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AFL Grand Final entertainment furore

The AFL has been forced into more damage control in Queensland after the arts community reacted angrily to a call out for volunteer dancers to perform at the Gabba grand final.A request was sent to dance schools asking for “strong performers” over the age of 15 to take part in a “once in a lifetime…

The AFL has been forced into more damage control in Queensland after the arts community reacted angrily to a call out for volunteer dancers to perform at the Gabba grand final.

A request was sent to dance schools asking for “strong performers” over the age of 15 to take part in a “once in a lifetime opportunity” at the “largest mass scale televised event of the year”.

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But in a year when the arts industry has been decimated by COVID-19, there was an uproar over the apparent attempt to source free labour.

“We’ve had such a hard year,” the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance’s Sam Gaskin told The Project.

“The AFL Grand Final is known as a big gig for many professional dancers. I feel like it’s a real representation of what we do and don’t value in this country.”

“I’m sure the players are being paid. I’m sure the cleaners are being paid. I’m sure the people serving the pies and the beers are being paid. So why on earth would we expect our performers not to be?” he added.

The AFL, and the executive producers planning the entertainment, responded by clarifying there would be paid professionals used and the casting call was for amateurs and an attempt to engage the local Brisbane community in the day.

But Melbourne dance teacher Erin Kennedy wasn’t buying the explanation.

“Even if this was purely sent to dance schools, now more than ever — in a time when the arts are really struggling to survive — the dance schools need recognition these skills these young performers are investing in don’t happen in a void,” she told The Project.

“Whether that’s a payment to the performers themselves or a contribution from the AFL to the dance schools to help them provide this product, some recognition needs to happen.

“Engaging the local community is a good thing but the call out was specifically for dancers over the age of 15 who are strong performers. This is not asking some young children to run onto the field and wave a glow stick in the air. This is asking for quality entertainment the AFL is benefiting from.

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“There is a difference between engaging the community and essentially exploiting a young group of people in the arts who are looking for legitimate work.

“If they wanted people to volunteer they would have put out a public advertisement and invited every man and their dog to take part,” Melbourne dancer Elijah Ziegeler added, in an interview with Nine newspapers.

“They have asked for specific, professional skills. They wouldn’t ask AFL footballers who have been training their whole lives to play for free. It is quite galling to see our services being exploited in such a way.”

The AFL said it regularly sourced volunteer performers for its events.

“With the 2020 AFL Grand Final being in Queensland for the first time, our executive producers Cochrane Entertainment and our production team have asked local Queensland community and amateur dance clubs and physie movement groups to take part in a mass activation that is in addition to organising paid singers and musicians to perform on stage,” it said in a statement.

“Having the community involved in our biggest day is important and the choreographed activity that will be undertaken by hundreds of volunteers was designed to involve community members and amateur dancers. it was never intended or designed as a performance by professional dancers and no professional or paid dancers were approached to be involved in the segment.”

Cochrane Entertainment’s Thea Jeanes-Cochrane said major events including the 2018 Commonwealth Games and Katy Perry’s performance at the 2020 Cricket Women’s World Cup used volunteers.

“There was never any intention to take work from professional dancers — it was always designed to provide an opportunity for members of local dance clubs and physie groups to participate,” Cochrane said.

The AFL hasn’t had the smoothest time in Queensland since being forced to relocate its competition north because of the COVID outbreak in Victoria.

The league was accused of border jumping after gaining permission to take a 400-strong party to the Gold Coast and has also come under fire for the poor behaviour of some of its players.

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