“Something beautiful is their pay.”

Posted by jlubans on October 27, 2014

Caption: One children’s group on parade.

Several of my students elected, for their solo interview assignment,
to survey a participant – a leader, a dancer, a singer, an organizer, or a volunteer - about teamwork and leadership in Latvia’s Song and Dance (Dziesmu un deju svētki) festival.
I suggested a few questions but they were free to invent their own:
“How would you characterize leadership in the festival? (For example was the leadership democratic, autocratic, participatory, negotiable, like a family, an effective team, a weak team, or a king/queen and court?)”

“Is there freedom to say what one thinks? Is criticism well received? Is criticism ignored? Do performers/participants have a say in what they do or are they generally told what to do?”

The festival occurs every five years and brings something like 40,000 Latvian singers and dancers of all ages and sizes to Riga for a weeklong kaleidoscope of song and dance. Tickets are impossible to get. Unless you know someone, the best you’ll get are a few seats to rehearsals and almost never for the times you want. Prices are not exorbitant, it’s just that there’s far more demand than supply.
Many of my students know participants, have themselves sung or danced, or have family members who have taken part. By and large the interviews concluded that the numerous regional choirs and dance groups were largely democratic (“The leader (of our local choir) was the conductor but he was one of us.”) As for the festival organization, everyone observed it was (and had-to-be) a top down command and control operation. The organizers make decisions about staging, content, timing, seating, positioning – all non-negotiable. Understandably, given the two types of organizational leadership – democratic vs. autocratic - the interviews reveal some level of frustration with the latter during the festival’s week.

Caption: Crammed on the tram, participants and spectators heading to the outdoor song venue in Forest Park (Mežaparks).

Why, then, do this?
Participants accept this dichotomy – even if they are not always happy about being held for hours in rehearsal in the hot July sun or sleeping on mats on gymnasium floors or eating in school cafeterias or being told to only sip water since bathroom breaks are discourage! Still, it’s where they want to be. Each understands pretty much that “Only together do they get their chance” to participate.
One student interviewed her mother about why she volunteers and works so hard for the festival: “I (r)eally wanted to feel this wonderful festival feeling.” It’s about intangibles and the desire to be part of something far beyond the organizers, beyond any one person, beyond any revered choral conductor.
She sums up wryly: “It's like our family ‘sickness’ - me and my mom made national costumes, (my) brother and sister dance.”

Caption: Dancing in the rain (literally), multiply this group by 25 others simultaneously performing the same intricate dance – all without a boss.

It’s not about the money – participants are unpaid, the organizers get most of it. That imbalance, if one can call it that, reminds me of the legal argument in the USA between American university football players who want to be paid. Coaches often make millions and athletes get free tuition and room and board. The preliminary court rulings have been favorable to the players, maybe reflecting an understanding that without the players there’d be no coaches or mega buck TV contracts. But, even in football, just like in dance and song, there can be a great satisfaction and joy in the doing. In my library career, I’ve been fortunate to have experienced joy in the workplace, when teams came together and achieved something greater than any one individual could accomplish. That achievement and its recognition was worth more than a librarian’s salary.
I told my students that while I agree with a command and control model for huge groups who come together infrequently, there still could be a representative group of elected participants to talk with leaders/organizers and make changes. In other words, participants should have a voice in the planning – they are fully invested in and clearly want only the best for the festival.

Caption: two dancers post-performance taking a blissful victory lap around the dance stadium’s track.

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

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Posted by jlubans on October 27, 2014  •  11:27:15


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