Dance artist

Beyond the Super Bowl: Dance artist-athlete Taja Riley calls for better treatment for dancers

Eight compulsory repetitions. A non-disclosure agreement. Zero salary. These are some of the specifications laid out in a casting call for dancers to be part of the 2022 Super Bowl halftime show. After news broke that some dancers would work as volunteers and receive no real benefits in More than the exposure opportunity of a lifetime, Taja Riley was one of the many people who decided to speak out about how off-putting and disrespectful this offer was. how accepting jobs like this keeps dancers underpaid and underappreciated.

Just in time for the nation’s most-watched sporting event, Riley successfully led a movement (on behalf of no less than 400 performers) to ensure that all halftime show dancers were fully compensated for their time and energy. For the community dancers and movement supporters who helped spread the issue widely, this news seemed like a winning touchdown – the kind that calls for a party dance! But the work does not stop there. It’s just part of an ongoing conversation.

Talking about the mistreatment of professional dancers is nothing new for Riley, a self-proclaimed dancer-athlete who, since the early days of quarantine, has sparked important conversations about the realities of the industry on social media. “We need to start educating people about the state of our community, in addition to being clearer with dance jobs about how our time, energy and influence should be valued,” says Riley, who uses the pronouns she/he/they.

Along the way, Riley has shared her own experiences in a way almost any dancer can relate to. Now they are creating an entertainment company, TKO Quarantainment Inc., and developing a host of creative projects. Riley has set aside her own dance career with some of the world’s top musical artists to “leap into the unknown” in pursuit of a brighter future, where dancers are valued and the dance community as a whole is empowered. high.

Riley recently spoke to dance review on some of the inequalities dancers have faced on set, from unreasonably low salaries to dodgy contracts and no credit. “Yeah, some of these production companies may be trying to undermine us, but I’m starting to find that most of them just don’t know or are following earlier models,” they say.

The message is now on its way to millions around the world as Riley continues to use her voice and her platform to heal, inspire and empower the dance community to see the value in its members, so that the rest of the world can too.

What triggered the action:

Having worked with a long list of prominent names like Janet Jackson, SZA, Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez, Riley has experience to draw on when tackling industry issues. Despite the great experiences they had throughout their careers, it was the few bad experiences — and the normalized fear of talking about them — that inspired the action Riley is taking today.

Feeling the need to quit a dream job in 2011, due to the testing of their moral standards, helped Riley understand the deeper implications of how dancers were viewed in the industry and made them to focus on redefining these standards. “I expressed my concerns with some of the other dancers on set, and there were several who felt the same,” they say. “I was in shock,” but ultimately Riley pulled the choreographer aside to express his appreciation and kindly let him know they weren’t willing to compromise who they were. “In that moment, when I was asked to do a choreography that I felt was against my faith, the way I viewed the dance industry completely changed, and that changed. hooked up to my love for dancing,” they add.

As a second-generation artist, Riley has always considered themselves a business, and it’s part of the reason they fight so hard for dancers to understand the importance of honoring the craft while respecting personal boundaries.

On dancers considering themselves a business:

“Do you have a mission statement? When you work, do you have a vision or purpose for why you are there? As a dance professional, that’s what you stand on. It is your foundation. Who you are can then be broken down into concepts and statements, which can help you organize your value and the definition of your product, which is your image.

These are crucial factors to consider so that dance artists can stand firm on what they believe in at work and easily discern what they are willing to stand up for, fall for, or sacrifice when it comes down to it. is some dance work.

Tuning to “TAJTV”

Taja Riley. Photo by Lee Gumbs, courtesy of Riley. Design by circle and square

Riley anticipates that TKO Quarantainment’s first series of television programs, “TAJTV”, will serve as a resource to help elevate the dance community. This is a unique talk show that will feature a number of special segments featuring an elite cast of mainstream artists and will tap into issues of concern within the industry, while discussing how to create solutions. “I want to be able to show the big parts of the dance industry, as well as touch on some of the things that need more awareness.”

“We’ve already shot part of the pilot, and I’m so grateful to all the GoFundMe donors! We’d love to finish it so we can submit it for spotlighting. You can find updates on the GoFundMe page from Riley as they work toward the $15,000 goal to get the show off the ground and onto TV screens.

The daily life of a dance activist:

As someone who works to improve the reality for dance artists, everyday life is “unpredictable,” Riley says. “Some days are very uplifting, productive and triumphant, and other days are very sad and exhausting.”

“There’s also the physical labor and outreach, like contacting the media, and a long to-do list for ongoing projects: ongoing development, line production, going out to onboard people, contracting, developing, modeling , create, read, modify and delegate to the team. Then, of course, there is room for my emotional work, which I find in my dance training, and even on horseback! dancing was crucial in grounding me during this process.”

Riley thinks the busy schedule is worth it, as they focused on the big picture: making an impact in the dance community and beyond. Inspired by Oprah Winfrey’s opening, Riley hopes this move can have the same impact for dance that major media personalities and publications of this caliber have had on other fields.

About memes and humor in the mix:

Many memes on Riley’s Instagram page use humor to highlight some seriously shady issues that dancers face. “I think the best way to heal is to laugh and cry,” they say. “Being part of meme culture is being able to captivate the subconscious alter egos inside of you in ways that feel relatable.”

How others can get involved:

“We must unite! We have so much power and we are so much stronger together,” Riley says. “When you read this article, go tell someone. Take it to your parents, your dance teacher, your dance buddies and discuss it.

Making Dance History:

The bottom line is that despite the popularity dance artists have helped make possible for so many brands and music artists over the years, they are often still vastly underappreciated. Riley believes professional dancers should be treated and paid the same as professional athletes and musicians. For many people, such drastic change is simply not an option, but Riley continues to push the vision forward and shamelessly highlight the mistreatment of dancers, so that positive changes can be implemented bit by bit in the world. ‘industry.

Riley urges dancers to move beyond unethical traditions simply because “that’s the way things have always been.” Questioning is the new cool. Respect is a must. Dancers are artists and athletes and should be treated as such. And Riley reminds us of the need to continue the fight for progress: “This whole movement has only just begun.

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