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Artist in Profile | Frances Rings

Frances Rings is an Aboriginal dancer and the resident choreographer at Bangarra Dance Theatre. Last year she took part in Birrang, an initiative for NSW-based dance artists. Here, she is in conversation with Estelle Pigot about her experience of the program.

Tell us what you gained from participating in the Birrang program last year?

I guess it gave me a lot of clarity around how to set-up as an independent business and self-advocate. The course goes over the steps you need to take along the way to achieve the milestones you intend, and be able to set up further goals in the future. I think it’s really important when you’re an independent artist to really have that foresight to lay out proper planning in term of career development; to be able to get that sort of professional development in an intensive environment and be able to ask questions of other artists, and bounce ideas off each other. Sometimes, working as an independent artist, you can feel very isolated and need some validation around what you do, and having the opportunity to do Birrang built confidence and made you feel connected to your peers.

Were the participants all in a similar place in your careers, last year, or was it more the case that the group were from all different walks of life?

We were really diverse, and really from very different areas of dance. Also, for my part, there was an element of mentorship. I could see myself in some of those artists who are earlier on in their careers. This is a very tight community and being able to pass on some of my own experiences was nice. Birrang made it possible to have contact with different dancers on different journeys and to access the resources available to help us on ours. Being able to tap into that community, making connections and unlocking the process, was really valuable.

What aspect of the Creative Business course did you gain the most from?

With a lot of indigenous people, they are not ones to beat their own drum; the whole self-promotion thing can be a bit daunting. It’s not something that we do very well, and it is something you need to do. There’s this cultural idea that self-promotion is selling out and there are always sensitivities around compromising your community or family. Birrang showed us how it could be done with a distinctively indigenous voice – where it’s not selling out, it’s not diluting cultural responsibilities – it becomes about doing it our way and having integrity around the work that still identifies us as indigenous artists. The course really showed us pathways to start seeing yourself as a little brand, and getting your brand out there, but maintaining the unique nature of our work as indigenous artists and being confident about that.

At Birrang, we saw different examples of how to do that without seeming ego-driven. There was a couple who are a musical duo who spoke to us; I found them really inspiring to listen to. They just talked about their approach to getting their work out there but keeping that creative control, they explained to us how they promote their work through social media networks but are able to keep their unique flavour and their branding, which was really nice to see. They were promoting their work but they did it their own way. It was done tastefully and I really liked seeing that, it was inspiring.

What would you say to a dancer who was thinking about applying for Birrang?

Birrang is something that we are really, really lucky to have as an opportunity available to us as emerging artists.  Developing the skills to make really clear decisions early in their careers, and to feel like they have the support to achieve their goals, is such an advantage and really energising.

After finishing the course, you are just able to see your career through a completely different lens. I was really able to identify those areas where it’s not working and having new skills to work towards improving that. I got a lot out of it; it’s about having the confidence to plan, working towards achieving the career benchmarks you want, ticking things off the list.

To apply for Birrang, click here.