Dance internships: are they worth it?

Love them or hate them, unpaid internships are widespread within the arts sector, and the dance world is no exception. Arts manager and former intern Georgie Hay shares her experiences

Although I believe that taking on an internship certainly played a big role in where I am today, I don’t think it necessarily provided me with new and vital skills. Rather, it directed me in how to use my existing skill set in that particular environment.

I initially trained as a dancer: I completed a degree in Dance Studies at Roehampton University, followed by a postgraduate course at the London Contemporary Dance School. I then spent some time as a dancer with an opera company in Jordan, and decided I wanted to move into arts management.

I started looking at ways to build on some of my arts administration experience. After a bit of research and deciding against further study, I found that IMG Artists was looking for interns. Although classical music was and is not my field of expertise, the company had a dance division so I got in touch with the dance manager and, after a few persuasive phone calls and an impromptu meeting, a three-month part-time internship was created for me.

This definitely provided a kick-start: after my internship I took on roles as a production assistant and project manager for a couple of projects at the Royal Opera House, later moving on to interim general manager at Siobhan Davies Dance Studios and then as administrative coordinator for The Royal Ballet Studio Programme. I currently live in Glasgow working as fundraising and development manager for The Arches and as programme manager for the biannual dance event, British Dance Edition 2014.

During my internship, I was very lucky to have such a supportive mentor, and I certainly feel like I learned a lot from her. She was very conscious of the fine line between the jobs you could do as an intern and the jobs that the artist assistants were paid to do. At times, these limitations made me feel like I was being held back from the things that would help me grow and develop new skills. Nonetheless, the experience and connections I made through this internship were invaluable.

Although I was offered a small contribution towards my travel costs, the internship was unpaid. With rent and bills to pay, it was not the most ideal situation. But reminding myself that this was just a small and necessary part of the journey I had to take, I made it work.

Georgie Hay
Georgie Hay

In an ideal world, interns should be paid. You are given a certain degree of responsibility and are given tasks that would otherwise be carried out by a paid member of staff. Being paid would place value on what you’re doing, and would provide the motivation to progress and move upward.

However, especially in today’s economic climate, arts organisations often do not have the resources to fund a paid internship. ‘We would pay you if we could’ is something I’ve heard many times. Friends in other industries find this outrageous, but it seems that if you don’t take these unpaid opportunities to progress, there are thousands of other young arts professionals that will.

For aspiring dance managers, I would recommend internships as a first step towards building connections within an arts management environment. Internships are a learning process, so I would highly recommend doing a fair bit of research into what kind of organisation you would like to work within, and what you ultimately would like to gain from it.

View Georgie’s LinkedIn Profile here.