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Ballet Companies and Labor Unions


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#1 slhogan

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Posted 27 August 2015 - 06:55 AM

I was looking at AGMA information, and I see that this labor union represents about two dozen ballet companies, including what appears to be most of the big names in U.S. ballet companies-- NYCB, ABT, SFB, PNB, Joffrey, Boston, Washington, Houston, etc.   But, the AGMA certainly doesn't represent all ballet companies, and there are some companies that I believe have strong programs that I don't see on the AGMA list.

 

Is there another labor union that represents ballet companies?  Are these absent-from-the-AGMA-list companies simply not unionized?

 

As my son prepares for the final stretch of his training journey, is there anything he should know about exploring non-union ballet companies as a future employer?  



#2 Momof3darlings

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Posted 27 August 2015 - 09:07 AM

The AGMA list has not always been up to date so you may want to check if there are specific companies you have in mind.  To my knowledge there is not another labor union that represents ballet companies like AGMA.  I certainly could be wrong on that though.  There are many companies that are not unionized.   Some of those, however, do have contracts that are written almost exactly like an AGMA contract just without the union to back it.  Those companies usually try to adhere close to AGMA so that their dancers don't want to unionize but are protected.  They will be the companies who do good work but their budget cannot take the AGMA financial hit.  

 

The issue with any contract is that you won't know until you see the wording of the contract how closely they adhere to AGMA guidelines and if there is anything written that tells you what to do if they don't.  

 

DDs contracts have not been union ones.  Both were very detailed, but one was more administrative friendly and the other more dancer friendly.  A dancer friendly contract will read to show the protections it offers it's dancers while also giving the regulations the dancer must follow.  Her first contract was very clearly written so that the company set the rules and the dancer was only protected as far as the administration wanted to take it.  This showed up when individual dancers were given pass on some of the rules and others had to adhere. Or in the inability to ever ask questions about situations.    The 2nd still gave the company ultimate control but showed how the dancer would be protected.  

 

An example would be in her first contract:  class was mandatory, the rehearsal schedule was emailed the night before (sometimes) and if the day went longer it just went longer.  There was a dancer who was a company liason who was put in that position by the Administration.  (not a dancer friendly contract)   Total hours for the week were dependant on need.

 

An example in her 2nd contract:  the dancer work week has a set number of hours. Class is mandatory with a few exceptions granted.   If the company goes over those work week hours the dancer must be given time off.   If, during theatre week, the hours are more than the set work week hours then the dancers must be given a day off to offset those hours.  If the dancer goes over a certain amount of work hours at the request of the company, there must be additional compensation.  Work hours not in the contract (with no pay) are optional.  The dancers nominate/elect a company liason who is a dancer.  They may speak to the administration on the dancers behalf but it is a dancer driven person.  

 

Ultimately, in both cases the Administration has complete control over the dancer, but in one, there is more protection for the dancer than the other.  This is the type of thing you will look for.  


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#3 Marseas Mom

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Posted 27 August 2015 - 01:18 PM

My DD recently joined a company that is not AGMA but follows the AGMA guidelines. I did have an opportunity to look at the contract and did see that it was a dancer friendly type of contract ( Thank you Momof3 for your post !), with company class, rehearsals, hours, perfermances and time off all spelled out very clearly.

 

SLhogan- Best of luck to your DS as he navigates his journey this year...



#4 slhogan

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Posted 26 September 2015 - 08:05 AM

So, if a company is not AGMA, is there any way to see the contract ahead of time?  That is, how do you know potential salary, employment period, benefits, etc. before auditioning for the company?  Does a dancer request it pre-audition?  Does the dancer just audition blindly?  

 

I've looked on various non-AGMA websites, and I don't see the information posted there, but perhaps that's just because it's not currently audition season.

 

My son isn't there yet.  I'm just familiarizing myself about the process for future reference.



#5 dancemaven

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Posted 26 September 2015 - 09:56 AM

That's where the network the dancer has built up comes in. Dancers will learn information from other dancers who have been to the auditions previously, those that have been kept til the end and spoken to, dancers who have been offered contracts previously from the company, dancers who are currently in or previously in the company.

Count it as a great stroke of luck to have more than one contract offer to compare/contrast and choose between. Quite often, the choice is between "do I accept this contract on the company's terms' or "do I decline it and keep auditioning'.

It helps the dancer to do as much reconnaissance as possible a couple years before he hits the audition trail and to keep checking in with his network during audition season. The dancers on the current audition circuit are the most up-to-date and (my DD found) willing to share information---as long as it is reciprocated. Everything changes each audition season.

#6 GTLS Designs

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Posted 26 September 2015 - 09:59 AM

All of the companies that I danced for were non-AGMA.  I've never heard of a dancer asking for the contract ahead of the audition - you didn't get the stipulations until you were hired.  You also have the right to not sign the contract that is offered to you (one would hope that there was another contract available at another company, but usually you get what you get).

 

Height preference, salary, and number of contracted weeks are usually found in the audition information.  

 

You know how we always talk about networking on BT4D??  This is how you are going to find out about benefits, working conditions, and dancer/admin interactions.... and how many male/female contracts are available... etc.

 

Edited to add: Dancemaven and I were posting the same thing at the same time!


Edited by GTLS Designs, 26 September 2015 - 10:01 AM.

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#7 slhogan

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Posted 26 September 2015 - 10:15 AM

It helps the dancer to do as much reconnaissance as possible a couple years before he hits the audition trail and to keep checking in with his network during audition season. 

 

I guess that's the stage he's at right now.  He's asking around.  A lot.  I'm amazed at how many dancers he knows these days, after years of SI's, social media, and just mutual friends.  I'm helping out by doing some of the internet research for him.



#8 Coco

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Posted 26 September 2015 - 07:05 PM

Slogan, you mentioned non AGMA websites. Did you mean specific company websites or general websites about companies. Also I use to be able to access, contracts for AGMA companies and now it seems login is required. Have you found this to be the case as well?

#9 slhogan

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Posted 26 September 2015 - 07:49 PM

I found a general website that listed AGMA companies. Then, I searched for each company's contract by googling a search term such as-- Houston Ballet AGMA contract filetype:pdf

I was able to find about 20 online AGMA contracts that way. On the other hand, I wasn't able to find any contracts for non-AGMA companies despite using many different search terms.

#10 Momof3darlings

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Posted 27 September 2015 - 07:54 AM

slhogan--what you found is the backchannel to the old AGMA website where the company contracts were on there in pdf form.  We used to have an old link that worked but they seem to have finally made that old link log-in also.   So the reason they are up is because AGMA published them online, not because the companies did.  Just wanting to make sure it was clear why those contracts are able to be found and others not found.  

 

The best way to get information about a non-AGMA company's contract is from a current or former dancer.  With caution because most contracts do have a "do not disclose" clause.


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#11 slhogan

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Posted 27 September 2015 - 09:46 AM

Yes, although the website is now password protected, it is pretty easy to search online to find where AGMA posted the contracts.  I certainly don't mind this back-door approach because the information in those contracts is extremely educational for pre-professional dancers and their parents.  

 

A "Do Not Disclose" clause?  Really?  Wow, that does make comparing companies challenging.  So, dancers can only share information about their contracts very secretively and probably to only very close friends.  <sigh>



#12 slhogan

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Posted 27 September 2015 - 10:05 AM

I have to say, I am learning a LOT on this research journey.  Reading through company contracts helped me understand the nuts and bolts of how a professional ballet career works.

 

In addition, I've learned a lot about small companies.  I live in a big city with a major ballet company, so I hadn't really had the opportunity to become familiar with smaller ballet companies.  I started with companies that I had heard of and read through the biographies of all the dancers.  Reading about where the dancers trained led me to other companies I had never heard of and reading *those* bios led me to a lot *more* companies that I had no idea existed.

 

I've now probably combed through the websites of 70 professional ballet companies.  (Not all of them are going on my research spreadsheet-- to keep from going insane with the amount of information I'm finding, I decided that for my son's purposes right now to just focus on companies with 20+ dancers on the roster.)  But, I was surprised at how many small companies are spread throughout the country.  There are companies out there with just 8-10 dancers and less than a dozen shows.  I began to see some dancer's names pop up in the rosters of multiple small companies-- this was especially common for companies in touristy areas that seem to perform during tourist seasons.  

 

In general, it appeared to me that the dancers in large, national companies have mainly trained in large, big-name training schools (at least during their finishing years).  But, the bios of all these smaller, regional companies showed a lot of dancers that have college degrees in dance, trained in small schools, began dancing during their teen years, etc.  I could definitely see what I keep reading on this message board that there are a lot of paths to becoming a professional dancer.



#13 Momof3darlings

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Posted 27 September 2015 - 10:52 AM

Yes and reading the differences in being a "big fish in a small pond versus a small fish in big pond" is key.  If I were you, I might couple that desire to look at companies with a roster of 20+ with a certain budgetary amount.  You can have a roster of 20+ and pay them $100 a week or you can have a roster of 20+ and pay them $450 a week.  A big disparity, but one that exists.

 

I would also encourage your son to look at the repetoire of smaller to medium sized companies to see if some seasons over time peak his interest more than others.  What you get to perform in a smaller-medium company is an important consideration when deciding between a couple to audition for.  

 

I would take some of the reading of bios with a bit of skepticism.    As an example, one larger company I know of does not allow the dancers to list prior training unless it is a name that is a recognizable one.  It will be edited out.  So you may find that this information is simply left off to make it appear that their track was from large school to large company or to highlight the top of the training curve.  While a smaller company many times will allow a dancer to give homage to a mentor teacher at their home school before they moved on to finishing years.  One of the reasons I stand firm on this is the list of dancers trained by one of DDs teachers and her mom.  The list is long, their schools were small but both were very well known. But when I look at the bios of many of the names I know they trained, I would say about half include them in their bio.  Another example is that a bigger company with more than 3 letters wouldn't allow one of their soloists to list her home school until that teacher was awarded Teacher of the Year at YAGP (or whatever that award is called).  Then all of a sudden her school name could be included.  You are correct that the way into a larger company will be through it's system, the question becomes how long you are actually in it.  Could be a few years, could be a couple of months.  

 

I would also encourage your son to go see a good medium sized company, he may be pleasantly surprised at the work they do.  Some will be greatly better than others.  But it will be good information to have so that he does not go into auditioning feeling as if a smaller more medium company is 2nd rate.  Some are, but not all are.  


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#14 ceecee

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Posted 28 September 2015 - 07:18 PM

In my daughter's non-AGMA company there does not seem to be a "set" starting salary or a "set" yearly raise.  It is individual.  I'm not sure if her contract has a "do not disclose" clause or not, but I have cautioned her about discussing salary numbers with her fellow dancers.  Seems like doing so would just cause trouble and perhaps that is the reason for such a clause? 




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