Friday, November 03, 2006

Talent Drain: A Perspective From Student Dancers

It has been acknowledged that one of the competitive advantages of the Philippines is its human resources. Foreign investors and employers have attested that the Filipino worker has the necessary knowledge, skills, and attitudes to deliver results.

This statement does not only apply to traditional occupations and professions, but also for talent in the arts. For example, the Department of Trade and Industry recently has identified entertainment talent as a potential source of foreign revenue. Filipino talents in the areas of voice and dance have been a fixture in hotel lounges and clubs not only in
Asia but all over the world. The Filipino-dominant cast of the musical Miss Saigon just attest to the talent possess by Filipinos in the field of the performing arts.

This essay was inspired from conversations with four student dance artist currently employed in Hong Kong Disneyland. Before their employment with Hong Kong Disneyland, the students were between 20 to 25 years of age, in their senior year of academic preparation in their chosen fields of specialization, senior dancers in a school recognized dance company, and are freelance commercial dancers. They were able get information of the job openings from other dance artist through circulated e-mail. It is also important to note that Hong Kong Disneyland conducted an open audition system only in the Philippines. This move stresses the importance of the Philippines as a main source of talent among Asian countries. The primary focus of this narrative is the advantages and disadvantages of foreign employment from the perspective of dance artist.

As expected the most compelling reason for talent migration is economic in nature. Full-time employment in a premier dance company in the Philippines would only yield a gross compensation of PHP 8,000.00 as compared to the PHP 90,000 for parade dancers (the lowest ranked dance position) to PHP 150,000 for show dancers. Aside from direct compensation, there are a host of other fringe benefits and developmental opportunities. For example, dancers are exposed to trainers from other countries that provide them with new trends and techniques in dance. Furthermore, talented dancers are given foreign training opportunities in various aspects of dance and entertainment. Even though the training and developmental opportunities hone the skills and techniques of the dancers, one drawback of commercial dance is the restriction on performances. The dancers have to abide by the defined “rules” of the show. As narrated by one dancer, there was an instance in the parade show a minor improvisation done. This led to a written warning imposed on the dancer by the superior.

Being employed by a well-known entertainment company like Disney also brings stability of employment and enhances one’s credentials. Most dancers view their employment with Disney as a stepping stone to pursue other opportunities in the arts or their respective professional fields of specialization. For example, one dancer signified an interest to move from dance to an administrative position once an opening is available. Disney adheres to an internal recruitment policy. One major drawback of foreign employment is separation from one’s family and discrimination. Discrimination is evident in the placement of dancers in premier positions in various shows. There is still a preference for Chinese dancers to occupy lead roles with dancers from other nationalities handling supporting roles.

In summary, the story of the migrant artist is not as different as with any other Filipino migrant worker. Foreign employment provides economic and developmental opportunities not available in the Philippines. This is more evident in the field related to the arts. Culture and arts in the Philippines is still viewed as elitist. As a business opportunity, it still is at infancy since the audience base is limited. Once this trend and perception about the arts is changed, there is a possibility that talent can be retained and enjoyed by Filipinos.


Ma. Magdalena C. de Leon

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