Coca-Cola has been forced to cancel a flash mob that was planned to feature professional dancers after being challenged over its intention not to pay the performers involved.
An advertisement was posted on a Facebook group for professional dancers to take part in a one-day rehearsal and subsequent flash mob as part of a viral video for the brand.
However, when Coca-Cola was confronted about its plans, it emerged that the only payment dancers would receive would be gifts and soft drinks.
Dancer and choreographer Philip Joel posted messages he received from the event’s organiser confirming this on Twitter, to warn others that the work was unpaid. This sparked a resurgence of the ‘paythedancers’ hash tag which began earlier in the year in Australia after dancers were asked to perform on a Kylie Minogue video without pay.
“I wasn’t expecting as much of a reaction as it got,” Joel said. “But it annoyed people that this multi-billion pound company was trying to get dancers for free. In my opinion it’s about getting dancers to stick together on this. If a job isn’t paid, we need to encourage people not to take it, because then employers will realise that they can’t expect us to work for free.”
Speaking to The Stage, Joel suggested that the reaction was part of a more deep-seated frustration with the instability of freelance work for dancers.
“You can’t really stand on your own two feet doing freelance, which I think is appalling. I know so many people now who have to give up because they just can’t afford to be a dancer anymore. This is not a hobby. We’re not in an office nine to five, this is our job,” he said.
The flash mob was due to take place last Friday, but was cancelled within hours of the story breaking on Twitter, where it garnered support from performers.
The campaign also won support from choreographer Arlene Phillips, who tweeted: “Wow. Incredible…Dancers work and study so hard, and more and more are being asked to dance for free.”
In a statement, a spokeswoman from Coca-Cola said that the event was internal and not intended for consumer or marketing purposes. She stated that it was organised by a member of staff but “had not been sanctioned and was cancelled as soon as we were made aware”.
Communications between the event’s organiser and dancers, however, revealed that the flash mob was being planned to “mob the world leaders of Coca-Cola on the streets of London” and was billed as “the next big viral video on YouTube”.
Equity’s Low Pay No Pay organiser, Emmanuel de Lange, said: “It’s shocking that dancers would be asked to work for no pay for a multi-billion dollar corporation like Coca-Cola.
“The fact that anyone working on organising an event for Coca-Cola thought they’d be able to get away with this shows just how bad the endemic culture of low and no pay in performance has got. That’s why Equity is actively tackling the problem in every sector our members work in.
“There is one positive in this sorry episode – it has shown that when performers stand together and fight for their rights, they can take on even the biggest employers.”