A Tour is Cancelled

New York City, United States

Small and mid-sized dance companies such as Battery Dance Company normally operate without a safety net. Trip insurance, under-studies, over-time pay, vacation days …. These are abstract concepts, sadly far from reality. The dancers, technical and artistic directors, project managers and administrators all operate close to the bone. With these circumstances as a background, put a tour cancellation into the equation, and you’ve got a full-fledged crisis.

This is what happened to Battery Dance Company in 2003 when, in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a major tour of North and East Africa collapsed. With the benefit of hind-sight, it was probably predictable that U.S. Embassies would hunker down at a time when bombs were dropping on Baghdad. However, after 9 months of planning, rehearsing and creating of a new piece of choreography specifically designed for the tour, it was devastating to see the pieces fall apart. The drama of the situation was under-scored by the fact that two male dancers who had been part of the tour left the Company and retired from the dance profession immediately afterwards. The immediate disappointment and financial loss added to accumulated frustrations with the dance career and these two talented men began career transitions.

It would be instructive and helpful if I could point to strategies that I used to recover from the cancellation. However, the actions that I took to mitigate the disaster, no matter how energetically and fervently I tried, proved unsuccessful. Perhaps, with a little more time and more experience on my part, they might have given us a toe-hold:

  • I met with various bureaus of the State Department to see if anyone could help us find another Post that could spring into action and program us for the dates that had been lost. We looked to regions such as South America and Western Europe where the U.S. actions in Iraq and Afghanistan would be less likely to provoke terroristic responses. No luck;
  • I organized a small-scale benefit in New York and a series of school performances in which the new work could be tried-out. We received a positive review and a full house; and were able to distribute some much-needed cash to the dancers (but unfortunately, only a fraction of what they would have earned on tour.)
  • On a positive note, my tenacity with the Embassies resulted in a re-configured tour in 2004, almost exactly a year after that which had been cancelled.

The Take-away: When someone or an institution (or government agency) takes an action that you feel is unjust, or damaging, how you respond is pivotal to your future. Can you reveal your disagreement with the action and or your distress at the result, while at the same time, encouraging the other party to take responsibility and do everything possible to help you recover? That is the challenge. Sometimes it’s a lost cause and venting is unavoidable. I’m talking to myself when I say, “Let it go; keep your cool; be a pro.”