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Company life: Wages for Pro Dancers

Mary Lynn Slayden

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There was an article in Links a week or so back about Louisville Ballet

may being forced to pay all their dancers a minimum wage.

Apparently because they received state funding they were required to do so.


I would love to hear opinions about dancers wages. Ballet companies that are a part of AGMA or other unions make sure their members receive certain range of pay for each level of dancer.


How is that some companies are not being held accountable for under-paying their performers. I realize that dancers don't have to join a company that offers them so little. I have also heard the argument that there are so many more dancers than there are jobs. Artists are perhaps expected to make sacrifice. However, health insurance and a minimum wage should also be the standard.


Do Dance organizations such as Dance USA and others lobby or work to improve the condition of dancers in their respective companies. In other words are their any Watch Dogs?

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  • BW


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At least as far as male dancers are concerned, I'm coming to conclude that you get what you pay for. It is VERY hard to hire and retain quality men at minimum wage. Clearly if companies are paying their men so poorly, then they cannot afford more.

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Originally posted by citibob

At least as far as male dancers are concerned, I'm coming to conclude that you get what you pay for.  It is VERY hard to hire and retain quality men at minimum wage.  Clearly if companies are paying their men so poorly, then they cannot afford more.


Thanks Citibob


Is it really clear that they cannot afford more? Do you think that Dancer's wages are really of foremost importance to Excecutive directors and boards? The supply of at least female dancers certainly outweighs demand so is there enough leverage for a just wage?


When planning seasons for the upcoming years do they take into consideration that if they do a new production of "XYZ" ballet that they will have less to spend on other production and personnel costs. I just would like to understand the priorties of companies from across the board from ABT to "hole-in-the-wall" ballet company in "Anywhere, USA".

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As far as men are concerned: if a ballet company has hired second-rate men, I'm pretty sure it cannot afford better. Everyone would like to have better men, and if you could afford it, wouldn't you pay for it?


Foremost importance to executive directors and boards is the financial health of the organization. Unfortunately, producing ballet almost always loses money. So they're in a tight spot. The most fiscally sound move is ALWAYS to terminate the organization. That is true even for the big companies like ABT and NYCB.


I'm not so sure that ballet companies can be considered a part of AGMA. That would be like saying that UPS is part of the Teamster's Union. Dancers have a right to unionize irrespective of the wishes of management, as do workers in other industries.


I don't believe low pay is in itself morally reprehensible. In evaluating the ethics involved, I look at the compensation not just of the dancers, but also of the management. If the Executive Director is making less than minimum wage and the Artistic Director is making very little as well (most of it from teaching) and the board members all donate large sums of money and time (which you must do if you wish to sit on an arts board), then at least you know that management isn't living off the suffering of the dancers. The situation would be very different if the Executive Director were paid a six figure salary.


Sometimes, there may be artistic merit in a company, even if that company cannot pay its dancers very well. I recently heard about a top-notch modern dancer who danced for a very famous modern dance company in New York City for 20 years. She never made more that $16K/yr, and held waitressing jobs the whole time. Such is the state of dance, but we're lucky that ballet dancers by and large are paid better than that.


Some people can afford to dance for minimum wage with no benefits, and some cannot. For those who cannot, my best recommendation is to not dance for a company that pays that way, whatever the artistic merits of that company may be. If that means you don't dance, then so be it. I agree that adequate health care really does need to come before dancing.

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Guest balletmama

Has anybody read this? It's a Stanford honors thesis on the correlation between donations to ballet companies and dancers' salaries. It alludes to different cities but uses San Francisco ballet stats. Some of it is technical, but the conclusions are easy to follow. Reading this paper, one would practically think U.S. dance salaries were causing inflation!



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I just skimmed over it. Very interesting and no obvious errors (i.e. figures are inflation-adjusted).


Remember that standard of living has been rising overall; that every year we make a little bit more, even after adjusting for inflation. The result is that we expect better housing, better food, better healthcare, better transportation.


For example: in 1960, many people didn't have a car. In 2000, that's only practical in a few cities. So the cost of living for a dancer is higher today simply because it costs more to live.


To me, the correlation between donor base and dancer's salary has been obvious; I'm glad to know the numbers bear out this hunch. The rising mean salary I would attribute to the growing establishment of ballet in America. That is a good thing. At a certain level, I believe most ballet companies would like to pay their dancers a livable wage.


I noticed that the standard deviation of the salaries has increased a HUGE amount. That means that the rich companies are getting richer and the poor companies are remaining poor. So there is a lot less equity of pay between companies now than in 1960. This is a reflection of the observation of how hard it is to start anything new, since the corporate funding system tends to favor established organizations. It may be hurting innovation at this point.

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Here's the link referred to, though I don't know how much longer it will "last" - scroll down to the section on "living wage": http://www.courier-journal.com/localnews/2...0503s343606.htm


A living wage rule requires the metro government to pay a minimum of $8.50 an hour starting July 1, $9.50 an hour the following year and $10.20 an hour in two years. It requires cost-of-living adjustments after that.  

Also, groups and businesses that receive metro government grants, loans, bonds or subsidies exceeding $100,000 must pay their employees the same living wage...


But Downard said he worries about the law's effect on small businesses and nonprofit agencies that do business with the metro government.  


K. Shaver, chief executive officer of the Louisville Ballet, said the law could prohibit the ballet from accepting more than $100,000 from the metro government.  Shaver said some younger dancers with the ballet make ''only a couple hundred a week.'' While the ballet tries to pay them more, the arts group has limited funds, she said.  

''We're always asking for more money. . . If the Metro Council wanted to give us $250,000, we'd have a hell of a problem on our hands,'' she said. ''I don't know what we would do.''


This idea seems a little bit self-defeating doesn't it? If a nonprofit group cannot afford to pay their employees/dancers a "living wage" because they don't take in enough money, through whatever means... that now , according to this rule, they will be unable to receive more than $100,000 from their metro government - who we're assuming is trying to help fund their struggling, yet worthy, arts programs (as in this case) - and yet, this caveat will only ensure the demise of such an entity as The Louisville Ballet. :P

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Mary Lynn,


Here are a couple of websites that might shed some light on the subject of "watch dogs":


Dance Professionals Associates http://www.dancepro.com/AboutUs.html


Dance USA http://www.danceusa.org/our_members/companies.html check out their programs and publications page. I believe there is a hyperlink to another arts alliance type of organization that is involved with artists' well being, which we hope includes a "living wage"!


There is also an old thread called "Ballet Companies With 28 Week Contracts or More" which might be helpful...or might not?! :Phttp://www.balletalert.com/forum/showthrea...hlight=salaries


And thank you balletmama, for that study! I'm going to take a look at it, for sure.


However, I must now repair to my garret... to continue the work on the "Parents' Survey" portion of the "SI Project" which, thanks to the tireless work of several others, shall make its debut in the not to distant future. :D

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Guest lurry

If your like many other parents, you often wonder what a pay scale is for a dancer.


I found this on a internet site, by way of looking for something else. Well here is an example, from the AGMA, of the BB dancers. It's a couple of years old but you will get the idea.







(a) (1) Minimum Compensation - Rehearsal/Performance Weeks




1999/2000 2000/01 2001/02

Apprentice $315.72 $328.35 $343.13

New Dancer 629.17 654.34 683.78

Corps Dancer 796.11 827.95 865.21

3rd Year Corps Dancers* 806.51 838.77 876.51

Solo Dancers 865.38 900.00 940.50

3rd Year Solo Dancers* 898.32 934.25 976.30

Principal Dancers** 982.81 1022.11 1068.11

3rd Year Principal Dancers 1012.28 1052.78 1100.15

Extraordinary Risk 46.00 47.00 48.00

Single Delegate Fee 85.00 90.00 95.00

Split Delegate Fee 100.00 105.00 110.00




If you want more info on wages, COLA's etc for the BB.. here is the web page:



This is really informative, the contract for the BB dancers on this site really goes into details of what dancers are entitled too and what they can expect from their prospective employer and union.

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I just want to add to BW's excellent research finds, that many of the companies listed on 28+ week Company List are NOT AGMA members, so those starting salaries are MUCH higher (some as many as 3 times as much) as what a dancer can expect at a regional company, that is not a union company.


There are lots of these companies out there and many are excellent companies offering dancers wonderful experience and contracts of 28+ weeks, often with good health benefits - but the pay scale is much lower and the many protections of a union contract are not available!

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Im not sure I would say TRIPLE the starting pay that alot of the non-union companies offer, double maybe, but infact I also think you have to take into account the region that the company is in and the cost of living. As one company may offer $450 as starting pay and another offer $950, but where the $450 is offered you can get an apartment for $500 and where the $950 is offered it's more like $1000. So it's good to take those aspects into consideration.

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Your point is well taken, but the situation I recounted doesn't fit your supposition. Without naming company names, I'll just say that within one Midwest state, there are two companies, in comparable cities where the cost of living is about the same. In one city, the company is a union company paying starting salaries of about $650/week. The other is not a union company and starting salary is $250/week. Not quite triple - but very close! :shrug: This is not an isolated situation.


Yes, it is true that one can live on less in some regions/cities than others. But, there is still a very wide gap between salaries for union and non-union companies, even within the same geographic region, where cost of living is similar.

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The disparity between the pay scale of a major company in NYC and a couple of other major cities,(for example, SF, Boston, Houston), and the regional non-union companies is quite staggering, actually. While the cost of living may be very different, it's not as different as the pay scale of the union versus non-union companies, especially those in major cities. And when you consider that the contracts are not annual, but for a certain number of weeks per year, the annual income of dancers in non-union company is well below the cost of living, even in areas where the expenses are not like in the major cities. I don't know how these dancers do it without either second jobs, living with several people in a small apartment, or a lot of help from home. :shrug:

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