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Articles: Advice to the unemployed dancer

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I read the article about the salary. At first I was surprised at how high his salary is but then later in the article it does mention that he and several of the higher paid executive staff have taken pay cuts this past year along with other cost cutting measures.


While the laying off of any dancer is sad, I did see where NYCB has to make that decision to promote dancers from SAB into the apprentice program (and in turn it is more economical to promote apprentices to the corps and layoff dancers who may be making a little more than entry level). What surprised me in that article is the part that mentioned the one dancer was not coming to company class as often. Knowing nothing about the pro dance world I was suprised missing was even an option but to me it says maybe the dancers heart was not completely in their work anymore. As for laying off injured dancers that is also sad but again, makes good sense economically.

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Tax-exempt nonprofit organizations are required to file financial statements every year with the IRS in lieu of tax returns. Among other things, these statements must include the compensation paid to their top officers and employees. There are websites from which you can look up these statements for any non-profit organization at any time. Every year, it seems that the press looks up those statements for NYCB and reports on Peter Martin's salary. A few years ago, it was $600K.


Is $699K too much for a ballet AD? Questions like that are akin to asking if for-profit CEO's are overpaid, a question that generates a lot of populist outrage but not a lot of actual downward pressure on compensation. The board -- that is, the people most deeply responsible for funding NYCB --- must think they're getting value, or else they'd have hired someone else or set a lower salary. Once an arts organization gets as big as NYCB is today, selling hundreds of thousands of tickets and soliciting millions of dollars of donations becomes an imperative. It can sometimes work against artistic risk-taking. But if things work out, it can also create a good space within which artists can take those risks (and get paid). I do believe that ballet companies could benefit from more performance-based and golden-handcuff compensation systems that are used in the corporate world. By way of example, most jobs on Wall St. have a salary a lot lower than $600K, although performance-based incentives can bring the total compensation far higher.


From the time the cuts were first required at NYCB, it looks like the idea was to cut 10% across the board. Management is paid 10% less, 10% fewer dancers are hired, etc. As with any layoff, the company will try to lay off the people it can most do without. Legions of corporations have laid off 10% this year.


I'm a little disappointed that management did not work harder to seek possible pay cuts with the union in order to keep full employment. On the other hand, it looks like they'd just gone on a 10%-extra hiring spree, so cutting the company back by 10% brought it back more to the size it's been in the recent past.


It is important in a dance company to have the right number of people of each age and level of seniority. Otherwise, you can get into a situation in which a lot of your company all retires at once because they're all the same age, and you have no good way to replace them because there's a big gap just below them. Imagine what will happen to corporate America once baby boomers start to retire en mass! That's probably the rationale behind laying off some dancers, even while hiring new ones out of SAB. They're not just trying to save on salaries in the short term, they need to balance the long-term age structure of the company. That's what they mean by "talent pipeline."


Professional dancers are professionals, and company class is a resource for continued professional development. There are a million good reasons to not attend company class, and it shouldn't be management's responsibility to look after everyone and take attendance. I would be slow to judge a dancer's heart based on company class attendance.


Studying by correspondence is key and the smart thing to do, it's not the easiest when you've been training/competing/rehearsing/performing...all day/night - but it's the smart thing to do. And generally to get to an elite level, whether dance, sports etc, these people have a very good brain and studying is often not that hard for them! It just takes up extra time.


I think the biggest danger here is that dancers in transition need to understand the difference between vocational training and education.


Professional dance is based on a system of vocational training. Vocational training is about gaining specific skills for a specific profession --- auto mechanic, nurse practitioner, ballet dancer. Just because we put ballet dancers in a different social class from many of the other professions that rely on vocational training, and just because ballet dancers are extraordinarily dedicated to their training, does not turn vocational training into education.


Education is a broader, less specific approach to developing the person, one whose ultimate goals is not so much skills for today, but the development of critical thinking that can address the problems of tomorrow. Education is in high demand in the job market.


An education is one of the things that is so often sacrificed in pursuit of a dance career. I deeply believe that an education --- one that opens up hundreds of doors at once --- should be a goal for many post-professional dancers. We know how to educate people, that is what the liberal arts university system is all about. In my experience, believing that one can consistently get an education through a home-made "school of life" type of experience is about as realistic as believing that one can get good ballet training at home by watching ballet videos. Similarly, correspondence courses are not the same as an education. They can fill in gaps here and there, and one can learn skills from them. But they miss out on the face-to-face intellectual engagement involved in traditional in-person courses.


I really believe there is no substitute for packing off to college for four years and immersing oneself in academic pursuit 24/7. And that is an option that I think every retiring dancer should consider seriously. It would be a pity to shortchange oneself on education before the age of 30.


Here's an interesting related 20-minute talk:


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I read the article about the salary. At first I was surprised at how high his salary is but then later in the article it does mention that he and several of the higher paid executive staff have taken pay cuts this past year along with other cost cutting measures.

There is a comprehensive discussion of this topic ongoing at our sister site, Ballet Talk.


NYCB Dancers cut


You'll read how Peter Martin's salary cut hardly makes a dent in his total income, which, on top of his pay as head of NYCB, includes his salary from SAB. He's making over a million dollars a year (notice that the amount NYCB will "save" with the letting go of 11 dancers is $1.2 million).

There's so much more to this whole thing than meets the eye.


What surprised me in that article is the part that mentioned the one dancer was not coming to company class as often. Knowing nothing about the pro dance world I was suprised missing was even an option but to me it says maybe the dancers heart was not completely in their work anymore.

You'll see discussion of Sophie Flack's interview here where she explains that in lieu of taking a very crowded company class, she took class with Willy Burmann and others, both privately and publicly (probably at Steps where he teaches) in order to achieve advancement of technique and overall improvement rather than just warm up. The thread also gives an interesting picture of company class in general.

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While many institutions of higher learning provide an education, some provide an experience more akin to vocational training --- particularly those colleges that advertise most heavily on the NYC subway and may or may not be non-profit institutions. There is absolutely a place for what these colleges do. But a two-year business degree is rather skill-specific, and generally not comparable to a four-year liberal arts degree.



I read through the thread on the other board.


A comparison to Wall St. may be in order here. Consider the case of small proprietary trading desk. Typical salaries might be no more than $150K-$200K/yr. This is the salary for all senior people on the trading desk, including the boss. Salaries of more junior people may go under $100K --- that is, no more than senior corps members of NYCB.


At the end of the year, the trading desk gets a percentage of the profits as a bonus pool (the rest goes to the firm, or to the investors). The boss gets to decide how to distribute that bonus pool. The amount paid to employees is entirely discretionary. In good years, when there's a big bonus pool, the boss can keep most of it and still have a lot to pay employees. In bad years, the boss gets nothing and pays whatever is possible to the employees, as a good-will gesture to support them and retain them. That's right, in bad years, Wall St. bosses make less than their employees. There is no set ratio between what employees make and what the boss makes, that ratio varies from year to year.


The same ethic applied to NYCB would have Martins taking a drastic pay cut this year --- to the tune of about $500K or more --- in order to support the dancers. Someone on the other board mentioned that Balanchine followed this ethic, that he took nothing on years in which there was no money to be had.


As I mentioned before, a guaranteed salary of over $600K is considered incredibly cushy in just about any industry. Wall St. fortunes are not made from guaranteed salaries, but rather from performance-based compensation. To continue to pay yourself a salary of over $600K --- when the economy is in shambles, your dancers are being laid off, and many of your donors are making little or nothing this year and dipping into their savings to provide continued support to your organization --- it brings up images of famous out-of-touch leaders from the past, including Nero and Marie Antoinette.


My prediction: If there is an outcry from donors or the board, then this will change. If they voice their satisfaction with the status quo by continuing to give at close to pre-recession levels, it will not change.

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Great discussion about NYCB and the salary issues, but this thread is about 'Advice to Unemployed Dancers', not Peter Martins and his ability to earn more than the poor Wall St. guys.....


So, shall I split this topic, or do you all want to continue this discussion here about the original topic, and travel over to our sister site for more of the above?

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I'd recommend taking that portion of the discussion to Ballet Talk where it has already begun and is well on it's way. Our focus on this board is the dancers, our sister board more the companies themselves.

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