Gotta Dance, Gotta Have Rights

Just like a swift slap across the face, it hits me. I’m lying on the muddy concrete floor of a warehouse among old rusty screws and nails, puddles that resemble a witch’s brew — and broken patches of exposed fractured foundation filled with oil and water. I wait in quiet anticipation for that simple word that begins the whirlwind of magic, “Action!” and a world of horizontal expression is unleashed. That’s the moment it hits me — something has to be done.

It’s time for change. It’s time for the music video industry to take care of the people who help bring its visions to life on film. These visual masterpieces are society’s escape from the real world into a land of imagination where the soul is moved by music and movement, words, acting and dreamlike possibilities. Let’s take care of those people who help make that illusion come to life. They deserve to be treated well and they deserve to have a future.

I’m a dancer and music videos are what made me want to be a performer. I can’t imagine what the music industry would be like without its videos; what it would be like to hear a song and not remember the visual story that came along with it; not to feel the “hook” and have my body fall into the natural groove of what the dancers did. We would lose part of music. I don’t want that.

All I want is for the performers in music videos to have a future so that the passion that goes into their creation isn’t at the expense of our craft and human rights. Right now music videos aren’t covered by a union contract and the people who perform in them aren’t protected. This is bubbling into an uproar in the dance world. Why? Because we don’t feel like we are being treated well. The life span for a dancer in this industry is such a small window of time, and we want to dance as long as we possibly can. Because we do it for our happiness. We do it for our own personal fulfillment. We do it for our expression of our self, of our point of view, of our voice. We do it because it brings people together and brings more love and joy into this world.

And now the love we have for ourselves and this industry has sparked a suppressed voice that wants to be heard.

Is it too much to ask for a chair to sit in while we are waiting on set? Or a place to put our stuff while we are shooting? Or to have fresh water to drink and an area to stretch? And how about having clean restrooms (which we now also use as changing rooms most of the time) or to not be exposed to inclement weather while we are waiting? These seem like obvious things that would be part of any music video production, but they aren’t. We just want to be able to keep our bodies prepared for the long hours that come along with shooting, so that we can do our jobs the best we can.

But these aren’t the only fractured parts. There are so many areas of the music video industry that need to be brought under a contract’s umbrella. For example, guidelines for performing in hazardous conditions; health and retirements benefits, reasonable working hours and proper pay for time spent on-camera as well as off – as well as ensuring a proper turnaround time between shoot days and rehearsals days, and guaranteeing that each performer is paid properly for the use of the final product.

With our union, SAG-AFTRA, we are about to tell the record labels that we’re tired of waiting for a fair union contract, and we’re ready to take action to stop work on music videos — unless a union contract is in place. Just as we work together to create the fantasy worlds of music videos, so are we prepared to create a better future for dancers and other performers in reality.

This article originally appeared on The Frying Pan.