Artists, Practitioner and Teacher Survey

The results of the survey were somewhat shocking. We were not aware of the strength of feeling amongst our 1,200 strong artist and practitioner network.

The survey was conducted and summarised independently by Sue Harrison (former Director: Arts at the British Council and Chief Executive of North West Arts Board)

'The response by practitioners was encouraging with a sufficiently high response to ensure the data is robust.

100% (84 respondents) rate the quality of Cheshire Dance's offer positively, with 93% rating it as either 'Excellent' or 'Good'.   Practitioners return rate is also high, returning more than 5 times on average to Cheshire Dance to deepen their engagement and learning.  96% (81 respondents) said they would recommend Cheshire Dance to others.

'There is very strong evidence of the high regard in which those who work with Cheshire Dance, particularly the artistic staff, are held.  Comments [about their engagement] were overwhelmingly positive.  Cheshire Dance is valued for its friendliness and support that it gives practitioners as well as the quality of planning and teaching, with respondents ranging from university students to mature dancers.'

Sue Harrison, Independent Survey Analyst

Cheshire Dance Practitioner Network (there are 500 more where we have email only)
Survey Responders

More key facts from the surveys

Respondents are based across the UK, with very strong responses from the region including Manchester and Liverpool conurbations as well as North Wales and North Staffordshire.

There is an even spread in terms of years spent working in dance:- 20% less than 4 years, 23% 5-9 years, 26% 10-19 years and 24% 20 years plus.

Respondents return 5 times on average to Cheshire Dance to deepen their engagement. (Refers to whole project engagements not number of days or sessions, which in many cases is significantly more).

Given a more in depth opportunity to comment on their engagement, of the 83 respondents, comments were overwhelmingly positive.

Rating the quality of Cheshire Dance's offer, 45% (38) rated it as 'Excellent', 48% (40) 'Good' and 7% (6) as 'Satisfactory'. No-one rated quality as 'Poor' or 'Very poor'.

When asked whether Cheshire Dance had made a difference to artists own practice in terms of its 6 stated values (articulated first during 2011), practitioners responded as follows:-
- Awareness - 70% acknowledged that work in this area had impacted on their practice
- Diversity - 63%
- Enquiry - 60%
- Flexibility - 55%
- Authenticity - 54%
- Ownership - 45%

Overall response amongst those who have attended Cheshire Dance led residentials is reported as 'a very positive experience professionally'

When asked what else Cheshire Dance could offer, responses give little steer to Cheshire Dance as most people were thinking about their own specialist practice. It was possible to get a better understanding through a series of follow-up case studies which were conducted over the Summer

“I've taken CPD training from many different sources, e.g. Creative Partnerships, several disability organisations etc, and some from Cheshire Dance. The Cheshire Dance training is always very well delivered and totally relevant to dance artists.”

Case Studies Results

Summary Report
Cheshire Dance has followed up its Dance Practitioner’s Survey with a number of face to face interviews with respondents. The purpose of these case studies was to gather more qualitative evidence about how well Cheshire Dance is valued by practitioners, how influential the artistic practice pursued by Cheshire Dance is respected and under stood and to identify how services, including artist development (CPD), could be developed and improved.
There are twelve case studies of dance practitioners who are working or who have worked with Cheshire Dance in the past.  The practitioners interviewed volunteered through the original online Practitioners Survey and were selected  to represent a spread of experience, the extent of their engagement with Cheshire Dance, gender, disability and geography. The age range of interviewees was from someone about to qualify from University to another who was a senior dancer, working in dance since the eighties. Two of the interviewees had a disability and three were male.  Interviews generally lasted about one hour.

Each interviewee was asked the same questions and their responses recorded in the case study. All those interviewed have seen the written case study and agreed to its contents being made available to Cheshire Dance.  

Question 1Can you describe your career pathway to date?
The twelve interviewees all have different back grounds in dance. One of the interviewees is an adult services manager, the remaining eleven are dependent on their income from dance work.  Several of the dance practitioners had degrees from North West Universities, one from Laban.  Several had taken Masters Degrees in dance, whilst two had no formal training in dance.  Several had only worked with Cheshire Dance and had no connection or had only a passing engagement with any other dance agency.

Question 2 – What role has Cheshire Dance played in support of your development?
The majority of interviewees had not been involved in improvisation or contact improvisation before becoming involved with Cheshire Dance.  Many said it had changed their practice and it had affected the way they made their own work.  Eleven of those interviewed were freelance dance artists who engaged with Cheshire Dance differently.  Some delivered workshops and projects on behalf of Cheshire Dance and were close to the organisation, others applied for paid work when it was advertised.   All felt that Cheshire Dance was the most supportive dance agency that they had worked with; they felt that staff were warm, interested their work and helpful.  Only one person felt that Cheshire Dance could have assisted them further.

Four of the dance practitioners lived too far away from Cheshire Dance to be able to travel regularly to work with the organisation, but had attended retreats and saw this as a helpful way to engage them.  It helped them plan their freelance work better and manage family.  Only two people spoke about retreats as difficult to manage one alongside family commitments and one their disability, it may have affected others who did not raise it as an issue.  All valued the intensity and the opportunity for development of their own practice during retreats.

Question 3 – The values sheet attached was referred to in the original survey.  Can you describe how any of these values have impacted on your practice?
                                      ‘Authenticity’ …
                                      ‘Enquiry’ ….
                                      ‘Flexibility’ …..
                                      ‘Diversity’ …..
                                      ‘Ownership’ …

The majority of those interviewed had thought about this question in some depth.  All felt that Cheshire Dance worked hard to maintain its artistic practice and was uncompromising in believing in the values.  The majority agreed that it had altered their thinking about how they built their own artistic practice and how it affected their work with others. 

Authenticity, diversity and ownership were the most used words.  Some interviewees needed more clarification about the meaning of diversity in the context of artistic practice, whilst others believed it was the heart of the practice.  There was a dilemma for many in Cheshire Dance’s desire to sustain the practice and then to drive for performance.  Where does the line sit in these instances between direction and authenticity? Some felt that a lot of time was wasted in trying for authencity when rehearsals for the show were in progress; others felt that this was the right approach.  No-one was able to offer a solution, but felt that Cheshire Dance should think about this carefully and articulate it more fully when building towards a performance.

Question 4Are there any other thoughts about how your practice has changed, through working alongside people at Cheshire Dance?
On the whole this question was answered in the dialogue around the artistic practice and values.  There was a very high value placed on Cheshire Dance for the work it was doing and the results it achieved.  The quality of leadership and the consistency displayed by the staff was constantly commented upon as being strong and quite unique.

Question 5 – What Continuing Professional Development experience are you looking to support you in the future or to support you in the next stage of your career?
The views on CPD/artist development were split between the younger interviewees and the more mature mid-career and older dance practitioners. The younger ones felt that some formal training in such things as project management would be appropriate as many felt that their university courses did not prepare them for the world of work, particularly as a freelancer.  Mentoring came up often, the schemes for interns and shadowing and mentoring programmes set up by Cheshire Dance were highly valued.  Many of the interviewees had gone on to work with Cheshire Dance following an internship.

The more mature dance practitioners felt that Cheshire Dance should do what it does well and concentrate upon supporting artists to understand and develop their own artistic practice.  Several saw residencies as a good way forward particularly those not living close by and whose freelance work took them to other parts of the country.  There was great value placed on the intensity of artist’s development work led by Cheshire Dance and the success of this type of programme.

Question 6 – As a practitioner, are there areas of research and enquiry that you would like to be able to pursue with a group of participants?
All interviewees warmed to the idea of commissioned research and enquiry and there were a range of ideas put forward, many were to do with the development of practice or developing experience with working with particular groups of participants.  Many liked the idea that it was a common journey, but were concerned about the sustainability of many groups who just loved dancing.

Some felt that the problem for some of the classes was that they were run by young, often inexperienced, dancers, partly because pay rates were low and mature freelancers, whose experience would be more appropriate, were busy with other, better paid, work of their own.   If commissioned work had better rates of pay and the results were of significant benefit to the dance practitioner, then perhaps more would be committed to this work. 

For the younger dancers many felt that their practice would be enhanced by commissioned work but suggested that a mentored approach, particularly in the early stages of the research and enquiry, would be helpful to ensure they were getting the most out of their work and the line of development was appropriate.

Question 7 – What could Cheshire Dance do better or more/less of in future?
There was a mixed response to this question with no overriding theme coming through, partly because the interviewees felt the organisation, within the resources at its disposal, was doing a good job and that it should continue to focus on what it was good at.  There was general recognition that “The Moment When” would have a major impact on Cheshire Dance as it will raise its profile, increase expectations on what it can achieve and could fundamentally change the organisation.  There was a general feeling that the organisation should assess what had worked and what had worked less well across the whole project and put in place improvements for the future.
Most interviewees suspected that large scale outdoor events would, in future, be part of the work of Cheshire Dance.  There was some concern about the different roles within “TMW” where some were paid roles and other not and whether someone hired as a professional dancer was also expected to move equipment etc.  Some organisational issues arose during the project that needed to be sorted out if events of this size continue.

Question 8 – Is there anything else you would like to comment upon either about the development of your own practice and how this could be helped further or about Cheshire Dance more generally.
All interviewees ended their interviews with very positive comments about the organisation, feeling that it was one of the very few dance organisations that listened to its practitioners, was wholly committed to its artistic practice and was fully aware in the way it structured its programmes of work to support the development of each individual.  The organisation went out of its way to be helpful and people generally felt that they were part of the Cheshire Dance family where friends were made and people cared.

SH 2012


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