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Ballet Talk for Dancers

What Wage Can a Dancer to Expect?


motherhem

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That is so true.  Letting her go at 18 to live so far away was just one challenge.  I will report back when I know.  She has rehearsal immediately after, she she is unable to call now but I am hoping she is dancing on air right now. 

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I appreciate the information and think it important to encourage our dancers to have a firm grasp on the bigger picture (re: wages) but also believe it very important to understand that this is their journey not ours. As far as how long they "should" or "shouldn't" stay in limbo (or accept a minimal amount of compensation)? That is for them to decide. If they are happy, they are happy.  Now, if parents are supporting them that is quite another story, but that is a choice not a necessity.  Draw a line there, certainly, but then step back and let them them live their lives without judgement. Each dancer's path must be their own. If they quit before they are truly ready, they will go on forever wondering if that next audition would have been 'the one".

eta: to be honest, I often find myself scratching my head. Wondering why some of us, feeling the way we do, choose to put our dancers into dance in the first place.  We make the decision to allow them to take the class early on, stoke the passion with more and more classes, seek out the best of the best in terms of training, spend insane amounts of money, go over and above for years and years. And then, in the end, when we see that we've created the monster we knew we were likely creating, we try to subtly pull the rug out from under them.  Because it's not the life 'we' envisioned for them. Doesn't really seem all that fair.

 

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sscrosby - I think I could have written your post.  In fact, I have written that in my head many times.  

Being knee deep in DDs second company audition season, I have so many mixed emotions and can often be heard saying that I hate the dance world.  It is so cruel but you are right, I created this monster and I'm going to see it through until both of my DDs decide to take another path.  That may be next year, the following, or (god willing) ten years from now.  We are fortunate enough to be able to support them as long as necessary.  We're not swimming in money but we do well enough to make it work with reasonable sacrifices all around.  Some day I'll book that dream vacation instead of paying for flights to auditions and pointe shoes.    

What's so hard is that I absolutely love the people my children have become and much of that is because of the unique experiences they have had through dance.  They are truly one-of-a-kind, which is ironic because they are twins!  Unfortunately, the physical and emotional toll it takes is very high.      

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Thank you guys!  Her news was good! I had to wait to share until she actually received the contract, signed it and returned it.  Next season, she’ll receive a small, per performance stipend for all company performances that she is cast in.   At $75, the stipend is almost enough to cover the cost of pointe shoes. One more small step in the right direction.  And I think that qualifies her as a professional next year! 

She is happy, but it was bittersweet. Oh, the double edged sword of ballet!  Being her first contract season, she’s had to figure out how keep the sympathy she feels for friends from stealing her joy. She’s had to find a way to kindly share her news without hurting others who are upset, and she’s had to learn to give herself permission to celebrate in private.  But that is fodder for another thread, so I will digress. 

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  • 2 years later...
20 hours ago, mln said:

@backstagemom here is the thread.  See my post above from Feb. 3, 2020.

 

Thank you for the information. It's so sad how little dancers are paid, especially after how many years they train. We currently pay for DD as a trainee in a midsize company. At this point, we'd be happy to drop the tuition fees. We figured we could have paid for an Ivy League education at this point. And the angst waiting for an offer for next year or finding a new place to go (not to mention the cost of moving)... 

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  • 2 weeks later...

In regards to living off a dancer salary:

I don't have specific numbers. But, I do know that my son (23, corps) and his girlfriend (22, apprentice, just promoted to corps) live comfortably in Denver. They have their regular dancer salary, plus they both teach ballet at a local studio a few nights a week during the year (more during the summer). He does some guesting. They also do online college (free, as an AGMA benefit).

The two of them have a decent 2-bedroom apartment, cute furniture and decor, a car, and 2 dogs. They go out with friends and have fun socially, and they are excited about an upcoming vacation to Europe they have been planning throughout the pandemic. 

They live on their regular salary and put all their teaching/guesting earnings into savings. Now that she was just promoted to corps, they are in the process of using those savings as a down payment on a house (they were  approved for a mortgage that will allow them to buy an average size home for the area).

This is all in line with how their company friends live too. 

I'm just sharing all this to show that while professional dancers are not known for being rich, with a combined income they can live quite well. They're definitely not in poverty or suffering for want of money.

It *is* possible to live comfortably on a dancer salary, at least with this particular company. But, I know that money may be a lot tighter with a smaller company. 

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3 hours ago, slhogan said:

It *is* possible to live comfortably on a dancer salary, at least with this particular company. But, I know that money may be a lot tighter with a smaller company. 

Wow. Thank you for this post. Once they're in AGMA, they get free college? How does that work? It's good to know. DD has taken a few classes, but I'm hoping she can gear up for next year. 

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4 hours ago, backstagemom said:

Once they're in AGMA, they get free college? How does that work? It's good to know.

AGMA is part of a larger union umbrella organization called Union Plus. One of the Union Plus benefits is free online college through a partner college (I think the partner college is in Ohio, but the union program is all online). Here's a link with the info: 

https://freecollege.unionplus.org/

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16 hours ago, slhogan said:

AGMA is part of a larger union umbrella organization called Union Plus. One of the Union Plus benefits is free online college through a partner college (I think the partner college is in Ohio, but the union program is all online).

Thank you so much for this link and information, Slhogan!  I always appreciate your informative and generous posts. I wish I were as on top of things as you are, so I deeply appreciate your willingness to share your knowledge.  You make me seem smart when I forward such helpful and knowledgeable things to my DD.  😄B) 

My DD (21 now, almost 22) just signed a letter of intent with a unionized company, and the difference in wage scale and benefits offered at that company compared to the smaller, regional company she started with is quite significant.  Assuming the contract is signed, she will finally be able to support herself (exclusively) with dancing and will not need a second "civilian" job in order to make ends meet.  She will still need a roommate in order to afford the quality of housing she (and I) deem suitable/safe for a young female living in a city, but she will only need ONE roommate, not the 3 roommates she started with as an 18 yo trainee.   

From my perspective, looking back on her journey through the "wages," (so far), there are several boundaries/thresholds in the journey.  First, there is a significant difference in the jump from "paying for training" (in addition to everything else) versus "not paying for training" (being on "scholarship" but still paying for everything else).  Then there is the jump from the un-named "limbo" phase of (unpaid or minimally paid) trainee/second company member to paid, professional company member.  Then there is another big jump from non-union company to union company.  I'm not sure that trajectory would be the same for the entire ballet world (much less the bigger and more diverse "dance" world), but that has been her experience.

There are some dancers who are lucky enough to skip over the preliminary steps of paying for training and the additional limbo of little/no salary for dancing/training.  Those dancers may go straight into being able to live off their dancing (including DKs who are pursuing side hustles and a professional life outside of a traditional dance company, more of a "professional artist/dance portfolio" referenced up thread).  Others (if they choose to remain dancing) will need to slog through what was for my DD (and maybe for yours) to be 2-4 years of lean living.

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As with so many things, the answer to whether a dancer can support themselves solely on their company salary is "it depends."  While I believe this is no longer true at this company, I'm aware of one Northern European country's national company that paid its dancers so little that even their principals routinely worked in nightclubs and in shows on ferries to make ends meet.  But at a large NY-based US company during the same time period, even first year corps member could afford a decent studio apartment rental.  As is likely intuitive to most people, generally the larger and more well-established companies are going to pay better.  In those companies, even in cities like NY and SF, dancers will be able to support themselves on their salary alone although they may be more financially secure with a roommate at least during the early years.  Soloist, and especially principal dancers, will fare much better.  A principal dancer in a large company makes enough to be the sole support for a small family even in a big city, at least in the short term (e.g., while putting a spouse through school).

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