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Ballet Talk for Dancers

What Wage Can a Dancer to Expect?


motherhem

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For those who have kids dancing professionally that also take on a non-dancing job to make ends meet, are they doing that work in off weeks/seasons only or trying to juggle both at the same time?

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I imagine it differs for everyone, but for my DD, she juggles both at same time.  20-30 hours working in an outside job (food service).  Another 30-40 (minimum) in ballet in a regular week (not including rehearsals).  And odd jobs in between (pet sitting, baby sitting, etc.).  Her "regular" weekday schedule looks like this:

Outside job: 4:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.

Ballet: 10 a.m. - 5/6 p.m.

During performance/theater weeks, that schedule changes.  Theater rehearsals/performances run late into the night (10 or 11), so it's a struggle to make the early morning job post.  In that case, she'll try to schedule her outside job for all day on Sundays and Mondays (when theater is closed).  The biggest crunch time is Nutcracker (with it's SUPER long run), and that month meant many days where she was only getting 4-5 hours sleep/night.  It's not ideal, obviously, but she survived.

The other tricky planning is audition season (2 months of Feb/Mar), which usually requires travel and additional expenses, plus time off from ballet AND the regular job, in addition to the extra expenses of travel, audition classes and supplies.

Finally, remember that once your dancer is out of a "schooling" environment (and into the "trainee", "second company" or "apprentice" neverland), it will be the dancer's responsibility to stay in shape.  When talking over budgeting with your DK, keep in mind that staying in ballet shape can be a BIG expense.   Your DK will need to determine where/how they can cross-train and obtain physical care of their bodies to stay injury free.   Some companies allow access to their gym equipment, but even if they do, your DK will need to schedule around the professional dancers, who have first access.  It's not like college, where access to pilates/spin classes/yoga/swim and food are part of the tuition.  In relation to this, keep in mind that your dancer also must stay in physical condition during the "off season," which is also summer intensive time.  Depending on their age, your dancer will need to make choices about attending and paying for an SI and staying in ballet shape while being seen by another potential company, or making money for the next season.

 

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Wow, Eligus. That takes some serious dedication to start with a 5 hour job before her full dancing day. Very enlightening information. Thank you for sharing.

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Ballerina'sMom,

My dancer has seen his friends and co-workers taking advantage of three different ways to supplement income.  Almost everyone does summer gigs, which include guesting, teaching, or work with summer contemporary companies or choreography projects.  Some dancers find part-time jobs while dancing, which include offering pilates classes, bar tending or restaurant work, teaching in the academy, teaching at other local studios, etc.  A surprising number of dancers (those who have been in the company for several years) are exploring second careers while still dancing, such as photography, filmography, real estate, choreography, etc., and they are making some money with these second passions.  My dancer is taking college classes online and does not have a second job; he uses a college fund to supplement his income by about 1/4.

His co-workers seem to find good summer opportunities.  I find their summer projects very inspiring.  My dancer is young still and will need some seasoning before he can pursue a lot of these summer gigs, but they are out there.  My dancer is likely to do more traditional training this summer, and this may be more costly than it was when he was a student.  We shall see.  He looked into r.a.ships, but he isn't old enough for the more lucrative positions.  Plus, he has seen situations in which summer r.a.s are promised regular classes but end up taking them only rarely.  From my perspective, the summer contemporary and choreography projects seem most enriching.

 

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It's a funny thing, Ballerina'sMom... she didn't have this schedule last year, when we were supporting her financially.  At that time, she was recovering mentally from a huge blow to her self-confidence (not making it into her dream company after a year of training with them, and feeling a bit betrayed by what she was told versus what actually happened).  She had JUST turned 18 at the time.  When she was reeling from rejection, we agreed as a family that she would take the next year (on us), to try to recover and see if she wanted to continue to dance.  I was not sure what the answer would be.

When the money we had set aside for her to train ran out (when she just turned 19), I still wasn't sure.  At the time of her choice, she had some training offers, but not a professional contract.  Her choice was to stay in dance (and support herself) or choose another path.  She chose to stay in dance.  The training offer she chose offered her a (VERY) small monthly stipend, and a pair of shoes per role she dances.  It is not a "living wage." She took the training position that paid something, but not much, in the place that offered her the best training she needed, and then got an outside job.  She found an apartment she could afford, and roommates to help her with that.  She sets her work schedule, and her training schedule to stay in shape.  She pays for her rent, food, ballet supplies, etc.

In my mind, she has grown up.  Despite the crazy, overwhelming schedule, we have seen an immense change in her dancing, her maturity and her self-confidence.    Perhaps it was just time?  Perhaps the experience of supporting herself changed her for the better?  Perhaps she feels empowered now.  She knows she can do it, and she can do it without depending on her parents or anyone else to "rescue" her.  Perhaps it's just another year of experience under her belt.  Perhaps it was the rejection from her dream company.  I don't really know.  Maybe it was all those things.  I can only tell you that she has matured and that even under the financial pressure, her desire to dance professionally has grown and solidified, rather than withered.

We shall see what this audition season brings.  I wish all of you luck in the journey.  

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Thank you, mln. For the summer projects/gigs, is that something they find through networking with peers in the industry, or is there a specific place that compiles these opportunities to look at over time to see what is coming up?

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Wow, Eligus. She certainly has persevered. I am sorry for what happened with her dream company. Thank you for sharing all of this with me. It really is never a given at any point, even with promises made, it seems. She clearly has the desire and drive to make this happen, and I wish her much success this audition season.

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I didn't mean to highjack this thread.  But I wanted to point out that while the issue of a "living wage" is a vitally IMPORTANT consideration for parents to discuss with your DK, your DK's choice may surprise you.

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On 1/30/2020 at 1:43 PM, learningdance said:

To me it's stupid that AGMA hasn't created a more transparent way for helping dancers understand wages.  In fact, it's stupid that dance companies don't just SHARE their salary ranges.  Apprentice : 500/week, 38 week contract with 1 non contiguous layoff. Corps Member 800/week, 40 week contract,  Etc. 

They don't share the numbers because there would be major outrage if the people paying $75 per ticket realized that the dancers they were watching were being exploited (they might also get in trouble with labor boards).  That they are being told that they're watching professionals but they are really watching young people who are being exploited for free labor.  There are other artists who work for low or no pay but those artists aren't expected to rehearse for forty hours a week.  They are able to also have jobs or go to school.  I had colleagues who were in small professional symphonies, they weren't paid enough to support themselves but the symphony was a part time gig and they could work at the local university or other full or part time jobs.  I wouldn't find the low pay so distasteful if these companies allowed their low or non-paid company members to work hours that allowed them to attend school or work enough hours to support themselves.

You can make a living as a professional ballet dancer.  There are many companies who pay their dancers a strong wage.  However, there are many companies out there that are happy to take advantage of the passion of young people and their parents willingness to support them financially in order to maintain their ranks and pay their artistic directors.  Stringing dancers along for years instead of letting them know that they need to move on.  A dancer who auditions for a job on broadway is either told that they are good enough and then paid a decent wage for their work or they don't get the job.  The ballet world is fine keeping those dancers with the promise that they may one day make it while using them for their free labor or even better, they can get dancers to pay them to work.  The secrecy of what they pay is part of what allows these companies to survive and parents to continue to pay for training for their young dancers.  It would be better if there were half of the positions available but the dancers were able to feed themselves and pay for their medical care if they are injured and the dancers that can't make it can move on.
 

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Look, it it hard to find salary information, yes.  But, it is the same in most professions.  Our younger daughter is in a stage of her career where she often is keeping tabs on salaries in her field—it comes up each time she wants to ask for an increase at review time, look at other opportunities, etc.  She networks, looks at Glass Door, etc.  There is no one place with a nice list of salaries.  Every time she interviews with a company, they are coy with the pay scale.  Her company does not publish a list of salaries for her job description or any of the corollary jobs that work in conjunction with her.   I can’t remember a single time I’ve had a job (outside of government) that gave a specific, black and white list of salaries.  

So, I think you all are wishing for a unicorn if you expect AGMA or the companies to hand out a list of actual salaries that they would then be held to provide.  AGMA is a collection of unionized companies.  Those unionized companies negotiate individual company contracts.  The terms are often the same or similar, but the precise wages and details of the benefits and terms of the contract are not.   (DD sat in on negotiations for several companies and symphonies on behalf of the AGMA representative.)

So, the best information is the information the dancers’ develop via their networks.  Share it and share alike.  But it isn’t much different than any other employee/employer situation regarding transparency of actual salaries.  It is, however, in general low pay.  And that’s a shame.

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Ballerina'sMom,

My dancer found out about some of the summer gigs via word of mouth.  I identified others by putting social media to use and looking at what professional dancers did during the summer.  There are quite a few "summer companies" or "choreography projects" that take advantage of the fact that many professional dancers have flexibility in the summer.

It's possible that the programs advertise on one of the free pro audition pages, but I don't actually know. I am keeping an eye out for advertisements.

If my dancer pursues one of these projects (he just got a lead for one), I will report back about compensation.  I suspect the compensation is mostly just living expenses for the dancers, though it may pay more for those chosen as choreographers.  I'm sure some of the prestigious summer projects pay a bit more.

Maybe someone on this forum has more information and will join this conversation.

 

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In DD’s experience, “projects” are funded by grants primarily or self-funded.  Therefore, there is very little in the way of dollars available for the projects.  Most of the money is used up paying for venue, rehearsal, and marketing expenses.  Dancers’ pay is often the last on the list.  In DD’s experience, dancers dance in the projects because they love to dance, love the choreographer’s work, and they love to dance.  DD did a number of these.  She seldom saw much in the way of a pay check.  Any pay check she did see was more like token  “mad money” than a “salary”.  

There are some small companies that exist as project companies.  Those do have small pay, but often it is only for performances and not ongoing.  It is not a way to sustain a living without an additional steady paying job of some sort.

Perhaps there are more well-funded, established projects that can afford to actually pay the dancers something reasonable.  But, my understanding of “projects” by definition has been that those are upstart, experimental, finite undertakings that exist for the brief span of that particular endeavor and then are gone.  Until the next idea pops up in someone’s head and a grant can be secured.

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DD was at Ballet Austin's audition yesterday and they told the dancers

Ballet Austin II makes $365/week. 

Bravo for transparency and ethics!  

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Just curious, what number of total hours per week would be required of a Ballet Austin II dancer?  Does that even work out to minimum wage?

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