Careers Clinic: working overseas
YOUR PROBLEM I’ve been working as a professional dancer for more than a year now, dancing in a variety of shows, and have really enjoyed each new experience. I’ve also made friends with several other dancers, including some very experienced ones, all of whom have been really encouraging and generous with advice. For this summer, I have had a couple of job offers come in that I’m currently considering. But the one I wanted to ask you about is with an overseas company. It’s in a nice warm country and for a couple of months, and the money is good too. But while some of my dance colleagues do a lot of work overseas, and are very enthusiastic about the opportunities out there, one or two others have told me horror stories about overseas jobs that have gone wrong – from not getting paid to working in terrible conditions. I suppose there is good and bad in every job, and I’ve promised myself I’m going to grasp every opportunity that comes my way with both hands – but what should I be doing to make sure my first overseas job is a good one?
JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE When I was working for Unicef many years ago (developing health education projects with local artists), I took a bus journey along the Malawi/Mozambique border during which I enjoyed some very nice guava fruits bought through the windows from street sellers. I didn’t enjoy the three long days of intestinal distress which directly followed. With sincere apologies if you’re reading this while eating, the moral of the story is that there are things that we’re all supposed to do, such as washing fruit before we eat it, which we can get away with at home but may have rather more serious consequences if we neglect them in a foreign territory.
That general travel advice applies in spades when considering dance work overseas for the first time. It makes sense to read contracts carefully and research companies that are offering you employment thoroughly wherever they are based. But it’s all the more important when the base is in a different country, not least because if anything goes wrong in a territory with different labour laws it can be very difficult to fight your corner from a legal perspective.
While this principle would be a wise one for performers of any discipline to take on board, it is especially relevant to dancers given that, as your friends have suggested, there is so much overseas work on offer. Fortunately, it also means that there are lots of dancers out there who may already have worked for the company you have been approached by. And if you don’t know any of them personally, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find comments and feedback either on the grapevine or online.
It’s definitely important to take those horror stories seriously, and I would always strongly encourage anyone who has had bad experiences to seek support from Equity, official dance bodies, and their dance agent if the booking has come via that source (although any reputable agent will hopefully have checked out the job ahead of time). But all that aside, you’ll generally find very positive stories from dancers who have worked overseas – in fact, for some dancers I know it’s been the highlight of their career.
Once you’ve done your checks, I hope this job will be a highlight for you. Do make sure you get your visa sorted early, let friends and family know where you’re going and where you’re staying, and every success for an amazing summer.
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