on our side, both psychologically and emotionally. And we’re even willing to cross “ethical” lines in order to keep our social group —our “protectors”—together. Separate us from each other, and we tend to go crazy. So as autonomous as we now are, we are still as interdependent as ever.

Hence, the politics.

And, once again ironically, hence the art.

Rick Tjia

Twitter: @ricktjia

Instagram: @rick.tjia