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Ballet Talk for Dancers

What Wage Can a Dancer to Expect?


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We often reference dancers getting a contract and being able to make a ‘living wage’. I wonder, what constitutes a living wage? 

I know this falls under the ‘none ya business’ umbrella normally so I am not asking for specifics but in general what do dancers make when they start getting paid?  I know companies vary but I imagine similar companies pay similar wages on average.  Maybe that assumption is incorrect?

Backstory to my inquiry:

My daughter is a trainee at a small professional company where I pay tuition.  I support her monthly billed expenses.  (By I, I really mean the royal ‘I’, which is opposite of the royal ‘we’,  as in my husband and I.)  She has a non-ballet job to pay for her day to day expenses, like groceries and gas.  I know dancers don’t make much but the other day she called me excitedly to tell me that someone told her that dancers get paid $350 a week.  Did you gasp?  I did.  She thinks that is soo much! She is only 18 but  I at a much higher age *cough cough* know that is peanuts.  She had no specifics I don’t know is that apprentice pay or Corp pay so on and so forth or if the number is even accurate because when I questioned her for details she back tracked and said maybe that is what a single dancer got paid for a performance or maybe she needs to go back and ask   She is so shy about asking these questions so I suspect I may never know that answer.  And, because she is too shy to ask I don’t think her network is going to provide much info.

But that conversation got me thinking, what is a living wage? Knowing she will never be rich financially, I am at least hoping she can one day afford a car payment or her own apartment.  I am realistic, maybe not both.  So, in generalities, what should a dancer reasonably expect to make? 

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Forgive my attempts at being funny in the above post. I desire to be funny but I know I am not.    

But am serious about the question. One day I want to retire and we aren’t rich so that won’t happen until she is able to support herself.  

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For ballet, this 43k average strikes me as possibly true for the top10 and maybe15 biggest companies in the US/Canada, and I would expect it to be adjusted somewhat for cost of living.   I think the average is lower at mid-sized companies and much, much lower at very small companies.   There is a big disparity between what the biggest companies can offer and what the smaller ones offer, and that renders an average less informative, sadly.  


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43K would be in incredible salary for a dancer.  Maybe not in LA or NYC, but anywhere else.  I don't think most dancers make livable wages.  350/wk doesn't shock me.

Edit: I don't know actual numbers of companies, but I'm somewhat familiar with a local company and I know most of the dancers have to find other work to supplement.  

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Those numbers make me feel a little better.  She is at a small company so I know if she stays and makes it into the company she won’t be near the top numbers.   It maybe 3/4s of that number maybe...

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I seriously doubt that the majority of company dancers make $10,000 a year, much less $43,000.  Keep in mind, those statistics probably include Broadway dancers (who can make a good salary) and commercial dancers, not just concert/company dancers.  My DD’s contemporaries were/are not making anywhere near that $43,000/year here in the States.  They ALL have additional jobs and make their dance wages work by sharing apartments,  teaching classes (yoga, ballet, GYROTONICS,) working at places like Whole Foods, Starbucks  (insurance benefits, flexible hours/shifts), etc.

The most reasonable way to get a concept of what wages a young dancer may be offered is to look at the AGMA contracts, then figure less if it is a non-union company.  The dance contracts here in the States (European ones were different)  I’ve seen or DD talked about had weekly salaries, or pay per show.  Sometimes rehearsal hours were paid, sometimes those weren’t broken out as paid, pointe shoes may have a stipend (or not), health insurance was seldom provided, sometimes there was an offer for reduced membership fees at a specific gym, sometimes not.  The contracts were for a limited number of weeks ranging from 28-36, sometimes less.  Often there was a period of a number of weeks off, unpaid, included.  That would make getting supplemental well-paying jobs difficult.

There will need to be a lot of research into what is a realistic expectation of a dancer’s pay starting out (which isn’t to say that once the contracts are offered to a dancer there is really any available negotiation, so the dancer—and parents—need to make their peace with the low pay going in).  Once enmeshed in an established company, there may actually be an actual “living wage” (i.e., one which enables the dancer to pay rent, utilities, living expenses, and maybe a car) all on her/his own.  But that may take a while.  Most dancers need at least a roommate to make the numbers work.

I would love for our Parents of Professional Dancers members to come along and give an overview (no specific companies or personal salaries needed) as to the actual lay of the land out there in dancer-pay-land. 

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My on-her-way-to-college dancing dd went to a great workshop about “portfolio careers” in which they really normalized the idea that most performing artists make a living by putting together a variety of work—performing, teaching, choreographing, coaching, etc—and that it doesn’t mean you haven’t “made it” unless you can pay all your bills from a single job, because honestly that’s rarely a realistic goal.

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$600-800 per week for first-year corps In mid-sized ballet companies.  About half that for apprentice.

Someone familiar with a different set of companies may have different figures.

I don’t know many salaries above corps.

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Small regional company (approx 35 dancers),  1st year corps salary $190/week, approximately 40 week season w/ 8 performances, including a month long run of Nut.

Threegirlpileup's "portfolio" idea is correct.  Roommates and outside (flexible) jobs (with benefits, if possible!) are necessary.

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Unfortunately, $350/week (or even lower) is not unusual for first/second year corps dancers in mid-sized and smaller companies.  I see that mln quotes $600-800, and we are certainly aware of some companies in that range as well.  In our experience, the $43K number is unheard of except in the largest, top-tier US companies (or perhaps for principal dancers in some mid-sized companies).  DD is a 3rd-year corps dancer in a mid-sized company, and she and her contemporaries all have roommates and supplement their salaries with teaching.  Even then the money generally is not enough to cover all living expenses without some financial support from their families.     

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DD is a second company member in a small company in the South. 12 company dancers, 10 second company. Salaries vary a bit with the company dancers, but most are making $400 per week for a 32-week season. Second company members are unpaid. Approximately half of the company/second company members hold a BFA in dance. Almost all supplement their income with teaching, pilates, personal training sessions, food service, or other work.

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It's kind of sad that you can make more as a 16 year old working at McDonald's.  You really have to love ballet to be living below the poverty line after your parents invested 100K and you sacrificed your whole childhood.  It seems so unfair.  

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It is frustrating to a parent, for sure, but I'm not sure I'd qualify a dancer's choices as "sad," although I get what you're saying.  The dancers who stay in this life and pursue it are (to my eye) fulfilled, and incredibly self-reliant... along with being very poor financially.  😂 

Of course, I'm not trying to turn this thread into "is it worth it" as opposed to "what is it."  Suffice it to say that the majority of dancers will need to hustle to stay dancing (pardon the pun).  The reality is that the "living wage" is debatable.  Furthermore, the "job security" is not at all what the majority of the non-dancing population experiences.  It is a financially and physically precarious and unstable life, along with being very mentally challenging, for a variety of reasons.  I (personally) would never be able to handle the stressors involved in this lifestyle, but my DD seems to be (inexplicably to me) thriving on it.... so far.


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