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The COVID-19 Pandemic Taught Us We Need to Change Our Ways When It Comes to Freelance Dance

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

Working freelance is part of a dream career for many within the dance world. A dance freelancer usually works in different jobs and projects within dance without being tied down to a specific company or organization. This allows people to do what they love, get involved in art that interests them and get experience in a variety of dance settings, all while having a flexible schedule.

However, working freelance does not come without challenges. Dance freelancers often have hectic schedules, can go through periods of unemployment when not hired for a job, and are responsible for keeping up with their training and professional development at their own cost.

Image description: A photo of a group of dancers performing in front of a building decorated with street art.

What happened during the pandemic for dance freelancers?

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, dancers were known to have high rates of mental health concerns. During the pandemic, freelance workers within the arts were amongst the most financially impacted groups of people. These financial difficulties, coupled with the mental health challenges dancers were already experiencing signaled to researchers that the mental health of dance freelancers needed to be studied a bit more closely.

In response to this, Maria Kolitsida, Professor Jennifer Cumming, Dr Anna Lavis and Erin Sanchez published a study in the Special Issue “Mental, Emotional and Physical Health and Wellness of Dancers” in the Journal of Dance Education looking at the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of dance freelancers in the United Kingdom.

The study found that the pandemic negatively affected dance freelancers' mental health by exacerbating the practical difficulties associated with freelance dance work. During the pandemic freelancers' jobs were suddenly cancelled and they received very little information or support from employers and the Government leading to them worrying about their futures in the dance industry. Additionally, being out of work during the pandemic negatively impacted dance freelancer's identity and self-worth. Even when freelancers were allowed to return to work, this was not without stress. Alongside worrying about the practicalities of returning to work and staying healthy, dance freelancers were concerned about psychologically meeting the demands of their profession after such a long break, for example, being able to cope with auditions and performances.

Nonetheless, not everything about the pandemic had negative consequences for the mental health of dance freelancers. Some freelancers used their free time during the pandemic as an opportunity for self-development. Dance freelancers utilized the time off work to rest and recover from injuries, reflect on their lives and become more self-aware, connect with loved ones as well as develop new skills all of which had positive effects on their mental health.

Image description: A photo of two ballroom dancers performing together.

So, what does this research mean for the freelance dance profession?

  1. There is a need to solve the practical problems and inequalities dance freelancers face professionally as these ameliorable challenges have the potential to negatively impact mental health across the profession.

  2. When organizations and the government issue guidance or support for dance freelancers, steps need to be taken to ensure that dance freelancers can access and use this.

  3. During the pandemic, dance freelancers seemed to benefit from feeling supported and connected to others. Having opportunities for freelancers to meet and build meaningful relationships with others in the sector could enhance their well being.

  4. Finally, it is important to consider the unique environment of working in dance and its effects on mental health when studying or supporting dance freelancers' mental health.


Photo credit: Canva.

Written by: Maria Kolitsida, PhD Researcher in the SPRINT Project.

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