For NZ dance, the beat goes on

Dance is a tough act—just ask ACC

Jason Smith


The classic American songbook of the 1930s is peppered with songs exhorting people to dance. As the music of Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hart, and Irving Berlin filled the air, depressed folk took to the dance floors of the world and literally tapped their troubles away. Desperate competitors even tried to win non-stop Dance Marathons by staying swaying on their feet for days on end to win cash and glamorously exit Stage Left from a collective case of the Waltons. Watch for re-runs.

Moving to the beat of a different drum, dance in the modern era has found a whole new groove. Hip-hop dance clubs are in 80 percent of schools in New Zealand. Dancing With The Stars has been a top-rating television spectator sport. Last year SPARC reported that dance is the eighth most popular recreational activity in New Zealand, after gardening and a step ahead of golf. Strutting its stuff in front of the national sport, dance features in international rugby with the haka, and has a significant impact on our national identity to boot.

Gracefully bestriding all this, the New Zealand Dance Strategy was launched in September 2008, as the curtain was coming down on nine arts-friendly years of Labour-led government. In addition to celebrating the recreational and health benefits of dance, the strategy is a leap for the serious business of dance. The New Zealand dance industry is stepping out.

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Sources: DANZ, SPARC, Statistics New Zealand.

Widely regarded as the world’s most popular live entertainment, opera and musical theatre play second fiddle to dance when both are generated in New Zealand. The pie charts below indicate New Zealand-styled cultural expression is more acceptable in dance than in opera or musical theatre. Nearly a third of cultural-minded people surveyed in the Cultural Experiences Survey are not interested in opera or musical theatre written by New Zealanders. Give our regards to Broadway. Bring on the dancers.

Every silver lining has a cloud. In the most athletic of all the cultural industries, the professional life of a dancer is often painfully short. The leaps and bounds in numbers of injured dancers being supported by ACC is an indicator of the growth of the dance industry during recent years. In the quick-stepping five years to 2007, numbers of injured dancers doubled, while ACC support for them nearly trebled.

Growing pains of the industry aside, the beat goes on and on. Those songsmiths of old knew a thing or two. Dance, in whatever form, is still the ticket for busting depression blues.

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