Fresh graduated dancers struggle to invent new jobs

Chinese dancers modern dance

Chinese dancers perfom modern dance at “Happy Feet” art exhibition, Bed Bar, Beijing, 7 September 2013

It’s Sunday night in early August, Pengfei, a fresh graduated dancer, is dancing a short piece from Pina Bausch’s Cafe Mueller. He’s a dancing teacher here at the Junran Art Center in Beijing, China, and the joint screening and workshop, introducing modern dance, is ending. Many of the people taking part in this workshop are dancers or actors, among them fresh and recent graduates, which share the same fate like most having difficulties in finding a job in their major.

According to MyCOS, a Beijing based higher education consulting firm, this year nearly 7 million college students are looking to start a fresh career. They are facing a tough time job hunting with 2013 being the year with a four-fold increase and most college graduates in China, after the expansion of the university system in 1990.
The ‘Top 10 most employable majors in China 2013‘ list shows only majors in engineering, but what is the situation for young dancers and actors finding jobs?

Dancer’s careers
Pengfei, graduated with a degree in modern dance and choreography from Beijing Opera College. The Beijing Modern Dancing Company took him on as an intern just after he graduated in spring 2013. “ It was too easy for me, maybe I’m lucky. My major is so good. This company needed one actor” he says.
But his classmates weren’t that lucky and didn’t find a job as dancers. “My friends now go to junior school as a teacher, some go to another company as actors, and some are still looking for a job.”

Graduates ending up doing manual labour jobs instead of finding employment related to their major is an increasing problem worldwide, which finally has reached China, writes Patti Waldmeir from Shanghai.

Blue collar and dancing shoes
Some of Pengfei’s classmates decided to stay in Beijing and still try their luck. “Many people join this major, because they think this major is so cool. And they have a dream, and someone have a dream like this just don’t need this money, just for art.” describes Pengfei their motivation.
He adds, that most can barely afford to do this and are often depending on financial support from their parents for one or two years. Just enough money to try to fulfill their dream, while taking on job opportunities as hosts for small product promotions and corporate events, looking for openings in plays and dancing companies.
They’ve become part of the growing Beipiao subculture, which can be translated as Beijing Floater or Beijing Vagabond, a busy lifestyle centered around building up a network and finding a chance to get their career started, while taking any little job available. If they don’t succeed and their parents can’t support them anymore, they will most likely have to return to their home cities and villages and take on whatever job is available if any.

Inventing new jobs on your own
Chinese leaders are getting increasingly worried about graduates not finding jobs and in May 2013 President Xi Jinping surprised many students attending a job market in Tianjin, encouraging them to work hard and create jobs.

Jesse Appell, a young American from Boston, studying Xiangsheng, a traditional Chinese comedy style known as Chinese Crosstalk, will be searching for a job as comedian here in China soon. Currently he’s performing weekly at the Open Mike session of Comedy Club China in Beijing’s Hot Cat Club to get more experience.
“Find areas of the market like other types of work. Being entertaining would make it so much better for everybody. Right now everybody is doing work in a very boring way where everybody hates their job, because there is no fun involved, then maybe find a way to make a little fun in that” he thinks out loud before he is casting it into a new job idea: ”There are a lot of kids. They don’t want to sit with a textbook when they are told to study English, but if we just start acting and trying to speak, just get up and start moving using our bodies, that sort of thing, then all of a sudden everybody is liking it.”
Jesse shrugs his shoulders and smiles. It might be difficult though, he analysis, since only established forms of art and culture can count on support by the government here in China. But still it’s better to make full use of the skills artists learn in education then letting them go waste, he finishes confident.

The network
Back in Junran Art Center, the workshop has ended and the participants start to mingle and exchange their contact details, information about other events and possible jobs. Many of them performed dancing together for the “Feet Happy” art event, a few weeks later in early September at Bed Bar, Beijing, hosted by Beijing Creatives, a group encouraging creative people to “share, create and collaborate”.

The future will show how young dancers and actors will manage and if their initiative and imagination will let them create new jobs independently from any official support. Securing a better future for them while bringing more culture, colour and fun into every day life is a goal we will all benefit from.