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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Unions in Ballet

A comment was made today about Ballet West's decison to unionize, I couldn’t agree more. Especially in ballet I don’t understand why we feel like we need unions.

In one of my intro to law classes the professor began by telling us why he has always tried to settle cases out of court. Out of court you can compromise and find solutions that please everyone. When you are in a private alternative dispute resolution setting each side secedes some power to the mediator, and their rulings are usually legally binding, but at the same time each side still retains the power to accept or reject the solutions presented. When you take an issue to court, both sides lose all power immediately; either to the judge or the jury.

I think unions are a similar beast. I read the articles that came out after Washington Ballet unionized last season. The dancers started that movement and for awhile had a lot of power to create change; but in the end there were things said in newsprint that made it clear that in a lot of ways they had lost it all to the union. If I remember correctly the union at one point made statements on behalf of the dancers that were never approved by the dancers. AGMA has its own agenda, and a strong set of standards that effect a dancers everyday life; such as those limiting what roles a dancer can understudy.

When dancers organize themselves and present the administration with an issue, it shows their commitment to an issue and their respect for the administration, a kind of respect that isn’t shown by calling in a third party that is clearly biased on your behalf. I don’t think all the dancers of these unionizing companies realize the bargaining power they are giving up. In a way it’s the McDonaldization of ballet.

Not to mention the fact that the 30 dancers that decided to unionize at Ballet West agreed to a reduction in company size to 25. It takes some serious balls to vote 5 of your friends “off the island.”

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